Cote d’Ivoire

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government restricted both. The National Press Council (CNP), the government’s print media regulatory body, briefly suspended or reprimanded newspapers and journalists for statements it contended were false, libelous, or perceived to incite xenophobia and hate.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits incitement to violence, ethnic hatred, rebellion, and insulting the head of state or other senior members of the government.

In May the CNP suspended for one month a journalist with LG Infos, a pro-Gbagbo daily newspaper, who wrote an article about an alleged shooting that resulted in the death of a young French-Lebanese man in front of the president’s residence. The CNP ruled that the information was false and led to xenophobic and hateful discourse.

Press and Media Freedoms: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Newspapers aligned politically with the opposition frequently published inflammatory editorials against the government or fabricated stories to defame political opponents.

The High Audiovisual Communications Authority oversees the regulation and operation of radio and television stations. There were numerous independent radio stations. The law prohibits transmission of political commentary by private radio stations. There were no private television stations.

In a continuing effort at media liberalization, on March 1, the High Audiovisual Communications Authority announced the results of the 2015 bidding by private cable and satellite television providers for operating licenses. Three multinational companies received licenses, and the Ministry of Communication stated the companies would have complete editorial freedom and the option of transmitting locally produced content, such as news and other informational programs. An additional bidding process for local providers opened in May.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government influenced news coverage and program content on television channels and public and private radio stations. In February the state-run Ivoirian Radio and Television suspended production of live television and radio programs by some religious groups, NGOs, and traditional healers; the suspension remained in effect at year’s end.

Libel/Slander Laws: Criminal libel is punishable by one to three years in prison.

National Security: Libel deemed to threaten the national interest is punishable by six months to five years in prison.

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. Authorities permitted suspended newspapers to publish their full content online. One website estimated 22 percent of the population had home-based access to the internet via computer or mobile device. With a mobile phone penetration rate of virtually 100 percent, however, internet access by mobile device was likely much higher.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Violent clashes in July, however, between security forces and student unions protesting the government’s plan to house athletes in the Francophone Games in student housing at the University of Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Abidjan during the summer of 2017 resulted in injuries to students and security force members. Approximately 30 students were arrested. The government subsequently suspended all student union activities on university grounds and stationed security forces at the university.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this right. The law requires groups that wish to hold demonstrations or rallies in stadiums or other enclosed spaces to submit a written notice to the Ministry of Interior three days before the proposed event. Numerous opposition political groups reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permissions. In some instances public officials stated they could not provide for the safety of opposition groups attempting to organize both public and private meetings.

In July, in Yopougon (a Gbagbo-leaning neighborhood in western Abidjan), police arrested three pro-Gbagbo activists organizing the signing of a petition for the release of the former president from the ICC. They were released after two weeks.

Police use of excessive force to disperse demonstrators resulted in injuries and at least one death. In August the military tribunal sentenced Staff Sergeant Gervais Zoukou to 18 months in prison for striking a student with disabilities with his car during June protests at the University of Felix Houphouet-Boigny. The student subsequently died.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. While the law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic or religious lines, ethnicity was often a key factor in party membership.

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

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

The constitution and law do not specifically provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation, but the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: There were impediments to internal travel. Security forces and unidentified groups erected and operated roadblocks, primarily along secondary roads outside of Abidjan. Although some roadblocks served legitimate security purposes, racketeering and extortion were common. For example, FACI engaged in racketeering at illegal checkpoints with the participation of gendarmes and police. By the end of September, a police antiracketeering task force working with the High Authority for Good Governance (HABG) identified 59 cases for prosecution. Two of the accused were convicted of racketeering by year’s end.

Exile: Several loyalists to former president Gbagbo, some with pending criminal charges, remained in self-imposed exile.

Emigration and Repatriation: Of the more than 39,000 Ivoirian refugees who remained outside the country, more than 19,000 were in Liberia. Due to concerns over the possible spread of ebola, the borders with Liberia and Guinea officially remained closed until September. Nevertheless, in December 2015 humanitarian corridors to resume voluntary repatriation of refugees from Liberia were opened, despite the closure of the border for all other travelers. From January through September, UNHCR assisted the return of more than 18,000 refugees, primarily from Liberia. With the opening of the border with Guinea in September, UNHCR facilitated the repatriation of an additional 128 refugees from Guinea.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

Most IDPs were in the western and northeastern regions and in Abidjan and surrounding suburbs; no estimates of the total number of IDPs were available. Most IDPs were displaced due to the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis and evictions from illegally occupied protected forests. For example, the United Nations estimated more than 51,000 persons were evicted during the summer from Mont Peko National Park, where they were living and farming illegally. Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports the government evicted residents of Abidjan from flood-prone areas or removed structures built on illegally occupied land.

In 2014 the government adopted the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention). The convention commits the government to protect the rights and well-being of persons displaced by conflict, violence, disasters, or human rights abuses and provides a framework of durable solutions for IDPs. The government respected the principle of voluntary return but provided limited assistance to IDPs; the United Nations and international and local NGOs worked to fill the gaps. While many of those displaced returned to their areas of origin, difficult conditions, including lack of access to land, shelter, and security, prevented others’ return. Host communities had few resources to receive and assist IDPs, who often resorted to living in informal urban settlements.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The constitution and law provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR the country hosted fewer than 1,400 refugees, most of whom were Liberian refugees who opted for local integration following the 2012 invocation of the cessation clause, which ended refugee status for Liberians. All 103 Liberian refugees who applied for formal resettlement in the country were accepted and remained in the country.

Durable Solutions: The government facilitated local integration for refugees in the most extreme situations by issuing resident permits to all refugees more than 14 years old to allow them to move freely in the country. Refugees also had access to naturalization, although UNHCR reported many had been in the naturalization process for more than five years.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection for individuals who no longer qualified as refugees under the relevant UN conventions. Persons awaiting status determination received a letter, valid for three months, indicating they were awaiting a decision on their status. The letter provided for temporary stay and freedom of movement only. Holders of the letter did not qualify for refugee assistance such as access to education or health care.

STATELESS PERSONS

Statelessness in the country remained extensive. Citizenship is derived from one’s parents rather than by birth within the country’s territory, and birth registration was not universal. The country had habitual residents who were either legally stateless or effectively stateless. UNHCR continued to estimate the number of stateless persons at 700,000.

The special declaration program–based on a 2013 law that allows foreign-born persons living in the country before independence in 1960 to obtain citizenship by declaration and gives foreign nationals born in the country between 1961 and 1973 the option of citizenship–ended on January 24. Casework continued on the 123,810 claims submitted, and approximately 12,000 claimants received administrative nationality certificates. Responsibility for the final step–converting the nationality certificate into the ultimate proof of nationality (a judicial nationality certificate)–was on the claimant.

The National Action Plan to eradicate statelessness in the country was completed in Grand Bassam during a September 8-9 workshop organized by the Ministry of Justice. The plan delineates the steps required to uphold the government’s obligations under statelessness conventions, including legal reform to provide for access to nationality for stateless persons not included in the declaration program (other historic migrants, foundlings, and others).

Cuba

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press only insofar as it “conforms to the aims of socialist society.” Laws banning criticism of government leaders and distribution of antigovernment propaganda carry penalties ranging from three months to 15 years in prison.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The government had little tolerance for public criticism of government officials or programs and limited public debate of issues considered politically sensitive. State security regularly harassed the organizers of independent fora for debates on cultural and social topics to force them to stop discussing issues deemed controversial. Forum organizers reported assaults by state security, video surveillance installed outside of venues, and detention of panelists and guests on the days they were expected to appear.

Several government workers reported being fired for expressing dissenting opinions or affiliating with independent organizations. For example, in August local radio station journalist Jose Ramirez Pandoja was fired for publishing a controversial speech by the deputy director of the CP’s official newspaper, Granma, on his personal blog. The speech cited young journalists leaving traditional media outlets due to censorship policies and low salaries.

Several university professors and researchers reported they were forced from their positions or demoted for expressing ideas or opinions outside of government-accepted norms.

During the year some religious groups reported greater latitude to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings, although most members of the clergy continued to exercise self-censorship. Religious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and even the country’s leadership without reprisals. The Roman Catholic Church operated a cultural and educational center in Havana that hosted debates featuring participants expressing different opinions about the country’s future. On January 8, the government closed open-air churches in Camaguey and Las Tunas and detained three pastors associated with the Apostolic movement, an unregistered network of Protestant churches. The government claimed that the pastors erected the churches without permission, but the pastors denied that claim. One of the pastors was later charged and convicted of violating neighborhood noise ordinances related to his Sunday sermons.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government directly owned all print and broadcast media outlets and all widely available sources of information. News and information programming was generally uniform across all outlets, with the exception of broadcasts of Venezuelan government news programming. The government also controlled nearly all publications and printing presses, and the CP must give prior approval for printing of nearly all publications. The party censored public screenings and performances. The government also limited the importation of printed materials. Foreign correspondents in the country had limited access to and often were denied interviews with government officials. They also struggled to gather facts and reliable data for stories. Despite meeting government vetting requirements, official journalists who reported on sensitive subjects did so at personal risk, and the government restricted the ability of official journalists to work for unofficial media outlets in addition to their official duties. Granma correspondent Jose Antonio Torres remained in prison at the end of the year; he was sentenced in 2012 to 14 years’ imprisonment on charges of espionage for articles he wrote.

Violence and Harassment: The government does not recognize independent journalism, and independent journalists sometimes faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse. Most detentions involved independent journalists who filmed arrests and harassment of #TodosMarchamos activists. Several journalists were detained, had their equipment confiscated, and were harassed for covering the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Some independent journalists reported interrogations by state security agents for publishing articles critical of government institutions.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits distribution of printed materials considered “counterrevolutionary” or critical of the government. Foreign newspapers or magazines were generally unavailable outside of tourist areas. Distribution of material with political content–interpreted broadly to include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, foreign newspapers, and independent information on public health–was not allowed and could result in harassment and detention.

The government sometimes barred independent libraries from receiving materials from abroad and seized materials donated by foreign governments, religious organizations, and individuals. Government officials also confiscated or destroyed cameras and phones of individuals to prevent them from distributing photographs and videos deemed objectionable, such as those taken during arrests and detentions. Activists reported interrogations and confiscations at the airport when arriving from the United States. On August 1, human rights activist Ivan Hernandez Carillo reported being detained and beaten when he arrived at the airport in Havana after he refused to go to a small room to have his belongings searched. On August 12, independent lawyer Laritza Diversent was briefly questioned when she returned from testifying on freedom of expression before the UN special rapporteur. Security officials confiscated all materials related to this event. Independent think tank Convivencia reported nine police citations and interrogations in September and October during which state security questioned members about their participation in international conferences.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government uses defamation of character laws to arrest or detain individuals critical of the country’s leadership.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored some online content, and there were credible reports that the government monitored without appropriate legal authority the limited e-mail and internet chat rooms and browsing that were permitted. The government controlled all internet access, except for limited facilities provided by a few diplomatic missions and a small but increasing number of black market facilities.

While the International Telecommunication Union reported that 31 percent of citizens used the internet in 2015, access often was limited to a national intranet that offered only e-mail or highly restricted access to the World Wide Web. Other international groups reported lower internet penetration, with approximately 5 percent of the population having access to open internet.

The government selectively granted internet access to certain areas in the city and sectors of the population consisting mostly of government officials, established professionals, some professors and students, journalists, and artists. Others could access e-mail and internet services through government-sponsored “youth clubs,” internet cafes, or Wi-Fi hot spots approved and regulated by the Ministry for Information, Technology, and Communications. Users were required to purchase prepaid cards and provide personal information in order to access the internet in these centers.

During the year the government increased the number of Wi-Fi hot spots at computer centers to more than 200 countrywide. The government also expanded Wi-Fi hot spots in areas outside computer centers and proposed a pilot program to install internet in the homes of a limited number of persons in Old Havana. Authorities reviewed the browsing history of users, reviewed and censored e-mail, employed internet search filters, and blocked access to websites considered objectionable. Access cost approximately two convertible pesos (CUC) ($2) per hour, still beyond the means of many citizens, whose average official income was approximately 23 CUC ($23) per month.

While the law does not set specific penalties for unauthorized internet use, it is illegal to own a satellite dish that would provide uncensored internet access. The government restricted the importation of wireless routers, reportedly actively targeted private wireless access points, and confiscated equipment.

The use of encryption software and transfer of encrypted files are also illegal. Despite poor access, harassment, and infrastructure challenges, a growing number of citizens maintained blogs in which they posted opinions critical of the government, with help from foreign supporters who often built and maintained the blog sites. The government blocked local access to many of these blogs. In addition, a small but growing number of citizens could use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media channels to report independently on developments in the country, including observations critical of the government. Like other government critics, bloggers faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse.

Foreigners could buy internet access cards from the national telecommunications provider and use hotel business centers, where internet access could be purchased only in hard currency. Access usually cost between five and 10 CUC ($5 to $10) an hour, a rate well beyond the means of most citizens. Citizens usually could purchase internet access at the national telecommunications provider and use hotel business centers.

Human rights activists reported frequent government monitoring and disruption of cell phone and landline services prior to planned events or key anniversaries related to human rights. The government-owned telecommunications provider ETECSA often disconnected service for human rights organizers, often just before their detention by state security, or to disrupt planned activities.

During the 54-day hunger strike of activist Guillermo “Coco” Farinas, the government reportedly disrupted Farinas’ telephone service and intercepted calls to provide false information.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and controlled the curricula at all schools and universities, emphasizing the importance of reinforcing “revolutionary ideology” and “discipline.” Some academics refrained from meeting with foreigners, including diplomats, journalists, and visiting scholars, without prior government approval and, at times, the presence of a government monitor. Those permitted to travel abroad were aware that their actions, if deemed politically unfavorable, could negatively affect them and their relatives back home. During the year the government allowed some religious educational centers greater space to operate.

Outspoken artists and academics faced some harassment and criticism orchestrated by the government. For example, in April academic Omar Everleny Perez Villanueva was expelled from the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana for “indiscipline” and for having “unauthorized conversations with foreign institutions,” which included talking to foreign press and criticizing the government’s slow pace of economic reforms.

In June art historian Yanelys Nunez Leyva was fired from a cultural magazine for contributing to a developing online platform called the Cuban Museum of Dissent featuring leaders in Cuban history who had rebelled against political doctrines.

Public libraries required citizens to complete a registration process before the government granted access to books or information. Citizens could be denied access if they could not demonstrate a need to visit a particular library. Libraries required a letter of permission from an employer or academic institution for access to censored, sensitive, or rare books and materials. Religious institutions organized small libraries. Independent libraries remained illegal but continued to exist and faced harassment and intimidation.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution grants a limited right of assembly, the right is subject to the requirement that it may not be “exercised against the existence and objectives of the socialist state.” The law requires citizens to request authorization for organized meetings of three or more persons, and failure to do so could carry a penalty of up to three months in prison and a fine. The government tolerated some gatherings, and many religious groups reported the ability to gather without registering or facing sanctions.

Independent activists faced greater obstacles, and state security forces often suppressed attempts to assemble, even for gatherings in private dwellings and in small numbers. This trend was particularly pronounced in the eastern part of the country. For example, on March 27, UNPACU reported that state security forces forcibly detained more than 150 activists in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Las Tunas, and Guantanamo during a peaceful protest.

The government also continued to organize repudiation acts in the form of mobs organized to assault and disperse those who assembled peacefully. Participants arrived in government-owned buses or were recruited by government officials from nearby workplaces or schools. Participants arrived and departed in shifts, chanted revolutionary slogans, sang revolutionary songs, and verbally taunted the targets of the protest. The targets of this harassment at times suffered physical assault or property damage. Government security officials at the scene, often present in overwhelming numbers, did not arrest those who physically attacked the victims or respond to victims’ complaints and instead frequently orchestrated the activities. Officials reportedly took direct part in physical assaults.

The government did not grant permission to independent demonstrators or approve public meetings by human rights groups or others critical of any government activity.

In July police began blocking private UNPACU meetings in eastern provinces. On September 22, police detained 24 activists who were attempting to participate in a routine UNPACU meeting. Separately, in Havana, on September 22, police detained three labor union activists and placed five under house arrest to stop a meeting organized by human rights activist Ivan Hernandez Carrillo. The government also blocked meetings for independent academic and cultural organizations. For example, on September 23, Dagoberto Valdes, founder and director of the think tank Convivencia, suspended a course in Pinar del Rio on civic learning after two civil society participants from Cienfuegos were barred from entering the province.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The government routinely denied citizens freedom of association and did not recognize independent associations. The constitution proscribes any political organization not officially recognized. A number of independent organizations, including opposition political parties and professional associations, operated as NGOs without legal recognition.

