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China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)

Read A Section: China

Hong Kong | Macau | Tibet

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The People’s Republic of China is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party is the paramount authority. Communist Party members hold almost all top government and security apparatus positions. Ultimate authority rests with the Communist Party Central Committee’s 25-member Political Bureau (Politburo) and its seven-member Standing Committee. Xi Jinping continued to hold the three most powerful positions as party general secretary, state president, and chairman of the Central Military Commission.

The main domestic security agencies include the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Public Security, and the People’s Armed Police. The People’s Armed Police continue to be under the dual authority of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Central Military Commission. The People’s Liberation Army is primarily responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Local jurisdictions also frequently use civilian municipal security forces, known as “urban management” officials, to enforce administrative measures. Civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed serious and pervasive abuses.

Genocide and crimes against humanity occurred during the year against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. These crimes were continuing and included: the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians; forced sterilization, coerced abortions, and more restrictive application of the country’s birth control policies; rape; torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained; forced labor; and draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions; arbitrary detention by the government, including the mass detention of more than one million Uyghurs and members of other predominantly Muslim minority groups in extrajudicial internment camps and an additional two million subjected to daytime-only “re-education” training; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisal against individuals outside the country; the lack of an independent judiciary and Communist Party control over the judicial and legal system; arbitrary interference with privacy including pervasive and intrusive technical surveillance and monitoring; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including physical attacks on and criminal prosecution of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others as well as their family members; serious restrictions on internet freedom, including site blocking; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws that apply to foreign and domestic nongovernmental organizations; severe restrictions and suppression of religious freedom; substantial restrictions on freedom of movement; refoulement of asylum seekers to North Korea, where they have a well founded fear of persecution, including torture and sexual violence; the inability of citizens to choose their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious restrictions on political participation; serious acts of government corruption; forced sterilization and coerced abortions; trafficking in persons, including forced labor; violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minority groups; severe restrictions on labor rights, including a ban on workers organizing or joining unions of their own choosing; and child labor.

Government officials and the security services often committed human rights abuses with impunity. Authorities often announced investigations following cases of reported killings by police but did not announce results or findings of police malfeasance or disciplinary action. Enforcement of laws on corruption was inconsistent and not transparent, and corruption was rampant.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In many instances few or no details were available. In an April 21 report, Amnesty International declared the country executed potentially thousands of individuals in 2020.

In Xinjiang there were reports of custodial deaths related to detentions in the internment camps. There were multiple reports from Uyghur family members who discovered their relatives had died while in internment camps or within weeks of their release. In January, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported the 82-year-old Uyghur poet Haji Mirzahid Kerimi died in prison while serving an 11-year sentence for writing books that were later blacklisted. According to RFA, Kerimi was arrested in 2017 as part of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) campaign to censor “dangerous” literature. RFA also reported Kurbanjan Abdukerim died in February shortly after his release from an internment camp. During the three years of his detainment, Abdukerim family reported he had lost more than 100 pounds and that the cause of his death was unknown.

b. Disappearance

Disappearances through multiple means continued at a nationwide, systemic scale.

The primary means by which authorities disappeared individuals for sustained periods of time is known as “Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location” (RSDL). RSDL codifies in law the longstanding practice of the detention and removal from the public eye of individuals the state deems a risk to national security or intends to use as hostages. The primary disappearance mechanism for public functionaries is known as liuzhi. Per numerous reports, individuals disappeared by RSDL and liuzhi were subject to numerous abuses including but not limited to physical and psychological abuse, humiliation, rape, torture, starvation, isolation, and forced confessions.

The government conducted mass arbitrary detention of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim and ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged these detentions amounted to enforced disappearance, since families were often not provided information concerning the length or location of the detention.

Amnesty International reported in April that Ekpar Asat, also known as Aikebaier Aisaiti, a Uyghur journalist and entrepreneur, had been held in solitary confinement since 2019 in Aksu Prefecture. He was reportedly detained in Xinjiang in 2016 shortly after participating in a program in the United States and subsequently sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

In July officials at Tongji University in Shanghai confirmed that Uyghur research scientist Tursunjan Nurmamat had been detained after Nurmamat suddenly went silent on social media in April. Further details on Nurmamat’s case and whereabouts were unknown.

Professional tennis player Peng Shuai disappeared from public view for approximately three weeks after her November 2 accusation on social media that former Politburo Standing Committee member and vice premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her. Her reappearance, via what appeared to be tightly controlled and staged video clips, raised concerns that authorities were controlling her movement and speech (see section 6, Women).

Former lawyer Tang Jitian, a long-time advocate for Chinese citizens, has been held incommunicado since December 10, reportedly in connection with his plans to attend Human Rights Day events in Beijing. Subsequently there were reports that authorities had sent a video to his former wife telling his family to remain quiet.

In 2020, four citizen journalists disappeared from public view after authorities in Wuhan took them into custody. Chen Qiushi, Li Zehua (who was released after two months in April 2020), Zhang Zhan, and Fang Bin had interviewed health-care professionals and citizens and later publicized their accounts on social media during the initial COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown in Wuhan. Media reported November 24 that Fang Bin was in custody in Wuhan, the first news of his location since his arrest in February 2020. On September 30, Chen Qiushi appeared on social media but said he could not talk about what happened to him. In November according to reports from her family and lawyer in media, Zhang Zhan, who had been sentenced in December 2020 to four years’ imprisonment, remained in detention and has been on an intermittent hunger strike.

The government still had not provided a comprehensive, credible accounting of all those killed, missing, or detained in connection with the violent suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations. Many activists who were involved in the 1989 demonstrations and their family members continued to suffer official harassment. The government made no efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such harassment.

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

The law prohibits the physical abuse and mistreatment of detainees and forbids prison guards from coercing confessions, insulting prisoners’ dignity, and beating or encouraging others to beat prisoners. The law excludes evidence obtained through illegal means, including coerced confessions, in certain categories of criminal cases. There were credible reports that authorities routinely ignored prohibitions against torture, especially in politically sensitive cases.

Numerous former prisoners and detainees reported they were beaten, raped, subjected to electric shock, forced to sit on stools for hours on end, hung by the wrists, deprived of sleep, force-fed, forced to take medication against their will, and otherwise subjected to physical and psychological abuse. Although prison authorities abused ordinary prisoners, they reportedly singled out political and religious dissidents for particularly harsh treatment.

Zhang Zhan, sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in December 2020 for her activities as a citizen journalist during the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, was not allowed family visits by Shanghai prison authorities. When Zhang went on a hunger strike, prison officials force-fed her, tying and chaining her arms, torso, and feet.

In August after 21 months in detention, human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi was indicted. Ding was detained in 2019 on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” for participating in a meeting in Xiamen, Fujian Province, to organize civil society activities and peaceful resistance to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule. Ding’s wife posted on Twitter that Ding was tortured in a detention center in Beijing, including being subjected to sleep deprivation tactics such as shining a spotlight on him 24 hours per day.

On March 22, Zhang Wuzhou was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison for “obstructing official duty, provoking quarrels and stirring up trouble.” Following her arrest in June 2020, Zhang was tortured in the Qingxin District Detention Center in Qingyuan (Guangdong Province), according to her lawyer’s July 2020 account as reported by Radio Free Asia. Zhang said that detention center authorities handcuffed her, made her wear heavy foot shackles, and placed her in a cell where other inmates beat her. The Qingyuan Public Security Bureau detained Zhang on charges of “provoking quarrels and stirring up troubles” two days after she held banners at Guangzhou Baiyun Mountains to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre.

As of November human rights activist and lawyer Yu Wensheng remained in a Nanjing prison serving a four-year sentence. In April he was treated in a hospital for nerve damage from an unknown incident suffered in prison. He was convicted in June 2020 for “inciting subversion of state power” and was held incommunicado for 18 months before and after his conviction. Yu reported he was repeatedly sprayed with pepper spray and was forced into a stress position for an extended period.

As of November human rights lawyer Chang Weiping, who was reportedly tortured while in RSDL, was still in pretrial detention. Chang, known for his successful representation of HIV and AIDS discrimination cases, was detained in October 2020 after posting a video to YouTube detailing torture he suffered during a January 2020 round of RSDL.

In December 2020 Niu Tengyu was sentenced to a 14-year jail term by the Maonan District People’s Court in Guangdong for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” “violating others’ privacy,” and “running an illegal business” in a case that has been linked to the leak of the personal information of President Xi’s daughter. According to RFA, Niu’s lawyers alleged that prior to the trial, Niu was stripped, suspended from the ceiling, and his genitals burned with a lighter. They also alleged he was beaten so badly that he lost use of his right hand.

Members of the minority Uyghur ethnic group reported systematic torture and other degrading treatment by law enforcement officers and officials working within the penal system and the internment camps. Survivors stated that authorities subjected individuals in custody to electric shock, waterboarding, beatings, rape, forced sterilization, forced prostitution, stress positions, forced administration of unknown medication, and cold cells (see section 6, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination). In an October report on CNN, a former PRC police detective now living in Europe who had multiple tours of duty in Xinjiang confirmed many of these specific allegations in what he described as a systematic campaign of torture.

In March, Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy released a comprehensive assessment of the PRC’s actions in Xinjiang to examine “whether China bears State responsibility for breaches of Article II of the Genocide Convention, in particular, whether China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs as defined by Article II of the Convention.” The report included contributions of more than 30 scholars and researchers and found that the PRC has implemented a campaign designed to eliminate Uyghurs, in whole or in part. The report stated, “[h]igh-level officials gave orders to ‘round up everyone who should be rounded up,’ ‘wipe them out completely,’ ‘break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections and break their origins.’” The report noted the PRC has also pursued a “dual systematic campaign of forcibly sterilizing Uyghur women of childbearing age and interning Uyghur men of child-bearing years, preventing the regenerative capacity of the group.”

In June, Amnesty International released a report that documented the accounts of more than 50 former detainees regarding the torture, mistreatment, and violence inflicted on them in camps in Xinjiang. The report detailed the systematic use of detainment and “re-education” centers to target Uyghurs and members of other ethnic minorities living in Xinjiang. The report concluded, “according to the evidence Amnesty International has gathered, corroborated by other reliable sources, members of the predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have been subjected to an attack meeting all the contextual elements of crimes against humanity.” Further, it elaborated on violence and detention stating, “Amnesty International believes the evidence it has collected provides a factual basis for the conclusion that the Chinese government has committed at least the following crimes against humanity: imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law; torture; and persecution.”

The treatment and abuse of detainees under the liuzhi detention system, which operates outside the judicial system as a legal tool for the government and the CCP to investigate corruption and other offenses, featured custodial treatment such as extended solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, beatings, and forced standing or sitting in uncomfortable positions for hours and sometimes days, according to press reports.

The law states psychiatric treatment and hospitalization should be “on a voluntary basis,” but the law also allows authorities and family members to commit persons to psychiatric facilities against their will and fails to provide meaningful legal protections for persons sent to psychiatric facilities. The law does not provide for the right to a lawyer and restricts a person’s right to communicate with those outside the psychiatric institution.

Official media reported the Ministry of Public Security directly administered 23 psychiatric hospitals for the criminally insane.  While many of those committed to mental health facilities were convicted of murder and other violent crimes, there were also reports of activists, religious or spiritual adherents, and petitioners involuntarily subjected to psychiatric treatment for political reasons.  Public security officials may commit individuals to psychiatric facilities and force treatment for “conditions” that have no basis in psychiatry.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, including the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of State Security, and the Ministry of Justice, which manages the prison system.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in penal institutions for both political prisoners and criminal offenders were generally harsh and often life threatening or degrading.

Physical Conditions: Authorities regularly held prisoners and detainees in overcrowded conditions with poor sanitation. Food often was inadequate and of poor quality, and many detainees relied on supplemental food, medicines, and warm clothing provided by relatives when allowed to receive them. Prisoners often reported sleeping on the floor because there were no beds or bedding. In many cases provisions for sanitation, ventilation, heating, lighting, and access to potable water were inadequate.

The lack of adequate, timely medical care for prisoners remained a serious problem, despite official assurances prisoners have the right to prompt medical treatment. Prison authorities at times withheld medical treatment from political prisoners. Multiple NGOs and news agencies reported detainees at “re-education” centers or long-term extrajudicial detention centers became seriously ill or died.

Political prisoners were sometimes held with the general prison population and reported being beaten by other prisoners at the instigation of guards. Some reported being held in the same cells as death row inmates. In some cases authorities did not allow dissidents to receive supplemental food, medicine, and warm clothing from relatives.

Conditions in administrative detention facilities were similar to those in prisons. Deaths from beatings occurred in administrative detention facilities. Detainees reported beatings, sexual assaults, lack of proper food, and limited or no access to medical care.

In Xinjiang authorities expanded internment camps for Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims. Buzzfeed reported in July that the map of detention centers “neatly fits the geography of counties and prefectures across Xinjiang, with a camp and detention center in most counties and a prison or two per prefecture.” The report estimated that the government had built enough detention space to hold up to 1.01 million individuals. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Xinjiang Data Project satellite analysis indicated that Xinjiang has 385 detention centers. In some cases authorities used repurposed schools, factories, and prisons to hold detainees. The Associated Press reported in October that authorities have closed or repurposed the makeshift detention centers found in cities, but in their place have built larger detention centers outside the cities. According to Human Rights Watch, these camps focused on “military-style discipline and pervasive political indoctrination of the detainees.” Detainees reported pervasive physical abuse and torture in the camps and overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

In July the Associated Press estimated one detention center in Dabancheng, Xinjiang could hold 10,000 persons. Associated Press reported that during a tour of the facility it observed detainees “in uniform rows with their legs crossed in lotus position and their backs ramrod straight” where they watched videos of CCP propaganda. In October, CNN interviewed a former Chinese police officer who served multiple tours in Xinjiang and was directly involved in the severe physical mistreatment and violence undertaken against Uyghurs and other ethnic minority communities. The officer stated, “We took (them) all forcibly overnight. If there were hundreds of people in one county in this area, then you had to arrest these hundreds of people.” During interrogations, police officers would “kick them, beat them (until they’re) bruised and swollen, … Until they kneel on the floor crying.” “Interrogation” methods included shackling persons to a metal or wooden “tiger chair” (rendering them immobile), sexual violence against men and women, electrocutions, and waterboarding. The source said inmates were forced to stay awake for days and denied food and water. The former police officer stated that 150,000 police officers had been recruited to participate in the province-wide “strike hard” campaign and that there were arrest quotas they had to meet. Authorities accused detainees of terror offenses, but the source said he believed “none” of the hundreds of prisoners he was involved in arresting had committed a crime.

Administration: The law states letters from a prisoner to higher authorities of the prison or to the judicial organs shall be free from examination; it was unclear to what extent the law was observed. While authorities occasionally investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions, their results were not documented in a publicly accessible manner. Authorities denied many prisoners and detainees reasonable access to visitors and correspondence with family members. Some family members did not know the whereabouts of their relatives in custody. Authorities also prevented many prisoners and detainees from engaging in religious practices or gaining access to religious materials.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities considered information about prisons and various other types of administrative and extralegal detention facilities to be a state secret, and the government did not permit independent monitoring.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arbitrary arrest and detention remained systemic. The law grants public security officers broad administrative detention powers and the ability to detain individuals for extended periods without formal arrest or criminal charges. Lawyers, human rights activists, journalists, religious leaders and adherents, and former political prisoners and their family members continued to be targeted for arbitrary detention or arrest. (See section 1.b., Disappearance, for a description of RSDL and liuzhi.)

The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government generally did not observe this requirement.

There were allegations of detainee abuse and torture in the official detention system, known as liuzhi, of the National Supervisory Commission-Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (NSC-CCDI; see section 4). Liuzhi detainees are held incommunicado and have no recourse to appeal their detention. While detainee abuse is proscribed by the law, the mechanism for detainees to report abuse was unclear.

On March 14, Li Qiaochu was arrested for her human rights advocacy and involvement with fellow activists involved in the nationwide crackdown of lawyers and activists who participated in 2019 meetings in Xiamen, Fujian. Her first visit with her lawyer was on August 27, who reported that her mental health had deteriorated. At year’s end she was still detained in Shandong Province on suspicion of “subverting state power.”

On October 1, more than 170 Uyghurs in Hotan, Xinjiang, were detained by the National Security Agency of Hotan on the country’s national day, according to Radio Free Asia. They were accused of displaying feelings of resistance to the country during flag-raising activities. Among those detained were at least 40 women and 19 minors.

On September 19, journalist Sophia Huang and activist Wang Jianbing were detained in Guangzhou, according to the rights group Weiquanwang (Rights Protection Network). Huang had planned to leave China via Hong Kong on September 20 for the United Kingdom, where she intended to pursue graduate studies. Media reported that both were being held incommunicado under RSDL on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power.” As of year’s end they remained detained in Guangzhou, and no one was allowed to see the pair.

In September, PRC authorities released Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor from detention in China and allowed them to return to Canada, shortly following the release by Canadian authorities of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou. Kovrig and Spavor had been detained since December 2018, after the arrest in Canada of Meng. For months the two Canadian citizens were held in RSDL before being charged with a crime and were denied access to lawyers and consular services. Another Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, remained in detention as his sentence was reviewed. After Meng’s arrest, Schellenberg’s sentence for drug-smuggling crimes was increased from 15 years’ imprisonment to a death sentence.

There were no statistics available for the number of individuals in the liuzhi detention system nationwide. Several provinces, however, publicized these numbers, including Heilongjiang with 376 and Jilin with 275 detained, both in 2020. One provincial official heading the liuzhi detention system stated suspects averaged 42.5 days in detention before being transferred into the criminal justice system.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Criminal detention beyond 37 days requires approval of a formal arrest by the procuratorate, but in cases pertaining to “national security, terrorism, and major bribery,” the law permits up to six months of incommunicado detention without formal arrest. After formally arresting a suspect, public security authorities are authorized to detain a suspect for up to an additional seven months while the case is investigated.

After the completion of an investigation, the procuratorate may detain a suspect an additional 45 days while determining whether to file criminal charges. If charges are filed, authorities may detain a suspect for an additional 45 days before beginning judicial proceedings. Public security officials sometimes detained persons beyond the period allowed by law, and pretrial detention periods of a year or longer were common.

The law stipulates detainees be allowed to meet with defense counsel before criminal charges are filed, although lengthy detention without access to lawyers before charges were filed were common. The criminal procedure law requires a court to provide a lawyer to a defendant who has not already retained one; is blind, deaf, mute, or mentally ill; is a minor; or faces a life sentence or the death penalty. This law applies whether or not the defendant is indigent. Courts may also provide lawyers to other criminal defendants who cannot afford them, although courts often did not do so. Lawyers reported significant difficulties meeting their clients in detention centers, especially in cases considered politically sensitive. According to the South China Morning Post, a new legal aid law introduced in August that will enter into force in 2022 stipulates that legal consultation, the drafting of legal documents, representation in cases, labor arbitration and mediation will be paid for by legal aid centers set up central and local government.

Criminal defendants are entitled to apply for bail (also translated as “a guarantor pending trial”) while awaiting trial, but the system did not operate effectively, and authorities released few suspects on bail.

The law requires notification of family members within 24 hours of detention, but authorities often held individuals without providing such notification for significantly longer periods, especially in politically sensitive cases. In some cases notification did not occur. Under a sweeping exception, officials are not required to provide notification if doing so would “hinder the investigation” of a case. The criminal procedure law limits this exception to cases involving state security or terrorism, but public security officials have broad discretion to interpret these provisions.

Under certain circumstances the law allows for residential surveillance in the detainee’s home, rather than detention in a formal facility. With the approval of the next-higher-level authorities, officials also may place a suspect under “residential surveillance at a designated location” for up to six months when they suspect crimes of endangering state security, terrorism, or serious bribery and believe surveillance at the suspect’s home would impede the investigation. Authorities may also prevent defense lawyers from meeting with suspects in these categories of cases. Human rights organizations and detainees reported the practice of residential surveillance at a designated location left detainees at a high risk for torture, since being neither at home nor in a monitored detention facility reduced opportunities for oversight of detainee treatment and mechanisms for appeal.

Authorities used administrative detention to intimidate political and religious advocates and to prevent public demonstrations. Forms of administrative detention included compulsory drug rehabilitation treatment (for drug users), “custody and training” (for minor criminal offenders), and “legal education” centers for political activists and religious adherents, particularly Falun Gong practitioners. The maximum stay in compulsory drug rehabilitation centers is two years, including commonly a six-month stay in a detoxification center. The government maintained similar rehabilitation centers for those charged with prostitution or with soliciting prostitution.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities detained or arrested persons on allegations of revealing state secrets, subversion, and other crimes as a means to suppress political dissent and public advocacy. These charges, as well as what constitutes a state secret, remained poorly defined and any piece of information could be retroactively designated a state secret. Authorities also used the vaguely worded charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” broadly against many civil rights advocates. It was unclear what this term means. Authorities also detained citizens and foreigners under broad and ambiguous state secret laws for, among other actions, disclosing information on criminal trials, commercial activity, and government activity. A counterespionage law grants authorities the power to require individuals and organizations to cease any activities deemed a threat to national security. Failure to comply could result in seizure of property and assets.

There were multiple reports authorities arrested or detained lawyers, religious leaders or adherents, petitioners, and other rights advocates for lengthy periods, only to have the charges later dismissed for lack of evidence. Authorities subjected many of these citizens to extralegal house arrest, denial of travel rights, or administrative detention in different types of extralegal detention facilities, including “black jails.” In some cases public security officials put pressure on schools not to allow the children of prominent political detainees to enroll. Conditions faced by those under house arrest varied but sometimes included isolation in their homes under guard by security agents. Security officials were frequently stationed inside the homes. Authorities placed many citizens under house arrest during sensitive times, such as during the visits of senior foreign government officials, annual plenary sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, and sensitive anniversaries in Tibetan areas and Xinjiang. Security agents took some of those not placed under house arrest to remote areas on so-called vacations.

In March activist Chen Jianfang, detained in Shanghai since 2019, was tried for “inciting subversion of state power.” A verdict was not announced following the trial, and Chen remained in detention. After Chen fired her court-appointed lawyer, she was not allowed to meet with a replacement lawyer.

In May, Wang Aizhong, a leader of the “Southern Street Movement” which advocates for the freedom of political expression, was detained by Guangzhou police under suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” and then formally arrested in July. According to the NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders, authorities told Wang’s wife he was arrested for his social media posts and for giving foreign media interviews.

On June 4, Gao Heng was arrested by Guangzhou police for posting on social media a picture of himself holding a sign commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. Gao last met with a lawyer in prison in July pending his trial. No details of what he has been charged with or his current status have been publicly released.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention could last longer than one year. Defendants in “sensitive cases” reported being subjected to prolonged pretrial detention. From 2015 to 2018, authorities held many of the “709” detainees (referring to the government crackdown on human rights lawyers that began on July 9, 2015) and their defense attorneys in pretrial detention for more than a year without access to their families or their lawyers. Statistics were not published or made publicly available, but lengthy pretrial detentions were especially common in cases of political prisoners.

At year’s end Beijing-based lawyer Li Yuhan, who defended human rights lawyers during the “709” crackdown, remained in detention at the Shenyang Detention Center; she has been held since 2017 and charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” On July 12, Li met with her lawyer who reported that Li was urged to confess to her “crimes”; she refused. On October 21, her case went to trial, but no verdict was rendered. Due to Li’s poor health, her attorney submitted multiple requests to Shenyang authorities to release Li on medical parole, but the request was repeatedly denied.

As of September 8, the Ganjingzi District Court in Dalian City had not tried Ren Haifei, a Falun Gong practitioner held without trial and without charges since June 2020. Ren was arrested without a warrant, hospitalized for severe injuries suffered after his initial arrest, and remanded to the Dalian Yaojia detention center after release from the hospital where he has remained. Ren Haifei was previously incarcerated from 2001 to 2008 for his Falun Gong beliefs and for participating in peaceful protests related to the government’s treatment of other Falun Gong practitioners. Ren’s trial was first scheduled for July; however, authorities postponed the trial, citing COVID-19 concerns.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law states the courts shall exercise judicial power independently, without interference from administrative organs, social organizations, and individuals, the judiciary did not exercise judicial power independently. Judges regularly received political guidance on pending cases, including instructions on how to rule, from both the government and the CCP, particularly in politically sensitive cases. The CCP Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission have the authority to review and direct court operations at all levels of the judiciary. All judicial and procuratorate appointments require approval by the CCP Organization Department.

Corruption often influenced court decisions since safeguards against judicial corruption were vague and poorly enforced. Local governments appointed and paid local court judges and, as a result, often exerted influence over the rulings of those judges.

A CCP-controlled committee decided most major cases, and the duty of trial and appellate court judges was to craft a legal justification for the committee’s decision.

Courts are not authorized to rule on the constitutionality of legislation. The law permits organizations or individuals to question the constitutionality of laws and regulations, but a constitutional challenge may be directed only to the promulgating legislative body. Lawyers had little or no opportunity to rely on constitutional claims in litigation.

Media sources indicated public security authorities used televised confessions of lawyers, foreign and domestic bloggers, journalists, and business executives to establish guilt before their criminal trial proceedings began. In some cases these confessions were likely a precondition for release. NGOs asserted such statements were likely coerced, perhaps by torture, and some detainees who confessed recanted upon release and confirmed their confessions had been coerced. No provision in the law allows the pretrial broadcast of confessions by criminal suspects.

In February, United Kingdom media regulator Ofcom cancelled the broadcast license of China Global Television Network, the international news channel of China Central Television, for having insufficient editorial independence from the PRC government and the CCP. In July 2020 Ofcom found in its formal investigation that China Global Television Network broadcast in 2013 and 2014 a confession forced from a British private investigator imprisoned in China. “Judicial independence” remained one of the subjects the CCP reportedly ordered university professors not to discuss (see section 2.a., Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).

Trial Procedures

Although the law reaffirms the presumption of innocence, the criminal justice system remained biased toward a presumption of guilt, especially in high-profile or politically sensitive cases.

Courts often punished defendants who refused to acknowledge guilt with harsher sentences than those who confessed. The appeals process rarely reversed convictions, and it failed to provide sufficient avenues for review. Remedies for violations of defendants’ rights were inadequate.

Regulations of the Supreme People’s Court required trials to be open to the public, except in cases involving state secrets, privacy issues, minors, or – if requested by a party to the proceedings – commercial secrets. Authorities used the state secrets provision to keep politically sensitive proceedings closed to the public, sometimes even to family members, and to withhold a defendant’s access to defense counsel. Court regulations stipulate that foreigners with valid identification should be allowed to observe trials under the same criteria as citizens, but in practice foreigners were permitted to attend court proceedings only by invitation. As in past years, authorities barred foreign diplomats and journalists from attending several trials. In some instances authorities reclassified trials as “state secrets” cases or otherwise closed them to the public.

Regulations require the release of court judgments online and stipulate court officials should release judgments, except those involving state secrets and juvenile suspects, within seven days of their adoption. Courts did not post all judgments. They had wide discretion not to post if they found posting the judgment could be considered “inappropriate.” Many political cases did not have judgments posted.

Individuals facing administrative detention do not have the right to seek legal counsel. Criminal defendants are eligible for legal assistance, but the vast majority of criminal defendants went to trial without a lawyer.

Lawyers are required to be members of the CCP-controlled All-China Lawyers Association, and the Ministry of Justice requires all lawyers to pledge their loyalty to the leadership of the CCP upon issuance or annual renewal of their license to practice law. The CCP continued to require law firms with three or more party members to form a CCP unit within the firm.

Despite the government’s stated efforts to improve lawyers’ access to their clients, in 2017 the head of the All-China Lawyers Association told China Youth Daily that defense attorneys had taken part in less than 30 percent of criminal cases. In particular, human rights lawyers reported authorities did not permit them to defend certain clients or threatened them with punishment if they chose to do so. On November 21, China Change reported that more than 40 lawyers lost their license due to their human rights work since 2016. Some lawyers declined to represent defendants in politically sensitive cases, and such defendants frequently found it difficult to find an attorney. In some instances authorities prevented defendant-selected attorneys from taking the case and instead appointed their own attorney.

The government suspended or revoked the business licenses or law licenses of numerous lawyers who took on sensitive cases such as defending prodemocracy dissidents, house-church activists, Falun Gong practitioners, or government critics. Authorities used the annual licensing review process administered by the All-China Lawyers Association to withhold or delay the renewal of professional lawyers’ licenses. In October the association issued new guidelines that banned lawyers from speaking about cases publicly, including organizing press conferences and petitions, publishing open letters, or engaging in any public advocacy work.

Other government tactics to intimidate or otherwise pressure human rights lawyers included unlawful detention, vague “investigations” of legal offices, disbarment, harassment, physical intimidation, and denial of access to evidence and to clients.

On February 2, media reported that Ren Quanniu, a human rights lawyer based in Zhengzhou who represented activists and journalists, learned the Henan Provincial Judicial Department had revoked his license. In March judicial authorities in Zhengzhou informed the Henan Guidao Law Firm where Ren worked that it must shut down. Media further reported that in early July municipal authorities had blacklisted Ren and prohibited him from starting his own legal consultancy business.

In October the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice revoked Lin Qilei’s legal license on the basis that the law firm to which Lin belonged had been deregistered, despite multiple attempts by Lin to apply for registration. Lin’s firm, Beijing Ruikai Law Firm, had handled many cases on behalf of religious adherents and prodemocracy supporters.

On December 16, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice revoked Liang Xiaojun’s legal license, citing his social media posts that were critical of Marxism and referred to the Falun Gong as a religion. Liang represented many human rights defenders, activists, and other disbarred lawyers during his legal career.

The law governing the legal profession criminalizes attorneys’ actions that “insult, defame, or threaten judicial officers,” “do not heed the court’s admonition,” or “severely disrupt courtroom order.” The law also criminalizes disclosing client or case information to media outlets or using protests, media, or other means to influence court decisions. Violators face fines and up to three years in prison.

Regulations also stipulate detention center officials should either allow defense attorneys to meet suspects or defendants or explain why the meeting cannot be arranged at that time. The regulations specify that a meeting should be arranged within 48 hours. Procuratorates and courts should allow defense attorneys to access and read case files within three working days. The time and frequency of opportunities available for defense attorneys to read case files shall not be limited, according to the guidelines. In some sensitive cases, lawyers had no pretrial access to their clients, had limited time to review evidence, and were not allowed to communicate with defendants during trials. In contravention of the law, criminal defendants frequently were not assigned an attorney until a case was brought to court. The law stipulates the spoken and written language of criminal proceedings shall be conducted in the language common to the specific locality, with government interpreters providing language services for defendants not proficient in the local language. Observers noted trials were predominantly conducted in Mandarin Chinese, even in non-Mandarin-speaking areas, with interpreters provided for defendants who did not speak the language.

Mechanisms allowing defendants to confront their accusers were inadequate. Only a small percentage of trials reportedly involved witnesses. Judges retained significant discretion over whether live witness testimony was required or even allowed. In most criminal trials, prosecutors read witness statements, which neither the defendants nor their lawyers had an opportunity to rebut through cross-examination. Although the law states pretrial witness statements cannot serve as the sole basis for conviction, prosecutors relied heavily on such statements. Defense attorneys had no authority to compel witnesses to testify or to mandate discovery, although they could apply for access to government-held evidence relevant to their case.

Under the law lawyers are assigned to convicted prisoners on death row who cannot afford one during the review of their sentences.

In December 2020 the Shenzhen Yantian District People’s Court sentenced 10 Hong Kong activists to prison terms between seven months and three years for illegal border crossing. After the activists were captured by PRC authorities in August 2020, they were held incommunicado. Lawyers hired by their families were barred from meeting with the activists; the court only allowed state-appointed lawyers to be present during the closed-door trial.

In July, three members of the antidiscrimination NGO Changsha Funeng – Cheng Yuan, Liu Yongze, and Wu Gejianxiong, also known as the “Changsha Three” – were sentenced in a secret trial to two to five years in prison. Despite a legal requirement to do so, the sentences were not made public, and the families were informed through informal channels. Changsha Funeng had assisted in litigating cases to end discrimination against persons with disabilities and carriers of HIV and hepatitis B. Cheng Yuan had also worked on antitorture programs, litigation to end the country’s one-child policy, and reform for household registration laws.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Government officials continued to deny holding any political prisoners, asserting persons were detained not for their political or religious views but because they had violated the law. Authorities, however, continued to imprison citizens for reasons related to politics and religion. Human rights organizations estimated tens of thousands of political prisoners remained incarcerated, most in prisons and some in administrative detention. The government did not grant international humanitarian organizations access to political prisoners. Government security forces continued to harass and intimidate former political prisoners and their family members.

In January media reported that family members of detained lawyer Chang Weiping experienced harassment. After the family protested in front of the Gaoxin branch of the Baoji Municipal Public Security Bureau, Chang’s parents were summoned for multiple rounds of interrogation. They found a closed-circuit television camera installed outside their home and had their mobile phones confiscated. Chang’s wife, Chen Zijuan, was visited by authorities multiple times, during which authorities warned her not to conduct public advocacy for her husband and pressured her to delete her social media posts regarding her husband.

On August 25, the South China Morning Post reported on the broad use of the crime “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” against journalists, activists, lawyers, and ordinary citizens to suppress free speech. In August, two activists, Chen Mei and Cai Wei, were convicted of the crime after archiving censored internet materials related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Authorities granted political prisoners early release at lower rates than other prisoners. Thousands of persons were serving sentences for political and religious offenses, including for “endangering state security” and carrying out “cult activities.” The government neither reviewed the cases of those charged before 1997 with counterrevolution and hooliganism nor released persons imprisoned for nonviolent offenses under repealed provisions.

Many political prisoners remained either in prison or under other forms of detention after release at year’s end, including writer Yang Maodong (pen name: Guo Feixiong); Uyghur scholars Ilham Tohti, Rahile Dawut, and Hushtar Isa, brother of Uyghur World Congress president Dolkun Isa; Tibetan Dorje Tashi; activists Wang Bingzhang, Chen Jianfang, and Huang Qi; Taiwan prodemocracy activist Lee Ming-Che; pastors Zhang Shaojie and Wang Yi; Falun Gong practitioner Bian Lichao; Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai Thaddeus Ma Daqin; rights lawyers Xia Lin, Gao Zhisheng, Xu Zhiyong, Li Yuhan, and Yu Wensheng; blogger Wu Gan; citizen journalist Zhang Zhan; Shanghai labor activist Jiang Cunde; and others.

Criminal punishments included “deprivation of political rights” for a fixed period after release from prison, during which an individual could be denied rights of free speech, association, and publication. Former prisoners reported their ability to find employment, travel, obtain residence permits and passports, rent residences, and access social services was severely restricted.

Authorities frequently subjected former political prisoners and their families to surveillance, telephone wiretaps, searches, and other forms of harassment or threats. For example, security personnel followed the family members of detained or imprisoned rights activists to meetings with foreign reporters and diplomats and urged the family members to remain silent regarding the cases of their relatives. Authorities barred certain members of the rights community from meeting with visiting dignitaries.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: Reports continued throughout the year regarding PRC pressure on Xinjiang-based relatives of persons located outside China who spoke publicly about the detentions and abusive policies underway inside Xinjiang. In June 2020 Kazakhstan media reported that Kazakh authorities temporarily detained Aqiqat Qaliolla and Zhenis Zarqyn for their protests in front of the PRC embassy regarding lost family members in Xinjiang “re-education” camps. In February, RFA reported based on official sources that Bakihaji Helil was sentenced in 2017 to nine years in prison after returning early from his religion studies at al-Azhar University in Egypt following Xinjiang authorities’ harassment of his family.

PRC media and authorities continued to harass and defame women who spoke about rape and sexual abuse in Xinjiang internment camps. Qelbinur Sedik, a Xinjiang camp teacher who fled China and now lives abroad, was repeatedly targeted by PRC media and received direct video messages from local Xinjiang police threatening reprisal against her family members still in Xinjiang. The BBC reported that Xinjiang police used social media to threaten Uyghurs living in Europe.

PRC state media also released videos of Xinjiang-based ethnic and religious minorities to discredit their overseas relatives’ accounts to foreign media. The persons in the videos urged their foreign-based family members to stop “spreading rumors” about Xinjiang. The overseas relatives said they had lost communication with their Xinjiang relatives until the videos were released.

In February, Hong Kong Free Press reported the PRC used “proof-of-life” videos to dispute or undermine claims of several foreign citizens about the disappearance and treatment of their relatives in China. For example the PRC published a video of Memet Tohti Atawulla’s brother who had disappeared during the PRC’s crackdown in Xinjiang. The PRC filmed the family of Sayragul Sauytbay, who since leaving China in 2018 has publicly criticized the PRC’s treatment of Kazakh persons and other Muslims in China, accusing Sayragul of “theft, deception, child abuse, and sexual immorality.” Similarly, Hong Kong Free Press reported “Kuzzat Altay’s father disowns him on camera” and “Zumrat Dawut’s brother suggests that her father’s death was due to her political activism.”

In March, Reuters reported PRC officials used press conferences to attack women abroad who provided eyewitness accounts of their experiences in Xinjiang internment camps. The report quoted a Xinjiang official publicly claiming, “Everyone knows about her inferior character. She’s lazy and likes comfort, her private life is chaotic, her neighbors say that she committed adultery while in China.” In May, Reuters reported PRC officials routinely harassed young Uyghur activists living abroad. Uyghurs faced threats from PRC hackers, intimidating phone calls, and bullying on social media.

Misuse of International Law-enforcement Tools: There were credible reports the PRC attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as a reprisal against specific individuals located outside the country. On July 20, according to the Associated Press, Moroccan authorities arrested Uyghur activist Yidiresi Aishan in Casablanca based on an Interpol red notice (a request from a government for a person’s arrest). The South China Morning Post reported on August 2 that Interpol had rescinded the red notice for Aishan after advocacy groups raised concerns that the red notice system was being used to repatriate Uyghur dissidents back to China. Aishan had previously lived in Turkey where he was an active member of the Uyghur diaspora and an outspoken critic of the PRC. Aishan was still detained in Morocco at year’s end.

The NSC-CCDI led the PRC’s transnational fugitive recovery efforts, Operations Fox Hunt and Sky Net. Although these efforts ostensibly targeted economic crimes, media reported they were sometimes politically motivated and targeted dissidents who lived overseas. On February 24, state-sponsored CGTN reported that through “Sky Net 2021,” a total of 1,421 fugitives, including 28 red notice fugitives, were brought back to China in 2020.

Efforts to Control Mobility: The government pressured foreign countries to repatriate or deny visas to Uyghurs who had left China. COVID-19 measures, such as checkpoints, health-app restrictions, and COVID-19-related lockdowns restricted individuals’ freedom of movement.

In November lawyer Xie Yang attempted to visit imprisoned citizen journalist Zhang Zhan’s family but was warned by two police officers to not go. Shortly after, his COVID-19 health verification mobile phone app went from green to red, which effectively restricted his movement.

Bilateral Pressure: There were credible reports that for politically motivated purposes the PRC attempted to exert bilateral pressure on other countries aimed at having those countries take adverse action against specific individuals. In Kazakhstan, media reported that Kazakh authorities temporarily detained at least 10 protesters at the PRC embassy who were demanding the release of family members being held in Xinjiang “re-education” camps. In February a court in Kazakhstan sentenced Baibolat Kunbolatuly to 10 days in jail for staging protests outside the Chinese consulate to demand answers about his brother’s detention in Xinjiang. According to RFA on October 1 (the PRC’s national day), Kazakh police detained eight ethnic Kazakh protesters in Nur-Sultan who were demanding the release of relatives being held in Xinjiang.

On June 30, the Chinese Embassy in France sent a letter to the editorial office of French youth newspaper Mon Quotidien condemning its article regarding forced labor in Xinjiang. According to Radio Free Asia, the Chinese Embassy also circulated a petition calling for the withdrawal of the article.

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

The law states the “freedom and privacy of correspondence of citizens are protected by law,” but authorities often did not respect the privacy of citizens. A new civil code entered into force on January 1, introducing articles on the right to privacy and personal information protection. Although the law requires warrants before officers can search premises, officials frequently ignored this requirement. The Public Security Bureau and prosecutors are authorized to issue search warrants on their own authority without judicial review. There continued to be reports of cases of forced entry by police officers.

Authorities routinely monitored telephone calls, text messages, faxes, email, instant messaging, social media apps, and other digital communications intended to remain private, particularly of political activists. Authorities also opened and censored domestic and international mail. Security services routinely monitored and entered residences and offices to gain access to computers, telephones, and fax machines. Foreign journalists leaving the country found some of their personal belongings searched. In some cases, when material deemed politically sensitive was uncovered, the journalists had to sign a statement stating they would “voluntarily” leave these documents in the country.

According to Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, a website focusing on human rights in China, Lin Xiaohua began appealing the bribery conviction of his older brother Lin Xiaonan, the former mayor of Fu’an City, Fujian Province, who in April was sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison. In June 2020 Xiaohua tried to send petition letters and case files to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Supreme People’s Court, and the National Commission of Supervision-CCP Central Discipline Inspection Commission, but the post office opened all the letters then refused to deliver them. In July 2020 the Xiamen Culture and Tourism Administration confiscated the letters and files, stating they were “illegal publications.”

According to Freedom House, rapid advances in surveillance technology – including artificial intelligence, facial recognition, and intrusive surveillance apps – coupled with growing police access to user data helped facilitate the prosecution of prominent dissidents as well as ordinary users. A Carnegie Endowment report in 2019 noted the country was a major worldwide supplier of artificial-intelligence surveillance technology, such as facial recognition systems, surveillance cameras, and smart policing technology.

According to media reports, the Ministry of Public Security used tens of millions of surveillance cameras throughout the country to monitor the general public. Human rights groups stated authorities increasingly relied on the cameras and other forms of surveillance to monitor and intimidate political dissidents, religious leaders and adherents, Tibetans, and Uyghurs. These included facial recognition and “gait recognition” video surveillance, allowing police not only to monitor a situation but also to quickly identify individuals in crowds. In May the BBC reported Chinese technology companies had developed artificial intelligence, surveillance, and other technological capabilities to help police identify members of ethnic minorities, especially Uyghurs. The media sources cited public-facing websites, company documents, and programming language from firms such as Huawei, Megvii, and Hikvision related to their development of a “Uyghur alarm” that could alert police automatically. Huawei denied its products were designed to identify ethnic groups. The monitoring and disruption of telephone and internet communications were particularly widespread in Xinjiang and Tibetan areas. The government installed surveillance cameras in monasteries in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan areas outside the TAR (see Special Annex, Tibet). The law allows security agencies to cut communication networks during “major security incidents.” Government entities collected genetic data from residents in Xinjiang with unclear protections for sensitive health data.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Ministry of State Security partnered with information technology firms to operate a “mass automated voice recognition and monitoring system,” similar to ones already in use in Xinjiang and Anhui, to help solve criminal cases. According to one company involved, the system monitored Mandarin Chinese and certain minority languages, including Tibetan and Uyghur. In many cases other biometric data such as fingerprints and DNA profiles were being stored as well. This database included information obtained not just from criminals and criminal suspects but also from entire populations of migrant workers and all Uyghurs applying for passports. Some Xinjiang internment camp survivors reported that they were subjected to coerced comprehensive health screenings including blood and DNA testing upon entering the internment camps. There were also reports from former detainees that authorities forced Uyghur detainees to undergo medical examinations of thoracic and abdominal organs.

Forced relocation because of urban development continued in some locations. Protests over relocation terms or compensation were common, and authorities prosecuted some protest leaders. In rural areas, infrastructure and commercial development projects resulted in the forced relocation of thousands of persons.

Property-related disputes between citizens and government authorities sometimes turned violent. These disputes frequently stemmed from local officials’ collusion with property developers to pay little or no compensation to displaced residents, a lack of effective government oversight or media scrutiny of local officials’ involvement in property transactions, and a lack of legal remedies or other dispute resolution mechanisms for displaced residents. The problem persisted despite central government claims it had imposed stronger controls over illegal land seizures and taken steps to standardize compensation.

Government authorities also could interfere in families’ living arrangements when a family member was involved in perceived sensitive political activities.

The government at various levels and jurisdictions continued to implement two distinct types of social credit systems. The first, the corporate social credit system, is intended to track and prevent corporate malfeasance. The second, the personal social credit system, is implemented differently depending on geographic location.

Although the government’s goal was to create a unified government social credit system, there continued to be dozens of disparate social credit systems, operated distinctly at the local, provincial, and the national government levels, as well as separate “private” social credit systems operated by several technology companies. These systems collected vast amounts of data from companies and individuals in an effort to address deficiencies in “social trust,” strengthen access to financial credit instruments, and reduce corruption. These agencies often collected information on academic records, traffic violations, social media presence, friendships, adherence to birth control regulations, employment performance, consumption habits, and other topics. For example, there were reports individuals were not allowed to ride public transportation for periods of time because they allegedly had not paid for train tickets.

Industry and business experts commented that in its present state, the social credit system was not used to target companies or individuals for their political or religious beliefs, noting the country already possessed other tools outside the social credit system to target companies and individuals. The collection of vast amounts of personal data combined with the prospect of a future universal and unified social credit system, however, could allow authorities to control further the population’s behaviors.

In a separate use of social media for censorship, human rights activists reported authorities questioned them regarding their participation in human rights-related chat groups, including on WeChat and WhatsApp. Authorities monitored the groups to identify activists, which led to users’ increased self-censorship on WeChat as well as several separate arrests of chat group administrators.

The government continued to use the “double-linked household” system in Xinjiang developed through many years of use in Tibet. This system divides towns and neighborhoods into units of 10 households each, with the households in each unit instructed to watch over each other and report on “security issues” and poverty problems to the government, thus turning average citizens into informers. In Xinjiang the government also continued to require Uyghur families to accept government “home stays,” in which officials or volunteers forcibly lived in Uyghurs’ homes and monitored families’ observance of religion for signs of “extremism.” Those who exhibited behaviors the government considered to be signs of “extremism,” such as praying, possessing religious texts, or abstaining from alcohol or tobacco, could be detained in “re-education camps.”

The government restricted the right to have children (see section 6, Women).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

While the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government severely restricted this right. The law stipulates such activities may not challenge “party leadership” or infringe upon the “interests of the state.” Protests against the political system or national leaders were prohibited. Authorities denied permits and quickly suppressed demonstrations involving expression of dissenting political views. For example police in Huizhou continued to hold human rights activist Xiao Yuhui, detained in July 2020 after repeating a WeChat post calling for individuals to save Hong Kong.

Citizens throughout the country continued to gather publicly to protest evictions, forced relocations, and inadequate compensation, often resulting in conflict with authorities or formal charges. Media reported thousands of protests took place during the year across the country. Although peaceful protests are legal, public security officials rarely granted permits to demonstrate. Despite restrictions, many demonstrations occurred, but authorities quickly broke up those motivated by broad political or social grievances, sometimes with excessive force.

In August, Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong were indicted on charges of subversion after two rounds of investigation by the Linyi Municipal Public Security Bureau and 21 months in detention. Ding and Xu were arrested in December 2019 after they met earlier that month in Xiamen, Fujian, to organize civil society and plan nonviolent social movements in the country. They were charged with “incitement to subvert state power” and “subversion of state power;” the latter crime carries a minimum 10-year prison sentence. Authorities continued to deny the families and their lawyers access to Xu and Ding.

Concerts, sports events, exercise classes, and other meetings of more than 200 persons require approval from public security authorities. Mass-gathering events were canceled during the year due to COVID-19 controls.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. CCP policy and government regulations require that all professional, social, and economic organizations officially register with and receive approval from the government. These regulations prevented the formation of autonomous political, human rights, religious, spiritual, labor, and other organizations that the government believed might challenge its authority in any area. The government maintained tight controls over civil society organizations and, in some cases, detained or harassed NGO workers. Propaganda targeted NGOs, smearing them for any affiliation with foreign governments.

The regulatory system for NGOs was highly restrictive, but specific requirements varied depending on whether an organization was foreign or domestic. Domestic NGOs were governed by charity law and a host of related regulations. Domestic NGOs could register in one of three categories: as a social group, a social organization, or a foundation. All domestic NGOs are required to register under the Ministry of Civil Affairs and find an officially sanctioned sponsor to serve as their “professional supervisory unit.” Finding a sponsor was often challenging, since the sponsor could be held civilly or criminally responsible for the NGO’s activities and sponsorship included burdensome reporting requirements. All organizations are required to report their sources of funding, including foreign funding.

All domestic NGOs are supposed to have a CCP cell, although implementation was not consistent. According to authorities, these CCP cells were to “strengthen guidance” of NGOs in areas such as “decision making for important projects, important professional activities, major expenditures and funds, acceptance of large donations, and activities involving foreigners.” Authorities are to conduct annual “spot checks” to ensure compliance on “ideological political work, party building, financial and personnel management, study sessions, foreign exchange, acceptance of foreign donations and assistance, and conducting activities according to their charter.”

The law requires foreign NGOs to register with the Ministry of Public Security and to find a state-sanctioned sponsor for their operations or for one-time activities. NGOs that fail to comply face possible civil or criminal penalties. The law provides no appeal process for NGOs denied registration, and it stipulates NGOs found to have violated certain provisions could be banned from operating in the country. The law also states domestic groups cooperating with unregistered foreign NGOs will be punished and possibly banned.

Some international NGOs reported it was more difficult to work with local partners, including universities, government agencies, and other domestic NGOs, as the NGO law codified the CCP’s perception that foreign NGOs were a “national security” threat. Many government agencies still had no unit responsible for sponsoring foreign NGOs. The vague definition of an NGO, as well as of what activities constituted “political” and therefore illegal activities, left many business organizations and alumni associations uncertain whether they fell within the purview of the law. The lack of clear communication from the government, coupled with harassment by security authorities, caused some foreign NGOs to suspend or cease operations in the country. According to the Ministry of Public Security, as of November 2, approximately 622 foreign NGO representative offices had registered under the Foreign NGO Management Law, with more than one-half of those focusing on industry or trade promotion activities.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, by the end of the year, there were more than 900,000 registered social organizations, public institutions, and foundations. Many experts believed the actual number of domestic NGOs to be much higher. NGOs existed under a variety of formal and informal guises, including national mass organizations created and funded by the CCP that are organizationally prohibited from exercising any independence, known as government-operated NGOs, or GONGOs.

For donations to a domestic organization, foreign NGOs must maintain a representative office in the country to receive funds, or to use the bank account of a domestic NGO when conducting temporary activities. By law foreign NGOs are prohibited from using any other method to send and receive funds, and such funding must be reported to the Ministry of Public Security. Foreign NGOs are prohibited from fundraising and “for-profit activities” under the law.

Although all registered organizations came under some degree of government control, some NGOs, primarily service-oriented GONGOs, were able to operate with less day-to-day scrutiny. Authorities supported the growth of some NGOs that focused on social problems, such as poverty alleviation and disaster relief. Law and regulations explicitly prohibit organizations from conducting political or religious activities, and organizations that did not comply faced criminal penalties.

Authorities continued to restrict, evict, and investigate local NGOs that received foreign funding and international NGOs that provided assistance to Tibetan communities in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Almost all were forced to curtail their activities altogether due to travel restrictions, official intimidation of staff members, and the failure of local partners to renew project agreements.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not respect these rights.

The government, often preemptively, harassed and intimidated individuals and their family members by denying them permission to travel, both internationally and domestically, keeping them under house arrest or submitting them to “forced travel” during politically significant holidays.

In-country Movement: Authorities continued to maintain tight restrictions on freedom of movement, particularly to curtail the movement of individuals deemed politically sensitive before key anniversaries, or during foreign country national days, visits by foreign dignitaries, or major political events, as well as to forestall demonstrations. Uyghurs faced draconian restrictions on movement within Xinjiang and outside the region. Although the use of “domestic passports” that called for local official approval before traveling to another area was discontinued in 2016, authorities still made identification checks for individuals entering or leaving cities and on public roads. In Xinjiang, security officials operated checkpoints managing entry into public places, including markets and mosques, that required Uyghurs to scan their national identity card, undergo a facial recognition check, and put baggage through airport-style security screening. Such restrictions were not applied to Han Chinese in these areas.

The government operated a national household registration system (hukou) and maintained restrictions on the freedom to change one’s workplace or residence, although many provinces and localities eased restrictions. While many rural residents migrated to the cities, where per capita disposable income was approximately three times the rural per capita income, they often could not change their official residence or workplace within the country. Most cities had annual quotas for the number of new temporary residence permits they could issue, and all workers, including university graduates, had to compete for a limited number of such permits. It was particularly difficult for rural residents to obtain household registration in provincial capitals, but outside those cities many provinces removed or lowered barriers to move from a rural area to an urban one.

The household registration system added to the difficulties faced by rural residents, even after they relocated to urban areas and found employment. According to the Statistical Communique of the Peoples Republic of China on 2019 National Economic and Social Development, published in February 2020 by the National Bureau of Statistics of China, 280 million individuals lived outside the jurisdiction of their household registration. Migrant workers and their families faced numerous obstacles regarding working conditions and labor rights. Many were unable to access public services, such as public education for their children or social insurance, in the cities where they lived and worked because they were not legally registered urban residents.

Under the “staying at prison employment” system applicable to recidivists incarcerated in administrative detention, authorities denied certain persons permission to return to their homes after serving their sentences. Some released or paroled prisoners returned home but did not have freedom of movement.

Foreign Travel: The government controlled emigration and foreign travel. Government employees and retirees, especially from the military, faced foreign travel restrictions. The government denied passport applications or used exit controls for departing passengers at airports and other border crossings to deny foreign travel to some dissidents and persons employed in government posts. Throughout the year many lawyers, artists, authors, and activists were at times prevented from exiting the country. Authorities also blocked the travel of some family members of activists, including foreign family members.

Border officials and police sometimes cited threats to “national security” as the reason for refusing permission to leave the country, although often authorities provided no reason for such exit bans. Authorities stopped most such persons at the airport at the time of their attempted travel.

Most citizens could obtain passports, although individuals the government deemed potential political threats, including religious leaders, political dissidents, petitioners, as well as their family members and members of ethnic minorities, routinely reported being refused passports or otherwise being prevented from traveling overseas.

Disbarred lawyers, rights activists, and families of “709” lawyers faced difficulties applying for passports or were barred from leaving the country. For example disbarred human rights lawyers Wang Yu (also a 709 lawyer) and Tang Jitian remained under exit bans. Yang Maodong, whose pen name is Guo Feixiong, was banned from boarding a flight out of Shanghai in January, was denied authorization to travel abroad throughout the year, and was detained by authorities in December. Family members of some 709 lawyers, such as Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang, had passport applications denied.

Uyghurs, particularly those residing in Xinjiang, reported great difficulty in getting passport applications approved. They were frequently denied passports to travel abroad. Since 2016 authorities ordered Xinjiang residents to turn in their passports or told residents no new passports were available. Foreign national family members of Uyghur activists living overseas were also denied visas to enter the country, in part due to COVID-19 travel restrictions although restrictions predated the pandemic. Authorities refused to renew passports for Uyghurs living abroad.

Exile: The law neither provides for a citizen’s right to repatriate nor addresses exile. The government continued to refuse re-entry to numerous citizens considered dissidents, Falun Gong activists, or “troublemakers.” Although in previous years authorities allowed some dissidents living abroad to return, dissidents released on medical parole and allowed to leave the country often were effectively exiled. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities greatly reduced the total number of travelers who could enter the country, including citizens.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Although it restricted access to border areas, the government regularly cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which maintained an office in Beijing.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of refugee or asylum status. The government did not have a system for providing protection to refugees but generally recognized UNHCR-registered refugees in China. Asylum applicants and refugees remained in the country without access to education or social services and were subject to deportation at any time.

UNHCR reported that officials continued to restrict UNHCR access to border areas. Authorities sometimes detained and prosecuted citizens who assisted North Korean refugees and asylum seekers, as well as those who facilitated illegal border crossings.

Refoulement: The government continued to consider North Koreans as illegal “economic migrants” rather than refugees or asylum seekers and forcibly returned many of them to North Korea, where such migrants would face harsh punishments including torture, forced abortions, forced labor, sexual violence, or death. Entries of such migrants were reduced during the year due to border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of July advocacy organizations believed PRC authorities detained 1,170 North Koreans, the majority of whom were refugees and asylum seekers. In July, PRC authorities forcibly returned approximately 50 North Korean refugees, resuming forcible repatriations which had been on hold since early 2020 after the North Korean government shut its borders due to COVID-19.

North Koreans detained by PRC authorities faced forcible repatriation unless they could pay bribes to secure their release. Family members wanting to prevent forced returns of their North Korean relatives were required to pay fees to Chinese authorities, purportedly to cover expenses incurred while in detention. While detained North Koreans were occasionally released, they were rarely given the necessary permissions for safe passage to a third country.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees generally did not have access to public health care, public education, or other social services due to lack of legal status.

Durable Solutions: The government largely cooperated with UNHCR when dealing with the local settlement in China of Han Chinese or members of ethnic minorities from Vietnam and Laos living in the country since the Vietnam War era. The government and UNHCR continued discussions concerning the granting of citizenship to these long-term residents and their children, many of whom were born in China.

g. Stateless Persons

According to international media reports, as many as 30,000 children born to North Korean women in China, most of whom were trafficked and married to Chinese spouses, had not been registered because their North Korean parent was undocumented, leaving the children de facto stateless. These children were denied access to public services, including education and health care, despite provisions in the law that provide citizenship to children with at least one PRC citizen parent. Chinese fathers reportedly sometimes did not register their children to avoid exposing the illegal status of their North Korean partners.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution states, “all power in the People’s Republic of China belongs to the people” and the organs through which citizens exercise state power are the NPC and the people’s congresses at provincial, district, and local levels. In practice the CCP dictated the legislative agenda to the NPC. While the law provides for elections of people’s congress delegates at the county level and below, citizens could not freely choose the officials who governed them. The CCP controlled all elections and continued to control appointments to positions of political power. The CCP used various intimidation tactics, including house arrest, to block independent candidates from running in local elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2018 the NPC’s 2,980 delegates elected the president and vice president, the premier and vice premiers, and the chairman of the Central Military Commission. The NPC Standing Committee, which consists of 175 members, oversaw the elections and determined the agenda and procedures for the NPC. The selection of NPC members takes place every five years, and the process is controlled by the CCP.

The NPC Standing Committee remained under the direct authority of the CCP. All important legislative decisions required the concurrence of the CCP’s seven-member Politburo Standing Committee. Despite its broad authority under the state constitution, the NPC did not set policy independently or remove political leaders without the CCP’s approval.

According to Ministry of Civil Affairs 2019 statistics, almost all the country’s more than 600,000 villages had implemented direct elections by ordinary citizens for members of local subgovernmental organizations known as village committees. The direct election of officials remained narrow in scope and was strictly confined to the lowest rungs of local governance. Corruption, vote buying, and interference by township-level and CCP officials continued to be problems. The law permits each voter to cast proxy votes for up to three other voters.

Election law governs legislative bodies at all levels, although compliance and enforcement varied across the country. Under the law citizens have the opportunity every five years to vote for local people’s congress representatives at the county level and below, although in most cases higher-level government officials or CCP cadres controlled the nomination of candidates. At higher levels, legislators selected people’s congress delegates from among their own ranks. For example, provincial-level people’s congresses selected delegates to the NPC. Local CCP secretaries generally served concurrently within the leadership team of the local people’s congress, thus strengthening CCP control over legislatures.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Official statements asserted “the political party system [that] China has adopted is multiparty cooperation and political consultation” under CCP leadership. The CCP, however, retained a monopoly on political power, and the government forbade the creation of new political parties. The government officially recognized nine parties founded prior to 1949, and parties other than the CCP held 30 percent of the seats in the NPC. These non-CCP members did not function as a political opposition. They exercised very little influence on legislation or policymaking and were only allowed to operate under the direction of the CCP United Front Work Department.

No laws or regulations specifically govern the formation of political parties. The China Democracy Party remained banned, and the government continued to monitor, detain, and imprison its current and former members. China Democracy Party founder Qin Yongmin, detained with his wife Zhao Suli in 2015, has been in Hubei’s Qianjiang Prison since 2018 for “subversion of state power.”

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: Women and members of minority groups held few positions of significant influence in the government or CCP structure. Among the 2,987 appointed delegates to the 13th NPC in 2018, 742 (25 percent) were women. Following the 19th Party Congress in 2017, one member of the CCP Central Committee’s 25-member Politburo was a woman. There were no women in the Politburo Standing Committee.

Election law provides a general mandate for quotas for female and ethnic minority representatives, but achieving these quotas often required election authorities to violate the election law.

A total of 438 delegates from 55 ethnic minorities were members of the 13th NPC, accounting for 16 percent of the total number of delegates. All of the country’s officially recognized minority groups were represented. The 19th Party Congress elected 15 members of ethnic minority groups as members of the 202-person Central Committee. There was no ethnic minority member of the Politburo, and only one ethnic minority member was serving as a party secretary of a provincial-level jurisdiction, although a handful of ethnic minority members were serving as leaders in provincial governments. An ethnic Mongolian woman, Wang Lixia, served as chair of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, equivalent to a provincial governor. An ethnic Hui woman, Xian Hui, served as chair of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. An ethnic Bai woman, Shen Yiqin, served as party secretary of Guizhou Province.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although officials faced criminal penalties for corruption, the government and the CCP did not implement the law consistently or transparently. Corruption remained rampant. Many cases of corruption involved areas heavily regulated by the government, such as land-usage rights, real estate, mining, and infrastructure development, which were susceptible to fraud, bribery, and kickbacks. Court judgments often could not be enforced against powerful special entities, including government departments, state-owned enterprises, military personnel, and some members of the CCP.

Transparency International’s analysis indicated corruption remained a significant problem in the country. There were numerous reports of government corruption – and subsequent trials and sentences – during the year.

By law the NSC-CCDI is a government and CCP body charged with rooting out corruption and discipline inspection (enforcing conformity). Its investigations may target any public official, including police, judges, and prosecutors; the commission can investigate and detain individuals connected to targeted public officials. The NSC-CCDI is vested with powers of the state and may conduct investigations against any employee who performs a public duty; that includes doctors, academics, and employees of state-owned enterprises. There were credible reports that the NSC-CCDI investigations and detentions by liuzhi were sometimes politically motivated. According to Safeguard Defenders’ analysis of NSC-CCDI official documents of a select few provinces, in those provinces the NSC-CCDI placed at least 5,909 individuals into liuzhi since its creation in 2018. Nationwide, Safeguard Defenders estimated that 52,000 individuals were placed into liuzhi since 2018.

Corruption: In numerous cases government prosecutors investigated public officials and leaders of state-owned enterprises, who generally held high CCP ranks, for corruption.

While the tightly controlled state media apparatus publicized some notable corruption investigations, in general very few details were made public regarding the process by which CCP and government officials were investigated for corruption. Observers also said that corruption charges were often a pretext for purging political rivals.

In October the NSC-CCDI detained former vice ministers of public security, Fu Zhenghua and Sun Lijun. The South China Morning Post reported that Fu Zhenghua was being held for “serious violations” of party discipline. Sun Lijun was expelled from the CCP and faced trial for “serious violation of discipline rules and law.” According to state media, Sun accepted bribes and gifts and misused his position to “achieve his political objectives.” The South China Morning Post reported in August that the NSC-CCDI was investigating Peng Bo, a former deputy chief of the CAC, for accepting bribes and expelled him from the party. Published accusations that Peng strayed from CCP plans regarding the “propaganda struggle over the internet,” “sought benefits from internet companies,” “resisted investigations by the party and engaged in superstitious activities,” and violated the “eight-point requirements on frugal living, visited private clubs frequently and accepted invitations to extravagant banquets and dinners” may indicate that corruption was not the primary reason for the investigation into Peng.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

The government sought to maintain control over civil society groups, halt the emergence of independent NGOs, and hinder activities of civil society and human rights groups. The government frequently harassed independent domestic NGOs and in many cases did not permit them to openly monitor or comment on human rights conditions. The government made statements expressing suspicion of independent organizations and closely scrutinized NGOs with financial or other links overseas. The government took significant steps during the year to bring all domestic NGOs under its direct regulatory control, thereby curtailing the space for independent NGOs to exist. Most large NGOs were quasi-governmental, and all official NGOs were required to have a government agency sponsor.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government remained reluctant to accept criticism of its human rights record by other nations or international organizations. The government sharply limited the visits of UN experts to the country and rarely provided substantive answers to queries by UN human rights bodies. A dozen requests for visits to the country by UN experts remained outstanding.

The government used its membership on the UN Economic and Social Council’s Committee on NGOs to block groups critical of China from obtaining UN accreditation and barring accredited activists from participating in UN events. The government also retaliated against human rights groups working with the United Nations.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women is illegal and carries a sentence that ranges from three years in prison to death. The law does not safeguard same-sex couples or survivors of marital rape. A separate law on sexual assault includes male victims but has a lesser maximum penalty of five years in prison. Of the reported cases, most allegations of rape were closed through private settlement rather than prosecution. Some persons convicted of rape were executed.

Domestic violence remained a significant problem. Some scholars said victims were encouraged to attempt to resolve domestic violence through mediation. Societal sentiment that domestic violence was a personal, private matter contributed to underreporting and inaction by authorities when women faced violence at home. The law defines domestic violence as a civil, rather than a criminal, offense. The web publication Sixth Tone reported in 2019 that 25 percent of families had experienced domestic violence.

The government supported shelters for survivors of domestic violence, and some courts provided protections to survivors, including through court protective orders prohibiting a perpetrator of domestic violence from coming near to a survivor. Nonetheless, official assistance did not always reach survivors, and public security forces often ignored domestic violence. Legal aid institutions working to provide counseling and defense to survivors of domestic violence were often pressured to suspend public activities and cease all forms of policy advocacy, an area that was reserved only for government-sponsored organizations.

According to women’s rights activists, a recurring problem in the prosecution of domestic violence cases was a failure by authorities to collect evidence, including photographs, hospital records, police records, or children’s testimony. Witnesses seldom testified in court.

On November 2, professional tennis player Peng Shuai in a since-deleted post on Weibo accused former Politburo Standing Committee member and vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her in 2018. Peng said she and Zhang previously had an extramarital relationship and that she went to Zhang’s house “about three years ago” at his invitation to play tennis with him and his wife, when he sexually assaulted her. International media said this was the first such public accusation against a senior CCP official. Peng disappeared from public view following her post, and her social media accounts were blocked. Her disappearance sparked an international outcry, and a subsequent series of public sightings were criticized as staged propaganda intended to defuse international criticism.

Courts’ recognition of domestic violence improved, making spousal abuse a mitigating factor in crimes committed in self-defense.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment against women. The law defines behaviors included in the definition of harassment, eliminates the statute of limitations of minors seeking to sue on sexual harassment grounds, and requires employers to make affirmative efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace. It remained difficult for victims to file a sexual harassment complaint and for judges to reach a ruling on such cases. Human Rights Watch cited one statistic showing nearly 40 percent of women said they experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Many women, however, remained unwilling to report incidents of sexual harassment, believing the justice system was ineffectual, according to official media. Several prominent media reports of sexual harassment were widely shared on social media, helping to raise awareness of the problem, particularly in the workplace.

In August a female employee of Hangzhou-based Alibaba wrote she had been sexually assaulted by her manager and a client and that Alibaba had not initially taken the matter seriously. Alibaba subsequently fired the accused manager, and two other senior employees resigned for not properly handling the allegations. The criminal case against the accused manager was ultimately dropped by prosecutors who said the “forcible indecency” committed by the man was not a crime.

On September 14, the Haidian District Court in Beijing ruled against plaintiff Zhou Xiaoxuan (also known as Xianzi) in a high-profile sexual harassment case, stating there was insufficient evidence to support her claims that China Central Television personality Zhu Jun had groped and forcibly kissed her in 2014 when she was an intern working for him.

The law allows victims to file a sexual harassment complaint with their employer, authorities, or both. Employers who failed to take effective measures to prevent sexual harassment could be fined.

Some women’s NGOs that sought to increase public awareness of sexual harassment reported harassment by public security and faced challenges implementing their programs.

Reproductive Rights: Through law and policy the CCP and government limit the rights of parents to choose the number of children they have. The law restricts most married couples to three children (increased from two in May) and allows couples to apply for permission to have a fourth child if they meet local and provincial requirements. In August the NPC formally passed the law raising the number of children permitted, including several provisions aimed at boosting the birth rate and “reducing the burden” of raising children. These provisions included abolishing the “social maintenance fee” that was a fine for having children beyond the previous limit, encouraging local governments to offer parental leave, and increasing women’s employment rights.

Enforcement of population control policy relied on social pressure, education, propaganda, and economic penalties, as well as on measures such as mandatory pregnancy examinations, contraception and, less frequently, forced sterilizations and, in some provinces, coerced abortions. Penalties for exceeding the permitted number of children were not enforced uniformly and varied by province. The law as implemented requires each woman with an unauthorized pregnancy to abort or to pay a social compensation fee, which can reach 10 times a person’s annual disposable income. Those with the financial means often paid the fee to ensure their children born in violation of the birth restrictions would have access to a wide array of government-provided social services and rights. Some avoided the fee by hiding such children with friends or relatives. The law only mentions the rights of married couples, which means unmarried women are not authorized to have children. They consequently have social compensation fees imposed on them if they give birth “outside of the policy,” and they could be subject to the denial of legal documents such as birth documents and the hukou residence permit, although local governments rarely enforced these regulations.

While authorities have liberalized population control measures for members of the Han majority since 2016, birth control policies directed toward Uyghurs became more stringent. Ethnic and religious minority women were often subject to coercive population control measures. Government targeting of ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang with intensified coercive family-planning measures resulted in plummeting birth rates since 2018. Most Xinjiang prefectures reported large increases in sterilizations and implantation of intrauterine devices (IUD), with Hotan Prefecture alone more than doubling its female sterilization numbers from 2017 to 2018. There were widespread reports of coercive population control measures – including forced abortions, forced sterilizations, involuntary IUD insertions, and pregnancy checks – occurring at detention centers in the region and targeting minority groups, primarily Uyghurs and ethnic Kazaks. Parents judged to have exceeded the government limit on the number of children (three or more) risked being sent to detention centers unless they paid exorbitant fines. In a January post later removed by Twitter, the PRC Embassy in the United States claimed, “Study shows that in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines. They are more confident and independent.”

Since national family planning law mentions only the rights of married couples, local implementation was inconsistent, and unmarried persons were required to pay for contraception.

Sexual and reproductive health services including emergency contraception were available for survivors of sexual violence at public hospitals.

Discrimination: The constitution states “women enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres of life.” The law provides for equality in ownership of property, inheritance rights, access to education, and equal pay for equal work. Nonetheless, women reported that discrimination, unfair dismissal, demotion, and wage discrepancies were significant problems.

On average women earned 35 percent less than men who did similar work. This wage gap was greater in rural areas. Women were underrepresented in leadership positions, despite their high rate of participation in the labor force.

Authorities often did not enforce laws protecting the rights of women. According to legal experts, it was difficult to litigate sex discrimination suits because of vague legal definitions. Some observers noted the agencies tasked with protecting women’s rights tended to focus on maternity-related benefits and wrongful termination due to pregnancy or maternity leave rather than on sex discrimination, violence against women, or sexual harassment.

Women’s rights advocates indicated that in rural areas women often forfeited land and property rights to their husbands in divorce proceedings. The civil code includes a provision for a 30-day “cooling off” period in cases of uncontested divorce; some citizens expressed concern this leaves those seeking escape from domestic violence susceptible to further abuse. Rural contract law and laws protecting women’s rights stipulate women enjoy equal rights in cases of land management, but experts asserted this was rarely the case due to the complexity of the law and difficulties in its implementation.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The most recent information from the State Council Information Office stated the boy-girl birth ratio had dropped from 113.5 in 2015 to 110.1 boys per 100 girls in 2019.

Nonmedical fetal sex diagnosis and aborting a pregnancy based on gender selection are illegal.  Private and unregistered clinics, however, provided these services. Provincial health commissions made efforts to crack down on sex-selective abortions.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution and laws include language that protects members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination; however, the government did not enforce these laws effectively, and authorities perpetrated and promoted violence and discrimination against members of racial or ethnic minority groups. Official state media outlets published numerous articles describing members of minority ethnic or religious groups as violent and inferior. Such propaganda emphasized the connection between religious beliefs, in particular belief in Islam, and acts of violence. Moreover, many articles described religious adherents as culturally backward and less educated, and thus in need of government rectification.

The government “sinicization” campaign resulted in ethnically based restrictions on movement, including curtailed ability to travel freely or obtain travel documents; greater surveillance and presence of armed police in ethnic minority communities; and legislative restrictions on cultural and religious practices.

The government promoted Han Chinese migration into minority areas, significantly increasing the population of Han in Xinjiang. Han Chinese officials continued to hold the majority of the most powerful CCP posts and many government positions in minority autonomous regions, particularly Xinjiang.

In 2017 the Xinjiang government implemented “Deradicalization Regulations,” codifying efforts to “contain and eradicate extremism.” Since 2017 the government used this broad definition of extremism to detain more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in re-education or detention centers, designed to instill patriotism and erase their religious and ethnic identities. This included many of those ordered to return to China from studying or working abroad. International media reported government security officials in the centers abused, tortured, and killed some detainees (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., 1.d., and 2.d.).

Outside the internment camps, the government implemented severe restrictions on expressions of minorities’ culture, language, and religious identity, including regulations prohibiting behaviors the government considered signs of “extremism” such as growing “abnormal” beards, wearing veils in public places, and suddenly stopping smoking and drinking alcohol, among other behaviors. The regulations banned the use of some Islamic names when naming children and set punishments for teaching religion to children. Authorities conducted “household surveys” and “home stays” in which officials or volunteers forcibly lived in Uyghurs’ homes and monitored families for signs of “extremism.” There were media reports that male officials would sleep in the same bed as the wives of men who were detained in internment camps, as part of the “Pair Up and Become Family” program, and also bring alcohol and pork for consumption during the home stay. Authorities also used a vast array of surveillance technology specifically designed to target and track Uyghurs.

The national government perpetuated and condoned policies and attitudes that promoted discrimination; minority groups in border and other regions had less access to education than their Han Chinese counterparts, faced job discrimination in favor of Han Chinese migrants, and earned incomes well below those in other parts of the country. Government development programs and job provisions intentionally disrupted traditional living patterns of minority groups and in some cases included the forced relocation of persons and the forced settlement of nomads. As part of its emphasis on building a “harmonious society” and maintaining social stability, the government promoted racism and institutional discrimination against minorities, and disparaged and denied the resulting complaints, cracking down on peaceful expressions of ethnic culture and religion.

Many of the security raids, arbitrary detentions, and judicial punishments appeared to target groups or individuals peacefully seeking to express their political or religious views. Detention and punishment could be based on expression on the internet and social media, including the browsing, downloading, and transmitting of banned content. Officials continued to use the threat of violence as justification for extreme security measures directed at the local population, journalists, and visiting foreigners. According to the official news agency Xinhua, officials used surveillance and facial recognition software, biodata collection, and big-data technology to create a database of Uyghurs in Xinjiang for the purpose of conducting “social-instability forecasting, prevention, and containment.” (See section 1.f.) Security forces frequently staged large-scale parades involving thousands of armed police in cities across Xinjiang, according to state media.

Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups continued to be sentenced to long prison terms and were in some cases executed without due process on spurious charges of separatism and endangering state security. (See sections 1.a. and 1.b.).

The law criminalizes discussion of “separatism” on the internet and prohibits use of the internet in any way that undermines national unity. It further bans inciting ethnic separatism or “harming social stability.” It requires internet service providers and network operators to set up monitoring systems to detect, report, and delete religious content, and to strengthen existing systems and report violations of the law. Authorities searched cell phones at checkpoints and during random inspections of Uyghur households. Persons in possession of alleged terrorist material, including pictures of general religious or cultural importance, could be arrested and charged with crimes. International media reported security officials at police checkpoints used a surveillance application to download and view content on mobile phones. (See section 1.f.).

Ethnic Kazakhs were also targeted. Throughout the year ethnic Kazakhs in Almaty and Nur-Sultan reported that PRC officials attempted to silence protests regarding their missing family members in Xinjiang. Small groups of Kazakhs often protested outside the PRC consulate in Almaty and the PRC Embassy in Nur-Sultan to demand answers concerning their families’ detention in Xinjiang. Local sources stated that PRC officials frequently called their cell phones to pressure them to stop protesting. Kazakhs were also prevented from moving freely between China and Kazakhstan, and some were detained in internment camps upon their return to China.