Recognized churches (including the Roman Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas), the Freemason movement, and a number of fraternal and professional organizations were the only associations legally permitted to function outside the formal structure of the state, the CP, and government-organized groups. Religious groups are under the supervision of the CP’s Office of Religious Affairs, which has the authority to deny permits for religious activities and exerted pressure on church leaders to refrain from including political topics in their sermons.

Nonreligious groups must register through the Ministry of Justice to receive official recognition. Authorities continued to ignore applications for legal recognition from new groups, including several new religious groups as well as women’s rights and gay rights organizations, thereby subjecting members to potential charges of illegal association.

The government continued to afford preferential treatment to those who took an active part in CP activities and mass demonstrations in support of the government, especially when awarding valued public benefits, such as admissions to higher education, fellowships, and job opportunities.

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

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

There continued to be restrictions on freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, and migration with the right of return. The government also controlled internal migration from rural areas to Havana.

In-country Movement: Although the constitution allows all citizens to travel anywhere within the country, changes of residence to Havana were restricted. The local housing commission and provincial government authorities must authorize any change of residence. The government may fine persons living in a location without authorization from these bodies and send them back to their legally authorized place of residence. There were reports that authorities limited social services to persons who lived in Havana illegally. Police occasionally threatened to prosecute for “dangerousness” anyone who returned to Havana after expulsion.

The law permits authorities to bar an individual from a certain area within the country, or to restrict an individual to a certain area, for a maximum of 10 years. Under this provision authorities may internally exile any person whose presence in a given location is determined to be “socially dangerous.” Some dissidents reported that authorities prevented them from leaving their home provinces or detained and returned them to their homes.

Foreign Travel: The government continued to require several classes of citizens to obtain permission for emigrant travel, including highly specialized medical personnel; military or security personnel; many government officials, including academics; and some former political prisoners or well-known activists. In December 2015 the government reimposed exit permit requirements on medical personnel for nonimmigrant travel, reversing a 2012 law that simplified the process by only requiring a supervisor’s permission. In March the government allowed former political prisoners arrested during the 2003 Black Spring–and released in 2010 and 2011 on parole–one opportunity to travel outside the country for the first time since their arrest. Government authorities barred a second attempt when two of these activists requested permission to travel in July.

Emigration and Repatriation: Individuals seeking to migrate legally stated they also faced police interrogation, fines, harassment, and intimidation, including involuntary dismissal from employment. Government employees who applied to migrate legally to the United States reportedly sometimes lost positions when their plans became known. Some family members of former government employees who emigrated from the island lost public benefits or were denied passports to travel and join their family members abroad.

The law provides for imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of 500 nonconvertible pesos (CUP) ($20) for first-time “rafters” (those who attempted to depart using clandestinely constructed vessels). The largest fine reported during the year was 3,000 CUP ($120) for an unauthorized departure from the country. Most persons caught attempting unauthorized departures via sea were detained briefly. In the case of military or police defectors, or those traveling with children, the punishment could be more severe. Prison terms were also more common for persons attempting to flee to the United States through the Guantanamo U.S. Naval Station.

Under the terms of the 1994 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accord, the government agreed not to prosecute or retaliate against migrants returned from international or U.S. waters, or from the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo, after attempting to emigrate illegally if they had not committed a separate criminal offense. The government prevented independent trips to monitor repatriated Cubans outside of Havana. Some would-be migrants alleged harassment and discrimination, such as fines, expulsion from school, and job loss, and others reported more severe punishment.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the granting of asylum to individuals persecuted for their ideals or actions involving a number of specified political grounds. The government has no formal mechanism to process asylum for foreign nationals.

Temporary Protection: On the small number of cases of persons seeking asylum, the government worked with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance, pending third-country resettlement. In addition, the government allowed foreign students who feared persecution in their home countries to remain in the country after the end of their studies, until their claims could be substantiated or resolved.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of speech and press. The press frequently and openly criticized public officials and public policy decisions. Individuals generally could criticize the government, its officials, and other citizens in private without being subject to official reprisals. Public criticism, however, of government officials, the president, or government policies regarding elections, democracy, and corruption sometimes resulted in intimidation, threats, and arrest.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits insulting the head of state, malicious and public slander, and language presumed to threaten national security. Authorities sometimes detained journalists, activists, and politicians when they publicly criticized the government, the president, or the SSF. Plainclothes security agents allegedly monitored political rallies and events.

On April 22, Godefroy Mwanabwato was convicted and sentenced to 24 months in prison for offending the head of state, offending the government and parliament, and inciting racial and ethnic hatred. Mwanabwato was arrested in June 2015 for a social media post criticizing the government and calling for the release of detained activists Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala. He was held incommunicado for 15 days in ANR detention and allegedly tortured, then conditionally released on August 31 as part of a government effort to reduce political tensions.

On December 27, reportedly acting on a request from the public prosecutor, the provincial assembly in Haut Katanga stripped opposition National Federalists Union of Congo party president Gabriel Kyungu Wa Kumwanza of parliamentary immunity for allegedly insulting the head of state during a speech in April.

Press and Media Freedoms: The law mandates the High Council for the Audiovisual and Communications (CSAC) to provide for freedom of the press and equal access to communications media and information for political parties, associations, and citizens. A large and active private press functioned predominantly in Kinshasa, although with some representation across the country, and the government licensed a large number of daily newspapers. Radio remained the principal medium of public information due to limited literacy and the relatively high cost of newspapers and television. The state owned three radio stations and three television stations, and the president’s family owned two additional television stations. Government officials, politicians, and to a lesser extent church leaders, owned or operated the majority of media outlets.

The government required newspapers to pay a one-time license fee of 250,000 Congolese francs ($210) and complete several administrative requirements before publishing. Broadcast media were also subject to a Directorate for Administrative and Land Revenue advertisement tax. Many journalists lacked professional training, received little or no set salary, could not access government information, and exercised self-censorship due to concerns about harassment, intimidation, or arrest.

The local NGO Journalists in Danger reported seven independent media outlets, including Nyota Television, Mapendo Television, Jua Television, La Voix du Katanga, and Radio Liberte Butembo, were closed during the year for political reasons. In August the minister of justice and human rights announced Canal Congo Television (CCTV) and Canal Kin Television, both owned by opposition leaders and closed since 2011, could resume broadcasting as a measure to ease political tensions. Canal Futur Television, also closed in 2011, for allegedly owing back taxes, remained closed at year’s end. On December 19, the government closed CCTV and Radio Liberte Kinshasa, both owned by Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the opposition Congolese Liberation Movement party. The CSAC and the teledistribution company that manages media in Kinshasa denied involvement in closing the stations. Authorities maintained they were closed for failing to pay back taxes and licensing fees. The stations remained closed at year’s end.

Violence and Harassment: Local journalists were vulnerable to intimidation and violence by the SSF. According to Journalists in Danger, 12 journalists were mistreated, arrested, or harassed by SSF while covering the September 19-20 protest in Kinshasa. For example, on September 19, Kinshasa SSF arbitrarily arrested Canal Congo Television journalist Dosta Lutula while he was covering an opposition demonstration. Lutula said he was taken to a military camp, beaten, and stripped. He was released the next day, but authorities kept his equipment and recordings. On the same day, La Prosperite reporter Kevin Inana and Eliezer Thambwe, host of the popular television show Tokomi Wapi, were arbitrarily arrested in Kinshasa, subjected to abuse, and briefly detained in military camps.

In 2015 two journalists were killed, one by a civilian attacker and the other by unidentified assailants. According to local NGOs, no investigation into these killings had begun by year’s end. Journalists in Danger reported an increase in press freedom violations from 72 in 2015 to 87 during the year. The NGO reported authorities assaulted or tortured 16 journalists, arrested and held 11 for more than 48 hours, detained and interrogated 31 for less than 48 hours, and threatened or harassed 15 in the 12-month period ending November 30. Other incidents included efforts to subject them to administrative, judicial, or economic pressure or to obstruct the free circulation of information. At year’s end the government had not sanctioned or charged any perpetrator of press freedom violations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: While the CSAC is the only institution with legal authority to restrict broadcasts, the government, including the SSF and provincial officials, also exercised this power in practice. Some press officers in government agencies allegedly censored news articles by privately owned publications. Privately owned media increasingly practiced self-censorship, due to fear of potential suppression and the prospect of the government shutting them down as it had done previously to a handful of major pro-opposition media outlets.

Media representatives reported they were pressured by the government not to cover events organized by the opposition or news concerning opposition leaders. On November 4, the government blocked the signals of Radio France Internationale and UN-supported Radio Okapi. Radio Okapi’s signal was reestablished November 11, but RFI’s signal remained blocked at year’s end.

Libel/Slander Laws: The national and provincial governments used criminal defamation laws to intimidate and punish critics. For example, the Ministry of Justice revived a defamation case against Vital Kamerhe, leader of the opposition party Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC), for his statements concerning electoral fraud in the 2011 elections, despite the settlement made out of court in 2012. If convicted, Kamerhe could face up to one year in prison and a fine, and could be barred from running for certain public offices. As of September the case was pending an appeal to the Constitutional Court. In addition, Kamerhe’s Canal Futur Television was closed in 2011 for allegedly owing back taxes. The government authorized the station to resume broadcasting in August, days before the start of talks between the government and several opposition parties including Kamerhe’s UNC. The station did not resume broadcasts, however, because by then another company was illegally using its frequency. It remained closed at year’s end.

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

Some private entrepreneurs made moderately priced internet access available through internet cafes in large cities throughout the country. Data-enabled mobile telephones were an increasingly popular way to access the internet. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 3.9 percent of individuals in the country used the internet during the year.

Ahead of anticipated protests on December 19, the government ordered internet providers to prohibit the sharing of video, images, or sound over social media, on penalty of revocation of their operating licenses. Companies were responsible for either isolating and prohibiting this feature or shutting down all related data services. Companies re-opened full use of internet features by December 28.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government sometimes restricted this right. The law requires organizers of public events to notify local authorities in advance of the event. The government maintained that public events required advance permission and sometimes declined to authorize public meetings or protests. The SSF occasionally beat, detained, or arrested participants in unauthorized protests, marches, or meetings.

UNJHRO’s report on opposition September 19-21 protests noted that, according to the constitution, neither permission nor justification is required prior to demonstrations but that citizens planning to demonstrate in public must inform the relevant authority in writing. UNJHRO found that the government was enforcing a 1999 law requiring prior authorization, which, according UNJHRO, is “in contravention with the constitution.”

According to MONUSCO at least 81 demonstrations organized by opposition political parties and/or civil society were either prohibited or repressed by the authorities from January to June. During the same period, at least 70 demonstrations, including 31 organized by the ruling party coalition, were held without incident. In October local authorities prevented, or SSF forcibly repressed, seven demonstrations planned or organized by opposition parties and civil society organizations and monitored by UNJHRO. On the other hand, at least 11 demonstrations, including nine organized by the ruling majority, took place without problems. For example, in September in Mbuji-Mayi, capital of Kasai Province, the governor organized a march in support of the head of state. The city’s mayor, however, banned a march scheduled by the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress two weeks later and deployed police to prevent the rally.

After opposition protests in September, the government banned all public gatherings in most major cities, and SSF shut down subsequent peaceful protests and arrested participants. For example, on October 29, SSF arrested eight activists from the group Filimbi for staging a peaceful sit-in outside the African Union offices in Kinshasa. The Kinshasa governor’s office issued a press release on October 31 announcing it would continue to enforce the ban on public gatherings and demonstrations in order “to guarantee the tranquil and serene conditions necessary for communal life, tolerance, and democratic values.” On November 5, SSF surrounded the home of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi and prohibited him from holding a planned public meeting.

On November 3, the UN special rapporteurs on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the situation of human rights defenders issued a statement condemning the government’s protest ban, stating, “It is clear that the current situation in the DRC does not justify a general ban on demonstrations in several cities. In fact, given that the country is in a hotly disputed election period, people should be given more space, not less, to express their democratic freedoms.” The special rapporteurs called the prohibitions on marches “disturbing signs that democratic space is rapidly dissipating in the DRC, with human rights organizations and opposition parties bearing the brunt of the repression.”

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Civil society organizations and NGOs are required to register with the government and may receive funds only through donations; they cannot generate any revenue, even if it is not at a profit. The registration process is burdensome and very slow. Some groups, particularly within the LGBTI community, reported the government had denied their registration requests.

During an interactive dialogue with civil society in Kinshasa on March 21, the minister of justice and human rights stated that only 63 of more than 21,000 NGOs in the country were formally registered. Many NGOs reported that, even when carefully following the registration process, it often took years to receive legal certification. Many interpreted registration difficulties as intentional government obstacles for impeding NGO activity.

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

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

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

On September 30, the DRC was one of several delegations from African nations, UNHCR, and the African Union to reach an agreement on steps to end the protracted Rwandan refugee situation by the end of 2017, after seven years of negotiations. At the end of the year, UNHCR estimated there were 267,463 Rwandan refugees in the country.

Continuing conflict in North Kivu Province harmed refugees and IDPs in the region, with attacks often resulting in deaths and further displacement. The armed conflict sometimes exacerbated ethnic tensions and clashes between communities and displaced groups. For instance, on June 8, local Kobo and Nyanga leaders gave displaced and refugee Hutu populations in Bulehusa–approximately 5,000 persons–an ultimatum to leave the town within 48 hours. Later that night youths from the Kobo and Nyanga communities burned several Hutu homes in the town, and on June 12, Mai-Mai militias returned to the site and killed several residents.

In-country Movement: The SSF–and to a greater extent RMGs–established barriers and checkpoints on roads and at airports and markets, ostensibly for security reasons, and routinely harassed and extorted money from civilians for supposed violations, sometimes detaining them until they or a relative paid. The government required travelers to submit to control procedures at airports and ports during domestic travel and when entering and leaving towns.

Local authorities continued to collect illegal taxes and fees for boats to travel on many parts of the Congo River. There also were widespread reports FARDC soldiers and RMG combatants extorted fees from persons taking goods to market or traveling between towns (see section 1.g.).

The SSF sometimes required travelers to present travel orders from an employer or government official, although the law does not require such documentation. The SSF often detained and sometimes exacted bribes from individuals traveling without orders.

Foreign Travel: Because of inadequate administrative systems, passport issuance was irregular. Officials accepted bribes to expedite passport issuance.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

Due to the conflict in the east and heightened conflict in areas of ex-Katanga Province, by June there were 1.7 million IDPs throughout the country, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, including approximately 678,000 in North Kivu, 375,000 in South Kivu, 147,000 in Tanganyika, and 142,000 in Maniema. The government was unable to protect or assist IDPs adequately but generally allowed domestic and international humanitarian organizations to do so. In 2014, however, the governor of North Kivu banned the creation of any new IDP camps in the province, insisting instead that government officials redirect any persons in spontaneous settlements to an established camp or encourage them to return home. UNHCR and other international humanitarian organizations worked to close several IDP sites, encouraging voluntary returns where possible and pursuing local integration in areas with sufficient land and a relatively stable security environment. The government and FARDC unilaterally and abruptly closed a number of IDP sites, including in the Mpati area of North Kivu, resulting in a new displacement of thousands of IDPs. Conflict and insecurity, as well as poor infrastructure, adversely affected humanitarian efforts. In July humanitarian organizations were unable to assess and verify displaced populations in North Kivu’s Mweso and Nyanzale towns due to insecurity. Multiple abductions of relief workers occurred in the east. In early May, three humanitarian organizations temporarily suspended operations in North Kivu’s Rutshuru Territory due to abductions of relief workers.

Population displacements continued throughout the year, particularly in the east. Many areas continued to experience insecurity such as North Kivu’s Beni Territory. Attacks by the ADF had killed more than 500 persons since October 2014. Intercommunal violence and fighting among armed groups in the east from late April through July resulted in population displacement and increased humanitarian needs for IDPs and host communities.

Combatants and other civilians abused IDPs. Abuses included killings, sexual exploitation of women and children (including rape), abduction, forced conscription, looting, illegal taxation, and general harassment.

From 2015 until June, approximately 857,000 IDPs returned to their areas of origin, according to the United Nations. This included 185,000 returnees in North Kivu, 130,000 in South Kivu, 27,000 in Maniema, and 136,000 in Tanganyika.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

As of July 31, UNHCR reported 387,963 refugees in the country from seven adjacent countries, the greatest number being from Rwanda. Since late 2015, 13,972 new arrivals from South Sudan registered as refugees.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government established a rudimentary system for providing protection to refugees. The system granted refugee and asylum status and provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers with welfare and safety needs. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homes by allowing their entry into the country and facilitating immigration processing. In establishing security mechanisms, government authorities did not treat refugees differently than citizens.