The government pressured foreign countries to forcibly repatriate or deny visas to Uyghurs who had left China, and repatriated Uyghurs faced the risk of imprisonment and mistreatment upon return. Some Uyghurs who were forcibly repatriated disappeared after arriving in China. Family members of Uyghurs studying overseas were also pressured to convince students to return to China, and returning students were detained or forced to attend “re-education camps,” according to overseas media. Overseas ethnic Uyghurs, whether they were citizens of the PRC or their countries of residence, were sometimes pressured to provide information concerning the Uyghur diaspora community to agents of the PRC government.

Freedom of assembly was severely limited in Xinjiang. For information regarding abuse of religious freedom in Xinjiang, see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

For specific information on Tibet, see the Tibet Annex.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from parents. Parents must register their children in compliance with the national household registration system within one month of birth. Children born outside policy quotas or to single women often cannot be registered or receive other legal documents such as the hukou residence permit. Unregistered children could not access public services, including education, health care, identity registration, or pension benefits.

Education: Although the law provides for nine years of compulsory education for children, many children in poor rural areas did not attend school for the required period, and some never attended. Public schools were not allowed to charge tuition, but many schools continued to charge miscellaneous fees because they received insufficient local and central government funding. Such fees and other school-related expenses made it difficult for poorer families and some migrant workers to send their children to school. The gap in education quality for rural and urban youth remained extensive, with many children of migrant workers attending unlicensed and poorly equipped schools.

The law states “schools (classes and grades) and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the medium of instruction.” Despite provisions to ensure cultural and linguistic rights, measures requiring full instruction in Mandarin beginning in preschool and banning the use of Uyghur in all educational activities and management were implemented throughout Xinjiang, according to international media.

Government authorities in Inner Mongolia required instructors to use Mandarin to teach history and politics instead of the Mongolian language and traditional Mongolian script, which are viewed as a key part of Mongolian culture. The PRC implemented similar policies in Xinjiang, Tibet, and other provinces to encourage a “national common language,” but which observers viewed as a means to erode unique languages and cultures.

Child Abuse: The physical abuse of children is grounds for criminal prosecution, and the law protects children. Sexual abuse of minors, particularly of rural children, was a significant problem.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 22 for men and 20 for women. Child marriage was not known to be a problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 14. Persons who forced girls younger than 14 into commercial sex could be sentenced to 10 years to life in prison in addition to a fine or confiscation of property. In especially serious cases, violators could receive a life sentence or a death sentence, in addition to having their property confiscated. Those who paid for commercial sex with girls younger than 14 were subject to five years or more in prison in addition to paying a fine.

Pornography of any kind, including child pornography, is illegal. Under the criminal code, those producing, reproducing, publishing, selling, or disseminating obscene materials with the purpose of making a profit could be sentenced to up to three years in prison or put under criminal detention or surveillance in addition to paying a fine. Offenders in serious cases could receive prison sentences of three to 10 years in addition to paying a fine.

According to the law, persons broadcasting or showing obscene materials to minors younger than 18 are to be “severely punished.”

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law forbids infanticide, although NGOs reported that female infanticide due to a traditional preference for sons and coercive birth limitation policies continued. Parents of children with disabilities frequently left infants at hospitals, primarily because of the anticipated cost of medical care. Gender-biased abortions and the abandonment and neglect of baby girls were believed to be in decline but continued to be a problem in some circumstances.

Displaced Children: The detention of an estimated one million or more Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in Xinjiang left many children without caregivers. While many of these children had relatives willing to care for them, the government placed the children of detainees in orphanages, state-run boarding schools, or “child welfare guidance centers,” where they were forcibly indoctrinated with CCP ideology and forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, reject their religious and cultural beliefs, and answer questions regarding their parents’ religious beliefs and practices.

In October 2020 a study on parent-child separation in Yarkand County, Kashgar Prefecture, analyzed data from government spreadsheets not previously available. According to the study, government statistics showed that between 2017 and 2019, the number of boarding students in primary and middle schools (grades one to nine) increased from 497,800 to 880,500. Children in these schools studied ethnic Han culture, Mandarin, and CCP ideology. Government policy aimed to provide such children with state-sponsored care until they reach age 18. In Hotan some boarding schools were topped with barbed wire.

Institutionalized Children: See “Displaced Children” section above.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The government does not recognize Judaism as an ethnicity or religion. The World Jewish Congress estimated the Jewish population at 2,500. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Organ Harvesting

Some activists and organizations accused the government of forcibly harvesting organs from prisoners of conscience, including religious and spiritual adherents such as Falun Gong practitioners and Muslim detainees in Xinjiang. In June several UN experts issued a statement expressing alarm concerning allegations of organ harvesting “targeting minorities, including Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghurs, Tibetans, Muslims and Christians, in detention in China.”

Persons with Disabilities

The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities and prohibits discrimination, but in many instances conditions for such persons lagged behind legal requirements, and the government failed to provide persons with disabilities with access to programs intended to assist them.

According to the law, persons with disabilities “are entitled to enjoyment of equal rights as other citizens in political, economic, cultural, and social fields, in family life, and in other aspects.” Discrimination against, insult of, and infringement upon persons with disabilities is prohibited. The law prohibits discrimination against minors with disabilities and codifies a variety of judicial protections for juveniles.

The Ministry of Education reported there were more than 2,000 separate schools for children with disabilities, but NGOs reported only 2 percent of the 20 million children with disabilities had access to education that met their needs.

Individuals with disabilities faced difficulties accessing higher education. Universities often excluded candidates with disabilities who would otherwise be qualified. A regulation mandates accommodations for students with disabilities when taking the national university entrance exam.

Unemployment among adults with disabilities, in part due to discrimination, remained a serious problem. The law requires local governments to offer incentives to enterprises that hire persons with disabilities. Regulations in some parts of the country also require employers to pay into a national fund for persons with disabilities when employees with disabilities do not make up a statutory minimum percentage of the total workforce.

The law sets standards for making roads and buildings accessible to persons with disabilities; compliance was limited.

The law forbids marriage for persons with certain mental disabilities, such as schizophrenia. If doctors find a couple is at risk of transmitting congenital disabilities to their children, the couple may marry only if they agree to use birth control or undergo sterilization. In some instances officials continued to require couples to abort pregnancies when doctors discovered possible disabilities during prenatal examinations. The law stipulates local governments are to employ such practices to eliminate the births of children with disabilities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against persons with HIV remained a problem, impacting individuals’ employment, education, and housing opportunities and impeding access to health care. In some instances laws protecting persons with HIV from discrimination contradict laws restricting the rights of persons with HIV. During the year state media outlets reported instances of persons with HIV or AIDS who were barred from housing, education, or employment due to their HIV status. According to the National Health Commission, as of the end of 2019, an estimated 950,000 persons in the country had HIV or AIDS.

According to the law, companies may not demand HIV antibody tests nor dismiss employees for having HIV. Nonetheless, regulations also stipulate that HIV-positive individuals shall not engage in work that is prohibited by laws, administrative regulations, and the Department of Health under the State Council.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

No laws criminalize private consensual same-sex conduct between adults. Individuals and organizations working on LGBTQI+ matters continued to report discrimination and harassment from authorities similar to that experienced by organizations that accept funding from overseas.

LGBTQI+ individuals reported incidents of violence, including domestic violence; however, they encountered difficulties in seeking legal redress, since regulations on domestic violence do not include recognition of same-sex relationships. Accessing redress was further limited by societal discrimination and traditional norms, resulting in most LGBTQI+ persons refraining from publicly discussing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Nonetheless, the civil code includes a provision that protects certain tenancy rights for designated partners of deceased property owners without officially defined family relationships.

NGOs working on LGBTQI+ topics reported that although public advocacy work became more difficult for them due to laws governing charities and foreign NGOs, they made some progress in advocating for LGBTQI+ rights through specific antidiscrimination cases.

In July, WeChat’s parent company Tencent deleted dozens of public WeChat accounts run by LGBTQI+ groups at universities across the country for allegedly violating internet regulations, including 14 of the most prominent accounts.

In September the National Radio and Television Administration ordered television companies to exclude niangpao or “sissy men” from their content. It was the first time the government used the term, which is used to insult or bully gay men. Also in September the administration condemned representations of gay men’s love stories on radio and television. Later in the month, the state-backed gaming association issued new video game guidelines stating that depictions of same-sex relationships, characters with ambiguous genders, and effeminate males were considered problems and would raise flags.

In November, LGBT Rights Advocacy China, an organization focused on changing law and policy, announced it was ceasing all activities and shutting down its social media accounts.

Hong Kong

Read A Section: Hong Kong

China | Macau | Tibet

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. The 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law of the Special Administrative Region specified that, except in matters of defense and foreign affairs, Hong Kong would have a high degree of autonomy under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework. During the year, China continued to dismantle Hong Kong’s political freedoms and autonomy in violation of these international commitments. Amendments to the Basic Law fundamentally changed Hong Kong’s electoral system to allow Beijing effectively to block participation of political groups not approved by Beijing. The Hong Kong government arrested or disqualified opposition pan-democratic politicians, blocking their participation in upcoming elections. Pro-Beijing candidates won 89 of the 90 seats in the December Legislative Council election, which was widely regarded as fundamentally flawed. The turnout rate of 30.2 percent was a record low since Hong Kong’s handover to the People’s Republic of China in 1997.

The Hong Kong Police Force maintains internal security and reports to the Security Bureau. The Security Bureau continues to report to the chief executive; however, the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police Force, established by the National Security Law, operates under the supervision of the central government, and the National Security Law permits the embedding of mainland security personnel within the department. In addition, the National Security Law established a Committee on National Security in the Hong Kong government that reports to the central government, as well as an Office for Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong that is staffed by members of mainland security agencies. Unaccountable under Hong Kong law, the Office allows mainland China security elements to operate openly, contradicting the spirit and practice of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the “One Country, Two Systems” framework. It is no longer clear if Hong Kong’s civilian authorities maintain effective autonomous control over the city’s security services. Hong Kong security forces have taken actions – to include arrests against nonviolent protesters, opposition politicians, activists, journalists, union members, and others deemed by local officials to be critical of the central and Special Administrative Region governments.

Beijing undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy and eroded civil liberties and democratic institutions throughout the year. Hong Kong and Chinese authorities repeatedly threatened or arrested associations, groups, or individuals affiliated with the prodemocracy movement, undermining fundamental freedoms otherwise provided for under the Basic Law. Following accusations made by Beijing-controlled media organs, Hong Kong authorities investigated and cut government ties with these groups, in some cases freezing their assets and forcing them to cease operations. Even after threatened groups disbanded, authorities continued targeting key members for investigations and arrests. These procedures were applied to prodemocratic parties, trade unions, and professional associations, among others.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: arbitrary arrests and detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals outside of Hong Kong; serious problems regarding the independence of the judiciary in certain areas; arbitrary interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists and censorship; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; restrictions on the freedom of movement and on the right to leave the territory; the inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; trafficking in persons; and significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including coercive actions against independent trade unions and arrests of labor union activists.

The government took few steps to identify, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses. The government prosecuted at least one case of official corruption.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no credible reports that the Special Administrative Region (SAR) or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices and there were few reports of such abuse. According to a June Amnesty International report, prisoners in detention did not report abuse due to fear of retaliation. Other observers in direct contact with those in the detention facilities did not report witnessing or seeing evidence of abuse in the facilities.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Wall-fare, an independent prisoners’ rights organization, submitted a petition signed by 100,000 persons requesting that in very hot weather, prisoners have access to cold water, better ventilation, and extra showers, as some facilities lacked air conditioning. Wall-fare disbanded in September after the security secretary announced that some groups were giving prisoners items such as chocolates and hair clips to recruit them to endanger national security.

In October, one individual detained under the National Security Law (NSL) accused the agency responsible for the SAR’s prisons and detention centers of intercepting letters sent to her on the grounds that they would “affect order in the prison,” arguing that the agency’s standards had become stricter on political grounds.

Physical Conditions: Some activists raised credible concerns that individuals in pretrial detention for charges related to the NSL were kept in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. In some cases, activists alleged these individuals were subjected to 24-hour lighting, excessively hot or cold temperatures, or other degrading conditions.

Administration: The government investigated allegations of problematic conditions and documented the results in a publicly accessible manner. There was an external Office of the Ombudsman.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted legislators and justices of the peace to conduct prison visits. Justices of the peace may make suggestions and comments on matters, such as physical conditions, overcrowding, staff improvement, training and recreational programs and activities, and other matters affecting the welfare of inmates.

The Independent Police Complaints Council is the Hong Kong police watchdog, responsible for investigating alleged corruption or abuses. The SAR government announced in November 2020 that it would appeal a court ruling that month that declared the complaints council incapable of effective investigation, as it lacked necessary powers and was inadequate to fulfill the SAR’s obligations under the Basic Law to provide an independent mechanism to investigate complaints against the Hong Kong police.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. Under the NSL, however, the Hong Kong Police Force made several arbitrary arrests. The Hong Kong Police Force maintains internal security and reports to the SAR’s Security Bureau. The Immigration Department of the Security Bureau controls passage of persons into and out of the SAR as well as the documentation of local residents. The Security Bureau and police continue to report to the chief executive. The National Security Department of the police force, however, which was established by the NSL, operates under the supervision of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government, and the NSL permits the embedding of mainland security personnel within the department. In addition, the NSL established a Committee on National Security within the SAR government that reports to the PRC government, as well as an Office for Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong that is staffed by members of the PRC security agencies who may not be prosecuted under the SAR’s legal system. Therefore, it was no longer clear if the SAR’s civilian authorities maintain effective autonomous control over the city’s security services.

Security forces targeted nonviolent protesters, opposition politicians, and prodemocracy activists and organizations during the year. Multiple sources also reported suspected members of the PRC central government security services in the SAR were monitoring political activists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and academics who criticized the PRC central government’s policies.

At the time of its passage, the SAR and PRC claimed the NSL was not retroactive. Despite that claim, international observers have noted that the police National Security Department, created by the NSL, used its sweeping investigative powers to find evidence of “sedition” prior to the establishment of the NSL and charge individuals under both the NSL and colonial-era sedition laws. Some of the evidence cited included individuals’ opinion posts online.

On January 6 and 7, authorities arrested 55 political activists for participating in the July 2020 unofficial pan-democratic primary election. Of those arrested, 47 were charged under the NSL with subversion.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police generally apprehended suspects openly when they observed them committing a crime or with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. Police were also required to charge or release arrested suspects promptly. The government respected this requirement and generally brought arrested persons before a judicial officer within 48 hours. Detainees were generally informed promptly of potential charges against them. There was a functioning bail system that allowed persons not charged to post bail to be released from detention pending the filing of charges. Such “police bail” included requirements that the arrestee submit to monthly check-ins at a police station. There was no defined period under the law within which the government was required to file charges. Activists argued that the bail system left the arrested in legal purgatory. After arrest, by law the Department of Justice investigates to determine the appropriate charges for the arrestee. Police have the authority to require individuals arrested under the NSL to surrender their travel documents while an investigation is continuing, including if they are not formally charged, and there were reports police exercised this authority in numerous NSL cases. Interviews of suspects must be videotaped.

Under NSL charges, democracy activists were increasingly denied bail, and the threshold for bail was higher. Bail conditions under the NSL place the burden of proof on the defendant to convince the judge that he or she would not “continue to commit acts endangering national security” and are adjudicated only by specially designated national security judges. Jeremy Tan, a former pan-democratic politician facing NSL charges, was denied bail in part based on an email invitation from a foreign consulate, while another former lawmaker, Claudia Mo, was denied bail in part based on interviews and text messages with international press. In November a SAR court denied bail to Cheung Kim-hung, chief executive officer (CEO) of Apple Daily parent company Next Digital, in apparent response to international condemnation of the executive’s arrest as an infringement on freedom of the press. Prosecutors cited a statement by the Media Freedom Coalition, signed by 21 governments, as well as a separate statement by the United Kingdom foreign secretary, as evidence of a close association between Cheung and “foreign political groups.”

Observers criticized SAR authorities for the treatment of the 47 individuals charged under the NSL in connection with the unofficial 2020 pan-democratic primary election. Police and prosecutors arrested, detained, and charged these individuals as a group, then immediately demanded a lengthy pretrial period to investigate the allegations made against them.

In February the Court of Final Appeal, the highest SAR court, reversed a ruling by a lower court granting bail to Jimmy Lai, media owner and democracy activist. The Court of Final Appeal decision stated that the courts have no power to review the NSL’s constitutionality, including provisions where the Basic Law and the NSL may be in conflict, such as bail standards.

Authorities generally allowed detainees access to a lawyer of their choice, but some legal experts stated that during initial bail hearings, many of the 47 persons charged with subversion for organizing or participating in the unofficial 2020 pan-democratic primary faced delays obtaining access to their lawyers. The first defendant in an NSL trial, Tong Ying-kit, requested that two additional pro bono barristers be permitted to join his legal team. The specially designated national security judges stated that with the addition of the barristers, the defendant might no longer be eligible for legal aid, forcing the withdrawal of the proposed two additional lawyers.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law generally provides for an independent judiciary, its independence was limited in NSL cases. Arrests and prosecutions appeared to be increasingly politically motivated. The SAR’s highest court stated that it was unable to find the NSL or any of its provisions unconstitutional, or to review the NSL based on incompatibility with the Basic Law or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Activists voiced concern about NSL proceedings because those charged under the NSL face stricter bail conditions; may be denied due process (see below) and a fair and public trial (see below); and may face extradition to the mainland for trial. In bail hearings, the NSL places the burden of proof on the defendant, rather than the prosecution, as is otherwise the case in most criminal matters. Local Chinese Communist Party-controlled media entities in the SAR put pressure on the judiciary to accept more “guidance” from the government and called for extradition to the mainland in at least one high-profile 2020 case; they also criticized sentences deemed too lenient.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary largely enforced this right. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and the right to a trial without undue delay, but these rights were not always upheld. Some defendants in drug and drug trafficking cases waited several years to go to trial. Some charged with violations related to the 2019 protest movement may not face trial until 2023 due to a backlog in the judiciary’s caseload. Many of those charged with NSL violations have been remanded into custody and have been awaiting trial for several months because of the NSL’s high threshold for granting bail. Tong Ying-kit was charged and denied bail in July 2020 and was held in custody until his hearing on July 30. Jimmy Lai, arrested in December 2020, then temporarily released on bail, was returned to custody on December 31, 2020. His first trial was not held until the end of May, when he was convicted on a non-NSL charge of “unauthorized assembly” for participation in a 2019 peaceful protest. Given the special requirements for bail in NSL cases, the newness of the law, and COVID-19 pandemic related delays, persons charged under the NSL face longer-than-average pretrial delays.

Defendants are presumed innocent, except in official corruption cases: a sitting or former government official who maintains a standard of living above that commensurate with an official income or who controls monies or property disproportionate to an official income is by law considered guilty of an offense unless the official can satisfactorily explain the discrepancy. The courts upheld this ordinance. Trials are by jury except at the magistrate and district court levels. Under the NSL, SAR authorities may direct that a panel of three specially designated national security judges hear a case instead of a jury. In the trial of the first NSL defendant, Tong Ying-kit, the secretary of justice issued a certificate for the case to be heard by such a three-judge panel.

An attorney is provided at public expense if defendants cannot afford counsel. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The government conducted court proceedings in either Cantonese or English, the SAR’s two official languages. The government provided interpretation service to those not conversant in Cantonese or English during all criminal court proceedings. Defendants could confront and question witnesses testifying against them and present witnesses to testify on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, the right to be present at their trial, and the right of appeal. In October SAR authorities proposed limiting the right of defendants receiving legal aid to choose their own lawyers, as well as the number of legal aid and judicial review cases that each lawyer may take per year. Some lawyers, activists, and experts have criticized the proposal as restricting defendants’ right to the counsel of their choice and limiting activists’ abilities to challenge authorities’ actions.

SAR courts are charged with interpreting provisions of the Basic Law that address matters within the limits of the SAR’s autonomy. SAR courts also interpret provisions of the Basic Law that relate to central government responsibilities or the relationship between the central authorities and the SAR. The Court of Final Appeal may seek an interpretation of relevant provisions from the PRC central government’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (the legislature). SAR courts must by law follow the standing committee’s interpretations in cases involving central government jurisdiction, although judgments previously rendered are not affected.

The chief executive provides a list of judges eligible to hear NSL cases. Some activists have described this NSL provision, which enables SAR authorities to hand pick the pool of judges to hear national security cases, as inconsistent with judicial independence. In multiple cases, SAR prosecutors have argued that defendants accused of charges that do not fall under the NSL should be tried by these specially designated national security judges, claiming that the cases involved “national security.”

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee determines how the NSL is interpreted, not a SAR-based judiciary or elected body. The standing committee has the power in cases involving foreign countries, serious situations, or major and imminent threats to national security to extradite the accused to the mainland and hold trials behind closed doors.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

SAR authorities detained and imprisoned a growing number of individuals during the year because of expressed and, in some cases, presumed, political views and participation in nonviolent political activities.

Local and international observers noted that with few exceptions, those charged with NSL violations, sedition, or unauthorized assembly were peacefully exercising freedoms of expression, political participation, assembly, and association provided for in the Basic Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. For example, activists and legal experts have commented that the 47 individuals charged with violating the NSL for participation in the 2020 unofficial pan-democratic primary election have been accused of subversion for allegedly planning to use a mechanism described in the Basic Law to cause the chief executive to resign.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Territory

The NSL claims jurisdiction over any individual, regardless of location, deemed to be engaged in one of the four vaguely defined criminal activities under the NSL: “secession;” subversion; terrorist activities; or collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security. There are reportedly standing NSL-related arrest warrants against 30 individuals, all residing abroad, one of whom has foreign citizenship and has resided outside the SAR and mainland China for more than 20 years. Although reported in state-controlled media, the government refused to acknowledge the existence of these warrants.

The amendment to the SAR’s Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, effective October 8, also known as the antidoxing amendment, increases the criminal penalties for individuals who are “reckless” with others’ personal information as well as for staff of internet service providers or online platforms that do not comply with doxing-related requests. The only territorial limit on the application of the law is that the concerned individual was present in the SAR at the time of the incident or was a SAR resident, raising concerns that the amendment may be used to prosecute individuals located outside the SAR who criticize SAR officials.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

For apolitical court cases, there is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters and access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations by SAR agencies or persons, except for employees of the National Security Department, as well as the Central Government Liaison Office, depending on interpretations of the law.

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

The law prohibits such actions, but there were multiple reports the SAR government failed to respect these prohibitions, including credible reports that PRC central government security services and the Beijing-mandated Office for Safeguarding National Security monitored prodemocracy and human rights activists and journalists in the SAR. Some of those arrested under the NSL, including some of the 55 individuals arrested in January in connection with the July 2020 unofficial pan-democratic primary election, were required to forfeit personal mobile and computer devices, including before they were formally charged. Police made repeated requests to technology companies for access to individuals’ private correspondence. SAR authorities froze bank accounts of former lawmakers, civil society groups, and other political targets.

Technology companies, activists, and private citizens increasingly raised concerns about the right to privacy and protection of data. The antidoxing amendment passed in October allows the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data to seize and access any electronic devices on the premises without a warrant if they suspect a doxing-related offense has been committed or may be committed. In June the Executive Council approved a proposal to mandate real name registration for subscriber identity module cards and to allow authorities to access telecommunications data without a warrant.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

Despite provisions of the Basic Law and government claims, the PRC and SAR governments increasingly encroached upon freedom of expression. Attacks on independent media included the coerced closures of Apple Daily and Stand News; the restructuring of public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) to gut its editorial independence and to delete previous online content considered politically sensitive; pressure applied to a prominent journalists’ labor union; and acts to encourage self-censorship by other media outlets and public opinion leaders.

Freedom of Expression: There were legal restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government publicly without reprisal. Expressing views perceived to be critical of the PRC or SAR prompted charges of sedition or NSL violations for prodemocratic activists and politicians. On June 4, Chow Hang-tung, the vice chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, was arrested and later charged for inciting unauthorized assembly, because she urged members of the public to “turn on the lights wherever you are – whether on your telephone, candles, or electronic candles” in remembrance of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Requirements for electoral candidacy and for taking the oath of office also limited free speech in the political arena. The overhauled electoral system (see section 3) requires all elected officials to swear an oath of allegiance and to adhere to “patriotic” standards with respect to the PRC and SAR. Even with the signed pledge and oath of office, the Electoral Affairs Commission chose to disqualify 49 seated members of local District Councils and one remaining non-pro-Beijing legislative councilor, questioning their patriotism based on past statements or actions, despite their adherence to the requirements of office. There was no judicial recourse.

The government requires all civil servants to swear an oath of allegiance. According to media reports, civil servants may lose their jobs if they refuse to swear the oath and may face criminal charges, including under the NSL, if they later engage in behavior, including speech, deemed to violate the oaths. SAR authorities and Beijing officials insinuated that interactions with foreign diplomats could be considered “collusion” under the NSL. One former pan-democratic politician facing NSL charges was denied bail in part based on an email invitation from a foreign consulate, while another was denied bail in part based on interviews and text messages with international press.

Any speech critical of the central or local government or its policies may be construed as advocating secession or subversion in violation of the NSL, or inciting hate against the government in violation of a colonial-era sedition law. Prosecutors argued in multiple court hearings that the phrase “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times,” a common slogan of the 2019 prodemocracy protests, contained an inherent meaning of support for independence, a change in the SAR’s constitutional status, or both. To date, courts have convicted two individuals under the NSL in part on that basis. Scholars and activists have argued that the courts’ decisions failed to take into consideration protections for freedom of expression enshrined in the Basic Law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the NSL itself.

In May SAR authorities passed legislation that criminalized inciting others not to vote in elections or to cast blank ballots. Violators are subject to up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine. The SAR anticorruption agency arrested at least 10 individuals in November and December for allegedly urging, on social media, others to cast blank votes. On December 16, two of the 10 were the first to be prosecuted under this law. Legal experts described the legislation as disproportionate and out of line with common law norms that criminalize incitement only when the behavior incited is itself illegal. SAR officials have also claimed that inciting others to boycott elections or cast blank votes may violate the NSL.

SAR legislation prohibits acts deemed to abuse or desecrate the PRC national flag or anthem. In September SAR authorities amended the legislation to criminalize desecrating the national flag or anthem online, such as by posting an image of a “defiled” national flag on social media. At least one individual was convicted during the year for desecrating the national flag, and at least three others were arrested for allegedly desecrating the flag or insulting the national anthem.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The operating space for independent media shrank considerably. The SAR targeted independent media that expressed views it construed as not progovernment. Pro-Beijing media and politicians accused government-owned public broadcaster RTHK of exercising insufficient editorial oversight, opposing police and the government, and thus potentially standing in violation of the NSL. The SAR government subsequently forced out the managing director and replaced him with a pro-Beijing civil servant with no broadcasting experience. RTHK’s civil service employees were given a deadline to swear loyalty oaths, leading many to resign. Under its new management, RTHK also fired presenters, cancelled shows, and censored content based on political perspective.

The SAR systematically dismantled Apple Daily, an independent newspaper and online news platform. On June 17, national security police officers arrested five executives of Next Digital, the parent company of Apple Daily. The same day, police searched Apple Daily offices and froze its assets. During the search, police documented each staff member on site. Following the freeze of its assets, on June 24, Apple Daily issued its last online reports and newspaper edition. Three members of the editorial staff, including a senior editor prohibited from boarding a flight at the airport, were subsequently arrested under the NSL. Cheung Kim-hung, CEO of Apple Daily parent company Next Digital, was denied bail based in part on public statements made by foreign governments, over which the defendant had no control.

On December 29, national security police officers arrested seven individuals affiliated with prodemocracy online media outlet Stand News on charges of “conspiracy to print or distribute seditious materials” under a colonial-era sedition law. The same day, police raided its office, seized journalistic materials, and froze its assets. Police also raided the home of Stand News deputy editor and chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association Ronson Chan, who was taken in for questioning but later released. Stand News subsequently announced on its social media page the resignation of its chief editor, the layoff of all staff, and the immediate cessation of all its operations.

Violence and Harassment: The pro-Beijing media and SAR officials began in September to accuse the Hong Kong Journalists Association of potential NSL violations. The association released a report in July titled Freedom in Tatters outlining the worrisome loss of journalistic freedom. The report expressed concern that police force national security offices would begin scrutinizing its activities using tactics like those used against trade unions and other professional associations. The Hong Kong Journalists Association is a frequent target of SAR government officials’ and pro-Beijing media criticism. In November the Foreign Correspondents’ Club issued the results of a member survey showing that 83 percent of respondents believed the NSL caused the media environment to change for the worse. This spurred the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in the city to condemn the club for smearing the city’s press freedom and interfering in the territory’s affairs.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Reports of media self-censorship and suspected content control continued. Public libraries and universities culled their holdings, including archives, to comply with the NSL; it was unclear if this was based on a request from SAR officials or if the institutions chose to self-censor. Public libraries removed past issues of Apple Daily and books authored by prodemocratic activists. After the closure of Apple Daily and the increased scrutiny of RTHK, Stand News removed articles and columns from its website in June to reduce risks that SAR authorities would accuse the media outlet of breaking the NSL or other laws.

In July officers in the Hong Kong police’s National Security Department arrested and later charged five members of a labor union with “conspiring to publish seditious publications” after the union published a series of children’s books that referred to the 2019-20 protest movement. Police also froze more than 160,000 Hong Kong dollars ($20,000) of the union’s assets. In August SAR authorities announced they were canceling the union’s registration for alleged activities inconsistent with the union’s stated objectives. SAR officials accused the books of “inciting hatred” and “poisoning” children’s minds against the PRC and SAR governments.

In October the Legislative Council passed a film censorship law that empowers SAR authorities to revoke a film’s license if “found to be contrary to national security interests.” Violators are liable for up to three years’ imprisonment.

Internet Freedom

The SAR government generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, although activists claimed central government authorities actively monitored their internet activity. There were also numerous reports of unexplained problems with access to certain websites associated with the prodemocracy movement. There were reports that public access was blocked to certain websites, including those associated with the prodemocracy movement and a museum focused on the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, although SAR authorities refused to confirm the reports. Prosecutors cited social media posts as evidence, including against those charged with NSL violations or inciting an unlawful assembly. NGOs and some media outlets reported focusing on digital security to protect their privacy, partners, and sources.

When investigating NSL violations, the national security divisions of the police force may require a person who published information or opinions or the relevant service provider to remove the content or assist the national security divisions by providing information on the user. Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter reported denying the SAR government’s user information and content takedown requests. Google reported releasing data to the SAR authorities on three occasions during the year, once due to a credible threat to life and twice in connection with suspected trafficking in persons; Google reported it had not complied with many political requests.

The antidoxing amendment raised concerns among civil society, the press, and online platforms that the vague amendment would be used to prosecute journalists reporting on matters of public interest. The amendment applies the same standard of consent to disclose data to private individuals and public officials alike and does not include carve outs for issues of public interest or for already publicly available information.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There was a significant increase in restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. The PRC and SAR authorities claimed that a lack of “patriotic education” was a root cause of the 2019 antiextradition bill protests and targeted the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union, which dissolved under political pressure in August (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

In February the SAR’s Education Bureau announced the incorporation of “national security” into the SAR government-approved curriculum at all levels, beginning at the kindergarten level. New guidelines require all schools following the official SAR curriculum to limit political expression and activities on school campuses and to submit periodic reports regarding their implementation of so-called national security education. Activists decried the guidelines as restricting freedom of expression on campuses. The Education Bureau announced guidelines in October that require all SAR-run and subsidized schools to hold weekly flag raising ceremonies.

In July police raided the office of the student union at the University of Hong Kong after the union’s council passed a motion expressing “sadness” at the death of an individual who attacked a police officer on the July 1 anniversary of the SAR’s handover to PRC sovereignty. The union later apologized and retracted the motion. Under pressure from SAR authorities, university leadership barred the students who attended the council meeting from campus and severed ties with the student union. In August police arrested four members of the student union on suspicion of “advocating terrorism,” a crime under the NSL.

In June a museum dedicated to memorializing the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre operated by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China was raided following allegations that the museum did not have the appropriate license. Under this pressure, the museum closed later that month.

In December, three universities removed sculptures and artworks commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre from their campuses. The University of Hong Kong removed a memorial to the victims of the massacre called “Pillar of Shame,” the Chinese University of Hong Kong removed a statue of “The Goddess of Democracy,” and Lingnan University removed a wall relief portraying the massacre. The universities cited unspecified legal risks, and the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University of Hong Kong also claimed that their management had never approved the presence of the statues, which had stood on the campuses since 1997 and 2010, respectively.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but SAR authorities did not respect those rights, especially for individuals and organizations associated with the prodemocracy movement. The government repeatedly claimed COVID-19 pandemic health concerns as reasons for restricting public gatherings, although it made exceptions for events involving government officials and pro-Beijing groups.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

While the law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government effectively banned peaceful assembly for political purposes to prevent COVID-19. Because of the strict public health limits on any public gathering, police did not issue any “letters of no objection” for public demonstrations from groups not aligned with the PRC and SAR governments after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, police refused permits for a May 1 Labor Day rally, the annual 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre vigil, and the annual July 1 prodemocracy rally marking the anniversary of the SAR’s handover to China.

Freedom of Association

SAR law provides for freedom of association, but the government did not respect the law. SAR authorities investigated and forced the closure of any group they deemed a “national security” concern. Pro-Beijing media also accused several unions, including the SAR’s largest trade and teacher unions (see section 7, Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining) of “foreign collusion” – punishable by up to life in prison under the NSL – due to their affiliation with international organizations.

The Civil Human Rights Front, an umbrella group that organized large-scale annual prodemocracy protests, announced its dissolution just days after the police commissioner publicly accused the group of possible violations of the NSL and of operating since 2002 without proper registration. He made this accusation despite previous police approvals of the group’s requests for protest permits in prior years.

The 612 Humanitarian Fund, which used crowdfunding to support emergency financial and legal assistance for persons injured or arrested during the 2019 protests against the extradition bill, was also forced to shutter its operations after the government publicly made criminal allegations against the group.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, a prodemocracy group organizing annual vigils to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre, voted to disband after Hong Kong police charged seven of its leaders, as well as the organization itself, under the NSL, and froze the group’s assets. In October Chief Executive Carrie Lam ordered the Alliance removed from the city’s Companies Registry.

By law any person claiming to be an officer of a banned group may be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison and fined. Those convicted of providing meeting space or other aid to a banned group may also be sentenced to fines and jail time.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, but the SAR government has established a system for providing limited protection to persons who would be subject to torture or other abuses in their home country.

The SAR government uses the term “nonrefoulement claim” to refer to a claim for protection against deportation. Persons subject to deportation could file a nonrefoulement claim if they either arrived in the SAR without proper authorization or had overstayed the terms of their admittance. Filing such a claim typically resulted in a period of detention followed by release on recognizance. Activists and refugee rights groups expressed concerns about the quality of adjudications and the very low rate of approved claims, fewer than 1 percent. Denied claimants may appeal to the Torture Claims Appeal Board. The government did not publish the board’s decisions, a practice that the Hong Kong Bar Association previously noted created concerns about the consistency and transparency of decisions. Persons whose claims were pending were required to appear periodically before the Immigration Department. In August the SAR implemented an ordinance amendment specifically targeting those seeking asylum and barring them from entering the SAR. The amendment also shortened timeframes for individuals seeking protection against deportation, and in some cases limited these individuals’ access to interpretation into their mother tongues.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Activists indicated that persons seeking refugee status faced discrimination and were frequent targets of negative commentary by some political parties and media organizations.

Employment: “Nonrefoulement claimants” have no right to work in the SAR while their claims are under review, and they must rely on social welfare stipends and charities. An NGO reported the government’s process for evaluating claims, which did not allow claimants to work legally in the SAR, made some refugees vulnerable to trafficking. The SAR government, however, frequently granted exceptions to this rule for persons granted nondeportation status and awaiting UNHCR resettlement.

Access to Basic Services: Persons who made “nonrefoulement” claims were eligible to receive publicly funded legal assistance, including translation services, as well as small living subsidies. Claimants were also entitled to basic health-care services at public hospitals and clinics. The children of such claimants could attend SAR public schools.

Temporary Protection: Persons whose claims for “nonrefoulement” are substantiated do not obtain permanent resident status in the SAR. Instead, the SAR government refers them to UNHCR for possible recognition as refugees and resettlement in a third country. In some cases, individuals waited years in the SAR before being resettled.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The Basic Law limits the ability of residents to change their government. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee March decision to overhaul the SAR’s electoral system further limited this ability, in contradiction to provisions in the Basic Law that describe the election of the chief executive and Legislative Council via universal suffrage as the “ultimate aim.”

Voters do not enjoy universal suffrage in elections for the chief executive or equal suffrage in Legislative Council elections. PRC central authorities made broad changes to the electoral system, thereby ensuring that only candidates vetted and approved by Beijing would be allowed to hold office at any level.

September 19 elections for seats in the Chief Executive Election Committee (CEEC), the first after the PRC’s overhaul of the SAR’s political system in March, by design produced a near unanimous sweep for pro-Beijing “patriots.” More than 1,100 of the 1,500 seats in the expanded CEEC were predetermined and not up for election. For the few competitive seats, regulations limited the franchise and moved the SAR farther from the one-person, one-vote principle. Only one nominally independent candidate was elected to any of those seats. Although the CEEC was historically considered a “closed circle election,” the September contest limited the number of voters eligible to cast ballots to fewer than 5,000 individuals, 97 percent smaller than the previous CEEC election in 2016. Following Beijing-imposed changes to the electoral system, all candidates for the Legislative Council are required to pass through a labyrinthine application process for vetting their “patriotic” bona fides. Per the new law, voters directly elect 20 of the expanded Legislative Council’s 90 seats, or 22 percent; in contrast, in the 2016 Legislative Council election, voters directly elected 40 of the 70 seats (57 percent). Forty seats are selected by the CEEC directly, while 30 are selected as representatives of “functional constituencies” for various economic and social sectors. In the December 19 Legislative Council elections, pro-Beijing candidates won 89 of the 90 seats, including all 20 of the directly elected seats. None of the major prodemocracy parties fielded any candidates.

Under the Basic Law, only the SAR government, not members of the legislature, may introduce bills that affect public expenditure, the political structure, or government policy.

The SAR sends 36 deputies to the National People’s Congress and has approximately 200 delegates in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – bodies that operate under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party and do not exercise legislative independence. The approval of the chief executive, two-thirds of the Legislative Council, and two-thirds of the SAR’s delegates to the legislature are required to place an amendment to the Basic Law on the legislative agenda, which has the sole power to amend the Basic Law.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On December 19, the SAR held elections for the expanded Legislative Council. Pro-Beijing candidates won 89 of the 90 seats, including all 20 of the directly elected seats in the geographical constituencies. Only one nonestablishment moderate won a seat in the social welfare constituency. The SAR government had earlier postponed the election originally scheduled for September 2020 citing COVID-19 concerns, a decision seen by the prodemocracy opposition as an attempt to thwart its electoral momentum and avoid the defeat of pro-Beijing candidates. Several activists also called on voters to boycott the election, arguing it was a sham election. About 1.3 million voters cast ballots in the election, a record low turnout rate of 30.2 percent. Approximately 2 percent of ballots cast were blank or otherwise invalid, a record high. In contrast the 2016 election had a turnout rate of 58.3 percent. In 2017 the 1,194-member CEEC, dominated by proestablishment electors, selected Carrie Lam to be the SAR’s chief executive.

In September the SAR held elections for the CEEC, which elected 40 members of the Legislative Council in December and is scheduled to elect the chief executive in March 2022. Approximately 75 percent of the CEEC seats were filled by ex officio holders of various government positions, through nominations by Beijing-controlled bodies, or by uncontested candidates. Only one candidate not explicitly aligned with either the pro-Beijing or proestablishment camp won a seat. A total of 4,380 ballots were cast compared with more than 250,000 ballots in the 2016 election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Since the imposition of the NSL, numerous leaders of prodemocracy political parties, protest organizing groups, and civil society organizations have been arrested for their involvement in nonviolent political activities. For example, in January, 55 prodemocracy politicians and activists, including former members of the Legislative Council and elected local District Council members, were arrested under the NSL for their involvement in the July 2020 unofficial pan-democratic primary election. No political party was subjected to an outright ban, but many prodemocracy political parties and organizations disbanded because of pressure from SAR authorities or concern they or their members would be subjected to political repression.

In May SAR authorities passed legislation requiring all elected members of local District Councils to swear loyalty oaths to Beijing. Many activists argued the move was designed to break the opposition pan-democratic camp’s hold over the District Councils, the SAR’s only representative bodies elected solely through universal suffrage, after pan-democratic politicians won 388 of 479 seats in the councils in 2019 local elections and won overall control over 17 of the 18 councils. After passage of the legislation, anonymous SAR officials were cited in local media as saying that District Council members who took the loyalty oath and were subsequently disqualified might be required to reimburse the SAR for up to hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong dollars in salary and expenses. More than 260 District Council members resigned in response. Subsequently, SAR authorities administered loyalty oaths to the remaining District Council members in September and October, then disqualified 49 pan-democratic District Council members without the possibility of appeal. The disqualified members are ineligible to run for election for five years.

In August, the chief secretary ruled that Cheng Chung-tai, one of two remaining Legislative Council members who did not caucus with the pro-Beijing or proestablishment camp, was ineligible to serve on the CEEC. Cheng was subsequently disqualified from his legislative seat as well, although the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs had praised him in 2020 for remaining in the legislature after the disqualifications and resignations of nearly all other pan-democratic representatives. In September Cheng announced the dissolution of his political party, Civic Passion.

Since the National People’s Congress Standing Committee decision in March created a labyrinthine nomination and vetting process for all candidates for political office designed to ensure “loyalty” to Beijing, and after the resignation and disqualification of hundreds of opposition District Council members, many opposition politicians and groups announced that they would not field candidates in the December Legislative Council elections. For example, the Democratic Party, the SAR’s largest opposition party, announced in October that none of its members had received sufficient nominations from within the party to run.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Following December Legislative Council elections, there were 17 women Legislative Council members (approximately 19 percent). In 2017 Carrie Lam was selected to be the SAR’s first female chief executive.

There is no legal restriction against members of historically marginalized or ethnic minority groups running for electoral office or serving as electoral monitors. There were, however, no members of ethnic minority groups in the Legislative Council, and members of such groups reported they considered themselves unrepresented.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were, however, reports of government corruption and a growing culture of impunity from prosecution for police and security sector officials.

Corruption: Opposition activists claimed that three senior government officials were treated leniently after attending a group dinner in violation of social distancing regulations in March. The Department of Justice cleared a senior police official in the National Security Department of illegal misconduct for visiting an unlicensed massage parlor where illegal sex services were reportedly being offered, although six women were arrested and four ultimately charged from the same police raid. The officer was subsequently reassigned to lead the police force personnel and training department.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups reported increasing government scrutiny, harassment, and restrictions, although some continued to investigate and publish their findings on human rights cases. The SAR used the NSL to force organizations expressing criticism of the PRC to cease operations, to self-censor, or to change operational procedures to protect their staff. The forced disbandment of multiple trade unions and other organizations created a chilling effect on the remaining groups that were historically critical of the central government.

In October Amnesty International announced it would close its Hong Kong office, as well as its Hong Kong-based regional office, by the end of the year. The organization stated that the NSL made it “impossible for human rights organizations in Hong Kong to work freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government.”

PRC and SAR officials repeatedly accused local and international NGOs that alleged human rights abuses in the SAR of “sowing discord.”

A SAR court denied bail to a media executive in November in apparent response to international condemnation of the executive’s arrest as an infringement on freedom of the press. The court cited a statement by the Media Freedom Coalition, signed by 21 governments, as well as a separate statement by the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary, as evidence of a close association among Cheung Kim-hung, CEO of Apple Daily parent company Next Digital, and “foreign political groups.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an Office of the Ombudsman and an Equal Opportunities Commission. The government recruits commissioners to represent both offices through a professional search committee, which solicits applications and vets candidates. Commissioners were independent. Both organizations operated without interference from the SAR government and published critical findings in their areas of responsibility. NGOs stated that the Equal Opportunities Commission had a narrow mandate that did not allow for deep investigations, and limited support from the SAR government.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape against women, including spousal rape, but does not explicitly criminalize rape against men. Support organizations for sexual and domestic violence reported an increase in gender-based violence based on the larger volume of calls to their hotlines and requests for mental health-care assistance. Activists expressed concern that rape was underreported, especially within ethnic minority communities.

The law does not directly criminalize domestic violence, but the government regarded domestic violence against women as a serious concern. Abusers may be liable for criminal charges under laws on offenses against the person, sexual assault, and child mistreatment, depending on which act constituted domestic violence. The government effectively prosecuted violators under existing criminal violations.

The law allows survivors to seek a three-month injunction, extendable to six months, against an abuser. The ordinance covers abuse between spouses, heterosexual and homosexual cohabitants, former spouses or cohabitants, and immediate and extended family members. It protects victims younger than 18, allowing them to apply for an injunction in their own right, with the assistance of an adult guardian, against abuse by parents, siblings, and specified immediate and extended family members. The law also empowers courts to require that an abuser attend an antiviolence program. In cases in which the abuser caused bodily harm, the court may attach an arrest warrant to an existing injunction and extend the validity of both injunctions and arrest warrants to two years.

The government maintained programs provided intervention, counseling, and assistance to domestic violence survivors and abusers.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment or discrimination based on sex, marital status, and pregnancy. The law applies to both men and women, and police generally enforced it effectively. There were multiple reports, however, of sexual harassment in housing, the workplace, and universities.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The government provides access to sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception, for survivors of sexual violence.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The SAR’s sexual discrimination ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sex or pregnancy status, and the law authorizes the Equal Opportunities Commission to work towards the elimination of discrimination and harassment as well as to promote equal opportunity for men and women. Although the government generally enforced these laws, women reportedly faced some discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Although ethnic Chinese account for most of the population, the SAR is a multiethnic society, with persons from multiple ethnic groups recognized as permanent residents with full rights by law. The law prohibits discrimination, and the Equal Opportunities Commission oversees implementation and enforcement of the law. The commission maintained a hotline for inquiries and complaints concerning racial discrimination. Although the SAR government took steps to reduce discrimination, there were frequent reports of discrimination against ethnic minorities; the law does not clearly cover racial discrimination occurring during law enforcement activity.

Advocates stated there were indications of racism in COVID-19 testing and quarantine measures. Returning South and Southeast Asian SAR minority group residents complained of poor quarantine facilities, wait times, and diet, and accused the SAR of discrimination.

Persons born in mainland China also experienced frequent discrimination. Nonpermanent residents did not receive SAR cash subsidies to help with the COVID-19 pandemic-related economic downturn until eight months after the pandemic spread to the SAR.

Children

Birth Registration: All Chinese nationals born in the SAR, on the mainland, or abroad to parents, of whom at least one is a Chinese national and Hong Kong permanent resident, acquire both Chinese citizenship and Hong Kong permanent residence. Children born in the SAR to non-Chinese parents, at least one of whom is a Hong Kong permanent resident, acquire SAR permanent residence and qualify to apply for naturalization as Chinese citizens. Authorities routinely registered all such statuses.

Child Abuse: The law mandates protection for survivors of child abuse (battery, assault, neglect, abandonment, and sexual exploitation), and the SAR government enforced the law. The law allows for the prosecution of certain sexual offenses, including those against minors, committed outside the territory of the SAR.

The government provided parent education programs through its maternal- and child-health centers, public education programs, clinical psychologists, and social workers. Police maintained a child abuse investigation unit and, in collaboration with the Social Welfare Department, operated a child witness support program.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 16 for both girls and boys; however, parents’ written consent is required for marriage before age 21.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is effectively 16. By law, a person having “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a person younger than 16 is subject to five years’ imprisonment, while unlawful sexual intercourse with a person younger than 13 carries a sentence of life imprisonment. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and procuring children for commercial sex. The law makes it an offense to possess, produce, copy, import, or export pornography involving a child or to publish or cause to be published any advertisement that conveys, or is likely to be understood as conveying, the message that a person has published, publishes, or intends to publish any child pornography. Authorities enforced the law. The penalty for creation, publication, or advertisement of child pornography is eight years’ imprisonment, while possession carries a penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

International Child Abductions: The SAR is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The active Jewish community numbered approximately 2,500 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions. The government took action to investigate and punish those responsible for violence or abuses against persons with disabilities. The government generally implemented laws and programs to provide persons with disabilities access to education, employment, the judicial system, and health services. The law on disabilities states that children with separate educational needs must have equal opportunity in accessing education. Some human rights groups considered the SAR’s disability law too limited and that its implementation did not promote equal opportunities. The Social Welfare Department provided training and vocational rehabilitation services to assist persons with disabilities, offered subsidized resident-care services for persons deemed unable to live independently, offered preschool services to children with disabilities, and provided community support services for persons with mental disabilities, their families, and other residents interested in improving their mental health.

The government generally implemented laws and programs to provide persons with disabilities access to information, communications, and buildings, although there were reports of some restrictions. The law calls for improved building access and provides for sanctions against those who discriminate.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. While the SAR has laws that ban discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, disability, and family status, no law prohibits companies or individuals from discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. There are also no laws that specifically aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) community. Lawmakers expressed both strong support for, and strong opposition to, LGBTQI+ rights. LGBTQI+ activists reported that they considered the courts to be the primary avenue to secure LGBTQI+ rights and viewed the courts as impartial in decisions on LGBTQI+ issues.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for workers to form and join unions, but the SAR and PRC authorities took repeated actions that violated the principle of union independence. The law does not protect the right to collective bargaining or obligate employers to bargain. The law prohibits civil servants from bargaining collectively.

The law prohibits firing an employee for striking and voids any section of an employment contract that punishes a worker for striking. The commissioner of police has broad authority to control and direct public gatherings, including strikes, in the interest of national security or public safety.

By law an employer may not fire, penalize, or discriminate against an employee who exercises his or her union rights and may not prevent or deter the employee from exercising such rights. Penalties for violations of laws protecting union and related worker rights include fines as well as legal damages paid to workers. Penalties were commensurate with those under other laws involving the denial of civil rights.

The law was not effectively enforced, and the government repressed independent unions and their confederations. SAR and national authorities publicly claimed that strikes and other union-organized activities during the prodemocracy movement in 2019-20 were “anti-China” in nature, and pressure from officials and from PRC-supported media outlets led many unions to disband.

In August, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, the city’s largest professional trade union with approximately 95,000 members, decided to dissolve after facing pressure from PRC-supported media, which called the union a “poisonous tumor” to be eradicated, and the announcement hours later by the Hong Kong Education Bureau that it would cease working with the union.

On October 3, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions voted to dissolve. Founded in 1990, the confederation included more than 80 unions from a variety of trades and grew to more than 100,000 members. Chairman Wong Tik-yuen reported that union members received threats against their personal safety if union operations were to continue.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, nor do laws specifically criminalize forced labor. Instead, the SAR uses its Employment and Theft Ordinances to prosecute forced labor and related offenses. Because these violations are typically civil offenses with fines, penalties for these offenses were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, which violate the Crimes Ordinance and carry prison terms.

NGOs expressed concerns that some migrant workers, especially domestic workers in private homes, faced high levels of indebtedness assumed as part of the recruitment process, creating a risk they could be subjected to forced labor through debt-based coercion. Domestic workers in the SAR were mostly women and mainly came from the Philippines, Indonesia, and other Southeast and South Asian countries. The SAR allows for the collection of maximum placement fees of 10 percent of the first month’s wages, but some recruitment firms required large up-front fees in the country of origin that workers struggled to repay. Some locally licensed employment agencies were suspected of colluding with local money lenders and agencies overseas to profit from debt schemes, and some local agencies illegally withheld the passports and employment contracts of domestic workers until they repaid the debt.

SAR authorities stated they encouraged aggrieved workers to file complaints and make use of government conciliation services, and that they actively pursued reports of any labor violations (see section 7.e., Acceptable Conditions of Work).

See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. Regulations prohibit employment of children younger than 15 in any industrial establishment. Children younger than 13 are prohibited from taking up employment in all economic sectors. Children who are 13 or older may be employed in nonindustrial establishments, subject to certain requirements, such as parental written consent and proof the child has completed the required schooling.

The Labor Department effectively enforced these laws and regularly inspected workplaces to enforce compliance with the regulations. Penalties for child labor law violations include fines and legal damages and were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, that violate the Crimes Ordinance and carry prison terms.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit employment discrimination based on race or ethnicity, disability, family status (marital status or pregnancy), or sex. The law stipulates employers must prove that proficiency in a particular language is a justifiable job requirement if they reject a candidate on those grounds. Regulations do not prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of age, color, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status. The law authorizes the Equal Opportunities Commission to work towards the elimination of discrimination and harassment as well as to promote equal opportunity for men and women.

The government generally enforced these laws and regulations. In cases in which employment discrimination occurred, SAR courts had broad powers to levy penalties on those violating these laws and regulations. Although the government generally enforced these laws, women reportedly faced some discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion.

Human rights activists and local scholars continued to raise concerns about job prospects for minority students, who were more likely to hold low-paying, low-skilled jobs and earn below-average wages.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The statutory minimum wage was below the poverty line for an average-sized household. The law does not regulate working hours, paid weekly rest, rest breaks, or compulsory overtime for most employees. Several labor groups reported that employers expected extremely long hours and called for legislation to address that concern.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law includes occupational safety and health standards for various industries. Workplace health and safety laws allow workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Employers are required to report any injuries sustained by their employees in work-related accidents.

The Occupational Safety and Health Branch of the Labor Department is responsible for safety and health promotion, identification of unsafe conditions, enforcement of safety management legislation, and policy formulation and implementation. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate investigations and prosecutions. For the first half of the year, the Labor Department reported 14,368 cases of occupational accidents.

The government effectively enforced the law, and the number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance except in the cases of nonpayment or underpayment of wages to, and working conditions of, domestic workers. There were many press reports regarding poor conditions faced by, and underpayment of wages to, domestic workers. Labor inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Penalties for violations of the minimum wage or occupational safety and health standards include fines, damages, and worker’s compensation payments. These penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The Labor Tribunal adjudicated disputes involving nonpayment or underpayment of wages and wrongful dismissal.

Iran

Executive Summary

The Islamic Republic of Iran is an authoritarian theocratic republic with a Shia Islamic political system based on velayat-e faqih (guardianship of the jurist). Shia clergy – most notably the rahbar (supreme leader) – and political leaders vetted by the clergy dominate key power structures. The supreme leader is the head of state and holds constitutional authority over the judiciary, government-run media, and other key institutions. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has held the position since 1989. The Assembly of Experts selects and may dismiss the supreme leader. Although assembly members are nominally directly elected in popular elections, the supreme leader has indirect influence over the assembly’s membership via the Guardian Council’s vetting of candidates and control over the election process. The supreme leader appoints half of the 12-member Guardian Council, while the head of the judiciary (who is appointed by the supreme leader) appoints the other half. The supreme leader also has indirect influence over the legislative and executive branches of government. The Guardian Council vets candidates for the presidential and Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament or majles) elections, routinely disqualifying some based on political or other considerations, and controls the election process. Neither 2021 presidential elections nor 2020 parliamentary elections were considered free and fair.

The supreme leader holds ultimate authority over all security agencies. The Ministry of Intelligence and Security and law enforcement forces under the Interior Ministry, which report to the president, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which reports to the supreme leader, share responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order. The Basij, a nationwide volunteer paramilitary group, sometimes acts as an auxiliary law enforcement unit subordinate to the Revolutionary Guard. The Revolutionary Guard and the national army (artesh) provide external security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses throughout the year.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government and its agents, most commonly executions for crimes not meeting the international legal standard of “most serious crimes” or for crimes committed by juvenile offenders, as well as after trials without due process; forced disappearance attributed to the government and its agents; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the government and its agents; arbitrary arrest or detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners and detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country, including killings, kidnappings, or violence; serious problems with independence of the judiciary, particularly the revolutionary courts; unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious abuses in a conflict, including military support for terrorist groups throughout the region, Syrian President Bashar Assad, pro-Iran Iraqi militia groups, and Yemeni Houthi rebels, all of which were credibly accused of abuses (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Syria, Iraq, and Yemen), as well as unlawful recruitment of child soldiers by government actors in Syria; severe restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and criminalization of libel and slander; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions on religious freedom; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic or international human rights organizations; lack of meaningful investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; violence against ethnic minorities; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took few steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or corruption. Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of the government and security forces.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

The government and its agents reportedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, most commonly executions for crimes not meeting the international legal standard of “most serious crimes” or for crimes committed by juvenile offenders, as well as executions after trials without due process. As documented by international human rights observers, so-called revolutionary courts (see section 1.e., Trial Procedures) continued to issue the vast majority of death sentences and failed to grant defendants due process. The courts regularly denied defendants legal representation and, in many cases, solely considered as evidence confessions often extracted through torture. Judges also may impose the death penalty on appeal, which deterred appeals in criminal cases. On October 25, the UN special rapporteur (UNSR) on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javaid Rehman, told the UN General Assembly that almost all executions in the country constituted an arbitrary deprivation of life, noting “extensive, vague and arbitrary grounds in Iran for imposing the death sentence, which quickly can turn this punishment into a political tool.”

According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Activists in Iran, the government did not disclose accurate numbers of those executed and kept secret as many as 60 percent of executions. NGOs Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), Human Rights News Activists (HRANA), Iran Human Rights (IHR), and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center reported there were almost 150 executions as of mid-August, while the government officially announced approximately 20 executions in that time. Amnesty International and IHR stressed that the real numbers of persons at risk of execution and those who had been secretly executed were likely much higher, since officials and domestic media avoided reporting figures. The government often did not release further information, such as names of those executed, execution dates, or crimes for which they were executed.

In early January IHR and the digital news outlet IranWire reported that authorities executed two Baloch prisoners, Hassan Dehvari and Elias Qalandarzehi, in Zahedan Prison; both were sentenced to death for “armed rebellion” based solely on their affiliation with family members belonging to dissident groups.

On January 30, according to Amnesty International and other NGOs, authorities executed Javid Dehghan in Zahedan Central Prison after sentencing him to death for “enmity against God” based on a “confession” extracted through torture. Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court in Zahedan sentenced Dehghan to death in 2017 for alleged membership in the banned armed group Jaish al-Ald and alleged involvement in an armed ambush that killed two Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) soldiers. Following Dehghan’s 2015 arrest, authorities concealed his whereabouts from his family for three months. IRGC intelligence agents held him in solitary confinement in an undisclosed detention facility affiliated with Zahedan Central Prison, where they subjected him to beatings, floggings, and nail extraction. On February 4, UN human rights experts expressed their shock at the execution of Dehghan in an open letter to the Iranian government, which took place despite their public appeal to have it halted because of “serious fair trial violations,” “lack of an effective right to appeal,” and a “torture-induced forced confession.” In the letter they noted that Dehghan’s execution was one of several carried out against prisoners from the Baloch ethnic minority in a short time; at least 21 Balochi prisoners were executed between mid-December 2020 and January 30. Many had been convicted on drug or national security charges, following flawed legal processes.

In a February letter to the UN secretary-general, imprisoned human rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh asked the international community to “pay attention to the issue of executions in Iranian society, especially that of religious, ethnic minorities, and women, and take necessary measures to prevent such extensive executions.” Sotoudeh cited the case of Zahra Esmaili, who was executed on February 17 with eight other prisoners. According to the United Kingdom-based Iran International television station, Esmaili was sentenced to death for shooting and killing her husband, Alireza Zamani, a Ministry of Intelligence official, in 2018. Media reports during her trial suggested Zamani abused his children and threatened to kill Esmaili. Didban Iran website reported a claim that one of the children had killed Zamani and her mother confessed to protect her.

On February 28, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), authorities at Sepidar Prison executed the following four ethnic Arab political prisoners: Jasem Heidary, Hossein Silawi, Ali Khasraji, and Nasser Khafajian (Khafaji). Security forces summoned the prisoners’ relatives without informing them of the imminent executions. After a 20-minute visit, the families were told to wait near the visitation center, and a few hours later they were given the bodies of their relatives. Ministry of Intelligence agents arrested Heidary in Tehran in 2017, and he “confessed” under torture to collaborating with a group opposed to the Islamic Republic. A revolutionary court in Ahvaz convicted Heidary of “armed insurrection” and sentenced him to death, and the Supreme Court upheld the verdict. Amnesty International reported he was held for months in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer or his family and was subjected to torture and other mistreatment. Security forces detained Silawi, Khasraji, and Khafajian in 2017 as alleged suspects in an armed attack on a police station and military outpost near Ahvaz. Authorities held the three in a Ministry of Intelligence detention center in Ahvaz without access to lawyers or their families and subjected them to torture. Prior to their execution, Amnesty International reported on February 12 that Khasraji, Silawi, and Heidary had sewn their lips together as part of a hunger strike since January 23 in Sheiban Prison “in protest at their prison conditions, denial of family visits, and the ongoing threat of execution.”

In February authorities killed 10 fuel carriers (sookhtbars) in Sistan va Baluchestan Province at the border with Pakistan, who were protesting government blockades of cross-border shipments. On February 22, IRGC units fired lethal ammunition on protesters and bystanders, adding two more to the death toll and injuring many. The death toll was difficult to verify following the disruption of local mobile data networks, according to the United Nations (see sections 1.b., 1.c., and 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

Islamic law allows for the execution of juvenile offenders starting at age nine for girls and age 13 for boys, the legal age of maturity. The government continued to execute individuals sentenced for crimes committed before age 18. In June UN human rights experts expressed concern for the more than 85 individuals on death row for alleged offenses committed when they were younger than age 18, including Hossein Shahbazi and Arman Abdolali, who were arrested and sentenced to death for crimes they allegedly committed at age 17. According to Amnesty International, their trials included the use of “torture-tainted ‘confessions.’” According to widespread media reports, on November 24, Abdolali was executed.

According to Amnesty International and IHR, in August authorities at Kermanshah Central Prison (Dizelabad) hanged Sajad Sanjari for a murder he committed in 2010 when he was 15 years old. Sanjari claimed he acted in self-defense after the man tried to rape him, but the trial court rejected the self-defense claims after several witnesses attested to the deceased’s good character. Sanjari was granted a retrial in 2015; a criminal court resentenced him to death, and the Supreme Court later upheld the sentence.

According to UN and NGO reports, authorities executed at least six persons in 2020 who were minors at the time of their alleged crimes: Majid Esmaeilzadeh, Shayan Saaedpour, Arsalan Yasini, Movid Savadi, Abdollah Mohammadi, and Mohammad Hassan Rezaiee.

Responding to criticism from the United Nations, Majid Tafreshi, a senior official and member of the state-run High Council for Human Rights, stated in an English interview with Agence France-Presse in 2020 that the government was working to reduce juvenile executions eventually to zero by “trying to convince the victim’s family to pardon” and claimed “96 percent of cases” resulted in a pardon.

According to human rights organizations and media reports, the government continued to carry out some executions by torture, including hanging by cranes, in which prisoners are lifted from the ground by their necks and die slowly by asphyxiation. Adultery remains punishable by death by stoning, although provincial authorities were reportedly ordered not to provide public information regarding stoning sentences since 2001, according to the NGO Justice for Iran.

According to the United Nations, between January 1 and June 18, authorities executed at least 108 individuals, mostly from minority groups, including 35 for drug charges. Although the majority of executions during the year were reportedly for murder, the law also provides for the death penalty in cases of conviction for “attempts against the security of the state,” “outrage against high-ranking officials,” moharebeh (which has a variety of broad interpretations, including “waging war against God”), fisad fil-arz (corruption on earth, including apostasy or heresy; see section 1.e., Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country), rape, adultery, recidivist alcohol use, consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and “insults against the memory of Imam Khomeini and against the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic.” Capital punishment also applies to the possession, sale, or transport of more than approximately 110 pounds of natural drugs, such as opium, or approximately 4.4 to 6.6 pounds of manufactured narcotics, such as heroin or cocaine. It applies to some drug offenses involving smaller quantities of narcotics if the crime is carried out using weapons, employing minors, or involving someone in a leadership role in a trafficking ring or who was previously convicted of drug crimes and sentenced to more than 15 years’ imprisonment. Prosecutors frequently charged political dissidents and journalists with the capital offense of “waging war against God” and accused them of “struggling against the precepts of Islam” and against the state that upholds those precepts. Authorities expanded the scope of this charge to include “working to undermine the Islamic establishment” and “cooperating with foreign agents or entities.” The UNSR expressed deep concern in his July report that “vague and broadly formulated criminal offenses,” – including “waging war against God,” “corruption on earth,” and “armed rebellion” – had been used to sentence individuals to death for participation in protests or other forms of dissent, even absent evidence for the accusations. According to the report, authorities executed at least 15 individuals in 2020 for these offenses.

The judiciary is required to review and validate death sentences; however, this rarely happened.

In late 2020 the Supreme Court reaffirmed the death sentence of dual-national scientist Ahmadreza Djalali, leading observers to believe his execution was imminent. A court initially sentenced Djalali to death in 2017 on espionage charges in a trial UN experts said was “marred by numerous reports of due process and fair trial violations, including incommunicado detention, denial of access to a lawyer, and forced confession.” In March UN experts described Djalali’s situation as “truly horrific” and said his “prolonged solitary confinement for over 100 days with the threat of imminent execution” in Ward 209 of Evin Prison amounted to torture. Authorities were reportedly “shining bright lights in his small cell 24 hours a day to deprive him of sleep.” On April 14, he was moved out of solitary confinement. Prison officials repeatedly denied Djalali access to medical care, which led to dramatic weight loss, stomach pain, and breathing problems to the point where he had trouble speaking, according to his wife. As of November he remained in prison.

On August 29, Ebrahim Yousefi, one of death row prisoner Heydar (Heidar) Ghorbani’s former cellmates, published an audio file describing the marks of torture he had seen on Ghorbani’s body following his interrogation by authorities in the Ministry of Intelligence’s detention center in Sanandaj in 2017. In January 2020 a revolutionary court in Kurdistan Province convicted Ghorbani of “armed rebellion” and sentenced him to death, despite the court acknowledging in the verdict that he was never armed. According to a September 2020 report by Amnesty International, authorities arrested Ghorbani in 2016 following the killing of several IRGC members in the city of Kamyaran. The court sentenced him to 90 years in prison and 200 lashes for “assisting in intentional murder” and “membership and collaboration” with the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, a banned political opposition group. On August 12, his lawyer said, “The accusation of armed rebellion against Mr. Ghorbani is not valid because a rebel is someone who is a member of an organization and uses a weapon against the Islamic Republic, and none of those apply to my client,” according to a report by CHRI.

On December 20, the government executed Ghorbani without prior notice. Authorities summoned his family to Sanandaj Prison in Kurdistan Province after his death to view his grave, but the family was not permitted to collect his body.

Media and human rights groups also documented suspicious deaths while in custody or following beatings of protesters by security forces throughout the year.

According to IHR, two days after 21-year-old Mehrdad Taleshi was arrested on February 1, he reportedly died at the Shapour criminal investigation department police station. His relatives told IHR that a Shapour police ambulance transferred his corpse to the Baharloo Hospital, where they reported seeing torture marks around his neck, as well as severe marks of injury on his head. Officials at the police station told Taleshi’s family they arrested him for marijuana possession; the family told IHR that Mehrdad was an athlete and did not even smoke cigarettes. As of August the findings of a postmortem forensic exam remained undetermined, and the family’s complaint to the criminal court had not been acknowledged.

In July UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed “extreme concern” regarding deaths and injuries, as well as widespread arrests and detentions, by authorities in response to protests that broke out across multiple cities on July 15 over severe water shortages in Khuzestan Province. According to an Amnesty International report, on July 22, security forces in Izeh attacked largely peaceful protesters with live ammunition, killing 11 persons, including 17-year-old Hadi Bahmani.

In a July report, UNSR Rehman reiterated his “alarm” that authorities had not undertaken a credible investigation into those responsible for the killing of at least 304 protesters responding to fuel price hikes in November 2019. Instead, authorities continued to prosecute individuals who participated in the protests on charges including “taking up arms to take lives or property and to create fear in the public” (moharabeh), which carries the death penalty, and national security charges that carry long prison sentences. In response, human rights organizations outside of the country held a nonbinding people’s tribunal, called the Aban Tribunal, in London to investigate the killing of protesters and numerous human rights violations that took place on November 15-18, 2019, in Iran.

On August 10, a Swedish court, drawing on the principle of universal jurisdiction, opened the trial of a former Iranian prosecutor, Hamid Nouri, for his alleged role in the executions of thousands of political prisoners in Iran in the 1980s. Human rights organizations and UNSR Rehman called for an independent inquiry into allegations of state-ordered executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, including the role played by newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi as Tehran’s deputy prosecutor at the time.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of politically motivated abductions during the year attributed to government officials. Plainclothes officials seized lawyers, journalists, and activists without warning, and government officials refused to acknowledge custody or provide information on them. In most cases the government made no efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such acts.

On February 3, 36 civil society and international human rights organizations published an open letter calling for urgent attention to “an ongoing wave of arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions, and enforced disappearances by the Iranian authorities” targeting members of the Kurdish ethnic minority. Between January 6 and February 3, the intelligence unit of the IRGC or Ministry of Intelligence agents arrested 96 Kurdish individuals across 19 cities, and at least 40 of the detainees were subjected to forced disappearances, for whom authorities refused to reveal any information regarding their fate or whereabouts to their families.

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

Although the constitution prohibits all forms of torture “for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information,” use of physical and mental torture to coerce confessions remained prevalent, especially during pretrial detention. There were credible reports that security forces and prison personnel tortured and abused detainees and prisoners throughout the year.

Commonly reported methods of torture and abuse in prisons included threats of execution or rape, forced vaginal and anal examinations, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, suspension, forced ingestion of chemical substances, deliberate deprivation of medical care, electroshock including the shocking of genitals, burnings, the use of pressure positions, and severe and repeated beatings.

Human rights organizations frequently cited some prison facilities, including Evin Prison in Tehran, Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj, Greater Tehran Penitentiary, Qarchak Prison, Adel Abad Prison, Vakilabad, Zahedan, Isfahan Central Prison (Dastgerd), and Orumiyeh Prison, for their use of cruel and prolonged torture of political opponents, particularly Wards 209 and Two of Evin Prison, reportedly controlled by the IRGC. Authorities also allegedly maintained unofficial secret prisons and detention centers outside the national prison system, where abuse reportedly occurred.

In August according to the Associated Press and widespread media reports, the hacker group Edalet-e Ali (Ali’s Justice) posted online security camera footage from Evin Prison of prison authorities beating and mistreating inmates, the attempted suicide of prisoners without authorities intervening, and emaciated inmates being dragged by their arms and left in stairwells. Human Rights Watch (HRW) assessed that the leaked footage was “likely the tip of the iceberg” of the abuses occurring in detention facilities, as it did not include footage from two prison wards inside Evin Prison controlled by the intelligence agencies, “where political prisoners often face serious abuse, including prolonged solitary confinement, use of blindfolds, and torture.”

According to a February report by IHR, authorities held a public interrogation session at the Palace of Justice for physics students Ali Younesi and Amir Hossein Moradi, both arrested in April 2020 on charges of affiliation with the Mojahedin-e Khalgh (MEK) opposition group, which the Iranian regime has banned. The session revealed that beatings by Ministry of Intelligence agents of Younesi during his interrogation caused his eye to bleed for 60 days after his arrest. In August 2020 UN human rights experts sent a letter to the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations urging that he “take all necessary measures to guarantee the right of Mr. Younesi not to be deprived of his liberty, to protection from any act of torture or ill-treatment[,] and to fair-trial proceedings,” a reference to his 59 days of solitary confinement and possible exposure to COVID-19 in overcrowded cells. On July 3, Younesi and Moradi were charged with “corruption on earth,” which carries the death penalty, and other crimes. As of November 22, both students remained in Evin Prison’s Ward 209.

Before their execution in early January (see section 1.a.), Hassan Dehvari and Elias Qalandarzehi described in a letter the seven months of torture they endured. Dehvari wrote, “In the (Ministry of) Intelligence (detention center), we were subjected to physical and psychological torture including being threatened with rape, tying us to the “miracle bed” (a bed used for flogging prisoners), all types of instruments, like whips, cable wires, a metal helmet that would be wired with electric shocks to our heads, attempting to pull out hand and toe nails, turning on an electric drill and threatening to drill our arms and legs, bringing my wife and a video camera and [telling] me that either I accept the charge or they would rape her and film it in front of me.”

Judicially sanctioned corporal punishments continued. These included flogging, blinding, stoning, and amputation, which the government defends as “punishment” and does not consider to be torture. At least 148 crimes are punishable by flogging, while 20 may carry the penalty of amputation. According to the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, between January 1 and September 2, authorities sentenced at least 77 individuals to amputation and carried out these sentences in at least eight cases. There were no recorded cases of amputation during the year.

According to Amnesty International, authorities flogged Hadi Rostami, an inmate at Orumiyeh Prison in West Azerbaijan Province, 60 times on February 14 for “disrupting prison order.” Extrajudicial punishments by authorities involving degrading public humiliation of alleged offenders were also frequently reported throughout the year. Authorities regularly forced alleged offenders to make videotaped confessions that the government later televised.

On September 9, labor rights activist Sepideh Gholian detailed, in a series of tweets while she was on temporary furlough from Bushehr Prison, the abuse she witnessed of fellow inmates in the women’s ward. Gholian described how the prison warden punished a female inmate for taking a shower “at the wrong hour” by hosing her down naked in a public space and forcing other inmates to watch and jeer. Gholian alleged the warden forcibly sent female inmates to the men’s wards where they were subjected to sexual assault under the guise of “temporary marriages” (sigheh). She also detailed officials’ abuse of an Afghan child living with his mother in prison and the denial of undergarments for female prisoners as punishment, including for some who were menstruating. On October 10, Gholian was rearrested and taken to Evin Prison, where she remained at year’s end.

Impunity remained a widespread problem throughout all security forces. Human rights groups frequently accused regular and paramilitary security forces such as the Basij of committing numerous human rights abuses, including torture, forced disappearances, and acts of violence against protesters and bystanders at public demonstrations. The government generally viewed protesters, critical journalists, and human rights activists as engaged in efforts to undermine the 1979 revolution and consequently did not punish security forces for abuses against those persons even when the abuses violated domestic law. According to Tehran prosecutor general Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi, the attorney general is responsible for investigating and punishing security force abuses. If any investigations took place during the year, the process was not transparent, and there were few reports of government actions to discipline abusers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Prisoner hunger strikes in protest of their treatment were frequent.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding, widespread infrastructure deficiencies, lack of clean water and sanitary facilities, and insufficient numbers of beds continued to represent a serious threat to prisoners’ lives and health, according to a July report by UNSR Rehman.

Overall conditions worsened significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a 2020 report by Amnesty International, which cited letters written by senior prison authorities, prisons lacked the disinfectant products and protective equipment needed to address the spread of virus. The letters reportedly acknowledged many prisons held individuals with underlying health conditions, which increased their risk of complications if infected with COVID-19. According to CHRI, the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which started in July, greatly increased the risks of outbreaks among prisoners. CHRI cited multiple political prisoners describing how authorities had not taken appropriate steps to ensure prisoner safety, such as not disinfecting prison telephones or allowing prisoners to purchase personal hygiene products in Qarchak Prison. CHRI also quoted Saeid Janfada, the head of the State Prisons Organization in Khorasan Razavi Province, who stated on June 27 that “about nine” prisoners had died of COVID-19 in the province since March. According to UNSR Rehman’s July report, authorities claimed “no one had died inside prison due to COVID-19 but acknowledged the death of 38 prisoners or prison staff in hospitals or treatment centers.” Prisoners of conscience were mostly excluded from prison furloughs in 2020, including human rights defenders, foreign and dual nationals, environmentalists, individuals detained due to their religious beliefs, and persons arbitrarily detained in connection with the November 2019 protests.

There were reported deaths in custody and prisoner-on-prisoner violence, which authorities sometimes failed to control. In April 2020 Amnesty International reported at least 35 prisoners were killed and others injured in at least eight prisons across the country when security officials used live ammunition and tear gas to suppress riots because of COVID-19 safety fears. As of September there was no indication the government had investigated these events.

According to IranWire and human rights NGOs, guards beat both political and nonpolitical prisoners during raids on wards, performed nude body searches in front of other prisoners, and threatened prisoners’ families. In some instances, according to HRANA, guards singled out political prisoners for harsher treatment.