Durable Solutions: Through the application of the cessation clauses of the 1951 Convention and the 1969 Organization of African Unity Convention, Angolans who fled the Angolan civil war (which ended in 2002) ceased to be refugees in 2012. In 2014 UNHCR launched the final assisted voluntary repatriation of former Angolan refugees. From January through September 2015, 3,916 Angolans returned home; another 21,290 Angolans in Kinshasa, Bas-Congo, and Katanga provinces awaited return. UNHCR helped another 18,638 Angolan refugees to file for local integration in 2015, including paying for their residency permits. Repatriation and integration continued through the year; as of December only 494 Angolan refugees remained in the country.

UNHCR recommended invocation of the cessation clause effective June 30 for Rwandan refugees who fled Rwanda before the end of 1998. To implement the tripartite agreement from 2014, the National Commission on Refugees (CNR) and UNHCR began in April the process of biometrically registering Rwandan refugees. The FDLR impeded the process in North Kivu, where most of the refugees were located. UNHCR and the CNR suspended biometric registration following FDLR attacks on UNCHR-supported registration teams in February and April, during which the teams lost all of their data. UNHCR continued to support voluntary repatriation. In December the government completed a pilot study of two IDP sites and reported that many presumed IDPs were actually Rwandan nationals. UNHCR was working with the government to address the issue.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to an undetermined number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

Djibouti

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately could face reprisals. Plainclothes security agents in mosques monitored the content of sermons during Friday prayers.

On January 14, authorities arrested Kadar Abdi Ibrahim, university professor and journalist and publisher of biweekly opposition magazine l’Aurore, after he published a picture of a child killed during the December 2015 incident. Ibrahim spent one night in custody and was then released. On January 19, a judge suspended Ibrahim’s magazine for two months and gave him a suspended two‑month jail sentence. In February 2015 Ibrahim was fired by presidential decree from his position at the university for expressing political beliefs in the workplace.

Another opposition member and two persons linked to the December 2015 incident were also fired by presidential decree from their government positions.

Press and Media Freedoms: There were no privately owned or independent newspapers in the country. Printing facilities for mass media were government owned, which created obstacles for those wishing to publish criticism of the government. The principal newspaper, La Nation, maintained a monopoly on domestic news.

On April 2, the government expelled BBC journalists, including BBC’s Africa security correspondent, from the country. According to government officials, the BBC journalists did not have proper media accreditation to report on the presidential election scheduled for April 8. The BBC asserted they did have official media accreditation and interviewed the foreign minister and an opposition candidate on April 1, after which authorities detained the journalists and deported them the next morning.

Opposition political groups and civil society activists circulated newsletters and other materials that criticized the government via e-mail and social media sites. President of the Djiboutian Human Rights League (LDDH) Omar Ali Ewado published a list of persons who allegedly died in the December 2015 incident; the number of names exceeded the government’s official death toll. Government officials stated Ewado fabricated the names and death toll. Authorities charged Ewado with defamation, and he spent 45 days in pretrial detention. On February 14, authorities granted Ewado probation. On April 30, the Supreme Court dropped all charges against him.

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

In 1992 the Ministry of Communication created a Communication Commission to distribute licenses to nongovernmental entities wishing to operate media outlets. In 2012 the ministry accepted its first application for licensing, but the application remained pending. In 2015 Maydaneh Abdallah Okieh–a journalist with radio station La Voix de Djibouti–submitted a request to the Ministry of Communication for approval to operate a radio station. He subsequently received a letter stating the ministry’s commission had not been fully established and could not grant rights to operate a radio station. After the April cabinet reshuffle, the ministry selected members for the Communication Commission, but had yet to issue an official press release with all the names of members to formalize the commission.

Violence and Harassment: The government arrested and harassed journalists.

For example, on January 11, gendarmes arrested and detained La Voix de Djibouti journalist Mohamed Ibrahim Waiss for allegedly reporting on court cases of opposition members. He was in Gabode Prison on pretrial detention until January 17. Authorities dismissed his case on January 24 for lack of evidence.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media laws and the government’s harassment and detention of journalists resulted in widespread self-censorship.

Circulation of a new newspaper requires authorization from the Communication Commission, which requires agreement from the National Security Service. The National Security Service reportedly investigated funding sources and the newspaper staff’s political affiliations.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against slander to restrict public discussion.

In August, Youssouf Ahmed, editor of independent magazine Le Renard, was arrested and detained on charges of libel for criticizing high-level government officials. He was released after 48 hours. Authorities first sentenced Ahmed to one month in prison and a 9.96 million Djiboutian franc ($56,270) fine, but he settled his case out of court. According to opposition and human right groups, his case was dismissed contingent upon him no longer commenting on high-level government officials.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, although the government monitored social networks to ensure there were no planned demonstrations or overly critical views of the government (see section 1.c.).

Djibouti Telecom, the state-owned internet provider, reportedly continued to block access to websites of the Association for Respect for Human Rights in Djibouti and La Voix de Djibouti, which often criticized the government. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 10.71 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were government restrictions on academic and cultural events. Following the December 2015 incident, there was a presidential decree issued for security reasons that forbade any cultural, political, or religious gatherings for two months. The Ministry of Religious and Cultural Affairs postponed a regional folkloric dance and a regional conference of Muslim religious leaders due to the decree until after the presidential election in April.

Unlike in the previous year, there were no government restrictions on academic freedom.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government restricted this right. The Ministry of Interior requires permits for peaceful assemblies. In contrast with the previous year, the Ministry of Interior allowed opposition groups to host events and rallies, particularly for the presidential campaign. Security authorities occasionally restricted this right (see section 1.c.).

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law allow for freedom of association provided community groups register and obtain a permit from the Ministry of Interior. Nevertheless, the ministry ignored the petitions of some groups (see section 5). The government harassed and intimidated opposition parties, human rights groups, and labor unions.

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

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

The law generally provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government collaborated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to draft and pass a comprehensive refugee law, ensuring refugees’ right to health, education, and the right to work. The National Assembly adopted the refugee law on December 26.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government maintained an increased police presence at the Ali Addeh refugee camp following the 2014 attack on La Chaumiere restaurant. Separately, gendarmes maintained a presence at the Markazi refugee camp. Refugees had limited legal protections since there were no permanent courts within the camps or in neighboring communities.

Refugees, however, reported abuse and attacks to the National Office for Assistance to Refugees and Populations Affected by Disaster (ONARS) and UNHCR. With the support of the local National Union of Djiboutian Women (UNFD), mobile courts traveled to the largest camp, Ali Addeh, to hear the backlog of pending cases. During the year UNFD also placed a full-time staff member in all refugee camps to provide support for domestic violence victims. Cases of domestic violence were reported, although the status of subsequent investigations was unknown. Impunity remained a problem.

The government detained and deported large numbers of irregular migrants, primarily from Ethiopia. The government sometimes gave individual irregular migrants the opportunity to claim asylum status, after which the National Eligibility Commission was supposed to determine their status. The commission did not sit during the year until July 24. More than 8,042 asylum seekers awaited decisions on their asylum claims.

In-country Movement: Due to the continuing border dispute with Eritrea, certain areas in the north remained under military control.

Foreign Travel: Opposition members reported immigration officials prevented them from boarding international flights.

For example, on August 9, gendarmes stopped Union for National Salvation (USN) Secretary General Abdourahman Mohamed Guelleh at the entrance of the Ambouli airport, preventing him from boarding his international flight. Government officials stated Guelleh could not leave the country until his case concerning alleged involvement in the December 2015 incident was closed. He remained released on probation. On July 12, the Supreme Court dismissed Guelleh’s case, but the state prosecutor overturned the decision. Guelleh’s case remained pending.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Asylum seekers from southern Somalia and Yemen are, prima facie, considered eligible for asylum or refugee status. All other asylum claims must be reviewed by the National Eligibility Commission, which falls under the Ministry of Interior and consists of staff from ONARS and several ministries; UNHCR participates as an observer.

According to UNHCR the country hosted more than 19,000 refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from south and central Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, in two refugee camps in the southern region of Ali Sabieh. An additional estimated 4,800 individuals from Ethiopia, Yemen, Somalia, and other nations lived in urban areas, primarily in Djibouti City. Due to Ethiopia’s instability in August and September, the country permitted more than 5,000 Ethiopians, particularly those from the Oromia, to register as asylum seekers.

In the past most new Somali refugees arrived at the Ali Addeh camp, which reached maximum capacity several years previously. To reduce congestion, in 2012 UNHCR and ONARS reopened a second camp at Holl-Holl. UNHCR and ONARS completed a validation census of refugees in camps and in Djibouti City in January and identified those who arrived after 2009 for voluntary relocation to the new camp.

The country also hosted refugees fleeing violence in Yemen starting in March 2015. ONARS and UNHCR registered approximately 6,000 refugees from Yemen, at least 2,800 of whom lived in a refugee camp in the northern region of Obock.

Organizational difficulties and resource constraints prevented ONARS and UNHCR from providing adequate services to refugees in all camps and in Djibouti City, including the prompt processing of asylum claims.

Due to the unresolved conflict begun in 2008 between Djibouti and Eritrea and the mandatory military conscription policy of the Eritrean government, the government considered Eritrean detainees as deserters from the Eritrean military rather than refugees. Beginning in 2011, however, the government allowed UNHCR to screen and resettle more than 200 Eritrean detainees imprisoned at Nagad in the United States, Canada, and Europe. In 2014 authorities released the 266 remaining Eritreans from Nagad and placed them in the Ali Addeh refugee camp. During the year the government continued to facilitate resettlement of this group. The government agreed to release 18 Eritrean detainees if the ICRC could resettle them to a third country. By year’s end the ICRC had not found a third country for resettlement of the 18 detainees.

Refoulement: The government did not routinely grant refugee or asylum status to groups other than southern Somalis and–beginning in March 2015–Yemenis. A backlog in asylum status determinations put individuals waiting for their screening at risk of expulsion to countries where they might be threatened. In 2014 two suicide bombers from Somalia attacked La Chaumiere restaurant in Djibouti’s city center, killing one victim and severely injuring others. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for this attack. After the attack, authorities closed the border with Somalia to refugees and stopped new registration and refugee status determination processes. Although the border remained officially closed during 2015, UNHCR reported the government allowed new arrivals into the country. The government also resumed the refugee status determination process in June 2015, hosting several sessions of the National Eligibility Commission each month thereafter.

Because of the presidential election and subsequent cabinet reshuffle, the National Eligibility Commission did not conduct interviews during the year until July 24. The Ministry of Interior-led commission met monthly from July to year’s end to reduce the backlog.

Because of resource constraints and limited capacity, the government did not proactively screen irregular migrants to determine if they were trafficking victims before returning them to their home countries.

Most of these cases involved Ethiopian nationals, whom government officials often identified as economic migrants. The government, working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), continued its efforts to differentiate refugees from irregular migrants. A lack of staff and other resources, however, impeded accurate vetting, particularly in light of the large number of irregular migrants transiting the country to Yemen and migrants deported from Yemen to Djibouti.

Employment: Scarce resources and employment opportunities limited local integration of refugees. Documented refugees were allowed to work with a work permit, and many (especially women) did so in jobs such as house cleaning, babysitting, or construction. There was little recourse to challenge working conditions or ensure fair payment for labor.

Access to Basic Services: The Ali Addeh camp was overcrowded, and basic services such as potable water were inadequate. The Holl-Holl camp was not overcrowded and had better access to potable water than the Ali Addeh camp. The government continued to issue birth certificates to children born in the Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl refugee camps. ONARS and UNHCR completed a refugee verification exercise in January 2015, which allowed ONARS and UNHCR officials to issue identification cards to all refugees older than 15 years in the Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl refugee camps and in Djibouti City. UNHCR and ONARS resumed resettlement activities in 2015, which had been on hold since 2012.

ONARS and UNHCR established the Markazi refugee camp in May 2015 after Yemenis began arriving in Djibouti following the eruption of violence in Yemen. The Markazi camp provided Yemeni refugees with basic services such as water, food, shelter, and medical services. The government issued birth certificates to children born in the Markazi refugee camp. ONARS and UNHCR also began issuing identification cards to Yemeni refugees.

For the first time, the government agreed to create a new Ministry of Education-recognized English curriculum for the 2017-18 academic year for more than 12,000 refugee children in the refugee camps. Previously UNHCR provided refugees in the Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl refugee camps with a Kenya-adapted curriculum taught in English and French that was not recognized by Kenyan and Djiboutian authorities.

Refugees in the Markazi camp had access to instruction based on a Yemeni and Saudi curriculum taught in Arabic.

Durable Solutions: In conjunction with IOM, the government continued to support vocational training for young refugees. These training programs have resulted in a small number of refugees finding local employment.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to a limited number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Authorities often jailed irregular migrants identified as economic migrants attempting to transit the country to enter Yemen and returned them to their countries of origin. The government worked with IOM to provide adequate health services to these migrants while they awaited deportation. IOM and the Ministry of Health have a Memorandum of Understanding permitting IOM to provide health supplies to hospitals in the “migration corridor” in Northern Djibouti, as well as enabling the ministry to have a health unit in IOM’s Migration Resource Center in Obock.

Egypt

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press but includes a clause stating, “it may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.”

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. The government investigated and prosecuted critics for alleged incitement of violence, insults to religion, insults to public figures and institutions such as the judiciary and the military, or violation of public morals. Individuals also faced societal and official harassment for speech viewed as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, such as using a hand gesture showing four fingers, a reference to the 2013 security operation to disperse the sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.

The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.” The president stated in a September speech that lying was a form of terrorism. Human rights observers expressed concern that authorities could use the ambiguous definition to stifle nonviolent speech and nonviolent opposition activity.

On February 20, a Bulaq Abu el-Ela appellate misdemeanor court sentenced author Ahmed Naji to two years in prison on charges of violating public morals based on the publication of an excerpt of his novel, The Use of Life, which contained explicit descriptions of sexual acts and illegal drug use. Authorities had acquitted Naji of the same charges in January, but prosecutors appealed the decision. Numerous writers and intellectuals decried the verdict, describing it as part of a larger government campaign against free expression. On December 18, a court suspended the implementation of Naji’s sentence pending the appeal of his sentence. Naji’s next hearing was scheduled for January 1, 2017.

In May authorities arrested the five members of the satirical group Street Children after it released a video criticizing supporters of the president and the increasing number of arrests. Band members were reportedly under investigation on charges of attempting to topple the regime, publishing offensive videos, and inciting citizens against authorities. In May authorities released one band member on bail and released the remaining four members in September pending investigations.

Press and Media Freedoms: The constitution, penal code, and media and publications law govern media issues. The government regulated the licensing of newspapers and controlled the printing and distribution of a majority of newspapers, including private newspapers and those of opposition political parties. The law does not impose restrictions on newspaper ownership.

The more than 20 state-owned media outlets broadly supported official state policy. The term for the governmental Higher Press Council, which had the power to appoint and dismiss editorial leadership of state-owned print outlets, expired in January. The governmental Egyptian Radio and Television Union appointed the heads of state-owned radio and television channels. Both state-owned and private media (including television and online journalism) sometimes criticized the government, but dominant media narratives supported the president and his policy initiatives.

As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported there were 25 imprisoned journalists in the country. Authorities continued to keep journalist Ismail Alexandrani in detention without formal charges at year’s end. Authorities detained him in November 2015 on arrival at Hurgada airport. On November 20, a court ordered his release, but authorities successfully appealed the release order. According to local rights groups, Alexandrani was under investigation for “reporting false news” and “joining a banned group.” Alexandrani’s reporting and scholarly work focused on the Sinai.

On May 1, authorities raided the press syndicate headquarters and arrested two journalists, Mahmoud el-Sakka and Amr Badr, according to members of the syndicate. Both journalists worked for an opposition news site, Bawabet Yanayer. The Interior Ministry claimed it had not raided the headquarters, and the journalists had willingly surrendered to authorities. Authorities referred el-Sakka and Badr to trial on charges of spreading false news and possession of firearms and Molotov cocktails. On August 27, a court ordered Badr’s release on bail of LE 5,000 ($275) pending investigations. On September 29, a court ordered el-Sakka’s release on bail of LE 5,000 ($275) pending investigations. The journalists’ arrests followed arrests of dozens of others on April 25, in connection with protests against the government’s announcement of a maritime border demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia in which the government determined that Tiran and Sanafir islands fell under Saudi sovereignty. According to a local rights group, authorities released most of those detained that day after a short incarceration.