Prison authorities often refused to provide medical treatment for pre-existing conditions, injuries that prisoners suffered at the hands of prison authorities, or illnesses due to the poor sanitary conditions in prison. Human rights organizations reported that authorities used denial of medical care as a form of punishment for prisoners and as intimidation against prisoners who filed complaints or challenged authorities. Medical services for female prisoners were reported as grossly inadequate.

A 2020 statement by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed serious concern regarding a consistent government pattern of denying medical treatment to detainees, including political prisoners, which was heightened during the year due to the spread of COVID-19 throughout prisons. The statement called for the unconditional release of human rights defenders, lawyers, political prisoners, peaceful protesters, and all other individuals deprived of their liberty for expressing their views or otherwise exercising their rights. In July UNSR Rehman’s report documented that some political prisoners in particular had become critically ill because they had not received urgently needed medical care.

According to HRW, CHRI, and media reports, two political prisoners died in the hospital after being denied adequate health care. On February 21, Behnam Mahjoubi died in the hospital of multiple seizures. He had been transferred from Evin Prison after the State Medical Examiner concluded he was not fit to be incarcerated. Mahjoubi was a Gonabadi Sufi who had been serving a two-year sentence for “national security” charges since 2020. According to the Iranian Students’ News Agency, Sassan Niknafs died on June 5 after losing consciousness in the Greater Tehran Penitentiary. Niknafs was serving a five-year sentence on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state.”

Civil rights activist Saeed Eghbali reportedly suffered permanent hearing damage in Evin Prison after prison authorities denied him treatment for a ruptured ear drum. Notably, HRW reported that according to prisoner accounts, “Evin Prison, where most high-profile detainees are kept, actually has a higher standard of hygiene and access to medical care compared to other prisons, especially those far from [Tehran].”

The United Nations and NGOs consistently reported other unsafe and unsanitary detention conditions in prisons, including contaminated food and water, frequent water and food shortages, rodent and insect infestations, shortages of bedding, intolerable heat, and poor ventilation.

Authorities occasionally held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Previous reports indicated a deliberate practice of holding political prisoners in wards with allegedly violent and dangerous criminals, with the goal of “breaking” the political prisoners’ will. A July 2020 report by UNSR Rehman noted that prisoners ordinarily held in wards controlled by the IRGC or Ministry of Intelligence were moved to public wards after the sharp increase in detainees following the 2019 protests, and child and juvenile detainees were reportedly held in the same cells as adults in some facilities, including Saghez Central Prison in Kurdistan Province. Male juvenile detainees were held in separate rehabilitation centers in most urban areas, but female juvenile detainees and male juvenile detainees in rural areas were held alongside adults in segregated detention facilities, according to NGO reports.

IranWire reported multiple prisons across the country held older children who lived with their incarcerated mothers without access to medical care or educational and recreational facilities.

There were numerous reports of attempted prisoner suicides throughout the year in response to prison conditions or mistreatment. According to a March 3 report by the human rights NGO United for Iran, political prisoner Mohammad Nourizad, who suffered from heart disease, cut his face and neck with a razor in Evin Prison during a visit with his family in March to protest being denied access to medical care. Imprisoned since 2019 for signing an open letter with 13 others calling for the resignation of the supreme leader, Nourizad was released from Evin Prison in July.

According to a June 12 report by IHR, a juvenile prisoner on death row, Ali Arjangi, attempted suicide by slitting his throat and veins in Ardabil Central Prison. Arjangi’s mother, a person with disabilities, was not able to pay the billion toman ($23,700) blood money (diya) to the victim’s family by May 12 for the alleged murder he committed at age 17. On June 30, he was released after charities and individuals helped raised the necessary funds.

Administration: In most cases authorities did not initiate credible investigations into allegations of inhuman conditions or suspicious deaths in custody. After videos of mistreatment in Evin Prison were made public, the head of the State Prisons Organization, Mohammad Mehdi Haj Mohammadi, apologized in a tweet “for these unacceptable behaviors” and promised to “deal seriously with wrongdoers.” Iran International reported that the judiciary began legal proceedings against six of the guards seen in the footage and announced, “a four-member committee to be based in Evin [Prison] to investigate the conditions and management of the prison.”

Prisoners were able to submit complaints to judicial authorities but often faced censorship or retribution in the form of slander, beatings, torture, and denial of medical care and medication or furlough requests, as well as charges of additional crimes.

In October 2020 HRW highlighted the cases of environmentalist Niloufar Bayani and student activist Parisa Rafiee, both of whom authorities had charged with “publishing false information,” and “propaganda against the state,” for reporting abuse in detention, including threats of sexual violence and rape. According to United for Iran, Rafiee was released. As of August 31, Bayani remained in Evin Prison.

According to reports from human rights NGOs, prison authorities regularly denied prisoners access to an attorney of their choice, visitors, telephone calls, and other correspondence privileges. Families of executed prisoners did not always receive notification of their scheduled executions, or if they did, it was often provided on very short notice (see section 1.a.). Authorities frequently denied families the ability to perform funeral rites or to have an impartial and timely autopsy performed.

Prisoners practicing a religion other than Shia Islam reported experiencing discrimination.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit independent monitoring of prison conditions. Prisoners and their families often wrote letters to authorities and, in some cases, to UN bodies to highlight and protest their treatment (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, the practices occurred frequently during the year. Former president Rouhani’s 2016 Citizens Rights Charter enumerated various freedoms, including “security of their person, property, dignity, employment, legal and judicial process, social security, and the like,” but the government did not implement these provisions. Detainees may appeal their sentences in court but are not entitled to compensation for detention.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The constitution and law require a warrant or subpoena for an arrest and state that arrested persons should be informed of the charges against them within 24 hours. Authorities, however, held some detainees, at times incommunicado, for prolonged periods without charge or trial and frequently denied them contact with family or timely access to legal representation.

The law obligates the government to provide indigent defendants with attorneys for certain types of crimes. The courts routinely set prohibitively high bail, even for lesser crimes, and in many cases courts did not set bail. Authorities often compelled detainees and their families to submit property deeds to post bail, effectively silencing them due to fear of losing their family property.

The government continued to use house arrest without due process to restrict movement and communication. As of November former presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, as well as Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard, remained without formal charges under house arrest imposed in 2011. Security forces continued to restrict their access to visitors and information. Concerns persisted regarding Karroubi’s deteriorating health, reportedly exacerbated by his treatment by authorities.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities commonly used arbitrary arrests to impede alleged antiregime activities, including by conducting mass arrests of persons in the vicinity of antigovernment demonstrations. According to Amnesty International, these arrests sometimes included children and bystanders at protests and were often conducted in a violent manner, to include beating detainees. Plainclothes officers arrived unannounced at homes or offices; conducted raids; arrested persons; and confiscated private documents, passports, computers, electronic media, and other personal items without warrants or assurances of due process.

Individuals often remained in detention facilities for long periods without charges or trials, and authorities sometimes prevented them from informing others of their whereabouts for several days or longer. Authorities often denied detainees access to legal counsel during this period.

According to a September 2020 report by Amnesty International, at least 7,000 persons were arrested in relation to the November 2019 protests, and at least 500 were subjected to criminal investigations on vague and unsubstantiated charges as of August 2020, although Amnesty International estimated the number to be “far higher.” There was no update on the number of detainees still in prison as of year’s end.

International media and human rights organizations documented dual nationals enduring arbitrary and prolonged detention on politically motivated charges. UNSR Rehman continued to highlight cases of dual and foreign nationals whom authorities had arrested arbitrarily and subjected to mistreatment, denial of appropriate medical treatment, or both. The UNSR noted most dual and foreign nationals did not benefit from temporary furloughs granted by authorities to many other prisoners. The UNSR previously concluded the government subjected dual and foreign nationals to “sham trials which have failed to meet basic fair trial standards and convicted them of offenses on the basis of fabricated evidence or, in some cases, no evidence at all, and has attempted to use them as diplomatic leverage.” Dual nationals, like other citizens, faced a variety of due process violations, including lack of prompt access to a lawyer of their choosing and brief trials during which they were not allowed to defend themselves.

Authorities continued to detain dual-national Siamak Namazi on spurious charges of espionage following a lower court trial with numerous procedural irregularities, according to international media and NGO reports. Authorities detained Namazi in 2015, followed by his father, Baquer, in 2016. Baquer Namazi was granted medical furlough in 2018 and was subsequently cleared of all charges, but he remained under an exit ban and was not allowed to leave the country.

In January an Iranian state-run media organization affiliated with the IRGC, the Young Journalists Club, reported that dual-citizen Emad Shargi was detained in Evin Prison. According to The New York Times, authorities initially detained Shargi in April 2018. He was reportedly detained for eight months in Ward 2A, the IRGC’s intelligence unit inside Evin Prison, and interrogated about his business ties and travels, then released on bail in December 2018. In December 2019 the revolutionary court issued an order informing Shargi that he was cleared of all spying and national security charges; however, authorities refused to return his passport. He was called before the revolutionary court three times throughout 2020. In November 2020 Judge Abolqasem Salavati summoned Shargi to inform him that he had been tried in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage. Shargi was denied access to his lawyer and family members and only allowed to make brief, monitored telephone calls. As of September he remained detained in Evin Prison.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention was often arbitrarily lengthy, particularly in cases involving alleged violations of “national security” law. Authorities sometimes held prisoners incommunicado for lengthy periods before permitting them to contact family members. Instances of unjust and arbitrary pretrial detention were commonplace and well documented throughout the year involving numerous protesters and prisoners of conscience who were not granted furloughs despite the rampant spread of COVID-19 in prison. Some were returned to prison after short furloughs despite having medical problems and the risk of COVID-19. According to HRW, a judge may prolong detention at his discretion, and pretrial detentions often lasted for months. Often authorities held pretrial detainees in custody with the general prison population.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides that the judiciary be “an independent power” that is “free from every kind of unhealthy relation and connection.” The court system, however, was subjected to political influence, and judges were appointed “in accordance with religious criteria.”

The supreme leader appoints the head of the judiciary. The head of the judiciary, members of the Supreme Court, and the prosecutor general are clerics. International observers continued to criticize the lack of independence of the country’s judicial system and judges and maintained that trials disregarded international standards of fairness.

Trial Procedures

According to the constitution and law, a defendant has the right to a fair trial, to be presumed innocent until convicted, to have access to a lawyer of his or her choice, and to appeal convictions in most cases that involve major penalties. These rights were frequently not upheld.

Panels of judges adjudicate trials in civil and criminal courts. Human rights activists reported trials in which authorities appeared to have determined the verdicts in advance, and defendants did not have the opportunity to confront their accusers or meet with lawyers. For journalists and defendants charged with crimes against national security, the law restricts the choice of attorneys to a government-approved list.

When postrevolutionary statutes do not address a situation, the government advises judges to give precedence to their knowledge and interpretation of sharia (Islamic law). Under this method judges may find a person guilty based on their own “divine knowledge.”

The constitution does not provide for the establishment or the mandate of the revolutionary courts, which were created pursuant to the former supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini’s edict immediately following the 1979 revolution, with a sharia judge appointed as the head of the courts. They were intended as a temporary emergency measure to try high-level officials of the deposed monarchy and purge threats to the regime. The courts, however, became institutionalized and continue to operate in parallel to the criminal justice system. Human rights groups and international observers often identified the revolutionary courts, which are generally responsible for hearing the cases of political prisoners, as routinely holding grossly unfair trials without due process, handing down predetermined verdicts, and rubberstamping executions for political purposes. These unfair practices reportedly occur during all stages of criminal proceedings in revolutionary courts, including the initial prosecution and pretrial investigation, first instance trial, and review by higher courts.

The IRGC and Ministry of Intelligence reportedly determine many aspects of revolutionary court cases. Most of the important political cases are referred to a small number of branches of the revolutionary courts, whose judges often have negligible legal training and are not independent.

During the year human rights groups and international media noted the absence of procedural safeguards in criminal trials, and courts routinely admitted as evidence confessions made under duress or torture. UNSR Rehman expressed concerns regarding allegations of confessions extracted by torture and a lack of due process or a fair trial, including in cases of persons arrested for participating in the 2019 protests.

The Special Clerical Court is headed by a Shia Islamic legal scholar, overseen by the supreme leader, and charged with investigating alleged offenses committed by clerics and issuing rulings based on an independent interpretation of Islamic legal sources. As with the revolutionary courts, the constitution does not provide for the Special Clerical Court, which operates outside the judiciary’s purview. Clerical courts were used to prosecute Shia clerics who expressed controversial ideas and participated in activities outside the sphere of religion, such as journalism or reformist political activities.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Official statistics regarding the number of citizens imprisoned for their political beliefs were not available. According to United for Iran, as of September 23, at least 550 prisoners of conscience were held in the country, including those jailed for their religious beliefs.

The government often charged political dissidents with vague crimes, such as “antirevolutionary behavior,” “corruption on earth,” “siding with global arrogance,” “waging war against God,” and “crimes against Islam.” Prosecutors imposed strict penalties on government critics for minor violations.

The political crimes law defines a political crime as an insult against the government, as well as “the publication of lies.” Political crimes are those acts “committed with the intent of reforming the domestic or foreign policies of Iran,” while those with the intent to damage “the foundations of the regime” are considered national security crimes. Courts and the Public Prosecutor’s Office retain responsibility for determining the nature of the crime.

The political crimes law grants the accused certain rights during arrest and imprisonment. Political criminals should be held in detention facilities separate from ordinary criminals. Political criminals should also be exempt from wearing prison uniforms, not subject to rules governing repeat offenses, not subject to extradition, and exempt from solitary confinement unless judicial officials deem it necessary. Political criminals also have the right to see and correspond with immediate family regularly and to access books, newspapers, radio, and television.

Many of the law’s provisions were not implemented, and the government continued to arrest and charge students, journalists, lawyers, political activists, women’s activists, artists, and members of religious minorities with “national security” crimes that do not fall under the political crimes law. Political prisoners were also at greater risk of torture and abuse in detention. They were often mixed with the general prison population, and former prisoners reported that authorities often threatened political prisoners with transfer to criminal wards, where attacks by fellow prisoners were more likely. Human rights activists and international media reported cases of political prisoners confined with accused and convicted violent criminals, being moved to public wards in cases of overcrowding, and having temporary furloughs inequitably applied during the COVID-19 pandemic (see section 1.c., Physical Conditions). The government often placed or “exiled” political prisoners to prisons in remote provinces far from their families as a means of reprisal, denied them correspondence rights and access to legal counsel, and held them in solitary confinement for long periods. The government reportedly held some detainees in prison for years on unfounded charges of sympathizing with real or alleged terrorist groups.

In March, as reprisal for signing an open letter accusing the government of routinely denying medical care to prisoners, authorities transferred Maryam Akbari-Monfared from Evin Prison to a prison 124 miles away from her family. Akbari-Monfared had been imprisoned for nearly 12 years for seeking justice for her siblings, who were disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret in 1988. Authorities originally tried and convicted Akbari-Monfared on charges of supporting the banned MEK opposition group in 2010, on the offense of “waging war against God.”

Lawyers who defended political prisoners were often arrested, detained, and subjected to excessive sentences and punishments for engaging in regular professional activities. The government continued to imprison lawyers and others affiliated with the Defenders of Human Rights Center advocacy group.

The government issued travel bans on some former political prisoners, barred them from working in their occupations for years after incarceration, and imposed internal exile on some. During the year authorities occasionally gave political prisoners suspended sentences and released them on bail with the understanding that renewed political activity would result in their return to prison. The government did not permit international humanitarian organizations or UN representatives access to political prisoners.

On November 16, authorities rearrested human rights defender and journalist Narges Mohammadi to serve a sentence handed down in May of 30 months in prison and 80 lashes for alleged propaganda, defamation, and “rebellion” crimes. She was arrested while attending a ceremony in Karaj to honor a protester killed during protests in 2019 and reportedly placed in solitary confinement in Evin Prison. Mohammadi had been previously arrested in 2015, convicted in 2016, and given a 16-year sentence for “propaganda against the state,” “assembly and collusion against national security,” and establishing the illegal Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty organization. After her release in October 2020, Mohammadi led a high-profile lawsuit by civil rights activists against the use by authorities of prolonged and routine solitary confinement in prisons, describing it as a form of “white torture.” She also publicly detailed via a video message in February how Evin Prison warden Gholamreza Ziaei had beaten her for participating in a peaceful sit-in inside the prison in 2019. During her previous confinement, authorities repeatedly denied her telephone contact with her family and appropriate medical treatment following her contraction of COVID-19 in 2020, as well as treatment related to a major operation she underwent in 2019.

According to CHRI and IHR, in March authorities transferred activist Atena Daemi from Evin Prison to Rasht Central Prison, far from her family. As of August 21, Daemi was on an indefinite hunger strike to protest the frequent and unjustified restrictions on prisoners’ telephone use rights. In 2020 authorities arbitrarily extended her five-year prison sentence by two years, shortly before she was due to be released after serving the full term on “national security” charges and for insulting the supreme leader. The additional two-year sentence reportedly stemmed from Daemi singing a song in prison honoring executed prisoners.

CHRI reported in July that authorities had sentenced at least three human rights attorneys to unjust prison sentences. Branch four of the Revolutionary Court of Mashhad, Judge Mansouri presiding, sentenced Javad Alikordi, a defense attorney and law professor, to prison for “creating and managing a channel on the Telegram messaging application with the intention of overthrowing the state” (six and one-half years), “insulting the supreme leader” (one and one-half years), and “propaganda against the state” (eight months). Alikordi was imprisoned in Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad. He also received a two-year ban on teaching, a two-year ban on traveling abroad, and a two-year ban on membership in political and social groups.

On July 13, the Tehran Revolutionary Court reimposed on defense attorney Amirsalar Davoudi a sentence of 30 years and 111 lashes that had been revoked by the Supreme Court. Davoudi, also imprisoned for running a Telegram channel, was required to serve 15 years of the sentence. As of November 17, Davoudi was temporarily free on bail.

Mohammad Najafi, a defense attorney imprisoned in 2018 for speaking out about the death of a protester who died in police custody, was released on medical furlough in February, according to United for Iran. He was then ordered in July to serve 10 years behind bars on new charges of “propaganda against the state” and “calling for the boycott of elections and the removal of the supreme leader.”

According to CHRI, on August 14, judicial authorities in Tehran arrested six prominent lawyers and human rights activists – Arash Keykhosravi (lawyer), Mehdi Mahmoudian (civil activist), Mostafa Nili (lawyer), Leila Heydari (lawyer), Mohammad Reza Faghihi (lawyer), and Maryam Afrafaraz (civil activist) – and confiscated their cell phones and other personal belongings without a warrant. The six were preparing to file a lawsuit in accordance with Article 34 of the constitution against state officials for grossly mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic and negligence, “causing the death of thousands of Iranians.” Heydari was released the following day and Afrafaraz and Faghihi were subsequently released. They were pressured to drop the lawsuit and charged with national security crimes ostensibly relating to previous advocacy work. As of November 18, Keykhosravi, Nili, and Mahmoudian remained in prison.

According to IranWire, on September 1, Ministry of Intelligence agents rearrested journalist and workers’ rights activist Amirabbas Azarmvand on charges of “propaganda against the regime” and transported him to Ward 209 of Evin Prison. Azarmvand worked on economic and labor stories for SMT/Samt newspaper and was previously arrested in 2009, 2017, 2018, and on July 31 for his activism.

Human rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh was temporarily released several times during the year on medical furloughs but remained in Qarchak Prison as of year’s end. A revolutionary court sentenced Sotoudeh in 2019 to a cumulative 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for providing legal defense services to women charged with crimes for not wearing a hijab. Sotoudeh was previously arrested in 2010 and pardoned in 2013. In August 2020 she launched a 46-day hunger strike in Evin Prison to protest poor health conditions in prisons.

As of August 31, seven environmentalists affiliated with the now-defunct Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation – Niloufar Bayani, Sepideh Kashani, Sam Rajabi, Taher Ghadirian, Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Houman Jokar, and Morad Tahbaz – remained incarcerated in Evin Prison. According to HRW, in February 2020 a judiciary spokesperson announced a revolutionary court had upheld the prison sentences of eight environmentalists sentenced to between six and 10 years for various “national security” crimes. Authorities arrested the eight environmentalists, including U.S.-United Kingdom-Iranian national Morad Tahbaz, in 2018, and convicted them following an unfair trial in which a judge handed down the sentences in secret, did not allow the defendants access to defense lawyers, and ignored their claims of abuse in detention. The eighth environmentalist, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, was released on medical furlough in March 2020, and Iranian-Canadian national Kavous Sayed Emami died in detention in 2018, reportedly as a result of torture. Sayed Emami died only 18 days after his arrest, supporting the claim that he died as a result of torture. His family’s request for an autopsy was denied.

Hossein Sepanta’s request for parole was repeatedly denied, despite deteriorating health conditions and denial of medical care. He had been imprisoned since 2014 in Adelabad Prison in Shiraz on a 10-year sentence for charges of “propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security.”

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside of the Country

Extraterritorial Killing, Kidnapping, Forced Returns, or Other Violence or Threats of Violence: In July a New York federal court indicted four Iranian intelligence officials – Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani (aka Verezat Salimi and Haj Ali), Mahmoud Khazein, Kiya Sadeghi, and Omid Noori – for conspiracies related to kidnapping, sanctions violations, bank and wire fraud, and money laundering. The charges were connected to plotting since at least June 2020 to kidnap U.S.-based journalist and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad, to silence her criticism of the Iranian government. It was reported that, as part of the kidnapping plot, one of the intelligence officials researched methods of transporting Alinejad out of the United States for rendition to Iran, including placing her onto a military-style speedboat in New York City and transporting her by sea to Venezuela, whose government had friendly relations with Iran. The announcement stated these intelligence officials directed a “network” that also targeted victims in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States and had conducted similar surveillance of dissidents in those countries.

In August 2020 Reuters reported Ministry of Intelligence officials detained dual-national Jamshid Sharmahd, a member of the promonarchist group Tondar (Thunder) or Kingdom Assembly of Iran, which was based outside the country. While the government did not disclose how or where its officials detained Sharmahd, his son told Radio Free Europe that Sharmahd was likely captured in Dubai and taken to Iran. Sharmahd was accused of responsibility for a deadly 2008 bombing at a religious center in Shiraz and of plotting other attacks. A man who identified himself as Sharmahd appeared on Iranian television blindfolded and “admitted” to providing explosives to attackers in Shiraz. In April Amnesty International described his detention as “akin to an enforced disappearance” and stated he was being held “without trial and access to an independent lawyer of his choosing and consular assistance.”

In November 2020 al-Arabiya reported that Iranian-Swede Habib Asyud (also known as Habib Chaab), the former leader of a separatist group for the ethnic Arab minority in Khuzestan Province called the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA), was arrested in Turkey and later resurfaced in Iran under unclear circumstances. Neither Turkey nor Sweden officially commented on Asyud’s case. The Iranian government held ASMLA responsible for a terrorist attack in 2018 on a military parade that killed 25 individuals, including civilians.

In 2019 France-based Iranian activist Ruhollah Zam was abducted from Iraq. Iranian intelligence later took credit for the operation. Zam was executed in Iran in December 2020.

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: In July the technology news site ZD Net reported a series of phishing attacks from an Iranian hacker group known as both Charming Kitten and Phosphorus, allegedly affiliated with Iran’s intelligence services. The hackers posed as academics at a United Kingdom university in phishing attacks designed to steal the passwords of experts in Middle Eastern affairs from universities, think tanks, and media. In January 2020 the same group used phishing attacks to target journalists as well as political and human rights activists.

According to international human rights organizations, the Ministry of Intelligence arrested and intimidated BBC employees’ family members in the country, including the elderly. The government froze and seized assets of family members, demoted relatives employed by state-affiliated organizations, and confiscated passports. The government also compelled family members of journalists from other media outlets abroad to defame their relatives on state television. In June the BBC reported their legal representatives had urged the UN Human Rights Council to act on this issue. The same report noted that in a March 2020 internal survey of 102 BBC Persian staff, 71 claimed they had experienced harassment.

Misuse of International Law-enforcement Tools: There were credible reports that the government attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as reprisals against specific individuals located outside the country, such as entering “red notices” for dozens of U.S. officials in 2021, including former U.S. president Donald Trump, through Interpol.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens had limited ability to sue the government and were not able to file lawsuits through the courts against the government for civil or human rights violations.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The constitution allows the government to confiscate property acquired illicitly or in a manner not in conformity with Islamic law. The government appeared to target ethnic and religious minorities in invoking this provision.

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

The constitution states that “reputation, life, property, [and] dwelling[s]” are protected from trespass, except as “provided by law.” The government routinely infringed on this right. Security forces monitored the social activities of citizens; entered homes, offices, and places of worship; monitored telephone conversations and internet communications; and opened mail without court authorization. The government also routinely intimidated activists and government critics by detaining their family members as a form of reprisal.

Two brothers of Navid Afkari, executed in 2020 for the murder of a law enforcement officer during antigovernment protests in 2018 in Shiraz, remained in Adelabad Prison without access to their families or medical care. Vahid Afkari was arrested with his brother Navid and received a 25-year prison sentence for aiding him. In December 2020 according to HRANA, authorities arrested Afkari’s father and another brother, Habib, as they sought to clear a site in Fars Province to install a gravestone memorializing Navid Afkari’s death. Habib Afkari was sentenced to 27 years and three months in prison plus 74 lashes, and Vahid Afkari received a new sentence of 54 years and six months plus 74 lashes, both on vague “national security” charges. HRANA reported authorities tortured the brothers during interrogations and Vahid attempted suicide twice following “severe torture.” On August 23, HRANA reported that the Supreme Court rejected Vahid Afkari’s request for a retrial.

On April 28, according to Iran International, security forces assaulted and arrested Manouchehr Bakhtiari for a third time, on charges related to activism on behalf of his son, Pouya, killed by security forces in the city of Karaj during November 2019 demonstrations. They beat family members present at the time of the arrest, including two children. Authorities threw Bakhtiari in the trunk of their vehicle and took him to an undisclosed location. A revolutionary court subsequently sentenced him to six years in prison, two and one-half years in “internal exile,” and a two-year ban on leaving the country. The government previously detained 10 other members of Pouya Bakhtiari’s family, including his 11-year-old nephew and two of his elderly grandparents, to prevent them from holding a traditional memorial service for Bakhtiari 40 days after his death.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in July 2020 authorities arrested Farangis Mazloom, the mother of imprisoned photojournalist Soheil Arabi, and in October 2020 sentenced her to 18 months in prison on charges of “meeting and plotting against the national security” and antigovernment propaganda, presumably as a result of activism on behalf of her son. An appeals court confirmed the sentence in March. Arabi had been imprisoned since 2013 on blasphemy and other expression-related charges. According to Mazloom, in October 2020 Evin Prison authorities moved her son to solitary confinement. In January IHR published a letter from Arabi in which he claimed authorities broke his arm while transferring him between prisons and forced him to witness 200 executions in the 34 days he spent in “exile” at Rajai Shahr Prison.

No comprehensive data-protection laws exist that provide legal safeguards to protect users’ data from misuse. Online activity was heavily monitored by the state despite Article 37 of the nonbinding Citizens’ Rights Charter, which states that online privacy should be respected.

Because the operation of domestic messaging applications is based inside the country, content shared on these applications is more susceptible to government control and surveillance. Lack of data-protection and privacy laws also means there are no legal instruments providing protections against the misuse of applications data by authorities.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

Killings:

Syria: There continued to be reports the government, primarily through the IRGC, directly supported the Assad regime in Syria and recruited Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani Shia fighters, as well as Syrians, which contributed to prolonging the civil war and the deaths of thousands of Syrian civilians during the year (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Syria). According to IranWire, in August pro-Iranian militias reinforced Syrian regime forces undertaking operations against opposition groups in southwestern Syria with the aim of disrupting ceasefire negotiations in Daraa. Fighting had restarted when Syrian government forces imposed a blockade on the main highways into the city of Daraa, leading to shortages of medical supplies and food, to punish the inhabitants of the area for not supporting the widely contested May presidential election that gave Bashar al-Assad a fourth term. The NGO Syrian Network for Human Rights attributed 88 percent of civilian deaths in Syria since the beginning of the conflict to government forces and Iranian-sponsored militias.

Iraq: The government supported pro-Iran militias operating inside Iraq, including terrorist organization Kata’ib Hizballah, which reportedly was complicit in summary executions, forced disappearances, and other human rights abuses in Iraq (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Iraq).

Yemen: Since 2015 the government has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support to Houthi rebels in Yemen and proliferated weapons that exacerbated and prolonged the conflict there. Houthi rebels used Iranian funding and weapons to launch attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure both within Yemen and in Saudi Arabia (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Yemen and Saudi Arabia).

In February 2020 the Baha’i International Community stated that a Houthi court in Yemen was prosecuting a group of Baha’is under “directives from Iranian authorities.” The court continued to prosecute the case despite the Houthis’ release and deportation of six Baha’i prisoners in July 2020. Baha’is continued to face harassment in Yemen throughout the year because of their religious affiliation (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Yemen).

Child Soldiers: In a 2017 report, HRW asserted that the IRGC had recruited Afghan children as young as age 14 to serve in the Fatemiyoun Brigade, reportedly an Iranian-supported Afghan group fighting alongside government forces in Syria and noted that at least 14 Afghan children had been killed fighting in the Syrian conflict. In a July 2020 interview by IranWire, a Fatemiyoun Brigade member claimed he had joined the brigade in 2018 at age 16, and another brigade member said he had joined at age 15.

Iran has, since 2015, provided funding and weapons to the Houthis, who launched attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure both within the country and in Saudi Arabia. (See the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Saudi Arabia and Yemen.)

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Hackers linked to Iran continued cyberattacks against Syrian opposition groups to disrupt reporting on human rights violations. IRGC authorities constructed a new prison near the Zamla gas field in Raqqa, Syria, where most detainees were held on charges of being affiliated with ISIS or espionage, according to the news website Al-Monitor.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, except when words are deemed “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” According to the law, “anyone who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations shall be sentenced to three months to one year of imprisonment.”

The nonbinding Citizens’ Rights Charter acknowledges the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression. The charter grants citizens the right to seek, receive, publish, and communicate views and information, using any means of communication; however, it has not been implemented.

Freedom of Expression: The law provides for prosecution of persons accused of instigating crimes against the state or national security or “insulting” Islam. The government severely restricted freedom of speech and of the press and used the law to intimidate or prosecute persons who directly criticized the government or raised human rights problems, as well as to compel ordinary citizens to comply with the government’s moral code.

According to NGO reports, in February then president Rouhani signed additional provisions to Articles 499 and 500 of the penal code that could further restrict freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief and disproportionately impact members of religious and ethnic minority groups. According to the NGO Article 19, Article 499 bis prescribes a prison sentence or fine for “anyone who insults Iranian ethnicities, divine religions, or Islamic schools of thought recognized under the Constitution with the intent to cause violence or tensions in the society or with the knowledge that such [consequences] will follow.” Article 500 bis prescribes a prison sentence or fine for anyone who commits “any deviant educational or proselytizing activity that contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam.” Authorities did not permit individuals to criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion. Security forces and the judiciary punished those who violated these restrictions, as well as those who publicly criticized the president, cabinet, and parliament. In July UNSR Rehman expressed “deep concern” regarding authorities’ continued targeting of individuals for exercising their right to freedom of expression, including journalists, media workers, writers, and cultural workers. The government monitored meetings, movements, and communications of its citizens and often charged persons with crimes against national security and for insulting the regime, citing as evidence letters, emails, and other public and private communications. Authorities threatened individuals with arrest or punishment for the expression of ideas or images they viewed as violations of the legal moral code.

Several activists who signed letters calling on the supreme leader to step down in 2019 remained in prison during the year on charges of “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The government’s Press Supervisory Board issues press licenses, which it sometimes revoked in response to articles critical of the government or the regime, or did not renew for individuals facing criminal charges or who were incarcerated for political reasons. During the year the government banned, blocked, closed, or censored publications deemed critical of officials.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (Ershad) severely limited and controlled foreign media organizations’ ability to work in the country. The ministry required foreign correspondents to provide detailed travel plans and topics of proposed stories before granting visas, limited their ability to travel within the country, and forced them to work with a local “minder.”

Under the constitution, private broadcasting is illegal. The government maintained a monopoly over all television and radio broadcasting facilities through Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), a government agency. Radio and television programming, the principal source of news for many citizens, particularly in rural areas with limited internet access, reflected the government’s political and socioreligious ideology. The government jammed satellite broadcasts as signals entered the country, a continuous practice since at least 2003. Satellite dishes remained illegal but ubiquitous. Those who distributed, used, or repaired satellite dishes faced fines. Police, using warrants provided by the judiciary, conducted periodic campaigns to confiscate privately owned satellite dishes throughout the country.

Under the constitution the supreme leader appoints the head of the Audiovisual Policy Agency, a council composed of representatives of the president, judiciary, and parliament. Independent print media companies existed, but the government severely limited their operations.

Violence and Harassment: The government and its agents harassed, detained, abused, and prosecuted publishers, editors, and journalists, including those involved in internet-based media, for their reporting on issues considered sensitive by the government. The government also harassed many journalists’ families (see section 1.e., Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion). According to information provided by Journalism is not a Crime, an organization devoted to documenting freedom of the press in the country, at least 99 journalists or citizen-journalists were imprisoned as of November, a significant increase from 2020.

According to the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists, in late January security forces arrested the editor of the Kurdish-focused news outlet Aigrin Roj Weekly, Mahmoud Mahmoudi, in Sandaj and transferred him to an unknown location. Mahmoudi had signed an open letter in late January protesting the mass arrest of civil, student, and environmental activists in Kurdistan Province. According to the same article, on June 20, the editor in chief of the Tehran-based Nour-e Azadi magazine, Reza Taleshian Jelodarzadeh, posted on his social media accounts that he had been arrested and was being transferred to Greater Tehran Penitentiary to serve a three-year sentence. In 2019 Jelodarzadeh was charged with “disturbing public opinion” and “spreading antiestablishment propaganda” for his posts on social media.

On February 7, RSF reported that freelance journalist Fariborz Kalantari was sentenced to three years in prison and 74 lashes for using his Telegram channel to circulate articles about corruption charges brought against former vice president Eshaq Djahangiri’s brother, Mehdi Djahangiri.

On February 17, authorities arrested photojournalist Noushin Jafari in her Tehran home and took her to Qarchak Prison to begin serving a five-year prison sentence she received in 2019, on charges of “insult(ing) Islam’s sacred values” on her social media account.

RSF also reported that in March photojournalist and women’s rights activist Raha Askarizadeh was summoned to serve a two-year prison sentence and was banned from leaving the country for two years for her social media activity. Arrested in December 2019, she had been released on bail a month later pending trial.

According to Journalism is not a Crime, in September intelligence agents in the city of Paveh in Kermanshah Province detained two local journalists for publishing on local Telegram channels a story of the rape of a seven-year-old girl (see section 6, Child Abuse).

As of year’s end, poet, author, and activist Baktash Abtin had been being placed into a medically induced coma to treat his severe COVID-19 symptoms after months of medical neglect in Evin Prison. Another fellow author and member of the Iranian Writers Association Board, Reza Khandan Mahabadi, was also transferred from Evin Prison to a hospital in December for COVID-19 treatment. The 73-year-old editor of the monthly political magazine Iran-e-Farda, Keyvan Samimi Behbahani, and another author Keyvan Bajan, remained in prison at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law forbids government censorship but also prohibits dissemination of information the government considers “damaging.” The Ministry of Culture reviews all potential publications, including foreign printed materials, prior to their domestic release and may deem books unpublishable, remove text, or require word substitutions for terms deemed inappropriate.

During the year the government censored publications that criticized official actions or contradicted official views or versions of events. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) determined the main topics and types of news to be covered and distributed topics required for reporting directly to various media outlets, according to the IHRDC. “Damaging” information included discussions of women’s rights, the situation of minorities, criticism of government corruption, and references to mistreatment of detainees. Authorities also banned national and international media outlets from covering demonstrations in an attempt to censor information about protests and intimidate citizens from disseminating information about them. As noted above, officials routinely intimidated journalists into practicing self-censorship through arrests and imprisonments. Public officials often filed criminal complaints against newspapers, and the Press Supervisory Board, which regulates media content and publication, referred such complaints to the Press Court for further action, including possible closure, suspension, and fines. According to RSF, judicial offices or Ministry of Intelligence officers summoned at least 42 journalists due to their news coverage in the period preceding the presidential election in June. Government authorities issued a range of prohibitions to journalists, including making “negative or critical comments about the election” and criticizing then candidate Ebrahim Raisi.

On July 13, reformist newspaper Etemad fired three of its political correspondents. While some commentators suggested the terminations were politically motivated, the newspaper did not offer any public explanation for the firings. On September 7, IRIB news presenter Hamid Arun announced via Twitter that he had been notified by his employer of his termination after he tweeted his disappointment at the sacking of a distinguished professor of philosophy, Bijan Abdolkarimi, from Islamic Azad University.

According to Freedom House, during the November 2019 protests and subsequent internet shutdown, journalists and media were issued official guidelines from the Ministries of Intelligence and of Culture and Islamic Guidance on how to cover the protests. The ministries threatened journalists with criminal prosecution if they strayed from official guidance, which instructed that the protests not be made into “headline news” and should instead be portrayed as civil protests while minimizing the extent of violence.

As the outbreak of COVID-19 escalated, the head of the Cyber Police, Commander Vahid Majid, announced the establishment of a working group for “combatting online rumors” relating to the spread of the virus. In April 2020 a military spokesman stated authorities had arrested 3,600 individuals for spreading COVID-19 “rumors” online, with no clear guidance on what authorities considered a “rumor.”

Libel/Slander Laws: The government commonly used libel and slander laws or cited national security to suppress criticism. According to the law, if any publication contains personal insults, libel, false statements, or criticism, the insulted individual has the right to respond in the publication within one month. By law “insult” or “libel” against the government, government representatives, or foreign officials while they are in the country, as well as “the publication of lies” with the intent to alter but not overthrow the government, are considered political crimes and subject to certain trial and detention procedures (see section 1.e.). The government applied the law throughout the year, often citing statements made in various media outlets or on internet platforms that criticized the government in the arrest, prosecution, and sentencing of individuals for crimes against national security.

According to the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists, citing IranWire and Tasnim News Agency, on July 5, Judge Abbas Shaghaghi of Branch 6 of Tehran’s Media Court convicted Mizenaft managing director Hamid Hajipour, Naftema managing director Mehdi Ghadiri, and two others from Etelaterooz whose names were not released, after the three media outlets published stories on alleged corruption by Kamran Mehravar, a director at the Ministry of Oil. Mehravar reportedly filed a lawsuit against the three websites, all of which covered energy news. As of November there was no indication the court had sentenced the journalists; keeping open files is a tactic the government used to intimidate journalists.

National Security: As noted above, authorities routinely cited laws on protecting national security to arrest or punish critics of the government or to deter criticism of government policies or officials.

On June 17, authorities arrested poet and civil society activist Aram Fathi in a crackdown against dissidents initiated in connection with the presidential election. Fathi was charged with “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the regime with the intention of disrupting the elections.” According to family members, intelligence officers tortured Fathi with an electric shock device and punched and kicked him to extract a confession during his 11-day detention in Marivan. On July 28, he was released on bail, and as of September 9, he was waiting to appear before the revolutionary court in Marivan, according to Journalism is Not a Crime.

Internet Freedom

The Ministries of Culture and of Information and Communications Technology are the main regulatory bodies for content and internet systems, and they maintain monopoly control over internet traffic flowing into, in and out of the country. The Office of the Supreme Leader includes the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, charged with regulating content and systems. The government collected personally identifiable information in connection with citizens’ peaceful expression of political, religious, or ideological opinion or beliefs.

The law makes it illegal to use virtual private networks and distribute circumvention tools, and former minister of information and communications technology Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi was quoted in the press stating that using circumvention tools was illegal.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance must approve all internet service providers (ISPs). The government also requires all owners of websites and blogs in the country to register with the agencies that compose the Commission to Determine the Instances of Criminal Content (also referred to as the Committee in Charge of Determining Unauthorized Websites or Committee in Charge of Determining Offensive Content), the governmental organization that determines censoring criteria. These agencies include the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, Ministry of Intelligence, and Tehran Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology regulations prohibit households and cybercafes from having high-speed internet access.

The government restricted and disrupted access to the global internet, including fully blocking access in Khuzestan for almost two weeks during protests that initially broke out over water shortages in July, and for almost one week during nationwide protests in November 2019. Social media users reported internet outages across the country throughout the water shortage protests in July, which the independent internet watchdog NetBlocks corroborated and described as “consistent with a regional internet shutdown intended to control protests.”

Authorities blocked access to independent news sites and several social media and communication platforms deemed critical of the state and continued to monitor private online communications and censor online content. Individuals and groups practiced self-censorship online.

According to Freedom House, authorities employed a centralized filtering system that can effectively block a website within a few hours across the entire network. Private ISPs were forced either to use the bandwidth provided by the government or route traffic containing site-visit requests through government-issued filtering boxes developed by software companies within the country.

The government continued to implement the National Information Network (NIN, also known as SHOMA). As described by Freedom House, NIN enabled the government to reduce foreign internet connection speeds during politically sensitive periods, disconnect the national network from global internet content, and disrupt circumvention tools. According to Freedom House, several domestically hosted websites such as national online banking services, domestic messaging applications, and hospital networks remained online using the NIN infrastructure while global traffic was disconnected during the November 2019 protests.

Authorities restricted access to tens of thousands of websites, particularly those of international news and information services, the political opposition, ethnic and religious minority groups, and human rights organizations. They continued to block online messaging tools, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, although the government operated Twitter accounts under the names of Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Raisi, Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian, and other government-associated officials and entities, including after shutting down most of the country’s internet access during both the November 2019 protests and the July water shortage demonstrations. According to Freedom House, websites were blocked if they contradicted state doctrine regarding Islam, as well as government narratives on domestic or international politics. News stories that covered friction among political institutions were also frequently censored.

Government organizations, including the Basij Cyber Council, Cyber Police, and Cyber Army, which observers presumed to be controlled by the IRGC, monitored, identified, and countered alleged cyberthreats to national security. These organizations especially targeted citizens’ activities on officially banned social networking websites such as Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, and they reportedly harassed persons who criticized the government or raised sensitive social problems online.

The popular messaging application Telegram remained blocked during the year, although it continued to be accessed using circumvention tools.

In October a cyberattack against the Oil Ministry computer system blocked motorists’ ability to use their specialized smart cards to purchase subsidized fuel at 4,300 gas stations for several days. No group claimed responsibility for the attack; however, multiple officials blamed anti-Iranian forces from “abroad” for carrying it out.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government significantly restricted academic freedom and the independence of higher education institutions. Authorities systematically targeted university campuses to suppress social and political activism by banning independent student organizations, imprisoning student activists, removing faculty, preventing students from enrolling or continuing their education because of their political or religious affiliation or activism, and restricting social sciences and humanities curricula.

Authorities barred Baha’i students from higher education and harassed those who studied through the unrecognized online university of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education. According to the Baha’i International Community, on March 17, authorities expelled two Baha’i students midsemester from the University of Applied Science and Technology in Shiraz. The university president reportedly showed the students a letter from the Ministry of Education that requested the expulsion of nine Baha’i students from the Universities of Applied Science and Technology across the country. Three other students were expelled from universities midsemester under similar circumstances.

The government maintained control over cinema, music, theater, and art exhibits and censored those productions deemed to transgress Islamic values. The government censored or banned films deemed to promote secularism and those containing what it deemed as non-Islamic ideas concerning women’s rights, unethical behavior, drug abuse, violence, or alcoholism.

According to the IHRDC, the nine-member film review council of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, consisting of clerics, former directors, former parliamentarians, and academics, must approve the content of every film before production and again before screening. Films may be barred arbitrarily from screening even if all the appropriate permits were received in advance.

In December 2020 film authorities sentenced director Reza Mihandoust to six years in prison for “membership in a group seeking to overthrow the government” and levied against him an additional six-month prison term for “spreading antigovernment propaganda.” According to a relative of Mihandoust, these charges were linked to a documentary he directed in 2009 about women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad, as well as his participation in the nationwide protests in November 2019. Despite being on temporary release, Mihandoust was reportedly unable to find work due to the national security charges he faces.

Officials continued to discourage teaching music in schools. Authorities considered heavy metal and foreign music religiously offensive, and police continued to repress underground concerts and arrest musicians and music distributors. The Ministry of Culture must officially approve song lyrics, music, and album covers to ensure they comply with the country’s moral values, although many underground musicians released albums without seeking such permission.

In September musician Mehdi Rajabian told BBC News he was prepared to face prison for releasing a new album he recorded “undercover in his basement” that included songs inspired by his abuse in Evin Prison, as well including female singers, despite the ban on them. Rajabian was previously arrested on “immorality” charges at least three times for his work but remained free as of December.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government severely restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government’s failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedoms of assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution permits assemblies and marches of unarmed persons, “provided they do not violate the principles of Islam.” To prevent activities it considered antiregime, the government restricted this right and closely monitored gatherings such as public entertainment and lectures, student and women’s meetings and protests, meetings and worship services of minority religious groups, labor protests, online gatherings and networking, funeral processions, and Friday prayer gatherings.

According to activists, the government arbitrarily applied rules governing permits to assemble, since proregime groups rarely experienced difficulties, while groups viewed as critical of the regime experienced harassment regardless of whether authorities issued a permit.

According to HRANA, security forces detained 361 persons, and at least six individuals died and many were wounded during the two-week-long protests in Khuzestan and other parts of the country in mid-July over water shortages (see section 1.a.). Authorities responded with lethal force and used targeted internet shutdowns in areas of protests to prevent the flow of information. Similarly, after tolerating weeks of peaceful water protests initiated by farmers suffering from droughts and water shortages in Isfahan, security forces suppressed demonstrations on November 25 and 26 by firing tear gas and birdshot rounds, shutting down the internet and, according to a police commander in Isfahan, Hasan Karami, arresting 67 protesters. According to HRANA, as of November 29, authorities had arrested at least 214 individuals in Isfahan, including 13 minors. IHR reported that several of the detainees were injured by pellet guns and beatings and transferred to Isfahan Central Prison (also called Dastgerd Prison).

An Iranian military court began a hearing on November 21 to investigate the downing of Ukrainian International Airlines flight 752, which killed 176 persons in 2020, with reportedly 10 military personnel of various ranks and family members of the deceased present. The government undertook no credible investigations into the excessive use of force in January 2020 against protesters in several cities who had gathered to express discontent with the handling of the investigation into the plane’s downing nor into security officials’ harassment of victims’ families, as reported by Human Rights Watch in May. The government did not investigate the killing of at least 304 protesters by security forces in November 2019 (see section 1.a.).

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the establishment of political parties, professional and political associations, and Islamic and recognized religious minority organizations, as long as such groups do not violate the principles of freedom, sovereignty, national unity, or Islamic criteria, or question Islam as the basis of the country’s system of government. The government limited the freedom of association through threats, intimidation, the imposition of arbitrary requirements on organizations, and the arrests of group leaders and members (see section 7.a., Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining). The government continued to broaden arbitrarily the areas of civil society work it deemed unacceptable, to include conservation and environmental efforts (see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest).

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions, particularly concerning migrants and women.

In-country Movement: Judicial sentences sometimes included internal exile after release from prison, which prevented individuals from traveling to certain provinces. Women often required the supervision of a male guardian or chaperone to travel and faced official and societal harassment for traveling alone.

Foreign Travel: The government required exit permits for foreign travel for all citizens. Citizens who were educated at government expense or received scholarships had either to repay the scholarship or receive a temporary permit to exit the country. The government restricted the foreign travel of some religious leaders, members of religious minorities, and scientists in sensitive fields.

Numerous journalists, academics, opposition politicians, human and women’s rights activists, and artists remained subject to foreign travel bans and had their passports confiscated during the year. Married women were not allowed to travel outside the country without prior permission from their husbands.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. According to UNHCR, the government recognized 780,000 Afghans in the country under a system known as Amayesh, through which authorities provide refugees with cards identifying them as de facto refugees. The cards enable refugees to access basic services, facilitate the issuance of work permits, and serve as a safeguard against arrest and deportation. Amayesh cardholders must obtain permission for any travel outside their province of registration. In late July 2020 the Amayesh reregistration exercise started and expanded the eligibility criteria for Amayesh card renewal to include those who missed the four previous rounds. Undocumented spouses and family members of Amayesh cardholders were reportedly also able to enroll. NGO sources reported Amayesh cards, which are valid only for one year, were increasingly difficult to renew and prohibitively expensive for refugees to maintain, due to increased annual renewal fees. In addition to registered refugees, the government hosted approximately 586,000 Afghans who hold Afghan passports and Iranian visas and an estimated 2.6 million undocumented Afghans. The country also recognized 20,000 Iraqi refugees under a similar system known as Hoviat.

After the Taliban took control of the Afghan government in August, official border crossings between Afghanistan and Iran were closed on August 16 to persons without valid passports and Iranian visas, and the government does not allow the entry of undocumented persons. UNHCR issued a nonreturn advisory for Afghanistan on August 16 and continued to call on countries to keep their borders open to Afghans seeking international protection. Most Afghans fleeing to Iran entered irregularly through unofficial border crossings and with the help of smugglers. UNHCR reported an increase in the number of Afghans in need of international protection, and 27,816 newly arrived Afghans approached UNHCR offices in Iran in during the year. UNHCR believed the total number of new arrivals to be much higher. According to preliminary estimates by the government, up to 500,000 Afghans arrived during the year.

In August UNHCR expressed concern regarding an incident in which 200 Afghan refugees fled across the border from Nimruz Province into Iran over a single weekend. On August 9, semiofficial news agency Fars reported Iran’s refusal to hand over Afghan refugees to the Taliban following the group’s capture of the “Milak” border terminal in the Sistan and Baluchistan Province. According to Fars, Iran’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian and UN Special Envoy Jean Arnault met that same day, and Arnault reportedly praised Iran’s “constructive role” towards Afghanistan. At the end of a three-day visit to Iran in December, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi urged the international community to scale up its support to the government and people of Iran, who were receiving Afghans fleeing a deteriorating situation in their country.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status to qualified applicants. While the government reportedly has a system for providing protection to refugees, UNHCR did not have information regarding how the country made asylum determinations. According to HRW the government blocked many Afghans from registering to obtain refugee status.

Afghans not registered under the Amayesh system who had migrated during past decades of conflict in their home country continued to be denied access to an asylum system or access to registering with UNHCR as refugees. NGOs reported many of these displaced asylum seekers believed they were pressured to leave the country but could not return to Afghanistan because of the security situation in their home provinces.

Refoulement: According to activist groups and NGOs, authorities routinely arrested Afghans without Amayesh cards and sometimes threatened them with deportation. From the beginning of the year to November 28, according to the International Organization for Migration, 1,150,842 undocumented Afghans returned to Afghanistan, with some claiming they were pressured to leave or left due to abuse by police or state authorities. As of December the government continued to return Afghans who were apprehended while trying to enter Iran, despite advocacy by UNHCR to provide asylum to those fleeing conflict. In December UNHCR estimated the government deported 65 percent of all newly arriving Afghan asylum seekers.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: HRW and other groups reported the government continued its mistreatment of many Afghans, including through physical abuse by security forces, deportations, forced recruitment to fight in Syria, detention in unsanitary and inhuman conditions, forced payment for transportation to and accommodation in deportation camps, forced labor, forced separation from families, restricted movement within the country, and restricted access to education or jobs.

In May 2020 Iranian border guards reportedly forced a group of 57 Afghan migrant workers they had detained entering the country into a fast-flowing river near Zulfiqar at gunpoint. According to a Reuters report sourced to Afghan lawmakers investigating the incident, at least 45 of the men drowned. There was no information regarding the status of a joint investigation into the incident by the Iranian and Afghan governments.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees faced certain restrictions on in-country movement and faced restrictions from entering certain provinces, according to UNHCR. They could apply for laissez-passer documents allowing them to move among those provinces where Afghans were permitted to travel.

Employment: Only refugees with government-issued work permits were able to work.

Access to Basic Services: Amayesh cardholders had access to education and health care, including vaccinations, prenatal care, maternal and child health care, and family planning from the Ministry of Health. All registered refugees may enroll in a basic health insurance package similar to the package afforded to citizens, which covered hospitalization and paraclinical services (medicine, doctor’s visits, radiology, etc.). During the year UNHCR covered the insurance premium for 120,000 of the most vulnerable refugees, including refugees who suffered from special diseases and their families. The remaining refugee population may enroll in health insurance by paying the premium themselves during four enrollment windows throughout the year.

The government claimed to grant Afghan children access to schools. During the 2020-21 academic year, more than 470,000 Afghan children were enrolled in primary and secondary schools, including 138,000 undocumented Afghan children. According to media reports, however, Afghans continued to have difficulty gaining access to education.

Most provinces’ residency limitations on refugees effectively denied them access to public services, such as public housing, in the restricted areas of those provinces.

g. Stateless Persons

There were no accurate numbers on how many stateless persons resided in the country. Persons without birth registration, identity documents, or refugee identification were at a heightened risk of statelessness. They were subjected to inconsistent government policies and relied on charities, principally domestic, to obtain medical care and schooling. Authorities did not issue formal government support or travel documents to stateless persons.

In November 2020 the government began implementing a law passed in 2019 granting Iranian citizenship to the children of Iranian women married to foreign men (see section 6, Children). Previously, female citizens married to foreign men were not able to transmit citizenship to their children, unlike male citizens, whose children and spouses receive citizenship automatically. As a result of this disparity, between 400,000 and one million children of the more than 150,000 Iranian women married to foreign men lacked Iranian nationality, according to media reports. Under the new law, the children of Iranian women and foreign men qualify for citizenship, although it is not automatic; the mother must apply for them. Children who turn 18 may apply for nationality themselves, even if their mother is deceased. Foreign men married to Iranian women may receive legal residency.

Human rights activists noted concern that the amended law requires the Ministry of Intelligence and the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization to certify that no “security problem” exists before approving citizenship for these specific applications, and this vaguely defined security provision could be used arbitrarily to disqualify applicants if they or their parents are seen as critical of the government.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose the president, as well as members of the Assembly of Experts and parliament, provided all have been vetted and approved by the Guardian Council. Elections are based on universal suffrage. Candidate vetting conducted by unelected bodies, however, abridged this right in all instances. Reported government constraints on freedom of expression and media; peaceful assembly; association; and the ability freely to seek, receive, and impart information and campaign also limited citizens’ right to choose freely their representatives in elections.

The Assembly of Experts, which is composed of 86 popularly elected clerics who serve eight-year terms, elects the supreme leader, who acts as the de facto head of state and may be removed only by a vote of the assembly. The Guardian Council vets and qualifies candidates for all Assembly of Experts, presidential, and parliamentary elections, based on criteria that include candidates’ allegiance to the state and adherence to Shia Islam. The council consists of six clerics appointed by the supreme leader and six jurists nominated by the head of the judiciary (who is appointed by the supreme leader) and approved by parliament.

Observers noted that the supreme leader’s public commentary on state policy exerted significant influence over the actions of elected officials.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential elections held on June 18 fell short of international standards for free and fair elections, primarily because of the Guardian Council’s controlling role in the political process, including determining which individuals could run for office and, in certain instances, arbitrarily removing winning candidates. Overwhelmingly positive media coverage of a single candidate and the reformist political leaders’ unwillingness to coalesce behind a challenger also contributed to the election outcome. The election turnout of 48.8 percent was the lowest in the history of the Islamic Republic, breaking the 1993 election record low of 50.66 percent. Former judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, widely asserted to be the supreme leader’s choice for his eventual successor, won the election and took office on August 3. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Guardian Council disqualified 7,296 candidates in the period preceding the election. The council barred all reformist candidates from running, as well as the conservative former parliament speaker Ali Larijani, who was widely considered the strongest challenger to hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Domestic and foreign media reports and social media users noted mostly unspecified or ambiguous violations on election day. One incident acknowledged by officials occurred when some electronic voting machines in Tehran went offline for brief periods of time, but those officials stated backup analog vote counting procedures prevented significant voting disruptions.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for the formation of political parties, but the Interior Ministry granted licenses only to parties deemed to adhere to the “governance of the jurist” system of government embodied in the constitution. Registered political organizations that adhered to the system generally operated without restriction, but most were small, focused around an individual, and without nationwide membership. Members of political parties and persons with any political affiliation that the regime deemed unacceptable faced harassment and sometimes violence and imprisonment. The government maintained bans on several opposition organizations and political parties.  Security officials continued to harass, intimidate, and arrest members of the political opposition and some reformists (see section 1.e.).

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: Women faced significant legal, religious, and cultural barriers to political participation. According to the Guardian Council’s interpretation, the constitution bars women, as well as persons of foreign origin, from serving as supreme leader or president; as members of the Assembly of Experts, Guardian Council, or Expediency Council; and as certain types of judges.

In an October 2020 press conference, former guardian council spokesperson Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei claimed there was no prohibition on women running for president in the 2021 election. Nonetheless, the Guardian Council disqualified all 40 women who registered as candidates for the 2021 presidential election.

All cabinet-level ministers were men. A limited number of women held senior government positions, including that of vice president for women and family affairs. Women made up approximately 6 percent of parliament.

In December 2020 Fars News, an agency managed by the IRGC, reported that Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced former vice president for women and family affairs Shahindokht Molaverdi to 30 months in prison. Fars stated the sentence included two years on charges of divulging “classified information and documents with the intent of disrupting national security” and six months for “propaganda against the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Observers noted Molaverdi had over the years defended the right of women to attend sporting events in stadiums, criticized the marriage of girls younger than age 15, and been involved in other high-profile issues. Fars reported Branch 2 of Tehran’s Criminal Court also sentenced Molaverdi for encouraging “corruption, prostitution, and sexual deviance.” Similar charges were brought in the past against individuals flouting mandatory hijab laws or encouraging others to do so. Molaverdi responded that she would appeal the verdicts; there was no update of her case by year’s end.

In early September President Raisi appointed Ansieh Khazali as the vice president for women and family affairs. Unlike Molaverdi, Khazali was against UNESCO’s 2030 initiative that includes eliminating gender discrimination from education and said she supported child marriage.

Practitioners of a religion other than Shia Islam are barred from serving as supreme leader or president, as well as from being a member in the Assembly of Experts, Guardian Council, or Expediency Council. There are two seats reserved in parliament for Armenian Christians, one for Assyrian and Chaldean Christians together, one for Jews, and one for Zoroastrians. There were no non-Muslims in the cabinet or on the Supreme Court. The law allows constitutionally recognized religious minorities to run in local elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government implemented the law arbitrarily, sometimes pursuing apparently legitimate corruption cases against officials, while at other times bringing politically motivated charges against regime critics or political opponents. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Many expected bribes for providing routine services or received bonuses outside their regular work, and individuals routinely bribed officials to obtain permits for otherwise illegal construction.

Endowed religious charitable foundations (bonyads) accounted for one-quarter to one-third of the country’s economy, according to some experts. Government insiders, including members of the military and clergy, ran these tax-exempt organizations, which are defined under law as charities. Members of the political opposition and international corruption watchdog organizations frequently accused bonyads of corruption. Bonyads received benefits from the government, but no government agency is required to approve their budgets publicly.

Numerous companies and subsidiaries affiliated with the IRGC engaged in trade and business activities, sometimes illicitly, including in the telecommunications, mining, and construction sectors. Other IRGC entities reportedly engaged in smuggling pharmaceutical products, narcotics, and raw materials.

The domestic and international press reported that individuals with strong government connections had access to foreign currency at preferential exchange rates, allowing them to exploit a gap between the country’s black market and official exchange rates.

Corruption: In January a court sentenced Mahdi Jahangiri, the brother of Eshaq Jahangiri, who served as a vice president during the Rouhani administration, to two years in prison on corruption charges. Jahangiri was arrested in 2017 for financial crimes, including “professional currency smuggling.”

See section 2.a., Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media; and Violence and Harassment for examples of journalists persecuted for reporting on corruption.

In June 2020 media reported Romanian authorities arrested Iranian judge Gholamreza Mansouri at Iran’s request after Mansouri and several other judges in Iran were accused of accepting more than 21 billion tomans ($500,000) in bribes. Several days prior, RSF filed an official complaint with German federal judicial authorities highlighting Mansouri’s role in suppressing and jailing dozens of Iranian journalists and urging his arrest, in the belief that Mansouri was present in Germany. In June 2020 Mansouri was found dead after an apparent fall from the sixth story of the hotel where he was staying while awaiting extradition to Iran under Romanian supervision. There were no reports of further investigation into his death during the year.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

The government restricted the operations of, and did not cooperate with, local or international NGOs investigating alleged violations of human rights. The government restricted the work of domestic activists and often responded to their inquiries and reports with harassment, arrests, online hacking, and monitoring of individual activists and organization workplaces.

By law NGOs must register with the Ministry of Interior and apply for permission to receive foreign grants. Independent human rights groups and other NGOs faced harassment because of their activism, as well as the threat of closure by government officials, following prolonged and often arbitrary delays in obtaining official registration.

During the year the government prevented some human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, and scholars from traveling abroad. Human rights activists reported intimidating telephone calls, threats of blackmail, online hacking attempts, and property damage from unidentified law enforcement and government officials. The government summoned activists repeatedly for questioning and confiscated personal belongings such as mobile phones, laptops, and passports. Government officials sometimes harassed and arrested family members of human rights activists. Courts routinely suspended sentences of convicted human rights activists, leaving open the option for authorities to arrest or imprison individuals arbitrarily at any time on the previous charges.

In his July report, UNSR Rehman stated he remained concerned regarding the continued intimidation and imprisonment of human rights defenders and lawyers. He noted forcible prison transfers and lack of medical care appeared to be used as reprisals against activists for starting peaceful protests inside prisons or undertaking hunger strikes (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

According to NGOs, including HRW and Amnesty International, the government’s human rights record and its level of cooperation with international rights institutions remained poor. The government continued to deny requests from international human rights NGOs to establish offices in or conduct regular investigative visits to the country. The most recent visit of an international human rights NGO was by Amnesty International in 2004 as part of the EU’s human rights dialogue with the country.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: During the year the government continued to deny repeated requests by the UNSR on the situation of human rights in Iran to visit the country.

On November 17, for the ninth consecutive year, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution expressing serious concern regarding the country’s continuing human rights violations, including death sentences imposed following unfair trials and reports of forced confessions obtained through torture, while underlining the disproportionate application of the death penalty to individuals belonging to minority groups, such as the Kurds and Baluch, who were particularly targeted for alleged involvement in political activities. The resolution repeated its call for the country to cooperate with UN special mechanisms, citing the government’s failure to approve repeated requests from UN thematic special procedures mandate holders to visit the country. The most recent visit by a UN human rights agency to the country was the 2005 survey of the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing. Miloon Kothari. The resolution also drew attention to the government’s continued failure to allow UNSR Rehman into the country to investigate human rights abuses despite repeated requests, in view of the absence of independent or transparent investigations into the regime’s killings of at least 304 protesters in November 2019. It further highlighted the government’s long-standing efforts to target Iranians, dual nationals, and foreign citizens outside its borders via harassment, killing, and abduction to Iran, where some faced trial and execution.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The High Council for Human Rights is part of the judicial branch of the government and lacks independence. As of October 8, the Raisi administration had not named a successor to former council head Ali Bagheri-Kani. The council continued to defend the imprisonment of high-profile human rights defenders and political opposition leaders, and it assured families they should not be concerned for the “security, well-being, comfort, and vitality” of their loved ones in prison, according to IRNA. In 2020 Bagheri-Kani continued to call for an end to the position of the UNSR for Iran and asserted that the country’s criteria for human rights was different because of the “religious lifestyle” of its citizens. There was no information available on whether the council challenged any laws or court rulings during the year.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and subject to strict penalties, including death, but it remained a problem. The law considers sex within marriage consensual by definition and, therefore, does not address spousal rape, including in cases of forced marriage. Most rape victims likely did not report the crime because they feared official retaliation or punishment for having been raped, including charges of indecency, immoral behavior, or adultery, which carries the death penalty. Rape victims also feared societal reprisal or ostracism. There were reports that approximately 80 percent of rape cases went unreported.

For a conviction of rape, the law requires four Muslim men or a combination of three men and two women or two men and four women, to have witnessed a rape. A woman or man found making a false accusation of rape is subject to 80 lashes.

The law does not prohibit domestic violence. Authorities considered spousal and intrafamilial abuse a private matter and seldom discussed it publicly.

An April 2020 IRNA article noted a “dramatic increase” in domestic violence-related telephone calls to public social welfare hotlines. The State Welfare Organization sent a public text message the same day highlighting the existence of the hotlines. Calls to the hotlines reportedly doubled after the text message was sent, according to a government official. In a call with an expatriate media outlet, women’s rights activist Shahla Entesari also reported higher rates of domestic violence during pandemic-related lockdowns in the country.

In previous years assailants conducted “acid attacks” in which they threw acid capable of severe disfiguration at women perceived to have violated various “morality” laws or practices. Although the Guardian Council reportedly approved a law increasing sentences for the perpetrators of these attacks, the government instead continued to prosecute individual activists seeking stronger government accountability for the attacks. In October 2020 a court sentenced Aliyeh Motalebzadeh to two years in prison for “conspiracy against state security” for advocating for women who were victims of acid attacks. Motalebzadeh was a member of the “One Million Signatures” campaign to change discriminatory laws against women. Also in October 2020 authorities arrested Negar Masoudi for holding a photograph exhibition featuring victims of acid attacks and for advocating to restrict the sale of acid.

According to Iran International, on August 8, a man in the city of Orumiyeh allegedly used his motor vehicle to run over two women, seriously injuring one of the women, after accusing them of “bad hijab,” interpreted by some as not appropriately following the Islamic dress code.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law criminalizes FGM/C and states, “The cutting or removing of the two sides of female genitalia leads to diya equal to half the full amount of diya for the woman’s life.”

Little recent data were available on the practice inside the country, although older data and media reports suggested it was most prevalent in Hormozgan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah, and West Azerbaijan Provinces and was inflicted on girls ages five through eight, primarily in Shafi’i Sunni communities.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were reports of killings motivated by “honor” or other harmful traditional practices during the year. There are no official statistics kept in the country concerning honor killings, but according to academic articles and university thesis estimates cited by the daily newspaper Ebtekar, every year between 375 and 450 such killings occur, in which mostly women are killed by their male relatives – including their husbands, fathers, and brothers – in the name of preserving the family’s “honor.”

The law reduces punitive measures for fathers and other family members who are convicted of murder or physically harming children in domestic violence or “honor killings.” If a man is found guilty of murdering his daughter, the punishment is between three and 10 years in prison rather than the normal death sentence or payment of diyeh for homicide cases, because fathers (but not mothers) are considered legal guardians and are exempt from capital punishment for murdering their children.

In June 2020 Reza Ashrafi reportedly beheaded his 14-year-old daughter, Romina Ashrafi, with a farming sickle because she had “run off” with her 29-year-old Sunni Muslim boyfriend. In June 2020, in response to a national outcry over Ashrafi’s killing, the Guardian Council approved a law making it a crime to abuse emotionally or physically or abandon a child, but it left unchanged the maximum sentence of 10 years for a father convicted of murdering his daughter. Observers noted the Guardian Council had rejected three previous iterations of the bill. In August 2020 a court reportedly convicted and sentenced Ashrafi’s father to nine years in prison, sparking further outrage at the leniency of the sentence. Ashrafi’s mother said she planned to appeal the sentence to seek a stricter penalty, but there were no reported updates to the case.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits physical contact between unrelated men and women. There were no reliable data on the extent of sexual harassment, but women’s and human rights observers reported that sexual harassment was the norm in many workplaces. In April multiple women, including model and actress Boshra Dastournezhad, came forward on social media sites such as Clubhouse and Instagram to accuse singer and songwriter Mohsen Namjoo of sexual harassment and sexual assault. They circulated a petition calling on media outlets to ban his presence until the allegations were investigated. According to IranWire, on April 18, Namjoo apparently apologized for the sexual harassment accusations but denied other sexual assault allegations via his YouTube channel. The incident fueled online debate regarding victims’ accounts of sexual harassment and assault.

According to IranWire, on October 12, Tehran police chief Hossein Rahimi announced that bookstore owner Keyvan Emamverdi confessed to raping 300 women after 30 women filed legal complaints against him. Police stated he would be charged with “corruption on earth,” a capital offense. On November 15, Emamverdi’s trial began before a revolutionary court in Tehran, where he reportedly denied all charges.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

It is illegal for a single woman to access contraception, although most single women had access to contraception, particularly in urban areas. Government health care previously included full free access to contraception and family planning for married couples. In 2012 on the supreme leader’s orders, the government ended the Family and Population Planning Program. On November 16, President Raisi signed into law the “rejuvenation of the population and support of the family” bill, which directs authorities to prioritize population growth. These policies include measures such as outlawing voluntary sterilization and banning the free distribution of contraceptives by the public health-care system. The law also stipulates that content on family planning in university textbooks should be replaced with materials on an “Islamic-Iranian lifestyle,” with a framework drawn up in cooperation with religious seminaries and the Islamic Propaganda Organization. In January according to a report by Iran International, the Ministry of Health banned health centers in nomadic tribal areas from providing contraceptives to women. On November 16, UN human rights experts “urge[d] the Government to immediately repeal [the law] and to take measures to end the criminalization of abortion and to ensure that all women can access all necessary health services, including sexual and reproductive care, in a manner that is safe, affordable, and consistent with their human rights.”

The government did not provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was not available as part of clinical management of rape.

According to human rights organizations, an increase in child marriage – due in part to a government “marriage loan” program providing financial relief to poor families who want to marry off their girls – was likely adversely affecting the quality of health care for such girls and increasing maternal mortality rates. The practice of female genital mutilation, which primarily occurs on girls ages five through eight in Shafi’i Sunni communities, was associated reportedly with increased obstetric problems and may increase maternal mortality rates.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal protection for women under the law in conformity with its interpretation of Islam. The government did not enforce the law, and provisions in the law, particularly sections dealing with family and property law, discriminate against women. Judicial harassment, intimidation, detention, and smear campaigns significantly hindered the ability of civil society organizations to fight for and protect women’s rights.

In June 2020 the president issued a decree enacting into law an amendment to the country’s civil code that allows Iranian women married to foreign men to transmit citizenship to their children (see section 2.g, Stateless Persons and section 6, Children). The government does not recognize marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, irrespective of their citizenship. The law states that a virgin woman or girl wishing to wed needs the consent of her father or grandfather or the court’s permission.

The law permits a man to have as many as four wives and an unlimited number of temporary wives (sigheh), based on a Shia custom under which couples may enter a limited-time civil and religious contract that outlines the union’s conditions. The law does not grant women equal rights to multiple husbands.

A woman has the right to divorce if her husband signs a contract granting that right; cannot provide for his family; has violated the terms of their marriage contract; or is a drug addict, insane, or impotent. A husband is not required to cite a reason for divorcing his wife. The law recognizes a divorced woman’s right to part of shared property and to alimony. These laws were not always enforced.

The law provides divorced women preference in custody for children up to age seven, but fathers maintain legal guardianship rights over the child and must agree on many legal aspects of the child’s life (such as issuing travel documents, enrolling in school, or filing a police report). After the child reaches age seven, the father is granted custody unless he is proven unfit to care for the child.

Women sometimes received disproportionate punishment for crimes such as adultery, including death sentences. Islamic law retains provisions that equate a woman’s testimony in a court of law to one-half that of a man’s and value a woman’s life as one-half that of a man’s life. By law the diyeh paid in the death of a woman is one-half the amount paid in the death of a man, except for car accident insurance payments. According to a CHRI report, in 2019 the government declared equality between men and women in the payment of blood money. Per the Supreme Court ruling, the amount paid for the intentional or unintentional physical harm to a woman remains one-half the blood money paid for harm to a man, but the remaining difference would be paid from a publicly funded trust.

Women have access to primary and advanced education. Quotas and other restrictions nonetheless limited women’s admissions to certain fields and degree programs.

The Statistical Center of Iran reported that the overall unemployment rate in the second quarter of the year was 8.8 percent. Unemployment of women in the country was twice as high as it was of men. Overall female participation in the job market was 18.9 percent, according to the Global Gender Gap 2021 report. Women reportedly earned significantly less than men for the same work.

Women continued to face discrimination in home and property ownership, as well as in access to financing. In cases of inheritance, male heirs receive twice the inheritance of their female counterparts. The government enforced gender segregation in many public spaces. Women must ride in a reserved section on public buses and enter some public buildings, universities, and airports through separate entrances.

The law provides that a woman who appears in public without appropriate attire, such as a cloth scarf over the head (hijab) and a long jacket (manteau), or a large full-length cloth covering (chador), may be sentenced to flogging and fined. Absent a clear legal definition of “appropriate attire” or of the related punishment, women (and men) were subjected to the opinions of various disciplinary and security force members, police, and judges.

Authorities continued to arrest women for violating dress requirements, and courts applied harsh sentences. In February an appeals court upheld sentences of 16 to 23 years for Yasaman Aryani, her mother Monireh Arabshahi, and Mojgan Keshavarz for “spreading propaganda against the system” and “inciting corruption and prostitution.” They were arrested after posting a video for International Women’s Day in 2019 during which they walked without headscarves through a Tehran metro train, handing flowers to female passengers. As of September 19, all three women remained in prison.

In May 2020 the lawyer for imprisoned activist Saba Kord Afshari said on Twitter that judicial authorities had reinstated a seven and one-half-year prison sentence for “corruption and prostitution” against his client without explanation. An appeals court had previously dropped that charge against Kord Afshari, who was also found guilty of “gathering and conspiring” and “spreading propaganda” related to videos she posted to social media in which she walked without a hijab and stated her opposition to compulsory dress requirements. Kord Afshari’s cumulative sentence reverted to 15 years with the reinstated portion of the sentence. In February 2020 Kord Afshari’s mother, Raheleh Ahmadi, began serving a two-year sentence for “national security” crimes related to advocacy on behalf of her daughter. Human rights groups reported both mother and daughter were denied requested medical treatment and furlough during the year. Kord Afshari was “exiled” to Ward 6 of Qarchak Prison in Varamin in late January, where reportedly authorities beat her and held her alongside violent criminals. She ended her hunger strike in May. Ahmadi reportedly suffered spinal cord damage in Evin Prison upon hearing of her daughter’s transfer. As of September 19, both women remained in prison.

In a February 2020 letter to Iranian authorities, the world soccer governing body International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) insisted women be allowed to attend all soccer matches in larger numbers than the government previously permitted. In October authorities reversed their earlier announcement that 10,000 vaccinated spectators – including women – could watch Iran play in a FIFA qualifying match and allowed no spectators into the stadium.

As noted by the former UNSR and other organizations, female athletes were traditionally barred from participating in international tournaments, either by the country’s sport agencies or by their husbands. There were, however, cases throughout the year of female athletes being permitted to travel internationally to compete.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution grants equal rights to all ethnic minorities, allowing minority languages to be used in media. The law grants the right of citizens to learn, use, and teach their own languages and dialects. Nonetheless, the government discriminated against minorities.

Human rights organizations observed that the government’s application of the death penalty disproportionately affected ethnic minorities (see section 1.a.). Authorities reportedly subjected members of minority ethnicities and religious groups in pretrial detention repeatedly to more severe physical punishment, including torture, than other prisoners, regardless of the type of crime of which they were accused. These ethnic minority groups reported political and socioeconomic discrimination, particularly in their access to economic aid, business licenses, university admissions, job opportunities, permission to publish books, and housing and land rights. In a July report, UNSR Rehman again expressed concern regarding the reported high number of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience from the Azeri, Kurdish, and Ahwazi Arab communities.

Another widespread complaint among ethnic minority groups, particularly among Ahwazis, Azeris, and Lors, was that the government diverted and mismanaged natural resources, primarily water, often for the benefit of IRGC-affiliated contractors. According to reports from international media and human rights groups, these practices devastated the local environment on which farmers and others depended for their livelihoods and well-being, resulting in forced migration and further marginalization of these communities.

The law, which requires religious screening and allegiance to the concept of “governance by the jurist,” not found in Sunni Islam, impaired the ability of Sunni Muslims (many of whom are also Baluch, Ahwazi, or Kurdish) to integrate into civic life and to work in certain fields.

The estimated eight million ethnic Kurds in the country frequently campaigned for greater regional autonomy. The government continued to use the law to arrest and prosecute Kurds for exercising their rights to freedoms of expression and association. The government reportedly banned Kurdish-language newspapers, journals, and books and punished publishers, journalists, and writers for opposing and criticizing government policies. The UNSR noted in his July report that in the early part of the year many Kurdish individuals were arrested and detained in unknown locations.