On November 19, a court sentenced Yehia Kalash, president of the press syndicate, and Gamal Abdel Reheem and Khaled el-Balshy, two syndicate board members, to two years in prison for harboring fugitives (el-Sakka and Badr) inside the syndicate’s headquarters and spreading false news in connection with the May 1 raid on the syndicate headquarters. The three were sentenced in absentia; they appealed the verdict, and the hearing was scheduled for January 14, 2017.

On August 27, according to media reports, an administrative court referred Azza al-Henawy, an anchor for state-owned al-Qahera TV, to trial on charges including insulting the president. Al-Henawy had criticized the president and made allegations of corruption during a March television broadcast.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued statements condemning articles critical of the country in international publications, sometimes citing the authors by name.

Violence and Harassment: According to media reports and local and international human rights groups, state and nonstate actors arrested and imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated journalists. Foreign correspondents reported cases where the government denied them entry, deported them, and delayed or denied issuance of media credentials; some claimed these actions were part of a government campaign to intimidate foreign media.

On May 23, authorities denied French news correspondent Remy Pigaglio entry into the country when he arrived at Cairo International Airport after returning from vacation in France. Pigaglio claimed officials at first prevented him from contacting the French ambassador in Egypt and, and after detaining him for more than 24 hours, deported him.

In June security officers took British-Lebanese journalist Lilian Daoud from her Cairo home by security officers immediately following the end of her employment contract with ONTV. Authorities briefly detained and then deported her, according to media reports. On her television show, The Full Picture, Daoud had hosted protesters and youth leaders as well as government officials. The program had expressed views critical of the government.

In September 2015 the Cairo Criminal Court began a trial of 48 defendants accused of being Muslim Brotherhood members and charged with participating in the 2014 protest in Ain Shams during which journalist Mayada Ashraf was shot and killed while covering the clashes between protesters and police. The next hearing was scheduled for February 13, 2017.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. On February 3, art-house cinema Zawya stated that the country’s Censorship Authority refused to authorize the screening of three short films as part of Zawya’s Short Film Festival. Zawya’s director speculated to media that in the case of two of the three films, authorities objected to the content of the films, which included sexual content and discussions of atheism.

In August government officials confiscated copies of an issue of privately owned Sout Alomma newspaper, which included an article about the health of the president’s mother and articles critical of former president Hosni Mubarak.

Some activists and many journalists reported privately they self-censored criticism of the government or comments that could be perceived as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, due to the overall anti-Muslim Brotherhood and progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine.

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

On January 26, al-Khalifa Misdemeanor Court convicted writer Fatima Naoot in her absence and sentenced her to three years in prison and a fine of LE 20,000 ($1,100) for denigrating Islam by describing the Islamic ritual of sacrificing sheep during Eid al-Adha as a “massacre,” in a 2014 Facebook post. On March 31, the Sayeda Zeinab Appellate Misdemeanor Court confirmed the sentence. After Naoot appealed the decision, on October 20, the same court ordered her release pending investigations. On November 24, an appeals court reduced her sentence to a six months suspended.

On February 25, Bani Mazar Juvenile Misdemeanor Court sentenced four Christian high school students to five years’ imprisonment for denigrating Islam after the students appeared in video pretending to perform a Muslim prayer. The same court sentenced the students’ teacher, Gad Youssef Younan, who reportedly filmed the video, to three years in prison for denigrating Islam in December 2015.

Authorities released Mohamed Hegazy, also known as Bishoy Armia Boulous, from prison in July after spending more than two years in detention based on accusations that he had denigrated Islam in a symposium in 2009. A court ordered his release in June; however, over a period of several weeks, prison authorities claimed to have lost the court order and moved him to another prison without informing his attorney, according to media reports. During this time Hegazy recorded a video from prison in which he stated that he was reverting to Islam from Christianity; authorities released him shortly thereafter. Boulous unsuccessfully sued the Ministry of Interior in 2009 to recognize his conversion from Islam to Christianity, testing the constitutional right of freedom of religion.

National Security: The law allows government censors to block the publication of information related to intelligence and national security. Judges may issue and have issued restraint orders to prevent media from covering court cases considered sensitive on national security grounds. Rights groups stated authorities sometimes misused the orders to shield government, police, or military officials from public scrutiny. For example, on April 30, a court issued such an order in the case of protesters arrested during demonstrations against the government’s announcement of a maritime border demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia in which the bilateral agreement determined that Tiran and Sanafir islands fall under Saudi sovereignty. Citing safety and security, the government and military restricted media access to many parts of North Sinai.

The law imposes a fine on any person who “intentionally publishes…or spreads false news” contradicting official Ministry of Defense statements. The fine is many times the average annual salary of most local journalists.

An amendment to the police authority law, approved by parliament on August 9, bars police from providing information related to their work to media without permission from the Interior Ministry. An international NGO argued the amendment illustrated the government’s continuing effort to undermine transparency.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not generally restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, albeit with some exceptions. The constitution protects the right to privacy, including on the internet. The constitution provides for the confidentiality and “inviolability” of postal, telegraphic, and electronic correspondence; telephone calls; and other means of communication. They may not be confiscated, revealed, or monitored except with a judicial order, only for a definite period, and only in cases defined by law. The constitution prohibits the government from “arbitrarily” interrupting, disconnecting, or depriving citizens seeking to use all forms of internet communications. Law enforcement agencies occasionally restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage, relying on a law that only allows targeted interception of communications under judicial oversight for a limited period of time and does not permit indiscriminate mass surveillance. The public prosecutor occasionally prosecuted individuals accused of posting “insulting” material.

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

The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in northern Sinai by cutting telecommunication networks: mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines. Cuts generally occurred from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Networks were again fully accessible at approximately 8 p.m. and sometimes later. This tactic disrupted operations of government facilities and banks. The law obliges internet service providers and mobile operators to allow government access to customer databases, which can allow security forces to obtain information about activities of specific customers, which could lead to lack of online anonymity. Individuals widely used social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, during demonstrations and included widespread criticism of the government and security forces.

In July, Internet Live Stats estimated internet penetration to be 33 percent. A local civil society organization estimated 57 percent of families had internet access at home and four million persons used Twitter. A digital consulting company stated 28 million persons used Facebook.

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

On January 13, police arrested three administrators of Facebook pages that allegedly promoted antigovernment protests scheduled for the fifth anniversary of the January 25 Revolution, according to media reports. Two of the three were Muslim Brotherhood members, according to state-owned media.

In April international media reported that in December 2015 Facebook terminated its Free Basics Service, which provided mobile phone users with free access to a limited suite of internet services, because the company would not allow the government to circumvent the service’s security to conduct surveillance. The government previously stated that it had only granted the mobile carrier Etisalat a temporary permit to offer the service for two months.

On December 19, Open Whisper Systems claimed that Egyptian authorities were blocking access to its encrypted messaging application Signal.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were reports of government restrictions on academic freedom. In October, Minister of Higher Education Ashraf al-Shihy published a statement requiring private universities to review all research papers and thesis dissertations to assure they do not include any “direct or indirect insult to societies or individuals belonging to any brotherly or friendly countries.” According to media and local rights groups, a degree of self-censorship, similar to that reported by nonacademic commentators, allegedly existed when academics publicly commented on sensitive political and socioeconomic issues. In February media reported that in December 2015, Cairo University revoked permission for one of its professors, Kholoud Saber, to pursue her doctoral degree abroad. Saber told media the decision came from an office connected to the Interior Ministry. Separately, Cairo University President Gaber Nassar told media that security forces did not intervene in the university’s academic affairs. Days after publication of the news reports, Cairo University reversed its decision to revoke Saber’s permission to study abroad.

There was censorship of cultural events. The Ministry of Culture must approve all scripts and final productions of plays and films. The ministry censored foreign films to be shown in theaters but did not censor the same films sold as DVDs.

On January 20, authorities cancelled a scheduled concert by the band Elawela Balady, according to an announcement by the group, which is widely associated with the January 25 Revolution. A local human rights group described the move as an attempt by authorities to silence voices connected to the revolution.

Independent film center, Cimatheque, associated with Khaled Abdalla from the prominent revolutionary documentary The Square and the sister production company Zero Productions, remained closed since October 2015 and received regular visits from authorities. In February authorities allowed Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, which was closed by authorities in December 2015, to reopen under what its director told press were new legal restrictions; he alleged that some restrictions amounted to state control of its work. Townhouse’s affiliated Rawabet Theater, which was also raided in December 2015, also reopened. The Merit Publishing House, which authorities raided in December 2015, remained open. Authorities quickly released the Merit employee detained in December 2015.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly “according to notification regulated by law.” Authorities implemented a 2013 demonstrations law that includes an expansive list of prohibited activities and gives the minister of interior the authority to prohibit or curtail planned demonstrations. Domestic and international human rights organizations asserted the law was not in keeping with international standards regarding freedom of assembly. There were protests throughout the year that varied widely in size, and some occurred without government interference. In other cases the government rigorously enforced the law restricting demonstrations, even in cases of small groups of protesters demonstrating peacefully.

Research center Daftar Ahwal reported at least 37,059 cases of individuals being stopped, arrested, or charged under the protest law between November 2013 and September. Of these, authorities charged 15,491 individuals under the protest law resulting in 6,382 convictions and 5,083 acquittals.

In January security forces arrested more than 150 individuals in connection with protests on the fifth anniversary of the January 25 Revolution, according to media reports.

In February 2015 the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah to five years in prison on charges of breaking the demonstrations law related to his participation in a protest in front of the Shura Council in 2013. The ruling was subject to appeal to the Court of Cassation, which at year’s end had not ruled whether it would accept the appeal.

Authorities arrested at least 382 persons in the days leading to April 25 protests against the government’s announcement of a maritime border demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia that determined Tiran and Sanafir islands fall under Saudi sovereignty, according to an international rights organization. Authorities convicted many of these under the protest law; however, upon appeal authorities overturned many of the convictions or reduced sentences. For example, on May 24, a Dokki and Agouza court sentenced 111 individuals to five years’ imprisonment in connection with the protests. The following day, the Dokki Misdemeanor Court cancelled the prison sentences but upheld fines of LE 100,000 ($5,500) for 86 of the defendants and refused their request to pay the fines in installments.

Thousands of persons remained imprisoned whom authorities arrested during 2013 and 2014 due to their participation in demonstrations (some of which were peaceful); however, authorities released others who had completed their sentences. Authorities held such individuals under charges of attending an unauthorized protest, incitement to violence, or “blocking roads.” Human rights groups claimed authorities inflated or used these charges solely to target individuals suspected of being members of groups in opposition to the government or those who sought to exercise the rights to free assembly or association.

Demonstrations on university campuses decreased throughout the country as compared with the previous academic year, but security forces continued to disperse them forcefully, according to a local rights group. In April student mobilization increased with students protesting the government’s announcement of a maritime border demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia that determined Tiran and Sanafir islands fall under Saudi sovereignty. According to the same local rights group, authorities arrested 84 students and expelled 47 students during the 2015-16 academic year.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and the 2013 constitutional declaration provide for freedom of association. The law governing associations, however, significantly restricts this right. The law on associations affects all nongovernmental civil society associations, the overwhelming majority of which were domestic welfare, educational, and environmental foundations. The Ministry of Social Solidarity applied the law in a highly restrictive manner on international and domestic organizations receiving international funding, denying government approval of programs that domestic and international organizations sought to implement or granting governmental approval after lengthy delays (which in some cases amounted to effective denials). Rights groups reported several incidents of security services ordering the cancellation of planned training programs or other events. Over the course of one week in May, the Ministry of Social Solidarity closed 75 NGOs in Beheira Governorate, according to a ministry statement. The ministry alleged all of the 75 had Muslim Brotherhood connections and claimed the governorate was “free” of any NGOs receiving foreign funding as a result of the closures.

The penal code criminalizes the request for or acceptance of foreign funds, materiel, weapons, ammunition, or “other things” from states or NGOs “with the intent to harm the national interest.” Violators may be sentenced to life in prison, or the death penalty in the case of public officials and for crimes committed during times of war or with “terrorist purpose.” The broad language raised concern among civil society that the article could be used to prosecute NGOs receiving or requesting international funding.

At year’s end the conviction of 27 mostly foreign NGO workers sentenced in 2013 for operating unlicensed organizations and receiving foreign funding without government permission stood. Appeals for some defendants were pending at year’s end; defendants had not yet filed appeals in the remainder of cases.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party, and its NGO remained illegal, and the Muslim Brotherhood was a legally designated terrorist organization.

Authorities reopened investigations of local NGOs that received foreign funding under a case originally brought in 2011, and on December 7, human rights attorney Azza Soliman was arrested in connection with the case. She was subsequently released on bail pending investigations. On December 14, a Cairo criminal court ordered asset freezes against Soliman and the law firm she headed, Lawyers for Justice and Peace. Separately in the case, on September 17, a Cairo criminal court ordered asset freezes against five individuals–including Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights; Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information; and Bahey el-Din Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)–and three organizations, including CIHRS, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, and Egyptian Center for the Right to Education. The court denied a request to freeze the assets of six others including family members of those whose accounts were ordered frozen and support staff of the NGOs. On June 15, a Cairo criminal court ordered asset freezes against the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies and its director, Ahmed Samieh. Freeze orders are subject to appeal after three months. Asset freeze cases were also pending against women’s rights organization Nazra for Feminist Studies and its executive director Mozn Hassan at year’s end. The next hearing was scheduled for January 11, 2017.

In February el-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence (also registered under the name el-Nadeem for Psychological Rehabilitation), which documents torture and other forms of abuse and provides counseling for torture and rape victims, received administrative closure orders from three governmental bodies. The organization asserted the letters were politically motivated, targeting el-Nadeem because of its work on torture, deaths in detention, and impunity for these crimes. At year’s end authorities had neither rescinded nor enforced the orders, and the organization continued to operate but had suspended its clinical activities

On February 29, a misdemeanor court sentenced Amr Ali, coordinator of the April 6 Youth Movement, a political advocacy group, to three years’ imprisonment for inciting protests and attempting to topple the government. On July 30, an appeals court reduced his sentence to two years.

In March student union leaders called for a general assembly meeting to discuss the future of the Egyptian Student Union–the largest countrywide student union–after the December 2015 decision by the Ministry of Higher Education to nullify the results of the union’s November 2015 elections. As of December no such assembly had taken place.

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

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

The law provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, albeit with some exceptions, including the handling of potential refugees and asylum seekers. The authorities maintained a “no-fly” list that prevented some defendants in court cases from fleeing the country.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Media, NGOs, and UNHCR staff reported multiple cases of attacks against refugees, particularly women and children. According to UNHCR, refugees reported harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination. Refugee women and girls, particularly sub-Saharan Africans, faced significant societal, sexual, and gender-based violence.

According to a local civil society organization, police security sweeps increased in neighborhoods known to house Syrian, Sudanese, and other African refugees, as well as migrants, resulting in increased detentions. Detainees reported authorities subjected them to racist verbal abuse, beatings, and torture during detention.

While reports of abuse by Sinai-based facilitators and captors of illegal migrants continued to decline, a shift in human trafficking activities to mainland Egypt has accompanied this decline as a result of the security situation in Sinai and Libya.

Although the government did not cooperate consistently with UNHCR and humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to asylum seekers and other persons of concern, it allowed UNHCR access to registered refugees in detention.

In-country Movement: Citizens and foreigners may not travel in areas of the country designated as military zones. The government sought to prevent private individuals, journalists, and civil society activists from entering the Sinai Peninsula, stating it was to protect their safety; however, some persons avoiding government detection did enter the Sinai, particularly irregular migrants attempting to reach the Israeli border and the western border zone.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states, “No citizen may be prevented from leaving the State territory.”

Men who have not completed compulsory military service, however, may not travel abroad or emigrate. National identification cards indicated completion of military service. Married Bahais and their children faced difficulties obtaining national identification cards because the government did not recognize Bahai marriages as legitimate. Some Bahai men of draft age were unable to establish they either had fulfilled or were exempt from military service and, therefore, were unable to obtain passports. Police officials reportedly forced unmarried young women, sometimes including those in their 30s, to present their father’s written permission to obtain a passport and to travel abroad, although the law does not require such permission.

Authorities required citizens between the ages of 18 and 45 to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to 16 countries: Guinea, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Malaysia, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Qatar, Sudan, Syria, and Turkey. Enforcement of these regulations was sporadic. The government stated it intended these regulations to make it more difficult for citizens to join terrorist groups and to stop flight of criminals. These regulations also affected the ability of other individuals to travel outside the country.

The government increasingly imposed travel bans on human rights defenders and political activists. In March, Mada Masr reported there had been 554 cases of politically motivated banned entry and exit imposed by authorities in airports since 2011. In February local and human rights groups said that authorities intended to intimidate and silence human rights defenders. Several local and international human rights organizations reported a string of exit bans issued against human rights defenders and human rights activists.

Individuals connected with NGOs facing investigation as part of the reopened NGO foreign funding case faced travel bans. On June 27, authorities prevented women’s rights activist Mozn Hassan from departing the country and informed her that the prosecutor general had issued an order banning her from travel at the request of one of the case’s investigative judges. On July 15, authorities prevented human rights lawyer and member of the NCHR, Nasser Amin, from departing the country and told him that authorities had subjected him to a travel ban. According to statements by Amin’s lawyer, the travel ban was part of the reopened NGO foreign-funding case.

In January 2015 authorities prevented democracy activist Esraa Abdel Fattah from departing the country and informed her that authorities had issued a travel ban in her name. She filed a lawsuit to challenge the ban, but the court dismissed the suit. Separately, in 2015 authorities confiscated the passport of human rights defender Mohamed Lotfy and prevented him from traveling to Berlin to deliver a statement before the German parliament on the eve of President Sisi’s state visit to Germany in June 2015. Abdel Fattah and Lotfy continued to be unable to depart the country.

Exile: There was no government-imposed exile, and the constitution prohibits the government from expelling citizens or banning citizens from returning to the country. Some Mubarak- and Morsy-era politicians lived outside the country by choice and alleged they faced government threats of prosecution.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the protection of political refugees, but the laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a comprehensive legal regime for providing protection to refugees. The government granted UNHCR authority to make refugee status determinations. UNHCR does not register Libyan citizens, nor does it register or provide any assistance to Palestinian refugees in the country.

According to UNHCR, as of September there were approximately 192,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in the country, coming mainly from Syria, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Iraq. The number of Syrian nationals newly registered as refugees increased since 2015. Observers attributed the increase to a new level of socioeconomic desperation among Syrians who had prolonged their stay in Egypt while depleting their assets, as well as an increase in new arrivals by way of Sudan, which remained the only country to which Syrians could travel without visas. As of August UNHCR reported 114,911 registered Syrian refugees in the country. The number of African refugees significantly increased during the year according to UNHCR, particularly among Ethiopian, Eritrean, and South Sudanese populations.

In 2012 and 2013 under the Morsy administration, the government accorded Syrians visa-free entry. Starting in mid-2013, the government applied a system of visa and security clearance requirements for Syrian nationals and Palestinian refugees from Syria, thus assuring no direct entries from Syria since Egypt lacked consular services there. UNHCR reported cases of prolonged separation of Syrian families in Egypt and family members in Syria, Libya, or the Gulf countries. The government rarely granted family reunification visas.

Since the regulations took effect in 2013, UNHCR stated authorities detained and deported dozens of Syrians who arrived in the country without a visa or with forged documents, usually to the transit countries from which they arrived, or to Turkey or Lebanon. According to UNHCR, the number of Syrians using forged documents to travel to the country increased during the year. Stricter visa restrictions imposed by Jordan and Turkey also resulted in the return of some Syrians to Egypt, where they remained in prolonged detention.

Reports of irregular movements of individuals, including asylum seekers, and of detention of foreign nationals attempting to depart the country irregularly remained numerous, after a dramatic increase in 2013. Syrians represented the largest portion of this group, which also included Sudanese, South Sudanese, Eritreans, Somalis, Ethiopians, and other Africans. UNHCR observed increased African irregular departures from the country, particularly Sudanese, Eritrean, and Ethiopian nationals. Irregular migrants continued to travel steadily through the land route from Sudan (Wedi Halfa/Abu Simbel). There were 4,913 reported deaths of irregular migrants in the Mediterranean during the year, an increase from 3,600 reported for 2015.

UNHCR access to detained registered refugees and asylum seekers was unscheduled and intermittent. According to UNHCR, authorities allowed access but only by request. Local rights groups faced continued resistance from the government when trying to interview detainees at Qanater men’s and women’s prisons outside Cairo, which housed the majority of detained refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities denied UNHCR access to unregistered asylum seekers at all prison and detention facilities, and UNHCR officials faced difficulties accessing prisoners to determine their status. The government subjected detained migrants, many of whom were Ethiopian, Eritrean, Sudanese, and Somali (and may have had a basis for asylum claims), to prolonged administrative detention for unauthorized entry or residence. Detained migrants–as unregistered asylum seekers–did not have access to UNHCR. Authorities often held them in jails, military camps, and regular prisons with convicted criminals.

Approximately three thousand Palestinian refugees from Syria were also present in the country, representing a significant decrease from 2015, which rights groups believed was a result of able-bodied men and teenage boys departing by sea to Europe as irregular migrants. The majority reportedly lived in Cairo. The Palestinian Authority mission in the country provided limited assistance to this population, who were not able to access UNHCR assistance provided to Syrians due to governmental restrictions. Despite UNHCR’s mandate for Palestinians outside of the fields of operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency, the government denied UNHCR permission to provide services, reportedly in part due to a belief that allowing UNHCR registration would negate Palestinian refugees’ right of return. Similar to 2014 authorities detained a few Palestinian refugees from Syria but promptly released them. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) mission in Cairo provided some humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees from Syria.

Refoulement: According to human rights advocates, migrants detained while attempting to enter the country irregularly were typically given two options: return to their country of origin or indefinite administrative detention. Because the government denied UNHCR access to unregistered detained migrants and asylum seekers, the number of potential asylum seekers returned to their countries was unknown. Authorities frequently encouraged those detained to choose to return to their countries of origin to avoid continued detention, even in cases where the individuals expressed a fear of return. Authorities also deported children to their countries of origin without their parents or an adult caregiver. In 2014 authorities deported children recognized as refugees by UNHCR to their country of origin without their mother or an adult caregiver. In September members of the humanitarian assistance community noted that the government did not deport every irregular migrant caught either crossing the country or trying to depart by sea but that this inconsistent approach was largely due to the government’s severe budgetary constraints.

UNHCR stated the Syrian embassy implemented a restrictive policy regarding the renewal of expired passports of Syrian nationals in detention, regardless of the grounds for arrest. In such cases the Syrian embassy issued a travel document valid only for return to Syria; therefore, the absence of a valid national passport for Syrian refugees in detention resulted in either prolonged detention or forced repatriation. According to UNHCR reports, the Syrian embassy renewed passports on an individual basis in a few cases for released detainees. Syrian authorities generally refused to renew passports for persons who had registered with UNHCR.

Fewer Palestinian refugees from Syria entered the country in an illegal manner with the intention to travel to Europe. In a number of cases, in the absence of valid travel documents or inability to confirm their identities, they faced either detention or deportation.

Employment: There is no law granting refugees the right to work. Those seeking unauthorized employment were challenged by lack of jobs and societal discrimination, particularly against sub-Saharan Africans. Refugees who found work took low-paying jobs in the informal market, such as domestic servants, and were vulnerable to financial and sexual exploitation by employers.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees, in particular non-Arabic-speaking refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, continued to face limited access to housing, public education, public health services, and other social services. The Interior Ministry restricted some international organizations seeking to assist migrants and refugees in the Sinai but provided the International Organization for Migration (IOM) access to some detention centers. UNHCR provided refugees with modest support for education and health care, as well as small monthly financial assistance grants for particularly vulnerable refugees. IOM provided additional assistance to particularly vulnerable migrants and individual asylum cases either rejected or being processed by UNHCR.

Some public schools enrolled Syrian refugee children, but universal access for refugee education was nonexistent largely due to concerns about overcrowded public schools and a lack of resources. Instead, refugee children mainly attended refugee-run schools, private schools, or were home schooled. The law requires government hospitals to provide free emergency medical care to refugees, but many of the hospitals did not have adequate resources to do so. In some cases hospitals insisted that refugees provide payment in advance of receiving services or refused to provide services to refugees. In response to the influx of Syrians, the government allowed Syrian refugees and asylum seekers access to public education and health services; however, due to lack of availability, the low quality of Egyptian public education, and cases of severe harassment of Syrian children, many Syrian children remained outside the formal education system.

STATELESS PERSONS

Most of the 22 stateless persons known to UNHCR were Armenians displaced for more than 50 years. According to a local civil society organization, the number of stateless persons in the country was likely higher than the number recorded by UNHCR. The government and UNHCR lacked a mechanism for identifying stateless persons, including those of disputed Sudanese/South Sudanese nationality and those of disputed Ethiopian/Eritrean nationality. An unknown number of the approximately 50,000 to 100,000 Palestinian refugees were stateless.

Equatorial Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the law grants authorities extensive powers to restrict media activities, and the government limited these rights. The government restricted journalistic activity by exercising its right to official prepublication censorship. The media remained weak and under government influence or control. Persons close to the president owned the few private media outlets that existed. Most journalists practiced self-censorship. Those who did not were subject to government surveillance and threats.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals generally chose not to criticize the president, his family, other high-ranking officials, or security forces due to fear of reprisal. The government attempted to impede criticism by continuing to monitor the activities of opposition members, journalists, and others.

Press and Media Freedoms: The country had one marginally independent newspaper that published sporadically. Print media outlets were extremely limited. Starting a periodical or newspaper was a complicated process governed by an ambiguous law and impeded by government bureaucracy. Accreditation was cumbersome for both local and foreign journalists, who must register with the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio. International newspapers or news magazines occasionally were available in grocery stores and hotels in major cities.

International news agencies did not have correspondents or regular stringers present in the country. Visiting journalists for foreign media outlets and some independent local journalists could not operate freely, and there were reports government agents followed and observed both groups. During the presidential election, for example, the government limited accreditation for journalists and restricted them from traveling throughout the country to visit polling stations.

The government owned the only national radio and television broadcast system, RTVGE. The president’s eldest son, Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, owned the only private broadcast media, Television Asonga and Asonga Radio. Journalists for these entities were not allowed to report freely.

For example, after the August flood in Luba, officials at RTVGE interrupted a live interview with a flood victim when he began to accuse the government of discrimination and lack of support.

Requests by political parties to establish private radio stations were denied or remained perpetually pending. Satellite broadcasts were widely available, including the French-language Africa24 television channel, which the government partially owned.

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

In June authorities arrested Enrique Nsolo, a well-known local human rights activist, for photographing and recording the arrest of a fraudulent document seller in front of a foreign embassy. Nsolo was held incommunicado without charge in deplorable conditions before his release several days later.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law gives the government considerable authority to restrict publication through official prepublication censorship. The law also establishes criminal, civil, and administrative penalties for violation of its provisions, particularly of the 19 publishing principles in Article 2 of the Law on the Press, Publishing, and Audiovisual Media. The only marginally independent newspaper practiced self-censorship and did not openly criticize the government or the president.

The only publishing facility available to newspapers was located at the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio, where officials censored printed materials.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against defamation and libel, both of which are criminalized, to restrict public discussion.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. For example, in March 2015 the government blocked WhatsApp, Facebook, Diario Rombe, and Radio Macuto to prevent communication during student protests, and the websites remained blocked at year’s end.

The government also blocked access to websites maintained by domestic political opposition and exile groups. Users attempting to access these sites were redirected to the government’s official press website or received a message the website did not exist. The internet was the primary way opposition views were expressed and disseminated, and the most overt criticism of the government came from the country’s diaspora. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 16.4 percent of inhabitants used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Members of opposition political parties, faculty members, and students complained of government interference in the hiring of teachers, the employment of unqualified teachers, and official pressure on teachers to give passing grades to failing students with political connections. Teachers with political connections but no experience or accreditation were employed and reportedly seldom appeared at the classes they were assigned to teach. Most professors reportedly practiced self-censorship.

Cultural events required coordination with the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio, the Department of Culture and Tourism, or both. The resulting bureaucratic delay was a disincentive for prospective organizers, who often did not know the criteria used for judging proposals or their chances for approval.

The Cultural Center of Rebola, which the government closed in August 2015 for promoting music and other productions critical of the ruling party, was reopened in October with a warning against holding anti-government events.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for the right of assembly, but regulatory provisions effectively undermined this right, and the government routinely restricted freedom of assembly. Although the government formally abolished permit requirements for political party meetings within party buildings, it requires prior permission for public events, such as meetings in other venues or marches, and frequently denied these permit requests. The government frequently dispersed peaceful, preapproved public gatherings if a participant asked a question that could be construed as criticism of the government or ruling party. By contrast, authorities pressured citizens to attend progovernment rallies.

For example, during the presidential election campaign, PDGE authorities directed citizens to attend rallies and register as party members to avoid adverse consequences. Citizens also received gifts such as smart phones, tablets, and even luxury cars. Women were given cloth imprinted with the president’s face to sew clothes for their families to wear at PDGE rallies.

On April 22, authorities used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse an unauthorized, nonviolent political rally of approximately 200 demonstrators at the headquarters of the opposition Citizens for the Innovation of Equatorial Guinea (CI) party. Six demonstrators were shot, while others were hospitalized due to injuries from tear gas. Authorities laid siege to the headquarters for five days, trapping those inside and limiting their access to food, water, and electricity.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the government severely restricted this right. All political parties, labor unions, and other associations must register with the government, but the registration process was costly, burdensome, opaque, and slow. During the year the government reduced funding for civil society organizations and distributed remaining funds among a few mostly progovernment organizations close to the president’s inner circle. Grant funding decisions continued to be arbitrary and nontransparent.

The law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic lines, and several political parties remained banned due to their ethnic nature, including the Progress Party of Equatorial Guinea and the Movement for the Self-Determination of Bioko Island. At year’s end only one labor organization was believed to be registered; the registry was inaccessible due to a change in leadership at the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

Despite 2014 laws to facilitate the registration of political parties, the government interfered with the registration of four parties during the year. The government refused to register Gabriel Nse Obiang’s Independent Candidacy Party until it changed its name to the CI Party, and the government excluded Nse Obiang from inclusion on the ballot. The government also prevented the registration of three other parties–the National Democratic Party (PND), the National Congress of Equatorial Guinea (CNGE), and the National Union for Democracy and Social Policies (UNDPSGE). The government allowed the leaders of the three parties–PND leader Benedicto Obiang Mangue, CNGE leader Agustin Masoko, and UNDPSGE leader Tomas Mba Muanabang–to run as independent presidential candidates.

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

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

Although the law provides for freedom of internal movement and repatriation, the government occasionally restricted these rights.

In-country Movement: Police at roadblocks routinely checked travelers and engaged in petty extortion. Frequent roundups of irregular immigrants and others also occurred at roadblocks, which the government claimed impeded illegal immigration, mercenary activities, and coup attempts.

Foreign Travel: In March the Ministry of National Security confiscated the travel documents of the foreign country director of a large multi-national corporation, preventing him from leaving the country for needed medical care abroad. Despite a court order for the director’s release, the government continued to prevent him from traveling for eight months due to a labor dispute between the director’s employer and his former employees.

Exile: The law prohibits forced internal or external exile. Some members of banned political parties returned from exile during the year, but many remained in self-imposed exile. Opposition party political leaders Guillermo Nguema Ela and Luis Nzo Ondo remained in internal exile at year’s end on the mainland, unable to join their families in Malabo.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Eritrea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Although the law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of speech and press, the government severely restricted these rights.

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

Press and Media Freedoms: The law bans private broadcast media and foreign ownership of the media and requires that documents, including books, be submitted to the government for approval prior to publication. The government controlled all domestic media, including a newspaper published in three languages, three radio stations, and all local television broadcasters.

The law requires journalists to be licensed. The law restricts printing and publication of materials. The printing of a publication by anyone lacking a permit and the printing or dissemination of prohibited foreign publications are both punishable by law. Government approval is required for distribution of publications from religious or international organizations.

The government permitted satellite dishes that provided access to international cable television networks and programs. The use of satellite dishes was common in Asmara, Massawa, and other cities and increasingly in the countryside. Satellite radio stations operated by diaspora Eritreans reached listeners in the country. Citizens could also receive radio broadcasts originating in Ethiopia.

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

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most independent journalists remained in detention or lived abroad, which limited domestic media criticism of the government. Authorities required journalists to obtain government permission to take photographs. Journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government monitored some internet communications, including e-mail, without obtaining warrants. Government informants frequented internet cafes. The government discouraged citizens from viewing some opposition websites by labeling the sites and their developers as saboteurs. Some citizens expressed fear of arrest if caught viewing such sites. Nonetheless, the sites were generally available.

Eritel, a government-owned corporation, has a monopoly on land-based internet service provision. The use of internet cafes with limited bandwidth in Asmara and other large communities was widespread, but the vast majority of persons did not have access to the internet. According to the most recent data released by the International Telecommunication Union, 1.1 percent of the population used the internet in 2015. Internet users who needed larger bandwidth paid prices beyond the reach of most individuals.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.