According to the same UNSR report, authorities continued to target Kurdish-language teacher Zara Mohammadi, who supported learning in mother tongue languages, when an appeals court confirmed a five-year prison sentence on February 13 related to national security charges. Authorities detained without furlough Kurdish political prisoner Zeinab Jalalian, who was arrested in 2008 for allegedly being a part of a banned armed Kurdish political group, and reportedly denied her access to adequate health care.

Authorities suppressed legitimate activities of Kurdish NGOs by denying them registration permits or bringing security charges against persons working with such organizations. Authorities did not prohibit the use of the Kurdish language in general.

International human rights observers, including the IHRDC, stated that the country’s estimated two million Ahwazi Arabs, representing 110 tribes, faced continued oppression and discrimination. Ahwazi rights activists reported the government continued to confiscate Ahwazi property to use for government development projects, refusing to recognize property titles issued during the prerevolutionary era.

Ethnic Azeris, who number more than 18 million, or approximately 24 percent of the population, were more integrated into government and society than other ethnic minority groups, to include Supreme Leader Khamenei. Azeris reported the government discriminated against them by harassing Azeri activists or organizers and changing Azeri geographic names.

In July the UNSR reported that authorities continued to target Azeri civil society actors, including Abbas Lisani and Alireza Farshi, for their advocacy of minority rights. According to a February report by CHRI, Farshi, who was convicted and imprisoned on national security charges for peaceful activities on International Mother Language Day in 2014, was transferred from Evin Prison to Greater Tehran Penitentiary after being subjected to physical violence by authorities that resulted in injuries. He was also reportedly facing new charges related to his advocacy. Between January and June 14, Lisani and seven other Azeri political prisoners refused liquids in protest over Farshi’s mistreatment. Authorities reportedly agreed to address their concerns, which included access to medical leave and a cessation of the transfer of prisoners convicted of violent crimes into their ward, but authorities did not fulfill these promises.

Local and international human rights groups alleged discrimination during the year against the Baluchi ethnic minority, estimated at between 1.5 and two million persons. Areas with large Baluchi populations were severely underdeveloped and had limited access to education, employment, health care, and housing. Baluchi activists reported that more than 70 percent of the population lived below the poverty line.

According to activist reports, the law limited Sunni Baluchis’ employment opportunities and political participation. Activists reported that throughout the year, the government sent hundreds of Shia missionaries to areas with large Sunni Baluch populations to try to convert the local population. According to Baluchi rights activists, Baluchi journalists and human rights activists faced arbitrary arrest, physical abuse, and unfair trials.

According to widespread media reports and the UNSR’s July report, on February 22, IRGC officials killed 10 fuel couriers in Sistan va Balochistan Province, leading to protests. Authorities used excessive force including live ammunition to suppress these protests, causing two additional deaths (see section 1.a., Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings). UNSR Rehman previously noted in July 2020 that “in the border areas of Kurdistan, Ilam, West Azerbaijan and Kermanshah Provinces, Kurdish couriers (kolbars) continue to face excessive and lethal force by border officials. In 2019 there were 84 reported deaths and 192 injuries of kolbars, continuing a trend that has seen more than 1,000 kolbars killed or injured due to the actions of border officials since 2014. It is with concern that cases of violence against kolbars are often either dismissed by the courts or closed without conviction or compensation for the victims and their families.”

The UNSR’s report noted that excessive force was routinely used in antinarcotic operations in Sistan va Balochistan Province. In May for example, antinarcotic police in Iranshahr reportedly fatally shot a five-year-old child in the head.

Children

Birth Registration: The law provides Iranian mothers the right to apply for citizenship for children born to fathers with foreign citizenship (see section 2.g, Stateless Persons and section 6, Women). Although the law is retroactive, mothers do not receive equal treatment; they must file an application for their children, whereas children born to Iranian fathers automatically have citizenship. The law also includes a stipulation of obtaining a security clearance from the security agencies prior to receiving approval. Birth within the country’s borders does not confer citizenship, except when a child is born to unknown parents. The law requires that all births be registered within 15 days.

Education: Although primary schooling until age 11 is free and compulsory for all, media and other sources reported lower enrollment in rural areas, especially for girls. According to HRW the child protection law passed in June 2020 following the killing of Romina Ashrafi (see section 6, Other Harmful Traditional Practices) sets out financial penalties for parents or guardians who fail to provide for their child’s access to education through secondary level. Secondary education is free. Children without state-issued identification cards are denied the right to education. In a 2019 report, UNSR Rehman expressed concern regarding access to education for minority children, including references to high primary school dropout rates for ethnic minority girls living in border provinces.

The government consistently barred use of minority languages in school for instruction.

Child Abuse: There was little information available on how the government dealt with child abuse. The law states, “Any form of abuse of children and juveniles that causes physical, psychological, or moral harm and threatens their physical or mental health is prohibited,” and such crimes carry a maximum sentence of three months in confinement. In June 2020 the Guardian Council approved legislation to support a child’s safety and well-being, including penalties against physical harm and for preventing access to education. The law defines a set of punishments, which include imprisonment and “blood money,” for negligence by anyone, including parents, that results in death, disability, bodily harm, and sexual harassment. The law requires the State Welfare Organization to investigate the situation of children in “extreme danger” of abuse, exploitation, or being out of school, among other concerns. The state also has the authority to remove children from a household and put them under state supervision until the prosecutor takes on the case. The law also applies to all citizens younger than age 18, despite the earlier age of maturity.

Reports of child abuse reportedly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The head of the State Welfare Organization in Mashhad noted an eightfold increase in child abuse cases reported in Mashhad in 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. According to IranWire, in October the head of Paveh city’s intelligence office ordered officers to detain and interrogate harshly two journalists for reporting on the rape of a seven-year-old girl by a 43-year-old man on September 20. The same intelligence office banned a psychiatrist from treating the child and left her with no medical care. Authorities threatened to arrest the journalists if they continued investigating the case.

According to IranWire, the Students’ Basij Force stepped up efforts in 2020 to recruit young persons into the organization. Although “most of these activities are of an educational and ideological nature,” there were reports that during recent domestic unrest, some younger Basij forces armed with light military equipment were seen on the streets of some cities. There continued to be reports of IRGC officials recruiting Afghan child soldiers, including to support Assad regime forces in Syria and the Taliban in Afghanistan (see section 1.g., Child Soldiers). In a 2018 interview by IranWire, a Fatemiyoun Brigade commander confirmed Afghan minors as young as 14 served in his unit in Syria.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for girls is 13, but girls as young as age nine may be married with permission from a court and their fathers. According to HRW, the child protection law does not criminalize child marriage.

According to the UNSR’s January report, between March 2018 and March 2019 the National Organization for Civil Registration registered 13,054 marriages of girls younger than 13. In 2019 a deputy minister warned that banks offering “marriage loans” without age restrictions increased child marriage. He stated that from March to August 2019, 4,460 girls younger than 15 had received such loans. Between March and June 2020, 7,323 marriages involving girls ages 10 to 14 were registered. The report also noted that a survey found that 37.5 percent of those subjected to child marriage were illiterate and a significant number reported domestic abuse.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age requirements for consensual sex are the same as those for marriage, as sex outside of marriage is illegal. There are no specific laws regarding child sexual exploitation, with such crimes either falling under the category of child abuse or sexual crimes of adultery. The law does not directly address sexual molestation or provide a punishment for it.

According to CHRI, the ambiguity between the legal definitions of child abuse and sexual molestation could lead to child sexual molestation cases being prosecuted under adultery law. While no separate provision exists for the rape of a child, the crime of rape, regardless of the victim’s age, is potentially punishable by death.

Displaced Children: There were reports of thousands of Afghan refugee children in the country, many of whom were born in Iran but could not obtain identity documents. These children were often unable to attend schools or access basic government services and were vulnerable to labor exploitation and trafficking.

UNHCR stated school enrollment among refugees was generally higher outside the 20 settlements, where more resources were available and where 96 percent of the refugees resided.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The law recognizes Jews as a religious minority and provides for their representation in parliament. According to the Tehran Jewish Committee, the population includes approximately 9,000 Jews. Members of the Iranian Jewish community were reportedly subjected to government restrictions and discrimination. Government officials, including the supreme leader, routinely engaged in egregious anti-Semitic rhetoric and Holocaust denial and distortion. On May 7, so-called Jerusalem Day, Supreme Leader Khamenei issued numerous anti-Semitic tweets calling those who live in Israel “racists,” questioning the Holocaust, and calling again for a referendum of original inhabitants to determine the future status of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.

Cartoons in state-run media outlets repeatedly depicted foreign officials as puppets of Jewish control. In September 2020 a government-controlled arts organization, the Hozeh Honari, announced it would hold a third “Holocaust Cartoon Festival,” the previous two having been held in 2006 and 2016. The contest results were released on January 1.

According to media reports, officials and media propagated conspiracy theories blaming Jews and Israel for the spread of COVID-19. According to NGO reports, school textbooks contained content that incites hatred against Jews as part of the state curricula for history, religion, and social studies.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Organ Harvesting

It is legal for persons to sell their kidney. The government matches buyers and sellers and sets a fixed price, but a black market for organs also existed.

Persons with Disabilities

According to HRW the 2018 Law for the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities increases pensions and extends insurance coverage to disability-related health-care services, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination. According to CHRI, as of 2019 the government did not allocate a budget to enforce the law. The law prohibits persons with vision, hearing, or speech disabilities from running for seats in parliament. While the law provides for government-funded vocational education for persons with disabilities, domestic news reports noted vocational centers were located only in urban areas and were largely unable to meet the needs of the entire population.

In 2019 HRW and CHRI reported persons with disabilities remained cut off from society, a major obstacle being a mandatory government medical test that may exclude children with disabilities from the public school system. Based on government figures, during the 2018-19 school year, 150,000 children of school age with disabilities were enrolled in school, and more were in “special schools” that segregated them from other students. Estimates put the total number of school-age children with disabilities at 1.5 million. They continued to face stigma and discrimination from government social workers, health-care workers, and others. Subsequently, many persons with disabilities remained unable to participate in society on an equal basis.

The law provides for public accessibility to government-funded buildings, and new structures appeared to comply with these standards. There were efforts to increase access for persons with disabilities to historic sites. Government buildings that predated existing accessibility standards remained largely inaccessible, and general building accessibility, including access to toilets for persons with disabilities, remained a problem. Individuals with disabilities had limited access to informational, educational, and community activities. CHRI reported in 2018 that refugees with disabilities, particularly children, were often excluded or denied the ability to obtain the limited state services provided by the government.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Despite government programs to treat and provide financial and other assistance to persons with HIV or AIDS, international news sources and organizations reported that individuals known to be infected with HIV or AIDS faced widespread societal discrimination.  Individuals with HIV or AIDS, for example, continued to be denied employment as teachers.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, which is punishable by death, flogging, or a lesser punishment.  The law does not distinguish between consensual and nonconsensual same-sex intercourse, and NGOs reported this lack of clarity led to both the victim and the perpetrator being held criminally liable under the law in cases of assault.  The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

While few details were available for specific cases, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activists expressed concern that the government executed LGBTQI+ individuals under the pretext of more severe, and possibly specious, criminal charges such as rape. Security forces harassed, arrested, and detained individuals they suspected of being LGBTQI+. In some cases security forces raided houses and monitored internet sites for information on LGBTQI+ persons. Those accused of “sodomy” often faced summary trials, and evidentiary standards were not always met. The Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network (6Rang) noted that individuals arrested under such conditions were traditionally subjected to forced anal or sodomy examinations – which the United Nations and World Health Organization stated may constitute torture – and other degrading treatment and sexual insults. Punishment for same-sex sexual activity between men was more severe than between women.

According to Amnesty International, on May 4, 20-year-old Alireza Fazeli Monfared, who identified as a nonbinary gay man, was abducted by male relatives in his hometown of Ahwaz in Khuzestan Province. The next day these men reportedly told Monfared’s mother they had killed him and dumped his body under a tree. Authorities confirmed his throat was slit and announced an investigation; however, according to Amnesty International in September, none of the suspected perpetrators had been arrested.

According to an August factsheet by CHRI, a 2020 survey by 6Rang of more than 200 individuals living in the country and identifying as LGBTQI+ found that 46 percent reported being victims of sexual violence at their school or university, 49 percent reported being victims of sexual violence by their peers, and more than 52 percent reported being victims of sexual violence in public spaces. Anonymous respondents reported being beaten, detained, and flogged by security authorities.

The government censored all materials related to LGBTQI+ status or conduct. Authorities particularly blocked websites or content within sites that discussed LGBTQI+ issues, including the censorship of Wikipedia pages defining LGBTQI+ and other related topics. There were active, unregistered LGBTQI+ NGOs and activists in the country.

In 2019 a revolutionary court sentenced Rezvaneh Mohammadi, a gender-equality activist, to five years in prison. According to CHRI, authorities arrested Mohammadi in 2018 and held her in solitary confinement for several weeks at Evin Prison, where they pressured her, including via threat of rape, to confess to receiving money to overthrow the government. Mohammadi was reportedly freed on bail.

Hate-crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms do not exist to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes.

The law requires all male citizens older than age 18 to serve in the military but exempts gay men and transgender women, who are classified as having mental disorders. Military identity cards list the subsection of the law dictating the exemption. According to 6Rang, this practice identified gay or transgender individuals and put them at risk of physical abuse and discrimination.

While LGBTQI+ status and conduct are criminalized, many clerics believed that LGBTQI+ persons were trapped in a body of the wrong sex, and NGOs reported that authorities pressured LGBTQI+ persons to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Reports indicated these procedures disregarded psychological and physical health and that many persons recommended for surgery did not identify as transgender but were forced to comply to avoid punishment for their LGBTQI+ identity. According to a July 2020 report by 6Rang, the number of private and semigovernmental psychological and psychiatric clinics allegedly engaging in “corrective treatment” or reparative therapies of LGBTQI+ persons continued to grow. The NGO 6Rang reported the increased use at such clinics of electric shock therapy to the hands and genitals of LGBTQI+ persons, prescription of psychoactive medication, hypnosis, and coercive masturbation to pictures of persons of the opposite sex. According to 6Rang, one such institution was called the Anonymous Sex Addicts Association of Iran, with branches in 18 provinces.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for freedom of association but does not provide for the right of workers to form and join trade unions. The law states that workers may establish an Islamic labor council or a guild at any workplace, but the rights and responsibilities of these organizations fell significantly short of international standards for trade unions. In workplaces where workers established an Islamic labor council, authorities did not permit any other form of worker representation. The law requires prior authorization for organizing and concluding collective agreements. Strikes are prohibited in all sectors, although private-sector workers may conduct “peaceful” campaigns within the workplace. The law does not apply to establishments with fewer than 10 employees.

Authorities did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and the government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. The government severely restricted freedom of association and interfered in worker attempts to organize. Labor activism is considered a national security offense for which conviction carries severe punishments up to and including the death penalty. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination and does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Penalties were not imposed for violations involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

Antiunion discrimination occurred, and the government harassed trade union leaders, labor rights activists, and journalists during crackdowns on widespread protests. According to NGO and media reports, as in previous years, several trade unionists, including members of teachers unions, were imprisoned or remained unjustly detained for their peaceful activism. Independent trade unionists were subjected to arbitrary arrests, tortured, and if convicted subjected to harsh sentences, including the death penalty.

In February authorities reportedly summoned to prison Ali Nejati, a labor rights activist and former employee of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company, to serve a five-year sentence. Nejati had previously been pardoned, but the judiciary reportedly informed his lawyer his pardon had been a “mistake.”

According to media and NGO reports, on May 1, International Labor Day, police violently attacked and arrested at least 30 activists who had gathered for peaceful demonstrations demanding workers’ rights in Tehran and elsewhere. All detainees were later released on bail. The government barred teachers from commemorating International Labor Day and Teachers’ Day. Several prominent teachers and union activists remained in prison without facing trial or, if convicted, awaited sentencing, including Mahmoud Beheshti Langroudi (see below in this subsection).

According to Radio Zamaneh, in June 2020 Jafar Azimzadeh, the general secretary of the board of the Free Union of Iranian Workers and a prominent labor activist, was sentenced to 13 months in prison for “propaganda against the regime.” Azimzadeh was previously arrested in 2015 and sentenced to six years in prison by Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran for organizing a petition that collected 40,000 signatures seeking to raise the national minimum wage. In September 2020 Azimzadeh was transferred to Rajai Shahr Prison after ending a 21-day hunger strike to protest being denied medical treatment after contracting COVID-19. On April 10, Azimzadeh was released from prison.

In his July report, UNSR Rehman drew attention to the prolonged solitary confinement of labor rights activist and British-Iranian dual-national Mehran Raoof as “especially disturbing.” According to Amnesty International, in October 2020 IRGC intelligence agents arrested Raoof, along with several other labor rights activists throughout the country. In June Raoof reportedly appeared in court on vague charges of involvement in banned political groups. He subsequently was being held in solitary confinement in Ward 2A of Evin Prison and was denied legal counsel and calls to his immediate family members, who lived abroad.

The Interior Ministry; the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare; and the Islamic Information Organization determined labor council constitutions, operational rules, and election procedures. Administrative and judicial procedures were lengthy. The Workers’ House remained the only officially authorized national labor organization, and its leadership oversaw, granted permits to, and coordinated activities with Islamic labor councils in industrial, agricultural, and service organizations with more than 35 employees.

According to CHRI, the labor councils, which consisted of representatives of workers and a representative of management, were essentially management-run unions that undermined worker efforts to maintain independent unions. The councils, nevertheless, sometimes could block layoffs and dismissals. There was no representative worker organization for noncitizen workers.

According to international media reports, security forces continued to respond to workers’ attempts to organize or conduct strikes with arbitrary arrests and violence. As economic conditions deteriorated, strikes and worker protests continued across the country throughout the year, often prompting a heavy police response. Security forces routinely monitored major worksites. According to CHRI, workers were routinely fired and risked arrest for striking, and labor leaders were charged with national security crimes for trying to organize workers.

In 2018 security forces violently suppressed protests at the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company factory. In 2019 the protests there restarted in response to the announcement of a joint indictment issued against five journalists and two labor rights activists. Sepideh Gholian, Amir Hossein Mohammadifard, Sanaz Allahyari, Ali Amirgholi, Asal Mohammadi, Esmail Bakhshi, and Ali Nejati were charged with “assembly and collusion against national security,” “forming groups with the intention to disturb national security,” and “contacts with antistate organizations.” They each received a prison sentence of five years. Except for Gholian, all, including syndicate member Mohammad Khanifar, were reportedly pardoned during the year. Gholian was rearrested a week after being released on bail in June 2020 and was transferred to Evin Prison. On October 10, Gholian was rearrested and returned to Evin Prison in retribution for posting on social media while on furlough from Bushehr Prison about the sexual abuse and torture she witnessed against incarcerated women and children (see section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment).

According to Radio Zamaneh, workers at Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company began striking in June 2020 to reverse the privatization of the company and to demand the arrest of CEO Omid Asadbeigi, who was accused of currency theft and the embezzlement of their wages. In September 2020 the Supreme Auditing Court ruled that Haft Tappeh’s sale must be annulled “due to violations in transferring the ownership of the company, failure to achieve goals set by the sale, and the buyers’ bad faith in honoring their commitments,” thereby removing Asadbeigi as owner. The Haft Tappeh Workers Syndicate then issued a statement declaring a temporary halt to the protest. In May, according to Radio Zamaneh, a Tehran court ruled in favor of the dismissal of Asadbeigi and Mehrdad Rostami, the two owners of the factory. A few days after the ruling, due to pressure from the government, the previous owners halted production at the factory. The Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Workers’ Union announced on April 23 that the factory workers’ lawyer Farzaneh Zilabi had been summoned to court in Shush city, Khuzestan Province, where his license was then suspended. According to labor activists, the company’s executives had not paid workers’ salaries since March, and authorities reduced the company’s water rights by half. The workers’ union reported that on June 3, police opened fire to disperse workers gathered outside the factory to protest the situation.

On April 4, security forces detained labor activist and retired worker Ismail Gerami in his Tehran home in a reported effort to prevent a rally of retirees. According to Radio Zamaneh, in May retirees – including retirees of social security, Laleh Hotel, Shiraz Telecommunication, the steel industry, Iran Air, and the health-care sector – took to the streets in multiple cities for several weeks to demand an increase in their retirement pay. The Revolutionary Court of Tehran sentenced Gerami to five years in prison, 74 lashes, and a fine.

The government continued to arrest and harass teachers’ rights activists from the Teachers Association of Iran and related unions. In response to an announcement by the head of the Plan and Budget Organization, Masoud Mirkazemi, that the new government had abandoned the plan to raise teachers’ salaries, on September 5, large groups of teachers gathered outside of parliament to protest, according to CHRI.  Reportedly they chanted, “The poverty line is 12 million tomans ($2,800); our salary is three million tomans ($710).” On September 14, another protest was held around the country.

According to a CHRI report, Mahmoud Beheshti-Langroudi, the former spokesman for the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association (ITTA) who had been jailed since 2017, continued serving a 14-year combined sentence for charges associated with his peaceful defense of labor rights. Esmail Abdi, a mathematics teacher and former ITTA secretary general, continued serving his six-year prison sentence for labor rights activism. He was arrested in 2015 and convicted in 2016 for “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security.” In March 2020 Abdi was furloughed due to the COVID-19 pandemic but a month later was returned to Evin Prison to serve a suspended 10-year sentence he received in 2010 for “gathering information with the intention to disrupt national security” and “propaganda against the state.” He contracted COVID-19 after being returned to Evin. As reportedly occurred with other activists and political prisoners throughout the year, on March 16, authorities suddenly “exiled” or transferred Abdi from Evin Prison to Rajai Shahr Prison as reprisal for a 13-day hunger strike in protest of restrictions of prisoner rights. In his July report, UNSR Rehman expressed concern regarding Abdi’s detention.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law and made no significant effort to address forced labor during the year. It was unclear whether the law prescribes penalties that were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes such as kidnapping. Conditions indicative of forced labor sometimes occurred in the construction, domestic labor, and agricultural sectors, primarily among adult Afghan men and boys younger than age 18. Family members and others forced children to work.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits employment of children younger than age 15 and places restrictions on employment of children younger than 18, such as prohibiting hard labor or night work. The law does not apply to domestic labor and permits children to work in agriculture and some small businesses from age 12. The government did not adequately monitor or enforce laws pertaining to child labor, and child labor remained a serious problem. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other analogous, serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The United Nations in 2016 cited a 2003 law that exempts workshops with fewer than 10 employees from labor regulations as increasing the risks of economic exploitation of children. The UN report also noted serious concerns with the large number of children employed under hazardous conditions, such as in garbage collection, brick kilns, and industrial workshops, without protective clothing and for very low pay. A 2020 law that protects children and adolescents includes penalties for certain acts that harm a child’s safety and well-being, including physical harm and preventing access to education. The law reportedly allows officials to relocate children in situations that seriously threaten their safety. The law imposes financial penalties for parents or guardians who fail to provide for their child’s access to education through secondary level (see section 6, Children).

According to Borna News Agency, on February 1, a 14-year-old from Mahshahr named Mohammad hanged himself after COVID-19 left him unemployed. He reportedly had been forced to drop out of school in 2020 due to poverty and was selling purified water for a living.

There were reportedly significant numbers of children, especially of Afghan descent, who worked as street vendors in major urban areas. According to official estimates, there were 60,000 homeless children, although many children’s rights organizations estimated up to 200,000 homeless children. The Committee on the Rights of the Child reported that street children in particular were subjected to various forms of economic exploitation, including sexual abuse and exploitation by the public and police officers. Child labor also was used in the production of carpets and bricks. Children worked as beggars, and there were reports criminals forced some children into begging rings. According to the Iranian Students’ News Agency, Reza Ghadimi, the managing director of the Tehran Social Services Organization, stated in 2018 that, according to a survey of 400 child laborers, 90 percent were “molested.”

Also, see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution bars discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, and social status “in conformity with Islamic criteria,” but the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. According to the constitution, “everyone has the right to choose any occupation he wishes, if it is not contrary to Islam and the public interests and does not infringe on the rights of others.” Discrimination with respect to employment and occupation occurred in several categories, including gender, ethnicity, and disability. It was unclear whether penalties for violations were commensurate with other laws on civil rights, such as election interference.

Despite this constitutional provision, the government made systematic efforts to limit women’s access to the workplace, and their participation in the job market remained as low as 16 percent. Women reportedly earned 41 percent less than men for the same work. Unemployment for women in the country was twice as high as it was for men. Hiring practices often discriminated against women, and the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare guidelines stated that men should be given preferential hiring status. An Interior Ministry directive requires all officials only hire secretaries of their own gender. The law restricts women from working in jobs deemed hazardous or arduous. Women remained banned from working in coffee houses and from performing music alongside men, with very limited exceptions made for traditional music. Women in many fields were restricted from working after 9 p.m.

Kurds, Ahwazis, Azeris, Baha’is, and Baluchis reported political and socioeconomic discrimination regarding their access to economic aid, business licenses, and job opportunities.

CHRI reported that, according to the director of the State Welfare Organization, 60 percent of persons with disabilities remained unemployed.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law does not provide for a national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy. In 2018 the Supreme Labor Council, the government body charged with proposing labor regulations, agreed to raise the minimum monthly wage by 19.8 percent. There were reported complaints that the minimum wage increase was too low in light of the plunging value of the Iranian rial against the United States dollar, which is used to price day-to-day goods. The minimum wage is commonly below the poverty line in rural areas. In April 2020 media reported that following failed meetings, workers, employers, and the government agreed to increase the minimum wage from the previous year by 21 percent. According to CHRI, the Free Union of Iranian Workers issued a statement denouncing the Supreme Labor Council’s method of averaging the inflation rate for a basket of essential goods and services “that is less than half the actual rate of inflation and as a result lowers what workers will earn down to a level below the poverty line.”

The law establishes a maximum six-day, 44-hour workweek with a weekly rest day, at least 12 days of paid annual leave, and several paid public holidays. Any hours worked above that total entitle a worker to overtime. The law mandates a payment above the hourly wage to employees for any accrued overtime and provides that overtime work is not compulsory. The law does not cover workers in workplaces with fewer than 10 workers, nor does it apply to noncitizens.

Employers sometimes subjected migrant workers, most often Afghans, to abusive working conditions, including below-minimum-wage salaries, nonpayment of wages, compulsory overtime, and summary deportation. The government did not effectively enforce the laws related to wages, hours, and occupational safety and health. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

According to media reports, many workers continued to be employed on temporary contracts, under which they lacked protections available to full-time, noncontract workers and could be dismissed at will. In June 2020 a group of nurses protested after their temporary contracts were not renewed. While the Health Ministry had complained of a shortage of up to 100,000 nurses, health-care centers and hospitals increasingly took advantage of labor laws that allowed them to hire nurses with 89-day contracts, which were not renewed. The problem was compounded by the pandemic, as many private and state hospitals lost business from revenue-generating procedures, which were placed on hold. Health-care workers continued to protest during the year in several cities after hospitals failed to pay government-approved wages. None had received overtime pay or COVID-19 health benefits. Large numbers of workers employed in small workplaces or in the informal economy similarly lacked basic protections.

Low wages, nonpayment of wages, and lack of job security due to contracting practices continued to contribute to strikes and protests, which occurred throughout the year. In early June authorities arrested nine workers of District 2 Municipality for protesting. According to the FTUIW, Boroujerd police raided a gathering of Saman Time workers in April and arrested several protesting workers.

According to HRANA, Javanmir Moradi, a labor activist and member of the Electricians’ Union in Kermanshah, was arrested and tried in 2020 and sentenced to one year in prison. During the year the appeals court commuted his sentence to a fine. According to Radio Zamaneh, Branch 2 of Shahria’s Revolutionary Court sentenced Haidar Ghorbani, a construction worker and member of the FTUIW, to 11 years in prison on national security charges and “propaganda against the regime.” In addition to directly suppressing and detaining protesting workers, employers threatened to fire workers inside production units. Managers at the General Directorate of Ports and Maritime Affairs in Khuzestan Province asked workers to pledge not to participate in protests. They also prevented two workers’ representatives from entering the workplace. In the Arvand Free Zone Organization, service workers in the Abadan and Khorramshahr industrial towns who protested wage arrears and went on strike were threatened with dismissal. Gharib Havizavi and Hossein Rezaei, labor representatives for the Ahwaz National Steel Industrial Group, were fired on March 30. Since late March workers in oil refining, petrochemicals, and drilling industries continued to strike in at least 25 rallies across the country over working conditions, employment contracts that disadvantaged workers, and unpaid wages.

Occupational Safety and Health: Little information was available regarding labor inspection and related law enforcement activity. While the law provides for occupational health and safety standards, the government did not effectively enforce these standards. Penalties for violations of the law were not commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. The law states inspections may be done day or night, without prior notice. Family businesses require written permission of the local prosecutor. The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations rests with the technical protection and occupational health committee of workplaces designated by the Ministry of Labor.

Labor organizations reported that hazardous work environments resulted in the deaths of thousands of workers annually. In February 2020, according to a report issued by a state media outlet, the head of the Public Relations and International Affairs Office of the Iranian Forensic Medicine Organization, Hamed Naeiji, announced that in 2019 the number of work-related deaths and injuries increased by 8.5 percent compared with the same period of the previous year. Naeiji stated the three main reasons for work-related deaths were falls, being struck by hard objects, and electrocution. In 2018 the Iranian Labor News Agency quoted the head of the Construction Workers Association as estimating there were 1,200 deaths and 1,500 spinal cord injuries annually among construction workers, while local media routinely reported on workers’ deaths from explosions, gas poisoning, electrocution, or similar accidents.

Informal Sector: The law does not provide for occupational health and safety standards for workers in the informal economy. Large numbers of workers were employed in small workplaces or in the informal economy. Workers lacked basic protections in construction, domestic labor, and agricultural sectors, primarily among adult Afghan men and boys younger than age 18.

Russia

Executive Summary

The Russian Federation has a highly centralized, authoritarian political system dominated by President Vladimir Putin.  The bicameral Federal Assembly consists of a directly elected lower house (State Duma) and an appointed upper house (Federation Council), both of which lack independence from the executive.  The 2018 presidential election and the September 19 State Duma elections were marked by accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process, including the exclusion of meaningful opposition candidates.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, Federal Security Service, Investigative Committee, Office of the Prosecutor General, and National Guard are responsible for law enforcement.  The Federal Security Service is responsible for state security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism, as well as for fighting organized crime and corruption.  The national police force, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for combating all crime.  The National Guard assists the Federal Security Service’s Border Guard Service in securing borders, administers gun control, combats terrorism and organized crime, protects public order, and guards important state facilities.  The National Guard also participates in armed defense of the country’s territory in coordination with Ministry of Defense forces.  Except in rare cases, security forces generally report to civilian authorities.  National-level civilian authorities maintained, at best, limited control over security forces in the Republic of Chechnya, which are accountable only to the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.  There were credible reports that members of the Russian security forces committed numerous human rights abuses.

The country’s occupation and purported annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula continued to affect the human rights situation there significantly and negatively.  The Russian government continued to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside Russia-led separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.  Authorities also conducted politically motivated arrests, detentions, and trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia, many of whom claimed to have been tortured (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine).

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of:  extrajudicial killings and attempted extrajudicial killings, including of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons in Chechnya by local government authorities; enforced disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities; pervasive torture by government law enforcement officers that sometimes resulted in death and occasionally involved sexual violence or punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons; arbitrary arrest and detention; political and religious prisoners and detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals located outside the country; severe arbitrary interference with privacy; severe suppression of freedom of expression and media, including violence against journalists and the use of “antiextremism” and other laws to prosecute peaceful dissent and religious minorities; severe restrictions on internet freedom; severe suppression of the freedom of peaceful assembly; severe suppression of freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable foreign organizations”; severe restrictions of religious freedom; refoulement of refugees; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; severe limits on participation in the political process, including restrictions on opposition candidates’ ability to seek public office and conduct political campaigns, and on the ability of civil society to monitor election processes; widespread corruption at all levels and in all branches of government; serious government restrictions on and harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence and violence against women; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of ethnic and religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer persons.

The government failed to take adequate steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish most officials who committed abuses and engaged in corruption, resulting in a climate of impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were several reports the government or its agents committed, or attempted to commit, arbitrary or unlawful killings.  Impunity was a significant problem in investigating whether security force killings were justifiable (see section 1.e.).

Officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) poisoned opposition activist and anticorruption campaigner Aleksey Navalny in August 2020 with a form of Novichok, a nerve agent that was also used in the 2018 attack on former Russian intelligence officer Sergey Skripal in the United Kingdom.  In December 2020 investigations published by the independent outlets Bellingcat and The Insider identified eight FSB officers suspected to have been involved in Navalny’s poisoning based on telephone records and travel data as well as an inadvertent confession by one of the FSB officials.  On June 11, Navalny’s Anticorruption Foundation published the results of an investigation that alleged the doctors who treated Navalny at a hospital in Omsk falsified his original medical records to hide evidence of his poisoning.  At year’s end Russian Federation representatives continued to reject requests to open an investigation into the circumstances of Navalny’s poisoning and repeated denials that he had been poisoned by a nerve agent.

In an investigation published on January 27, Bellingcat, The Insider, and Der Spiegel implicated several of the same FSB officials in the deaths of at least two other Russian activists between 2014 and 2019:  Timur Kuashev, a journalist critical of Russia’s invasion of Crimea who died in 2014, and Ruslan Magomedragimov, an activist for the Lezgin ethnic minority group who died in 2015.  According to reporting at the time, both died of apparent poisoning, although neither death was investigated by authorities as suspicious.  In another joint investigation, Bellingcat, The Insider, and Der Spiegel reported on February 12 that some of the same FSB officials had followed opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza immediately preceding his poisoning with an unknown substance in two assassination attempts in 2015 and 2017.  On June 10, Bellingcat and The Insider reported that the same FSB officers were also implicated in the 2019 poisoning and near death of writer, journalist, and Russian government critic Dmitriy Bykov.

Credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent media outlets continued to publish reports indicating that, from December 2018 to January 2019, local authorities in the Republic of Chechnya renewed a campaign of violence against individuals perceived to be members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community.  In February the news outlet Novaya Gazeta published information corroborating previous reports that Chechen security officials extrajudicially executed 27 residents of the Republic of Chechnya in 2017.  As part of its investigation into the abuses, Novaya Gazeta interviewed former Chechen police sergeant Suleyman Gezmakhmayev, who testified that his police regiment, the Akhmat Kadyrov Police Patrol Service Regiment, carried out mass arrests and some of the extrajudicial killings of the 27 residents between December 2016 and January 2017.  Media reported that Chechen police officers subsequently sought to force Gezmakhmayev to recant his testimony by putting pressure on relatives who remained in Chechnya.  On March 15, presidential press secretary Dmitriy Peskov told reporters that the government was aware of Novaya Gazeta’s investigations into the extrajudicial executions in Chechnya but did not have the prerogative to investigate.  Media outlets reported that the former head of the regiment, Aslan Iraskhanov, was appointed head of Chechnya’s police at the end of March.  According to human rights organizations, as of December authorities had failed to open investigations into the allegations or reports of extrajudicial killings and mass torture of LGBTQI+ persons in Chechnya and continued to deny there were any LGBTQI+ persons in the republic.

There were multiple reports that, in some prison colonies, authorities systematically tortured inmates (see section 1.c.), in some cases resulting in death or suicide.  According to media reports, on February 27, a prisoner, Adygzhy Aymyr-ool, was found dead at the Irkutsk Penal Colony No. 25 (IK-25) prison with signs of torture on his body.  Relatives of Aymyr-ool told media that he had previously complained of beatings and poor detention conditions.  The Federal Penitentiary System Office of the Irkutsk Region told media it would investigate the cause of his death but denied reports detailing signs of a violent death.  On October 5, the human rights group Gulagu.net announced it had obtained more than 1,000 leaked videos showing Russian prison officials torturing and sexually abusing inmates or forcing inmates to subject other inmates to such abuse in the Saratov region and elsewhere.

There were reports that the government or its proxies committed, or attempted to commit, extrajudicial killings of its opponents in other countries.  On February 19, Ukraine filed a complaint against the Russian Federation in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for its role in the “political assassinations of opponents.”  Ukraine claimed that “operations to target the alleged opponents of the Russian state are carried out in Russia and on the territory of other states, including the member states of the Council of Europe, outside the situation of armed conflict.”  On December 15, a German court sentenced a Russian citizen, Vadim Krasikov, to life in prison for killing a former Chechen rebel commander of Georgian nationality, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, in a Berlin park in 2019.  Prosecutors claimed that Krasikov traveled to Germany under an alias and belonged to a special unit of the FSB.  The presiding judge concluded that “the central government of the Russian Federation was the author of this crime.”

The country continued to engage in armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, where human rights organizations attributed thousands of civilian deaths, widespread displacement of persons, and other abuses to Russia-led forces.  Russian occupation authorities in Crimea also committed widespread abuses (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine).

Since 2015 the country’s armed forces conducted military operations, including airstrikes, in the conflict in Syria.  According to human rights organizations, the country’s forces took actions, such as bombing urban areas, that intentionally targeted civilian infrastructure (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Syria).

Since 2017 the country provided the Central African Republic Army unarmed military advisors under the auspices of parameters established by the UN Security Council sanctions regime.  According to a report presented by the UN Panel of Experts on the Central African Republic to the UN Security Council Committee on May 20, the Russian advisors actively participated in, and often led, combat operations on the ground and participated in abuses against civilians, including cases of excessive use of force, harsh interrogation tactics, numerous killings of civilians, and looting of homes on a large scale (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for the Central African Republic).

The news website Caucasian Knot reported that violent confrontations with security forces resulted in at least 19 deaths in the North Caucasus during the first half of the year.  Chechnya was the most affected region, with five law enforcement officers injured and six suspected armed insurgents killed.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances perpetrated by or on behalf of government authorities.  Enforced disappearances for both political and financial reasons continued in the North Caucasus.  According to the August 2020 report of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, there were 896 outstanding cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances in the country.

There were reports that police committed enforced disappearances and abductions during the year.