Authorities monitored activities at private secondary schools and in some cases arbitrarily denied visas to foreign teachers or presented impediments to school administration, including restricting the import of teaching materials. Some parents of students in private schools charged that educational quality suffered because of disputes between government officials and school administrators.

With few exceptions, secondary school students must complete their final year of high school at the government’s Sawa National Training and Education Center. Students had to complete military training at Sawa before being allowed to take entrance exams for institutions of higher education (see section 6, Children).

The government sometimes denied passports or exit visas to students and faculty who wanted to study or do research abroad. The government discouraged students from seeking information on international study and exchange programs and frequently denied them passports or exit visas. Some persons claimed authorities scrutinized academic travel for consistency of intent with government policies.

The government censored film showings and other cultural activities. It monitored libraries and cultural centers maintained by foreign embassies and in some instances questioned employees and users. The government directly sponsored most major cultural events or collaborated with various embassies and foreign cultural institutions in sponsoring musical performances by international performers.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. For some public gatherings, the government intermittently required those assembling to obtain permits. Authorities subjected gatherings of large groups of persons without prior approval to investigation and interference, with the exception of events that occurred in the context of meetings of government-affiliated organizations, were social in nature, or were events such as weddings, funerals, and religious observances of the four officially registered religious groups.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Although the law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of association, the government did not respect this right. The government did not allow any political parties other than the PFDJ. It also prohibited the formation of civil society organizations except those with official sponsorship. The government generally did not allow local organizations to receive funding and resources from or to associate with foreign and international organizations.

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

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

The law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted all these rights. It often denied citizens passports and exit visas because they had not completed their military duties or arbitrarily for no given reason.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide protection and assistance in some areas, but it restricted UNHCR activities in others. The government defined refugee status differently than do the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. It did not recognize Ethiopians or Sudanese as refugees, although it allowed them to remain in the country and granted them residency permits. It routinely provided protection to Somali refugees.

UNHCR reported that in May the government halted all resettlement of Somali refugees from the Umkulu Refugee Camp. It ceased issuing exit visas for Somali refugees who were already approved for resettlement in third countries. Additionally, the government prevented Somali refugees in Umkulu from voluntarily repatriating to Somalia, prevented officials from resettlement countries from entering the country to screen additional resettlement candidates, and prevented candidates from exiting the country to be screened in resettlement countries. In November without explanation, the government expelled the UNHCR associate refugee protection officer.

In-country Movement: The government requires citizens to notify local authorities when they change residence, although many did not. When traveling within the country, particularly in remote regions or near borders, authorities required citizens to provide justification for travel at the few checkpoints in the country.

Travel restrictions on noncitizens lawfully in the country remained in effect. The government required all diplomats, international humanitarian workers, UN staff, and foreigners to request permission from the government at least 10 days in advance to travel more than 15.5 miles outside of Asmara. Authorities shortened this waiting period considerably for diplomats who had resided in country for an extended period. Authorities gave UNHCR staff a monthly permit to visit Umkulu Refugee Camp.

Foreign Travel: The government restricted foreign travel. The government required citizens, including dual nationals, to obtain exit visas to depart the country if they entered on an Eritrean passport or residency card. Requirements for obtaining passports and exit visas were inconsistent and nontransparent. Authorities generally did not give exit visas to children ages five and older. Authorities granted few adolescents exit permits; many parents avoided seeking exit permits for children approaching national service draft age due to concern authorities might also deny them permission to travel. Categories of persons most commonly denied exit visas included men under age 54, regardless of whether they had completed the military portion of national service, and women younger than 30, unless they had children. The government did not generally grant exit permits to members of the citizen militia, although some whom authorities demobilized from national service or who had permission from their zone commanders were able to obtain them.

Exile: There were reports of citizens who left the country without exit visas being denied reentry. Many other citizens who fled the country remained in self-imposed exile due to their religious and political views and fear they would be conscripted into national service if they returned. Others reported there were no consequences for returning citizens who had residency or citizenship in other countries.

Emigration and Repatriation: To prevent emigration the government generally did not grant exit visas to entire families or both spouses simultaneously. Authorities arrested persons who tried to cross the border and leave without exit visas.

The COI found the government, largely the armed forces and particularly the border surveillance division, had implemented a shoot-to-kill policy for a “considerable period of time.” In its June 8 report, the COI stated that it had “reliable evidence” that the policy still existed, but was “not implemented as rigorously as it was in the past.”

In general citizens had the right to return, but citizens residing abroad had to show proof they paid the 2 percent tax on foreign earned income to be eligible for some government services and documents, including exit permits, birth or marriage certificates, passport renewals, and real estate transactions. The government enforced this inconsistently. Persons known to have broken laws abroad, contracted serious contagious diseases, or to have been declared ineligible for political asylum by other governments had their visas and visa requests to enter the country considered with greater scrutiny.

Citizenship: In 1994 the government revoked the citizenship of members of Jehovah’s Witnesses due to their refusal to take part in the referendum on independence or participate in the military portion of national service. Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses who did not perform military service continued to be unable to obtain official identification documents. They were not eligible for jobs in the formal economy or for ration coupons to buy essentials at government-subsidized prices.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not specifically provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, although the government offered protection to some individuals from neighboring countries, predominantly Somali refugees. The government did not grant Ethiopians or Sudanese asylum, although it allowed them to remain in the country and granted them residency permits that enabled them to access government services. The government required Ethiopians to pay an annual fee of 600 nakfa ($40) for a residency card. The card demonstrated the holder was not indigent.

Employment: There did not appear to be discrimination based on nationality in terms of employment or entitlements with the exception of resident Ethiopians, some of whom the government viewed as potential security risks.

Access to Basic Services: Persons of Ethiopian and Sudanese origin living in the country sometimes claimed they received social entitlements commensurate with the perceived degree of their loyalty to the government, including eligibility for ration coupons to buy essentials at government-subsidized prices. Most Somalis were restricted to Umkulu Refugee Camp.

Ethiopians and Somalis were able to access basic government services upon procuring and presenting residency permits. UNHCR reported significant delays in the issuance of exit visas for Somali refugees in Umkulu Refugee Camp that caused it to raise concerns with the government regarding the implementation of durable solutions.

Durable Solutions: The government did not grant persons of Ethiopian and Sudanese origin asylum or refugee status; however, authorities permitted them to remain in the country and to live among the local population instead of in a refugee camp. Authorities granted them granted residency permits that enabled them to access government services. Authorities granted Sudanese and Ethiopians exit visas to leave the country for resettlement and study.

Ethiopia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, however the state of emergency regulations included restrictions on these rights. Authorities harassed, arrested, detained, charged, and prosecuted journalists and others perceived as critical of the government, creating an environment of self-censorship.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The state of emergency regulations contained several prohibitions that restricted freedom of speech and expression and resulted in detention or disappearance of numerous independent voices. The regulations prohibited any covert or overt agitation and communication that could incite violence and unrest (interpreted to include the popular Oromo protest sign of raising crossed arms over one’s head), any communication with designated terrorist groups or antipeace forces, storing and disseminating text, storing and promoting emblems of terrorist groups, incitement in sermons and teaching in religious institutions to induce fear or incite conflict, speech that could incite attacks based on identity or ethnicity, exchange of information by any individual with a foreign government in a manner that undermines national sovereignty and security, and any political parties from briefing journalists in a manner that is anticonstitutional and undermines sovereignty and security. Individuals self-censored as a result of these prohibitions.

Authorities arrested, detained, and harassed persons for criticizing the government. NGOs reported cases of torture of individuals critical of the government. The government attempted to impede criticism through intimidation, including continued detention of journalists and those who express critical opinions online and opposition activists, and monitoring of and interference in activities of political opposition groups. Some feared authorities would retaliate against them for discussing security force abuses. Authorities arrested and detained persons who made statements publicly or privately deemed critical of the government under a provision of the law pertaining to inciting the public through false rumors.

Press and Media Freedoms: The state of emergency prohibited listening to, watching, or reporting information from Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) and Oromo Media Network.

Independent journalists reported problems using government printing presses. Access to private printing presses was scarce to nonexistent.

In Addis Ababa, nine independent newspapers and magazines had a combined weekly circulation of 70,711 copies. Four independent monthly and biweekly magazines published in Amharic and English had a combined circulation of 21,500 copies. State-run newspapers had a combined circulation of 85,500 copies. Most newspapers were printed on a weekly or biweekly basis, except state-owned Amharic and English dailies and the privately run Daily MonitorAddis Standard magazine temporarily suspended the print edition of its publication soon after the state of emergency was declared.

Government-controlled media closely reflected the views of the government and ruling EPRDF. The government controlled the only television station that broadcast nationally, which, along with radio, was the primary source of news for much of the population. Six private FM radio stations broadcast in the capital, one private radio station broadcast in the northern Tigray Region, and at least 19 community radio stations broadcast in the regions. State-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation had the largest broadcast range in the country, followed by Fana Radio, which was reportedly affiliated with the ruling party.

The government periodically jammed foreign broadcasts. The law prohibits political and religious organizations and foreigners from owning broadcast stations.

Violence and Harassment: The government continued to arrest, harass, and prosecute journalists. As of mid-December, at least 12 journalists remained in detention.

In December 2015 police detained Fikadu Mirkana, who worked as news anchor and senior reporter for Oromia State TV. He was released in April.

In December 2015 authorities detained journalist Getachew Shiferaw, editor in chief of a web-based opposition-affiliated newspaper. On May 19, authorities charged him with terrorism and his trial continued at year’s end.

The trial of two journalists affiliated with Radio Bilal whom authorities arrested in February 2015 and charged with terrorism continued at the Federal High Court.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government harassment caused journalists to avoid reporting on sensitive topics. Many private newspapers reported informal editorial control by the government through article placement requests and calls from government officials concerning articles perceived as critical of the government. Private sector and government journalists routinely practiced self-censorship. Several journalists, both local and foreign, reported an increase in self-censorship, especially after the October 8 implementation of the state of emergency. The government reportedly pressured advertisers not to advertise in publications that were critical of the government.

National Security: The government used the ATP to suppress criticism. Journalists feared covering five groups designated by parliament as terrorist organizations in 2011 (Ginbot 7, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), the OLF, al-Qaida, and al-Shabaab), citing ambiguity on whether reporting on these groups might be punishable under the law.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet. It periodically blocked social media sites and internet access in areas of Oromia and Amhara regions, especially during protests. At times the government blocked access throughout the country. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. State-owned Ethio Telecom was the only internet service provider in the country.

On June 7, parliament passed the Computer Crime Proclamation. There were concerns its provisions were overly broad and could restrict freedom of speech and expression. This included, for example, a provision that provides for imprisonment for disseminating through a computer system any written, video, audio or any other picture that incites violence, chaos, or conflict among people, and another provision that provides for a prison sentence for intimidation.

In July officials blocked social media sites for days across the country until the national school examination concluded. The government stated blocking these sites was necessary to provide for an “orderly exam process.” In May the national exams were reportedly leaked on social media, causing the government to postpone the exams.

On August 6 and 7, the government imposed a nationwide internet blackout.

The state of emergency regulations included prohibited agitation and communication to incite violence and unrest through the internet, text messaging, and social media.

Starting in early October, the government shut down mobile access to the internet in Addis Ababa, most parts of Oromia Region, and other areas. Wired access to several social media and communication sites were also denied. These included social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber, news websites such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, and many other sites, including foreign university homepages and online shopping sites such as Amazon.

The government periodically and increasingly restricted access to certain content on the internet and blocked numerous websites, including blogs, opposition websites, and websites of Ginbot 7, the OLF, and the ONLF, and news sites such as al-Jazeera, the BBC, and RealClearPolitics. Several news blogs and websites run by opposition diaspora groups were not accessible. These included Ethiopian Review, Nazret, CyberEthiopia, Quatero Amharic Magazine, and the Ethiopian Media Forum.

Authorities monitored telephone calls, text messages, and e-mails. Authorities took steps to block access to Virtual Private Network providers that let users circumvent government screening of internet browsing and e-mail. There were reports such surveillance resulted in arrests. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 11.6 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

In March 2015 Citizen Lab, a Canadian research center at the University of Toronto, reported on attempts in 2014 to infect the computers of U.S.-based employees of ESAT with spyware. ESAT is a diaspora-based television and radio station. According to Citizen Lab, its research suggested involvement of the government and that the attacker may have been the Ethiopian Information and Network Security Agency.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom, including student enrollment, teachers’ appointments, and curricula. Authorities frequently restricted speech, expression, and assembly on university and high school campuses. The state of emergency regulations prohibited strikes in educational institutions and closing them or damaging property, gives authorities the power to order educational institutions to take measures against any student or staff member who violates the prohibitions in the regulations, and provides law enforcement the authority to enter educational institutions and take measures to control strikes or protests.

The ruling party, via the Ministry of Education, continued to favor students loyal to the party in assignment to postgraduate programs. Some university staff members commented that students who joined the party received priority for employment in all fields after graduation.

Authorities limited teachers’ ability to deviate from official lesson plans. Numerous anecdotal reports suggested non-EPRDF members were more likely to be transferred to undesirable posts and bypassed for promotions. There were reports of teachers not affiliated with the EPRDF being summarily dismissed for failure to attend party meetings. There continued to be a lack of transparency in academic staffing decisions, with numerous complaints from academics alleging bias based on party membership, ethnicity, or religion.

A separate Ministry of Education directive prohibits private universities from offering degree programs in law and teacher education. The directive also requires public universities to align their curriculum with the ministry’s policy of a 70/30 ratio between science and social science academic programs. As a result the number of students studying social sciences and the humanities at public institutions continued to decrease; private universities focused heavily on the social sciences.

Reports indicated a pattern of surveillance and arbitrary arrests of Oromo university students based on suspicion of their holding dissenting opinions or participation in peaceful demonstrations. According to reports there was an intense buildup of security forces (uniformed and plainclothes) embedded on university campuses preceding student protests, especially in Oromia, and in response to student demonstrations.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly; the state of emergency regulations, however, prohibited demonstrations and town hall meetings that did not have approval from the command post, the entity that oversees the state of emergency. The government did not respect freedom of assembly and killed, injured, detained, and arrested numerous protesters throughout the year (see also sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., 1.d., and 1.e.). The majority of protests were in Oromia and Amhara regions. On August 13, HRW reported an estimate that security forces killed more than 500 protesters since November 2015. On January 21 and October 10, UN experts called on the government to end the “crackdown on peaceful protests.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights requested access to the regions, which the government did not provide. On November 9, Amnesty international estimated at least 800 had been killed.

On August 6 and 7, security forces reportedly killed approximately 100 persons in response to simultaneous demonstrations in major cities and towns across Oromia and Amhara regions (see section 1.a).

On October 2, dozens were reportedly killed at a religious festival in Bishoftu. Security forces’ response to agitation in the crowd, including the use of teargas and firing into the air, reportedly led to a stampede that left many dead. On October 7, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called for an investigation and urged the government allow independent observers access to Oromia and Amhara regions. On October 10, a group of UN human rights experts highlighted the October 2 events and urged the government to allow an international commission of inquiry to investigate the protests and violence used against protesters since November 2015. The government-established EHRC conducted an investigation into the incident. The results of that investigation were unknown.

Prior to the state of emergency, organizers of public meetings of more than two persons or demonstrations had to notify the government 48 hours in advance and obtain a permit. Authorities could not refuse to grant a permit but could require the event be held at a different time or place for reasons of public safety or freedom of movement. If authorities determined an event should be held at another time or place, the law required organizers be notified in writing within 12 hours of the time of submission of their request. After the state of emergency, prior-issued permits were deemed invalid.

Prior to the state of emergency, the government denied some requests by opposition political parties to hold protests but approved others. Opposition party organizers alleged government interference in most cases, and authorities required several of the protests be moved to different dates or locations from those the organizers requested. Protest organizers alleged the government’s claims of needing to move the protests based on public safety concerns were not credible. Local government officials, almost all of whom were affiliated with the EPRDF, controlled access to municipal halls, and there were many complaints from opposition parties that local officials denied or otherwise obstructed the scheduling of opposition parties’ use of halls for lawful political rallies. There were numerous credible reports owners of hotels and other large facilities cited internal rules forbidding political parties from utilizing their spaces for gatherings. Regional governments, including the Addis Ababa regional administration, were reluctant to grant permits or provide security for large meetings. After the state of emergency, the prohibition on unauthorized demonstrations or town hall meetings limited the organization of meetings, training sessions, and other gatherings. For example, members of at least one opposition political party reported they were prevented from having a four-person meeting.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Although the law provides for freedom of association and the right to engage in unrestricted peaceful political activity, the government severely limited this right (see sections 3 and 5).

The state of emergency and the accompanying regulations restricted the ability of organizations to operate (see also section 5). The prohibitions relating to communication and acts that undermine tolerance and unity resulted in self-censorship of reports and public statements. The prohibition on unauthorized town hall meetings limited the organization of meetings, training sessions, and other gatherings. The prohibition on exchanging information or contact with a foreign government or NGOs in a manner that undermines national sovereignty and security reduced communication between local organizations and international organizations and others.

The state of emergency regulations also prohibited any political party “from briefing local or foreign journalists in a manner that is anticonstitutional and undermining sovereignty and security.”

The Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO) law bans anonymous donations to NGOs. All potential donors were therefore aware their names would be public knowledge. The same was true concerning all donations made to political parties.

A 2012 report by the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association stated, “The enforcement of these (the CSO law) provisions has a devastating impact on individuals’ ability to form and operate associations effectively.”

International NGOs seeking to operate in the country had to submit an application via the country’s embassies abroad, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs then submitted to the Charities and Societies Agency for approval.

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

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

Although the law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, the state of emergency regulations restricted internal movement. The government also restricted freedom of internal movement and foreign travel.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. At times authorities or armed groups limited the ability of humanitarian organizations to operate in areas of insecurity, such as on the country’s borders.

In-country Movement: The state of emergency regulations prohibited diplomats from travelling more than 25 miles outside of Addis Ababa without prior notification to and approval from the command post. The government lifted this restriction in early November. Security concerns forced a temporary halt of deliveries of food and other humanitarian assistance in limited areas in Amhara and Oromia regions.

Foreign Travel: A 2013 ban on unskilled workers travelling to the Middle East for employment continued. The ban did not affect citizens travelling for investment or other business reasons. The government stated it issued the ban to prevent harassment, intimidation, and trauma suffered by those working abroad, particularly in the Middle East, as domestic employees.

There were several reports of authorities restricting foreign travel, similar to the following case: On March 23, National Intelligence and Security Service officials at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa prevented Merera Gudina, chairman of the OFC, from departing the country. On June 15, Merera was permitted to leave. Authorities arrested him on December 1.

Authorities restricted travel of persons in the Zone 9 case. For example, authorities confiscated blogger Zelalem Kibret’s passport in November 2015 and prevented him from boarding his international flight. Airport security officials said he could not leave the country because he had previously been arrested. Authorities returned Zelalem’s passport on June 1, and he was later permitted to travel abroad.

Exile: As in past years, citizens including journalists and others remained abroad in self-imposed exile due to fear of government retribution should they return.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there were 684,064 IDPs between August 2015 and August, including protracted and new cases, many of them due to the impact of the El Nino weather phenomenon. This was an increase compared with previous years.

Of the IDPs, 397,296 were displaced by flooding and conflict while 188,244 were displaced due to the effects of the drought related to El Nino. Another 33,300 were displaced due to resource-based competition. Most of those affected by El Nino returned to their places of origin.

IOM estimated 657, 224 individuals were considered “protracted IDPs,” meaning they lacked durable solutions such as local integration, internal resettlement, or return to home. The reasons for protracted displacements included interclan and cross-border conflict, natural disasters, political or community considerations in IDP resettlements, and lack of resettlement resources. Of these IDPs, 283,092 resided in Somali Region; 148,482 in Afar; 144,295 in Oromia; 47,950 in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region; 13,245 in Amhara; 2,290 in Dire Dawa; and 2,055 in Harar. An additional 15,815 individuals displaced by flooding were still on the move and thus could not be attributed to any one region.

IOM reported in August 41,316 individuals or 7,844 households were internally displaced in Amhara, Oromia, and Somali regions, due to conflict and flooding. From August 24 through mid-September, approximately 8,000 individuals moved from Amhara Region to northwestern Tigray Region. Many of the IDPs cited as the reason for their departure recent conflicts in the region and a generalized sense they could be targeted because of their ethnicity (Tigrayan). The federal government allocated six million birr ($266,361) to Tigray Region for the IDP response. The funds were distributed among Hemera, Axum, Mekele, and Shire, which were the towns with the greatest IDP influx. The largest volume of arrivals was in Shire, which received 2.6 million birr ($115,423) of the region’s total. The federal government established a committee led by the Tigray Regional Agriculture Department to seek permanent integration options for the IDPs.

The IOM estimated an April 15 attack in Gambella Region by Murle ethnic group from South Sudan displaced more than 21,000 individuals (see section 6, Other Societal Violence or Discrimination).

The government, through the Disaster Risk Management Food Security Sector (DRMFSS), continued to play an active role in delivering humanitarian assistance to IDPs. Federal and local DRMFSS officials coordinated with IOM and its partners in monitoring IDP populations.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The state of emergency regulations prohibited entering the country without a visa.

According to UNHCR, the country hosted 743,732 refugees as of August. The majority of refugees were from South Sudan (281,612) and Somalia (254,277), with others from Eritrea (161,615), Sudan (39,317), and other countries. There were 1,554 registered Yemeni asylum seekers.

UNHCR, the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs, and humanitarian agencies continued to care for Sudanese arrivals fleeing from conflict in Sudan’s Blue Nile State, averaging 1,500 new arrivals per month, according to UNHCR. The government also extended support to asylum seekers from South Sudan, mostly arriving from Upper Nile and Unity states. Persistent conflict and food insecurity prompted the flow of South Sudanese refugees into the country; there were an estimated 2,712 arrivals during August.

Eritrean asylum seekers continued to arrive. Approximately 23 percent were unaccompanied minors. Many who arrived regularly departed for secondary migration through Egypt and Sudan to go to Europe and other final destinations.

Freedom of movement: The state of emergency regulations prohibited leaving refugee camps without permission from an authorized body. The government continued a policy that allowed some Eritrean refugees to live outside a camp. The government gave such permission primarily for persons to attend higher-education institutions, undergo medical treatment, or avoid security threats at the camps.

Employment: The government does not grant refugees work permits.

Durable Solutions: The government welcomed refugees to settle in the country but did not offer a path to citizenship or provide integration. The government supported a policy allowing some refugees to live outside camps and engage in informal livelihoods. Refugee students who passed the required tests could attend university with fees paid by the government and UNHCR.

Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press, but the government restricted press freedoms.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent and opposition-owned media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. Print media had limited reach due to the low literacy rate (41 percent) and the high cost of newspapers. Radio remained the most important source of information for the public, and numerous private stations broadcast throughout the country. FM radio call-in shows were popular and allowed citizens to express broad discontent with the government. An increase in online news websites reflected the growing demand for divergent views. Nevertheless, libels and allegations could result in government reprisals, including suspensions and fines. For example, after being accused of being an accessory to insult of the president of the republic, a journalist of private radio station Milo FM was sentenced on June 22 by the Court of First Instance of the prefecture of Kankan (Upper Guinea) to pay a fine of one million Guinean francs (GNF) ($112).

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of direct physical attacks, harassment, and intimidation of journalists by members of the Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) political party affiliated with the government and law enforcement agents.

In June presidential guards severely beat a journalist who had taken a picture of the president attending a political meeting of his party and confiscated his equipment.

Law enforcement officials also confiscated reporters’ equipment.

A journalist was killed while covering a February political meeting, allegedly by a stray bullet.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized stations and journalists who broadcast items criticizing government officials and their actions.

Some journalists accused government officials of attempting to influence the tone of their reporting with inappropriate pressure and bribes. Others hired bodyguards, and many practiced self-censorship.

The president publicly admonished the Radio France International correspondent for asking a question about his son’s involvement in a mining corruption scandal during a May press conference.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel against the head of state, slander, and false reporting are subject to heavy fines. Officials used these laws to harass opposition leaders.

For example, a journalist hosting a talk show in June, on which a caller insulted the president, was fined one million GNF ($112) for complicity and insult of the head of state.

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, 4.7 percent of individuals had access to the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. The law bans any meeting that has an ethnic or racial character or any gathering, “whose nature threatens national unity.” The government requires 72-working-hour advance notification for public gatherings. The law permits local authorities to prohibit a demonstration or meeting if they believe it poses a threat to public order. Authorities may also hold event organizers criminally liable if violence or destruction of property occurs. After protests by citizens in October against the lack of electricity, a mixed unit of police and gendarmes arrested 30 persons on charges of illegal gathering and disturbance; 12 were convicted and 18 acquitted.

Police use of excessive force to disperse demonstrators–often protesting poor public services–resulted in deaths and injuries. During the August opposition demonstration in Conakry, a 21-year-old man was killed by a police bullet. The suspected agent was arrested. According to the minister of security and civil protection, 12 other persons were injured.

In April Conakry governor Bangoura prohibited at the last minute a previously authorized march in Conakry by women protesting the imprisonment of opposition party members.

Part of the 2013 and 2015 political accords promised an investigation into the political violence that resulted in the deaths of more than 50 persons in 2012 and 2013, punishment of perpetrators, and indemnification of victims. The government had taken no action on these promises by year’s end.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and authorities generally respected this provision. Requirements to obtain official recognition for public, social, cultural, religious, or political associations were not cumbersome, although bureaucratic delays sometimes impeded registration.

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Police and security forces, however, continued to detain persons at roadblocks to extort money, impeding the free movement of travelers and threatening their safety. The Ebola epidemic further complicated matters as authorities closed borders with Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, impeding the movement of persons and goods. In August, after countries in the region were declared Ebola-free, the border with Cote d’Ivoire was reopened. The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, stateless persons, and asylum seekers.

In-country Movement: The government required all citizens over age 18 to carry national identification cards, which they had to present on demand at security checkpoints.

In 2012 the government announced the elimination of all roadblocks on the highways but declared it would maintain checkpoints along the borders and on certain strategic routes in Conakry. Police and gendarmes, however, set up random checkpoints throughout the capital and the country and routinely asked drivers to pay “tolls” or other illegal fees. Police and gendarmes occasionally robbed and beat travelers at these checkpoints and sometimes threatened them with death. High-level government officials acknowledged that the practice continued but claimed to be powerless to stop it.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

Interethnic violence in parts of the country occasionally resulted in internal displacement. Humanitarian organizations were able to access these populations and provided assistance.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The country hosted refugees from neighboring countries, including Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. As of April UNHCR recorded 8,696 refugees, including 6,580 Ivoirians. The Ebola epidemic at times resulted in restricted access to areas across the country, including regions hosting refugees; however, aid organizations were able to assist Ivoirian refugees living in Kouankan II Camp. Following the official end of Ebola in August, Cote d’Ivoire reopened its border with Guinea, thus opening the way to resume voluntary repatriation, and in September UNHCR organized an initial land convoy of 128 refugees.

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

Access to Basic Services: Refugees had access to basic services such as education and health services.

STATELESS PERSONS

There were a few hundred effectively stateless persons, who originally came from Sierra Leone. These persons did not meet any of the criteria for Guinean citizenship–birth within the country, marriage, naturalization, or parental heritage. According to UNHCR these refugees requested neither repatriation nor local integration after the invocation of the cessation clause for refugees from Sierra Leone. Some of this population lived in abandoned refugee camps, while others moved from former refugee sites in Kissidougou to artisanal gold-mining areas in the northeast of the country.

Republic of the Congo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but authorities often restricted these rights for those supporting political opponents. The government increased its media restrictions and journalist intimidation by closing one newspaper and radio station, disrupting the local retransmission signals of international media, and arresting three journalists.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately on relatively minor issues but risked reprisal, including arrest and prolonged detention, if they named high-level officials while criticizing government policies. The constitution provides for freedom of expression in all forms of communication and prohibits censorship. The constitution, however, criminalizes speech that incites ethnic hatred, violence, or civil war and makes it punishable by no less than five years in jail. It also criminalizes any act or event that promotes racism or xenophobia. Authorities cited this law at least once during the year in the context of closing the satirical newspaper Sel Piment.

Press and Media Freedoms: There was one official state-owned newspaper, La Nouvelle Republique, which published irregularly, and approximately 100 private publications, most of which were closely aligned with the government; others occasionally criticized the government. One daily newspaper that received government funding and a semiweekly newspaper founded by the Catholic Church were the only publications with circulation outside Brazzaville.

Most citizens obtained their news from local retransmission of international media and local radio or television stations. Approximately 95 radio stations, three of which were government-owned, and 26 television stations, two of which were government-owned, operated with limited coverage throughout the country. Tele-Congo and Radio Congo, both government-owned, were the only stations with nationwide coverage. Tele-Congo did not cover many events that took a critical view of the government. The majority of radio and television stations not owned by the government had low bandwidth, did not reach large parts of the country, and were owned by politicians or members of the government. Satellite television services were available for the few who could afford them.

By law media outlets are required to register with the Superior Council for Liberty of Communication (CSLC), the independent media regulatory body whose director is selected by the president. According to its charter, the CSLC is authorized to impose financial sanctions on any media outlet that violates media regulations. The law requires journalists to have a press card issued by the CSLC. To get a press card, journalists must provide evidence of their training or degree in journalism, a criminal background check, and a residency card and also have their names submitted by their former employer. Freelance journalists must apply through a CSLC-registered entity. Authorities may subject journalists without press cards to arrest and imprisonment, although according to freelance journalists, authorities did not enforce the law, and many journalists operated freely without a press card.

Government journalists generally were not independent, and the majority of journalists and editors practiced self-censorship and promoted the editorial views of media owners, most of whom were current or former government officials. Newspapers occasionally published open letters written by government opponents.

Violence and Harassment: There were multiple reports of direct and indirect intimidation by the government.

For example, on February 9, Alphonse Ndongo, a journalist with the online news website Congo Jeune Afrique Economy, reported several men in civilian clothes beat him at Maya Maya airport in Brazzaville while waiting for presidential candidate General Jean Michel Mokoko (ret.) to arrive. Reporters from DRTV, a local private television station, also reported that police stripped them of their property while they attempted to cover the same event. Eyewitnesses reported police fired tear gas and used physical force to disperse the remaining crowd of journalists and onlookers. Thugs from busses with no license plates threw large rocks at the candidate and the crowd.

On March 23, following the presidential election, unknown assailants attacked and robbed three international journalists who were departing a press conference at the campaign headquarters of Mokoko in Brazzaville.

On March 30, police arrested Franck Mboungou, managing editor of local newspaper Pole Pole, a publication critical of the government. On April 11, police arrested journalist Guy Milex Mboundzi, reportedly for his attempted coverage of the opposition.

The director of the Talassa Media Group alleged that on July 22, authorities searched his house without judicial authorization under the pretext of searching for weapons and ammunition.

Additional reports of alleged intimidation included the following: police use of nonlethal force against journalists attempting to report on sensitive events; attempts to prevent journalists sympathetic to the opposition from traveling internationally; telephone calls from official and anonymous persons warning journalists not to use footage of politically sensitive events; removing journalists from positions of leadership for covering opposition candidates and platforms during the campaign period; administrative closures and withdrawal of operating licenses of private news organizations; and pressure on news outlets not to run certain stories or footage.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On January 22, the CSLC suspended Sel Piment for inciting tribal hatred and undermining national cohesion.

Several newspaper suspensions imposed since 2013 continued, including those of Le Nouveau RegardLa Verite, and La Voix du Peuple. Private newspapers and websites affiliated with government officials received no sanctions for falsehoods they published.

Most independent and government-employed journalists continued to practice self-censorship. There were no reports the government revoked journalists’ accreditations if their reporting reflected adversely on the government’s image, but journalists reported a fear of termination from their government positions for doing so.

Libel/Slander Laws: The press law provides for monetary penalties and suspension of a publication’s permission to print for defamation and incitement to violence.

National Security: On several occasions throughout the year, journalists reported authorities cited laws protecting national security to restrict media distribution of material that criticized government policies or public officials. For example, on April 10, citing national security concerns, police blocked journalists from Radio France International from travelling to Kinkala to cover government-initiated security operations in the southern Pool region.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government disrupted communication networks and internet access used to enable persons to assemble peacefully prior to elections or planned demonstrations during the year. For example, on March 20, the government cut most internet links, fiber optic networks, Short Message Service (SMS) services, and cellular voice service, effectively preventing the transmission of parallel vote counts by candidate representatives throughout the country. Authorities intermittently restored voice service on March 24, but internet and SMS services remained almost completely unavailable until March 26.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 7 percent of individuals used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

In December 2015 authorities banned actor, director, and playwright Dieudonne Niangouna from participating in an international theater festival in Brazzaville after he published an open letter criticizing the president for having held a referendum on a new constitution that allowed him to run for president again.

Self-censorship was common in academia and at cultural events, especially in universities, where there was little room for public discourse on politically sensitive topics. University-level professors were not always intellectually independent, since many held second jobs as close advisors to government officials.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly; however, the government did not respect this right during the campaign period prior to the March 20 presidential election. For example, officials temporarily blocked at least two opposition candidates from visiting the northern region of Likouala during the official campaign period.

The government required groups that wished to hold public assemblies to seek authorization from the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization and appropriate local officials. Both the ministry and local officials sometimes withheld authorization for meetings they claimed might threaten public order. They also created unnecessary obstacles to gaining authorization and called police to disperse meetings they claimed had not received proper authorization.

On June 16, authorities stopped the Initiative for Democracy in Congo-Republican Front for the Respect of Constitutional Order and Democratic Change (IDC-FROCAD), a coalition regrouping most major opposition figures, from holding a press conference in Brazzaville to condemn the incarceration of opposition leader and candidate General Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government sometimes respected this right. Political, social, or economic groups or associations were required to register with the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization. Authorities sometimes subjected registration to political influence. According to a local NGO, groups that spoke openly against the government encountered overt or veiled threats and found the registration process more time-consuming.

Between February and April, members of Ras-le-Bol (“enough is enough”)–a political youth activist group whose members had been arrested for politically oriented activities in the past–reported numerous direct threats from police to stop their activities. Police officially summoned two of the group’s members. Other members reported police harassed their families and friends to ascertain their whereabouts.

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights for refugees and asylum seekers, but not for undocumented immigrants from the DRC in the country’s larger cities.

The government usually cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities harassed and arbitrarily arrested refugees on a regular basis, forcing them to pay small bribes to avoid arrest or obtain release. Police, specifically the intelligence police, arrested at least 145 refugees during the year, including 105 in Brazzaville and 40 in the northern town of Betou. In 27 cases police cited irregular immigration as the cause for arrest, despite the refugees carrying valid identification cards indicating refugee status. For example, police regularly arrested CAR refugees, claiming they no longer had refugee status since the war in CAR had ended. Dozens of refugees reported that police used physical violence against them during their arrest and detention. On three separate occasions, refugees reported violent physical harassment by police and military members who demanded money from them outside a detention center.

On March 11, intelligence police arrested without charge Rwandan refugee Bonfiface Uzaribara; as of October 20, he remained in detention. Authorities denied human rights organizations, UNHCR, and Uzaribara’s family and lawyer access to visit him in detention.

UNHCR reported 28 cases of rape from January through September, 19 of which involved rape of a minor and 15 of which occurred frequently at a refugee camp in Betou. Soldiers allegedly committed two of the rapes in the northern Likuala region. Rape and sexual abuse commonly occurred during the initial flight; many women and girls engaged in survival sex in exchange for protection, material goods, or money. Women often remained with abusive partners who offered protection during the flight and subsequently reported domestic abuse and marital rape. The vast majority of gender-based violence incidents went unreported because complaints could take three or more years before courts examined them. Families of victims often preferred settlements through traditional justice mechanisms of negotiating directly with the perpetrators. UNHCR’s protection officers and medical partners provided medical, psychosocial, and legal assistance to victims of gender-based violence, including rape. During the year there was a national shortage of rape kits and HIV testing to respond to victims. Refugees had equal access to community health centers and hospitals but reported discriminatory treatment at some hospitals, including insults by medical personnel and not being treated in priority order relative to their medical condition. Refugees had equal legal recourse for criminal complaints (for example, rape) and civil disputes.

Foreign Travel: The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government repeatedly violated these rights, especially for opposition politicians and supporters attempting to depart the country.

By law all citizens are eligible for a national passport. The government, however, lacked the capacity to produce passports in sufficient numbers to meet demand and prioritized providing passports to those individuals who could demonstrate imminent need to travel or who had strong government connections. Obtaining a passport was a time-consuming and difficult process for most persons.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

The April 4 gunfire and explosions in Brazzaville displaced more than 17,000 persons, who fled their neighborhoods for safer parts of the city. The government blamed the Ninja/Nsiloulou, a former rebel group from the 1997-2003 civil war. Their leader, Pastor Ntumi, denied responsibility, and many suspected that the entire operation may have been coordinated by elements of the government as a political distraction prior the Constitutional Court’s declaration of final presidential election results and to perpetuate a climate of fear and intimidation to prevent protests. Churches in the neighborhood of Plateau de 15 Ans in Brazzaville hosted approximately 10,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) for approximately one week. There were reports of military personnel robbing IDPs as they passed through checkpoints. Two women reportedly gave birth while displaced. On April 5, the government launched security operations in the Pool region outside of Brazzaville to search for Ntumi. During the operation thousands more in the Pool region were displaced from their homes (see section 1.g.).

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees but not asylum seekers. There are no laws recognizing asylum seekers nor any laws implementing the protections afforded in the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which the government is a signatory. During the year the country hosted 46,049 refugees, 4,134 asylum seekers, and 3,087 persons of concern.

The National Refugee Assistance Committee (CNAR), a joint committee under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, handled applications for refugee status. The CNAR received most of its operating budget from UNHCR.

According to UNHCR, the CNAR eligibility board processed 129 asylum cases during the year; seven cases were granted refugee status, three cases were put on hold for further processing, and 119 cases were denied refugee status. There were no cases processed by the appeal board during the year.

The country saw an influx of persons fleeing violence in the CAR beginning in 2012. According to UNHCR, as of October 1, the country hosted 29,304 CAR refugees and asylum seekers.

As of July 2015, the government stopped granting prima facie status to refugees fleeing from the CAR. During the year UNHCR registered 2,078 CAR asylum seekers, but the government did not register the asylum claims until August. With the support of UNHCR, the CNAR adopted an expedited procedure to process asylum requests. Since August 29, the government registered 240 asylum-seeking families from the CAR (560 individuals), none of which were processed by the government’s eligibility board for refugee status.

Local integration for refugees in the country was particularly difficult due to the cost of acquiring a residence permit, 350,000 CFA francs ($600). UNHCR was not aware of any refugees who obtained a residency card or alternative status as of October 20.

Employment: The law does not address employment for refugees, but various government decrees prohibit foreigners, including refugees, from practicing small trade activities and working in the public transportation sector. Following the operation to expel undocumented migrants in 2014, police aggressively implemented these laws, resulting in sudden and mass unemployment of refugees.

According to UNHCR, on multiple occasions during the year, refugees in Brazzaville reported police arbitrarily confiscated items they were selling, such as eggs and fruit, under threat of arrest or demand for a bribe.

Several rural localities banned foreigners from continuing their farming activities. According to customary laws, property owners may require foreigners to pay an extra licensing fee to lease property or land.

In recent years anecdotal evidence suggested quotas and excessive work permit fees limited refugee employment opportunities in the formal sector. Authorities required refugees to obtain two-year work permits that cost approximately 150,000 CFA francs ($260), approximately equivalent to three months’ salary.

Many refugees worked informally in the agriculture sector to obtain food. Some refugees farmed land that belonged to local nationals in exchange for a percentage of the harvest or a cash payment.

Access to Basic Services: In July UNHCR received reports from refugees that a local government authority in Likuala started a registration operation for all foreigners in the region, including refugees, requiring a payment of 500 CFA francs ($0.85) for documents that under law are free of charge. In July local authorities ceased the registration operation after complaints from the international community.

UNHCR-funded primary schooling was accessible to most refugees. During the academic year, primary schools enrolled 9,226 refugee children, including 4,489 girls. Authorities severely limited access to secondary and vocational education for refugees. Most secondary education teachers at such schools were refugees who either volunteered to teach or were paid by the parents of refugee children. There were 2,713 refugee children enrolled in secondary school, of whom 1,123 were girls.

Durable Solutions: As of September 27, the country hosted 9,030 Rwandan refugees, 53 percent of whom were born in the Republic of the Congo, including 753 children unable to obtain birth certificates. According to UNHCR, in 2004-15 the government repatriated 445 Rwandan refugees. Since January the government repatriated seven additional Rwandan refugees.

At a tripartite meeting in 2012, the governments of the Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, with UNHCR, agreed to invoke a cessation clause that would revoke the refugee status of Rwandans in the country beginning on June 30, 2013. As of that date, the agreement required Rwandan refugees to return to Rwanda, formalize their legal status in the Congo, or apply for refugee status based on individual claims due to particular circumstances. UNHCR reported that 4,029 Rwandans subject to the cessation clause filed exemption requests with the government. During the year the government completed determination interviews for all Rwandan refugees living in Brazzaville and Kintele, an estimated 1,400, but as of December, it had not made a decision on their status.

The Gambia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press; however, the government restricted these rights. The Freedom in the World 2015 report by Freedom House stated, “The government does not respect freedom of the press. Laws on sedition give authorities discretion in silencing dissent, and independent media outlets and journalists are subject to harassment, arrest, and violence.”

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals who publicly or privately criticized the government or the president risked government reprisal.

On May 11, three men–Ebrima Keita, Musa Fofana, and Alasana Jallow–were arrested. They were arraigned before the Bundung Magistrate Court on May 24, charged with seditious intention and incitement of violence. In court the prosecutor claimed the three men were arrested because they said, “All members of the opposition parties should come together and organize a mass demonstration which will make it difficult for the security forces to handle. President Jammeh never liked the Mandinkas.” On May 30, the court granted bail to each of the accused in the sum of 50,000 dalasi ($1,140) with two sureties (financial deposits by persons who guarantee the accused will return to court). The matter was still before the court at year’s end.

Press and Media Freedoms: Laws that impose excessive bonds on media institutions also require newspapers to reregister annually and mandate harsh punishment for the publication of so-called false information or undermining constitutional protections. According to Freedom House, these provisions gave authorities great power to silence dissent.

The 2013 Information and Communication Act criminalizes the dissemination of “false news” about government or public officials, inciting dissatisfaction or instigating violence against the government, or caricaturing or otherwise making derogatory statements against public officials on the internet. These crimes are punishable by hefty fines or a prison term of up to 15 years or both. Self-censorship among media professionals was common.

In July 2015 NIA officers arrested and detained Alagie Ceesay, managing director of private radio station Taranga FM, for several days at NIA headquarters. Taranga is the only radio station in the country that translates local newspaper articles into local languages, a practice that previously caused friction with authorities. Officials accused Ceesay of sharing by cellphone text a photograph of President Jammeh with a gun and five bullets pointed at his head. The inspector general of police charged Ceesay with “intent to raise discontent, hatred, or disaffection of the president” at the magistrate’s court. In August 2015 the director of public prosecution filed six other charges of “sedition and seditious intent” at the High Court, all related to the same photograph. In October 2015 magistrate Momodou Jallow, at the request of a police prosecutor, dismissed the charge against Ceesay, formally ending his trial in the lower court. The courts rejected his bail application four times. On April 22, the state-owned Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) announced Ceesay had escaped on April 20 while undergoing medical treatment at Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital in Banjul and stated that anyone aiding Ceesay’s flight would “face the full force of the law.” The case remained unresolved in the High Court at year’s end.

The independent Daily Observer newspaper favored the government in its coverage and editorials. Four other independent newspapers, including one published by an opposition party, remained highly critical of the government. A 2012 ban on the Daily News newspaper remained in force.

GRTS and nine private radio stations broadcast throughout the country. GRTS gave virtually no coverage to political opposition activities but provided extensive coverage of ruling party activities.

Violence and Harassment: Media restrictions remained stringent during the year. Numerous journalists remained in self-imposed exile due to government threats and harassment. While there were no reports of journalists being arrested and detained, human rights organization Article 19 received several reports of journalists receiving threatening phone calls after mentioning information critical of the government published by international media.

Officials routinely denied journalists from news outlets perceived to be critical of the government access to public information and excluded them from covering official events at certain venues.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Private media outlets generally practiced self-censorship due to fear of reprisal by the government, and many refrained from publishing content deemed contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions and sects. Nevertheless, opposition views regularly appeared in the independent press, and there was frequent criticism of the government in the English-language private press.

The Information and Communication Act created several new offenses for online speech that are punishable by a 15-year prison term or a fine of three million dalasi ($68,200) or both. The act criminalizes spreading false news about the government or public officials, making caricatures or derogatory statements regarding public officials, and inciting dissatisfaction with or instigating violence against the government.

National Security: Unlike in previous years, the NIA was not involved in the arbitrary closure of media outlets and the extrajudicial detention of journalists. The Gambia Press Union, however, claimed Alagie Ceesay, Radio Taranga FM manager, was tortured while in custody.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet or credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Internet users, however, reported they often could not access the websites of foreign online publications such as Freedom Online.

The Africa Market and Telecommunications Report for 2016 reported 18.6 percent of individuals used the internet during the year. In August the government reportedly restricted public access to Voice Over Internet Protocol services, including Skype and other popular social media applications, such as FaceTime, Facebook video messaging, and WhatsApp. These restrictions did not remain in place at year’s end.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

In June 2015 hip-hop artist Ali Cham, known as Killa Ace, released a song critical of government actions, particularly its restrictions on free speech and press freedom, police brutality, corruption, and misuse of public funds. The song was available online. Although officials did not ban the song, Cham fled the country with his wife and daughter, saying he no longer felt safe after his parents received threatening inquiries from security officers.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly; however, police systematically refused requests for permission to hold demonstrations, including peaceful ones, and occasionally refused to issue permits to opposition parties wishing to hold rallies.

On April 14, UDP supporters assembled peacefully at Westfield Junction in Serrekunda, the commercial center, and called for “proper electoral reform.” The UDP’s Youth Wing Leader, Solo Sandeng, who led the protest, was arrested along with an unspecified number of fellow protesters by officers of the Police Intervention Unit (PIU). The PIU reportedly used excessive force to disperse the crowds. Sandeng died in police custody soon after his arrest. UDP leader, Ousainou Darboe, led a peaceful protest march on April 16, demanding the release of Sandeng “dead or alive.” Darboe was arrested, along with a relative, Fanta Jawara, a Gambian-American citizen. Members of the UDP executive, and several others were also arrested. The government described the protest as “illegal,” on the grounds the demonstrators did not have a police permit, even though the constitution allows for peaceful protests.

In April 2015 officers from the PIU and other security agencies armed with riot gear intercepted a team of officials and supporters of the opposition UDP, including leader Ousainou Darboe. The group arrived at the village of Fass Njaga, Choi, in the North Bank Region, on the first day of a 10-day campaign tour. The UDP decided to embark on the tour despite lacking a police permit for use of a public address system. Under the Public Order Act, political parties planning to hold public meetings must apply for a permit allowing them to use a public address system and must provide details of place, date, and time of each rally. The PIU prevented the UDP team from holding a meeting in Fass Njaga or proceeding on the campaign tour. A tense four-day standoff continued until police finally issued a permit allowing the UDP to continue its tour.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right in practice.

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

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

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

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to assist internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. UNHCR coordinated government efforts with the International Organization for Migration, the Gambia Red Cross Society, and other agencies to provide this protection and assistance.

In-country Movement: There are no restrictions on the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of the state. Citizens of the ECOWAS do not require visas to enter the country. ECOWAS citizens are also exempt from fees related to entry clearances, emergency travel certificates, and extensions of stay. The government occasionally installed security checkpoints at strategic locations and demanded personal identification documents from individuals.

Foreign Travel: The government imposed restrictions on foreign travel by many persons released from detention, often by confiscating their travel documents temporarily at time of arrest or soon afterward. As a rule the government required all its employees to obtain permission from the Office of the President before traveling abroad on official trips. In 2014 the president signed an amendment to the criminal code that criminalizes the act of absconding while performing government duties abroad. According to the amendment, “A person who leaves The Gambia under a government-sponsored program or on a mission as a representative of The Gambia and refuses to return home on completion of his or her program or mission commits an offense.” Conviction could result in a fine of 500,000 dalasi ($11,400) and imprisonment for five years.

Exile: There were no known cases of persons arbitrarily deprived of the right to return to the country. In July 2015 the president extended amnesty to all citizens in the diaspora and said they are forgiven and can freely return home.

In October the government issued travel documents to 11 citizens in foreign custody as a result of the government’s refusal to provide travel documents required for their repatriation. The first two detainees arrived in the country on October 25, and the remaining citizens were subsequently returned.

Ousman Sonko, the country’s former minister of interior was fired on September 16. Sonko sought political asylum in Sweden on September 22. According to media reports, he was deported from Sweden to Spain, the first EU country he entered on leaving the Gambia, to make his asylum application.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting refugee status under the 2008 Refugee Act. The Gambia Commission for Refugees worked with UNHCR on protection of refugees.

UNHCR provided assistance with basic needs and services and implemented livelihood programs. According to UNHCR’s resident representative, the approximately 8,000 refugees in the country are largely Senegalese who fled the Casamance conflict in Senegal. In recent years the country has also hosted smaller numbers of refugees from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togo, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, and Guinea-Bissau. UNHCR reported many of these refugees have not returned to their countries of origin.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future