Security forces were allegedly complicit in the kidnapping and disappearance of individuals from Central Asia, whose forcible return was apparently sought by their governments (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).

There were continued reports of abductions and torture in the North Caucasus, including of political activists, LGBTQI+ persons, and others critical of Chechnya head Kadyrov.  For example, in September 2020 Salman Tepsurkayev, a 19-year-old Chechen activist and moderator of 1ADAT, a social media channel that was highly critical of Kadyrov, was kidnapped and subjected to abuse and humiliation in a disturbing video, reportedly by officers of the Akhmat Kadyrov Post and Patrol Service Regiment of the Chechen Police.  Media outlets reported in January that the Investigative Committee of Gelendzhik in Krasnodar Kray opened an investigation into Tepsurkayev’s disappearance.  As of December, however, Tepsurkayev’s whereabouts were unknown.  On October 19, the ECHR found Russian state agents responsible for the disappearance and torture of Tepsurkayev and ordered the Russian Federation to pay 26,000 euros ($29,900) in compensation.

On June 23, the ECHR ordered Russia to pay damages of almost two million euros ($2.3 million) to the relatives of 11 persons, mainly from the ethnic Avar minority, who went missing in Chechnya in 2005 during an operation by a military unit composed of ethnic Chechens.  In its ruling, the ECHR stated that Russia had violated several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, including the right to life.

There were reports Russia-led forces and Russian occupation authorities in Ukraine engaged in enforced disappearances (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine).

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

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, numerous credible reports indicated law enforcement officers engaged in torture, abuse, and violence to coerce confessions from suspects, and authorities only occasionally held officials accountable for such actions.

There were reports of deaths because of torture (see section 1.a., above).

Physical abuse of suspects by police officers was reportedly systemic and usually occurred within the first few days of arrest in pretrial detention facilities.  Reports from human rights groups and former police officers indicated that police most often used electric shocks, suffocation, and stretching or applying pressure to joints and ligaments because those methods were considered less likely to leave visible marks.  The problem was especially acute in the North Caucasus.  According to the Civic Assistance Committee, prisoners in the North Caucasus complained of mistreatment, unreasonable punishment, religious and ethnic harassment, and inadequate provision of medical care.

There were reports that police beat or otherwise abused persons, in some cases resulting in their death.  Police used excessive force and harsh tactics to encircle and detain protesters during countrywide protests in late January and early February calling for the release of Aleksey Navalny, who was detained on January 17 upon his return to Russia and sentenced to prison on February 2 (see section 1.d.).  On April 26, the online news outlet Meduza published an article detailing multiple instances of excessive use of force and harsh treatment against detainees held in custody during the April 21 protests in St. Petersburg.  In one example, police detained a protester for filming the arrests and shocked him with a taser on the way to the police van, “triggering symptoms of cardiac arrythmia,” according to Meduza.

There were reports that law enforcement officers used torture, including sleep deprivation, as a form of punishment against detained opposition and human rights activists, journalists, and critics of government policies.  For example, on March 31, Navalny initiated a hunger strike to protest authorities’ failure to provide him a requested medical examination and treatment for pain and loss of mobility in his legs after he was transferred on March 15 to the Penal Colony No. 2 (IK-2) in the Vladimir region (see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest and Detention).  Prison authorities also subjected Navalny for months to hourly wake-ups through the night by prison authorities on the pretense that he was a “flight risk.”  Navalny likened this treatment to torture through sleep deprivation.  On April 23, he ended his hunger strike after being permitted access to outside medical care.  On June 28, a Moscow district court rejected Navalny’s request to be removed from the “prone to escape” list.  Navalny continued to be treated as a flight risk until October 11, when he was instead designated an extremist and a terrorist.

Several activists affiliated with Navalny and his political activities or the Anticorruption Foundation also reported being tortured or abused by security officials while in their custody.  Alena Kitayeva, a volunteer for Navalny associate Lyubov Sobol, who was issued a 12-day administrative arrest in February, accused police officers of torture after they placed a bag over her head and threatened her with a stun gun if she did not provide them her cell phone password.

In several cities police reportedly subjected members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religious group banned without basis under antiextremism laws, to physical abuse and torture during and following their arrest.  For example, on October 4, during coordinated home raids by Interior Ministry and National Guard forces targeting members of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Irkutsk, four members of the group alleged that they were severely beaten, one of whom additionally alleged he was tortured.  One member, Anatoliy Razdabarov, was allegedly kicked in the head and kidneys and threatened with rape, while his wife Greta was dragged by her hair before being beaten.  Nikolay Merinov was hit in the face with a blunt object, breaking one of his teeth and knocking him unconscious.  When he regained consciousness, an officer was sitting on him and beating him.  Merinov’s wife Liliya reported she was also dragged by her hair and physically assaulted.

There were reports of the FSB using torture against young “anarchists and antifascist activists” who were allegedly involved in several “terrorism” and “extremism” cases.

In the North Caucasus region, there were widespread reports that security forces abused and tortured both alleged militants and civilians in detention facilities.  For example, on October 24, newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported on the case of Salman Mukayev, a Chechen man who was detained and allegedly tortured in 2020 because security forces, based on a text message, believed him to be gay.  The officers reportedly suffocated Mukayev with a bag, kicked him, subjected him to electric shocks for hours and attempted to co-opt him to identify members of the LGBTQI+ community in Chechnya.  After his release, Mukayev fled Russia.

There were reports of authorities detaining defendants for psychiatric evaluations to exert pressure on them or sending defendants for psychiatric treatment as punishment.  Prosecutors and certified medical professionals may request suspects be placed in psychiatric clinics on an involuntary basis.  For example, on January 27, authorities forcibly hospitalized Siberian shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev after he renewed his 2019 calls to “expel” Vladimir Putin from power and missed a court-mandated appointment related to his May 2020 detention (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Russia for 2020).  In mid-March the Yakut psychiatric hospital declared Gabyshev insane.  On July 26, the Yakutsk City Court ruled that Gabyshev be confined indefinitely to a psychiatric hospital for compulsory intensive treatment.

Reports of nonlethal physical abuse and hazing continued in the armed forces.  Activists reported such hazing was often tied to extortion schemes.  On May 27, the online media outlet 29.ru published an article describing the abuse of a 21-year-old conscript, Dmitriy Lapenkov, who was serving in the city of Yurga in Kemerovo Oblast.  Lapenkov’s mother told the outlet he was subjected to severe hazing, including being forced to take an unknown tablet and call relatives to ask for large sums of money.  He was subsequently transferred to a psychiatric hospital in the city of Novosibirsk in an incoherent state.  His mother claimed he had sustained a brain injury because of beating.

There were reports that Russia-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region and Russian occupation authorities in Crimea engaged in torture (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine).

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces.  In most cases where law enforcement officers or other government officials were publicly implicated in human rights abuses, authorities denied internal and external requests for independent investigation and engaged in disinformation campaigns or other efforts to obfuscate such allegations.  The government’s propensity to ignore serious human rights allegations along with the uneven application of the rule of law and a lack of judicial transparency resulted in impunity for most perpetrators.

The few investigations into official abuses that were conducted often concerned allegations of torture in detention and pretrial detention facilities that were exposed by whistleblowers or independent media.  For example, on June 28, the Kanavinskiy District Court of Nizhny Novgorod sentenced former police officers Aleksey Khrulev and Nikolay Atamashko to two and one-half years in prison for abuse of office with violence.  In 2015 the officers detained and beat Leonid Murskiy until he signed a confession for selling drugs.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers varied but were often harsh and life threatening.  Overcrowding, abuse by guards and inmates, limited access to health care, food shortages, and inadequate sanitation were common in prisons, penal colonies, and other detention facilities.

Physical Conditions:  Prison overcrowding remained a serious problem.  While the law mandates the separation of women and men, juveniles and adults, and pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners in separate quarters, anecdotal evidence indicated not all prison facilities followed these rules.  In March 2020 Amnesty International stated that prisons’ overcrowding, poor ventilation, and inadequate health care and sanitation led to a high risk of COVID-19 infection among prisoners and detainees.  According to a Council of Europe report released on April 8, the mortality rate of the Russian prison population in 2019 increased by more than 12 percent, compared with the previous year.

Physical and sexual abuse by prison guards was systemic.  For example, on February 8, media outlets reported that the Russian Investigative Committee brought charges of torture and extortion against the former head and staff of detention center No. 1 in Makhachkala.  According to an investigation conducted from 2015 to 2019, the former head of the center, Daud Davydov, and two of his subordinates regularly beat a former investigator of the Investigative Committee, who was himself accused of torture and illegal imprisonment.  The detention center officials faced charges of abuse of power with the use of violence, extortion, fraud with the use of an official position, and bribery by a group of persons.  As of October no date was set for the court case.

Prisoner-on-prisoner violence was also a problem.  For example, the lawyer of Pavel Sheremet, a detainee in the regional tuberculosis hospital No. 1 in Saratov, told media that inmates at the facility beat and sexually assaulted Sheremet on June 3.  Media outlets reported that the prosecutor’s office of the Saratov Region initiated an investigation into the allegations, although as of October no further information was available on the outcome of the case.

There were reports prison authorities recruited inmates to abuse other inmates.  For example, on March 3, authorities detained the head of the Irkutsk penal colony No. 6 (IK-6) after reports emerged that he condoned the rape and beating of prisoner Takhirzhon Bakiyev by prison staff.  According to media reporting, on January 20, after transferring to IK-6 from another facility, Bakiyev was placed in a “torture squad,” where, with the knowledge and complicity of the prison guards, his cellmates then proceeded to rape and beat him before tying him up.  Videos obtained by the NGO Gulagu.net in October documented numerous cases of prisoners in the Saratov region being enlisted or coerced by prison officials to abuse and in some cases rape other inmates.

Overcrowding, ventilation, heating, sanitation, and nutritional standards varied among facilities but generally were poor.  Opportunities for movement and exercise in pretrial detention were minimal.  Potable water was sometimes rationed, and food quality was poor; many inmates relied on food provided by family or NGOs.  Access to quality medical care remained a problem.  For example, in early April the former governor of Khabarovsk Kray, Sergey Furgal, contracted COVID-19 while detained in the Lefortovo pretrial detention center, according to his lawyer.  NGOs reported that approximately 50 percent of prisoners with HIV did not receive adequate treatment, with treatment provided only to inmates with a CD4 white blood cell count below a certain level.  NGOs reported the supplies of some antiretroviral drugs were occasionally interrupted.

There were reports that political prisoners were placed in particularly harsh conditions and subjected to punitive treatment within the prison system, such as solitary confinement or punitive stays in psychiatric units.  For example, on March 2, the New York Times reported that prisoners in the isolation unit of penal colony IK-2, including Aleksey Navalny, were forced to stand for hours with their hands clasped behind their backs and were forbidden from making eye contact with prison guards.  Former political prisoners described having to carry out meaningless tasks multiple times a day and being sent to the “punishment brigade” for minor infractions, conditions that one prisoner described as psychologically harrowing.  In March media outlets reported that authorities issued 20 violations to Navalny in his first month of prison, including for getting out of bed 10 minutes before the scheduled “wake up” command.  On January 20, Navalny filed a complaint to the ECHR concerning the poor conditions of his detention center, which he characterized as a “friendly concentration camp.”  On April 16, the ECHR gave the government of Russia notice it should respond by July 12.  No public announcement concerning Russia’s response had been made by year’s end.

During the year media coverage of multiple allegations of torture at several penal colonies and testimony from victims and their family members prompted investigations by the Federal Penitentiary System.  In one example, on February 23, the Investigative Committee opened an investigation into abuse of power after media published two videos of abuse at penal colony No. 1 (IK-1) in Yaroslavl.  Staff at the prison had previously been convicted of torture-related crimes stemming from a separate 2018 video depicting the abuse of an inmate.  In May media outlets reported that the Investigative Committee had detained 10 staff members of the IK-1 prison, although as of July, no information was available on the outcome of the investigation.  On October 5, after the release of numerous videos depicting the torture and rape of inmates in the Saratov regional tuberculosis hospital No. 1, the Federal Penitentiary System opened an investigation into abuses at the facility.

Administration:  While prisoners may file complaints with public oversight commissions or with the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson, they often did not do so due to fear of reprisal.  Prison reform activists reported that only prisoners who believed they had no other option risked the consequences of filing a complaint.  Complaints that reached the oversight commissions often focused on minor personal requests.

Convicted inmates and individuals in pretrial detention have visitation rights, but authorities may deny visitation depending on circumstances.  By law prisoners with harsher sentences are allowed fewer visitation rights.  The judge in a prisoner’s case may deny the prisoner visitation.  Authorities may also prohibit relatives deemed a security risk from visiting prisoners.  Some pretrial detainees believed authorities sometimes denied visitation and telephone access to pressure them into providing confessions.

Independent Monitoring:  Authorities permitted representatives of public oversight commissions to visit prisons regularly to monitor conditions.  According to the Public Chamber, there were public oversight commissions in almost all regions.  Human rights activists expressed concern that some members of the commissions were individuals close to authorities and included persons with law enforcement backgrounds.

By law members of oversight commissions have the right to videotape and photograph inmates in detention facilities and prisons with their written approval.  Commission members may also collect air samples, conduct other environmental inspections, conduct safety evaluations, and access prison psychiatric facilities.  The law permits human rights activists not listed in public oversight commissions to visit detentions centers and prisons.  The NGO Interregional Center for Women’s Support, working with detained migrants, noted that only after a specific detainee submits a request and contacts the NGO may the organization obtain permission to visit a given detention center.

Authorities allowed the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture to visit the country’s prisons and release some reports on conditions but continued to withhold permission for it to release all recent reports.

There were reports of authorities prosecuting journalists and activists for reporting torture.  For example, Vladimir Taranenko, an employee of the human rights organization Siberia Pravovaya detained in pretrial detention facility No. 1 of the Kemerovo region on extortion charges, told media on July 6 that he had been tortured by prison authorities who sought access to the Siberia Pravovaya YouTube channel.  Siberia Pravovaya provides legal assistance to convicts and prisoners and publishes accounts of prison abuse on its YouTube channel, and human rights defenders alleged that Taranenko was prosecuted on fabricated charges because of his activism.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

While the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities engaged in these practices with impunity.  The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, but successful challenges were rare.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

By law authorities may arrest and hold a suspect for up to 48 hours without court approval, provided there is evidence of a crime or a witness; otherwise, an arrest warrant is required.  The law requires judicial approval of arrest warrants, searches, seizures, and detentions.  Officials generally honored this requirement, although bribery or political pressure sometimes subverted the process of obtaining judicial warrants.

After an arrest, police typically took detainees to the nearest police station, where they informed them of their rights.  Police must prepare a protocol stating the grounds for the arrest, and both the detainee and police officer must sign it within three hours of detention.  Police must interrogate detainees within the first 24 hours of detention.  Prior to interrogation, a detainee has the right to meet with an attorney for two hours.  No later than 12 hours after detention, police must notify the prosecutor.  They must also give the detainee an opportunity to notify his or her relatives by telephone unless a prosecutor issues a warrant to keep the detention secret.  Police are required to release a detainee after 48 hours, subject to bail conditions, unless a court decides, at a hearing, to prolong custody in response to a motion filed by police not less than eight hours before the 48-hour detention period expires.  The defendant and his or her attorney must be present at the court hearing, either in person or through a video link.  In May the State Duma adopted and President Putin signed into law amendments to the penal code that prohibit lawyers from bringing “communications technologies on the grounds of a correctional institution,” effectively barring lawyers from bringing their cell phones or other recording devices into detention facilities when meeting with their clients.

Except in the North Caucasus, authorities generally respected the legal limitations on detention.  There were reports of occasional noncompliance with the 48-hour limit for holding a detainee.  At times authorities failed to issue an official detention protocol within the required three hours after detention and held suspects longer than the legal detention limits.

By law police must complete their investigation and transfer a case to a prosecutor for arraignment within two months of a suspect’s arrest, although an investigative authority may extend a criminal investigation for up to 12 months.  Extensions beyond 12 months need the approval of the head federal investigative authority in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the FSB, or the Investigative Committee and the approval of the court.  According to some defense lawyers, the two-month time limit often was exceeded, especially in cases with a high degree of public interest.

Detainees had trouble obtaining adequate defense counsel.  While the law provides defendants the right to choose their own lawyers, investigators sometimes did not respect this provision, instead designating lawyers friendly to the prosecution.  These “pocket” defense attorneys agreed to the interrogation of their clients in their presence while making no effort to defend their clients’ legal rights.  For example, on July 6, Aleksey Vorsin, an opposition activist and former head of Aleksey Navalny’s Khabarovsk headquarters, was denied his request to replace his court-appointed public defender with legal representation of his choosing on procedural grounds.  Vorsin was charged with repeated participation in protests and received a three-year suspended sentence.  Moscow-based international human rights organization Memorial, which regularly publishes a list of political prisoners in Russia, considered Vorsin’s incarceration politically motivated.

In many cases, especially in more remote regions, defense counsel was not available for indigent defendants.  Judges usually did not suppress confessions taken without a lawyer present.  Judges at times freed suspects held in excess of detention limits, although they usually granted prosecutors’ motions to extend detention periods.

There were reports that security services sometimes held detainees in incommunicado detention before officially registering the detention.  This practice usually coincided with allegations of the use of torture to coerce confessions before detainees were permitted access to a lawyer.  The problem was especially acute in the Republic of Chechnya, where incommunicado detention could reportedly last for weeks in some cases.

Media reported that police used facial recognition technology to detain several individuals days after public demonstrations, with some instances of misidentification leading to the arrest of the wrong individuals.  For example, the internet freedom NGO Roskomsvoboda published an interview on July 16 with a Moscow municipal deputy, Vladimir Zalishchak, who, after attending the January 23 demonstrations in Moscow as a representative of the state, was arrested by police based on facial recognition software placing him at the protest.  A court quickly sentenced Zalishchak to 15 days’ detention without permitting him access to a lawyer.  Media outlets reported that Moscow police also detained several activists and journalists identified using facial recognition technology as attendees of the peaceful rally in support of Navalny on April 21.  The director of Amnesty International’s Moscow office, Natalia Zviagina, characterized the use of facial recognition technology to identify and target protesters as “extremely disturbing.”

There were also reports that authorities targeted lawyers involved in the defense of political prisoners.  For example, on April 30, security forces searched the hotel room of human rights lawyer Ivan Pavlov and detained him for allegedly disclosing data related to the case of former Kommersant journalist Ivan Safronov (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Russia for 2020), a charge he denied.  On July 17, Komanda 29 (Team 29), the lawyer’s association led by Pavlov, announced its decision to legally dissolve after the Prosecutor General’s Office blocked its website on July 16 for allegedly affiliating with the Czech NGO Spolecnost Svobody Informace (Freedom of Information Society), which was designated an “undesirable foreign organization” on June 29 (see section 2.b.).

Arbitrary Arrest:  There were many reports of arbitrary arrest or detention, often in connection with demonstrations or single-person pickets, such as those organized January 23 and 31 and February 2 and 14 calling for Navalny’s release (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees, and section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly).

On February 4, police in the city of Nizhny Novgorod arrested 20-year-old Salekh Magamadov and 17-year-old Ismail Isayev and forcibly transferred them to Chechnya, where their whereabouts were unknown to their lawyers and family members for several days.  According to human rights organizations, the two men were targeted for having operated a social media channel critical of the government and for their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.  As of December, Magamadov and Isayev remained in detention in Chechnya’s capital Grozny for having allegedly aided an illegal armed group, charges that human rights organizations called fabricated.

Police detained single-person picketers in Moscow and other regions of the country.  In one example, on February 2, police in Mari El opened a case against the leader of the For New Socialism movement, Dmitriy Mishin, for “violating the procedure for holding a picket” after he hung banners expressing support for Navalny on several snowmen.  The charge was dropped on April 9.  On August 21, at least eight journalists were detained while conducting separate single-person protests against the “media foreign agent” law outside FSB headquarters in Moscow.

During the year human rights monitoring groups reported an increase in so-called carousel arrests, in which police immediately rearrest protest participants upon exiting detention facilities after having completed court-ordered administrative sentences.  In contrast to earlier cases of protesters being arrested multiple times, the new charges filed against these activists and journalists stemmed from the same underlying activities or events, allowing authorities to impose lengthy periods of detention for minor infractions.  For example, OVD-Info reported that from May to July, members of the Pussy Riot movement were repeatedly sentenced up to the 15 days’ maximum administrative detention for disobeying a police officer.  One of the activists, Veronika Nikulshina, was sentenced three times in three months to 15-day detentions, including on July 2, the day after her release from a June 16 detention.  Her lawyer speculated that the systematic detentions were intended to prevent the movement from organizing demonstrations during a European soccer championship match hosted in Russia.

There were reports that Russia-led forces and Russian occupation authorities in Ukraine engaged in arbitrary detention (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine).

Pretrial Detention:  Observers noted lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, but data on its extent were not available.  By law pretrial detention may not normally exceed two months, but the court has the power to extend it to six months, as well as to 12 or 18 months if the crime of which the defendant is accused is especially serious.  For example, Yuriy Savelyev, a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, was held in pretrial detention from October 2019 to December 2020 prior to being sentenced to six years in prison for participating in the activities of a “banned extremist organization.”  Media outlets reported that the Eighth Cassation Court of Kemerovo ruled on March 29 that his lengthy pretrial detention was illegal.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court:  By law a detainee may challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court.  Due to problems with judicial independence (see section 1.e.), however, judges typically agreed with the investigator and dismissed defendants’ complaints.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but judges remained subject to influence from the executive branch, the armed forces, and other security forces, particularly in high-profile or politically sensitive cases, as well as to corruption.  The outcomes of some trials appeared predetermined.  Acquittal rates remained extremely low.  In 2020 courts acquitted 0.34 percent of all defendants.

There were reports of pressure on defense attorneys representing clients who were being subjected to politically motivated prosecution and other forms of reprisal.  According to a 2019 report from the Agora International Human Rights Group, it was common practice for judges to remove defense attorneys from court hearings without a legitimate basis in retaliation for their providing clients with an effective defense.  The report also documented a trend of law enforcement authorities using physical force to interfere with the work of defense attorneys, including the use of violence to prevent them from being present during searches and interrogations.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but executive interference with the judiciary and judicial corruption undermined this right.

The defendant has a legal presumption of innocence and the right to a fair, timely, and public trial, but these rights were not always respected. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of charges and to be present at the trial. The law provides for the appointment of an attorney free of charge if a defendant cannot afford one, although the high cost of legal service meant that lower-income defendants often lacked competent representation. A Yekaterinburg-based legal and human rights NGO indicated many defense attorneys did not vigorously defend their clients and that there were few qualified defense attorneys in remote areas of the country. Defense attorneys may visit their clients in detention, although defense lawyers claimed authorities electronically monitored their conversations and did not always provide them access to their clients. Prior to trial, defendants receive a copy of their indictment, which describes the charges against them in detail. They also may review their file following the completion of the criminal investigation.

Non-Russian defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, although the quality of interpretation was typically poor. During trial the defense is not required to present evidence and is given an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and call defense witnesses, although judges may deny the defense this opportunity. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right of appeal.

The law provides for trial by jury in criminal cases if the defendant is charged with murder, kidnapping, narcotics smuggling, and certain other serious crimes. Nonetheless, trials by jury remained rare, and most verdicts and sentences were rendered by judges. The acquittal rate in trials by jury was higher (23 percent in 2019) than in trials before a judge (0.34 percent in 2020), although acquittals by jury were sometimes overturned by judges in appellate courts.

The law allows prosecutors to appeal acquittals, which they did in most cases. Prosecutors may also appeal what they regard as lenient sentences.

Authorities particularly infringed on the right to a fair trial in Chechnya, where observers noted that the judicial system served as a means of conducting reprisals against those who exposed wrongdoing by Chechnya head Kadyrov.

In some cases judicial authorities imposed sentences disproportionate to the crimes charged. For example, on January 15, Pavel Zelenskiy, an employee of Navalny’s Anticorruption Foundation, was detained and charged with “public calls for extremist activities” for writing a pair of tweets in response to the October 2020 suicide of journalist Irina Murakhtayeva (known professionally as Irina Slavina; see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Russia for 2020). A Moscow court sentenced Zelenskiy to two years in prison on April 16. Memorial considered Zelenskiy to be a political prisoner.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were credible reports of political prisoners in the country and that authorities detained and prosecuted individuals for political reasons.  Charges usually applied in politically motivated cases included “terrorism,” “extremism,” “separatism,” and “espionage.”  Political prisoners were reportedly placed in particularly harsh conditions of confinement and subjected to other punitive treatment within the prison system, such as solitary confinement or punitive stays in psychiatric units.

As of December 7, Memorial’s list of political prisoners contained 426 names, including 343 individuals who were allegedly wrongfully imprisoned for exercising freedom of religion or belief.  Memorial estimated that the actual number of political prisoners in the country could be three to four times greater than the number on its list.  Memorial’s list included opposition activists and politicians, including Aleksey Navalny and his associates (see section 1.d.); journalists jailed for their work, such as members of the student publication DOXA and Chernovik editor Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev (see section 2.a.); human rights activists jailed for their work, such as Yuriy Dmitriyev; many Ukrainians (including Crimean Tatars) imprisoned for their vocal opposition to the country’s occupation of Crimea; individuals jailed for participating in the 2019 Moscow protests as well as the nationwide protests during the year; and members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, certain Muslim groups, and other religious groups.

Memorial noted the average length of sentences for the cases on their list continued to increase, from 5.3 years for political prisoners and 6.6 years for religious prisoners in 2016 to 6.8 and 9.1 years, respectively, in 2018.  In some cases sentences were significantly longer, such as the case of Aleksey Pichugin, a former security official of the Russian oil company Yukos, imprisoned since 2003 with a life sentence for conviction of alleged involvement in murder and attempted murder; human rights organizations asserted that his detention was politically motivated to obtain false evidence against Yukos executives.

On January 17, authorities detained anticorruption campaigner Aleksey Navalny at the Sheremetyevo Airport upon his return to Moscow from Berlin where he had been recovering from his poisoning by a Novichok nerve agent (see section 1.a.).  Russian authorities justified the detention with a December 2020 order for Navalny to “register” with authorities to stay in compliance with the terms of the suspended prison sentence he received following conviction in the Yves Rocher “money laundering” case, which was set to expire December 30.  The ECHR had previously characterized Navalny’s conviction in the Yves Rocher case as “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable” and ordered the Russian government to pay Navalny compensation.

Alleging Navalny had violated the terms of his probation when he failed to appear, the Simonovskiy District Court of Moscow scheduled a hearing on January 29 to adjudicate the prison authorities’ request that he serve out his suspended sentence – for which he had already served his time – in prison.  Human rights experts believed at the time that authorities sought to discourage Navalny from returning to Russia ahead of the State Duma elections on September 19.  Navalny nonetheless voluntarily returned on January 17.  Independent Russian and international journalists accompanied him on his return flight and live-streamed his trip, including the plane’s diversion from its original destination airport in an apparent attempt to avoid his awaiting supporters, as well as his detention by security authorities at customs control.

After being delayed access to his lawyer, Navalny was sentenced on January 18 in a makeshift court hearing at the Khimki police station to 30 days in pretrial detention.  Independent observers characterized the hearing as a “mockery of justice.”  On February 2, the Simonovskiy District Court of Moscow ruled to convert Navalny’s suspended sentence into a prison sentence of three and one-half years, which was subsequently reduced to two years and eight months to account for the time he had previously spent under house arrest.  During the hearing the prosecutor and prison authorities claimed not to know Navalny’s whereabouts in the fall of 2020, when he had been in a well publicized coma and receiving medical care in Germany following his poisoning by the Russian government.

On February 16, the ECHR issued a ruling that obliged Russian authorities to release Navalny from pretrial detention due to threats to his safety.  Russian authorities dismissed the ECHR ruling as undue interference in the Russian judicial system and claimed it was without merit after a 2020 constitutional amendment gave Russian law primacy over international law or any treaty to which Russia is a party.  On March 2, authorities transferred Navalny from the SIZO-1 detention center near Moscow to the penal colony No. 2 in the Vladimir Region, a prison notorious for having some of the harshest conditions in the country.  In the subsequent months, Navalny’s associates reported that his health deteriorated and that prison authorities routinely restricted his access to his lawyers.  The courts repeatedly denied Navalny’s efforts to appeal the basis for his detention or challenge the conditions of his detention.  In response to the conditions of his detention, Navalny went on a hunger strike from March 31 to April 23 (see section 1.c.).  At year’s end Navalny remained in prison.  Memorial, Amnesty International, and other prominent human rights organizations considered Navalny to be a political prisoner.

According to Memorial, Navalny had been charged in 11 other politically motivated criminal cases since 2011.  In one case, on February 20, a Moscow court found Navalny guilty of defamation after he criticized participants in a propaganda video supporting President Putin’s constitutional amendments package on social media (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Russia for 2020).  The court fined Navalny 850,000 rubles ($11,500).

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Extraterritorial Killing, Kidnapping, Forced Returns, or Other Violence or Threats of Violence:  On August 6, a court in Austria sentenced an ethnically Chechen Russian citizen, Sarali Akhtayev, to life in prison after finding him guilty of murdering Chechen dissident Mamikhan Umarov near Vienna in July 2020.  Investigators were unable to establish a definitive motive for the crime, although some members of the Chechen exile community in Austria believed the murder was politically motivated.  In addition to maintaining a blog critical of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, Umarov had given testimony in murder trials involving Chechens.  Soon after Umarov’s death, purported relatives of Umarov released a video in which they took responsibility for Umarov’s killing and called on Austrian authorities to release suspects held in connection with his murder.

On September 21, the ECHR ruled in favor of the widow of Russian whistleblower Aleksandr Litvinenko, who was fatally poisoned with the radioactive isotope polonium-210 in the United Kingdom in 2006, finding that the Russian government was responsible for Litvinenko’s death.  The court concluded there was a strong prima facie case that the two men who poisoned Litvinenko, Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitriy Kovtun, had been acting as agents of the Russian state.  It noted that the Russian government had failed to provide any other satisfactory and convincing explanation of the events or to counter the findings of the British inquiry.  The court also found that Russian authorities had not carried out an effective domestic investigation capable of leading to the establishment of the facts and, where appropriate, the identification and punishment of those responsible for the murder.

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion:  On March 26, authorities detained Yuriy Zhdanov, the father of Navalny associate Ivan Zhdanov, for alleged abuse of office.  On May 19, the Investigative Committee for the Arkhangelsk Region instead charged Zhdanov with the more serious charges of forgery and fraud on a large scale that carry up to 10 years in prison if convicted.  On July 19, Zhdanov’s pretrial detention was extended, and his trial did not commence until October 25.  On December 20, Zhdanov was given a three-year suspended sentence and released nine months after his initial detention.  Memorial recognized Zhdanov as a political prisoner.

Misuse of International Law-enforcement Tools:  There were credible reports that authorities attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated reprisal against specific individuals located outside the country.  For example, on February 10, a Moscow court ordered the arrest of a prominent Navalny associate, Leonid Volkov, who resided in Lithuania at the time, on charges of encouraging minors to participate in unauthorized rallies, an offense that could be punished by up to three years in prison.  The warrant was sent via Interpol to Lithuanian authorities, who refused to enforce it on the grounds that it was politically motivated.

On July 21 in Warsaw, Polish authorities detained Yevgeniy Khasoyev, a human rights activist from Buryatiya, at the request of Moscow’s Interpol office.  Khasoyev’s lawyer told media that he was detained for 48 hours while a Polish court decided on Russia’s extradition request.  Khasoyev had left Russia in March after authorities charged him with “threatening violence against a government official.”  Khasoyev characterized the case as politically motivated and an effort to hinder his activism in Buryatiya, where he defended the interests of victims of police violence and those detained during pro-Navalny protests earlier in the year.  On October 26, a Warsaw district court declined to extradite Khasoyev to Russia.  According to Khasoyev, the judge said it was obvious Russian authorities were trying to defame Khasoyev because he had provided legal support to pro-Navalny protesters.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Although the law provides mechanisms for individuals to file lawsuits against authorities for human rights violations, these mechanisms often were not effective.  For example, the law provides that a defendant who has been acquitted after a trial has the right to compensation from the government.  While this legal mechanism exists in principle, it was very cumbersome to use.  Persons who believed their human rights were violated typically sought redress in the ECHR after domestic courts ruled against them.  Amendments to the constitution that were approved in a nationwide vote in July 2020 and signed into law in December 2020 established the primacy of Russian domestic law over international law by providing that decisions by interstate bodies interpreted in a manner contrary to the constitution are not enforceable in the country.  Many experts interpreted the provision as giving Russian courts greater power to ignore rulings from international human rights bodies, including the ECHR; the courts had already set a precedent by declaring such bodies’ decisions “nonexecutable.”

Property Seizure and Restitution

The country has endorsed the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Restitution but declined to endorse the 2010 Guidelines and Best Practices.  No legislation or special mechanism in the country addresses the restitution of or compensation for private property; the same is true for heirless property.  The government has laws in place providing for the restitution of cultural property, but according to the laws’ provisions, claims may only be made by states and not individuals.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, can be found on the Department’s website at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

The law forbids officials from entering a private residence except in cases prescribed by federal law or when authorized by a judicial decision.  The law also prohibits the collection, storage, utilization, and dissemination of information about a person’s private life without his or her consent.  While the law previously prohibited government monitoring of correspondence, telephone conversations, and other means of communication without a warrant, those legal protections were significantly weakened by laws passed after 2016 granting authorities sweeping powers and requiring telecommunications providers to store all electronic and telecommunication data (see section 2.a., Internet Freedom).  Politicians from minority parties, NGOs, human rights activists, and journalists alleged that authorities routinely employed surveillance and other measures to spy on and intimidate citizens.

Law enforcement agencies required telecommunications providers to grant the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB continuous remote access to client databases, including telephone and electronic communications, enabling them to track private communications and monitor internet activity without the provider’s knowledge.  The law permits authorities with a warrant to monitor telephone calls in real time, but this safeguard was largely pro forma.  The Ministry of Information and Communication requires telecommunications service providers to allow the FSB to tap telephones and monitor the internet.  On July 1, President Putin signed into law a bill that allows security services to obtain data on the location of mobile telephones without a court order for a period of 24 hours, or 48 hours in the case of a missing minor.  Prior to the adoption of this amendment, even though the Ministry of Information and Communication maintained that authorities would not access information without a court order, the FSB was not required to show it.

Law enforcement officials reportedly accessed, collected, or used private communications or personal data arbitrarily or unlawfully or without appropriate legal authority.

The law requires explicit consent for governmental and private collection of biometric data via facial recognition technology.  Laws on public security and crime prevention, however, provide for exceptions to this consent requirement.  Human rights activists claimed the law lacks appropriate safeguards to prevent the misuse of these data, especially without any judicial or public oversight over surveillance methods and technologies.

Authorities punished family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives.  On January 27, police detained Aleksey Navalny’s brother Oleg (see section 1.d.) the same day as police searched the houses of at least 13 Navalny associates, including those of his wife Yuliya and his colleague Lyubov Sobol, as well as the headquarters of “Navalny Live,” Navalny’s anticorruption YouTube channel.  Critics characterized the police tactics as efforts to punish or pressure Navalny, who remained detained at the time.  In subsequent months authorities exerted similar pressure on the families of Navalny’s associates residing outside of the country, such as Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s former campaign manager, and Ivan Zhdanov, the former director of the Anticorruption Foundation.

According to a December 2020 study by the information and analytical agency TelecomDaily, the country had more than 13 million closed-circuit television cameras in 2020, with approximately one-third of these installed by the government and the rest by businesses and individuals to protect private property.  By the end of 2020, approximately 200,000 government surveillance cameras were installed in Moscow and equipped with Russian-developed automated facial recognition software as part of its “Safe City” program.  The system was initially installed in key public places, such as metro stations and apartment entrances, to scan crowds against a database of wanted individuals.  During the demonstrations on April 21 (see section 1.d.), authorities used facial recognition data to identify protesters, sometimes incorrectly, days after the demonstration.

In 2020 the State Duma adopted a law to create a unified federal register containing information on all the country’s residents, including their names, dates and places of birth, and marital status.  According to press reports, intelligence and security services would have access to the database in their investigations.  There were reports that authorities threatened to remove children from the custody of parents engaged in political activism or some forms of religious worship, or parents who were LGBTQI+ persons.  Several families reportedly left the country due to fear of arrest, although as of October no related arrests were reported.

The law requires relatives of terrorists to pay the cost of damages caused by an attack, which human rights advocates criticized as collective punishment.  Chechen Republic authorities reportedly routinely imposed collective punishment on the relatives of alleged terrorists, including by expelling them from the republic.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of assembly, but local authorities restricted this right.  The law requires organizers of public meetings, demonstrations, or marches by more than one person to notify the government, although authorities maintained that protest organizers must receive government permission, not just provide notification.  Failure to obtain official permission to hold a protest resulted in the demonstration being viewed as unlawful by law enforcement officials, who routinely dispersed such protests.  While some public demonstrations took place, on many occasions local officials selectively denied groups permission to assemble or offered alternate venues that were inconveniently or remotely located.  Many public demonstrations were restricted or banned due to COVID-19 measures.  Each region enforced its own restrictions.

Although they do not require official approval, authorities restricted single-person pickets and required that there be at least 164 feet separating protesters from each other.  By law police officers may stop a single-person picket to protect the health and safety of the picketer.  In December 2020 President Putin approved amendments to the law that placed further restrictions on single-person pickets as well as multiperson protests, rallies, or demonstrations.  The amended law imposes financial reporting requirements, prohibits protests or public demonstrations near agencies that perform “emergency operational services” (such as law enforcement agencies), and imposes further restrictions on journalists covering these events.  In addition, the law prohibits “foreign sources of funding” financing public demonstrations and treats single-person pickets, if held in the general vicinity of other picketers, as “mass demonstrations without a permit,” which are banned.  Authorities regularly detained single-person picketers.  For example, on February 9, Yekaterinburg police arrested Galina Gastrygina, a 79-year-old woman, for holding a placard stating, “Navalny is a hero of our time.”  A court subsequently fined her 1,000 rubles ($13.50) on February 19.  Her lawyer reported that guards pushed witnesses and journalists out of the courtroom during what was to have been a public hearing.  In another example, on May 25, St. Petersburg police detained civil activist Yevgeniya Smetankina for having held a single-person picket in support of the feminist activist Yuliya Tsvetkova (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

The law requires that “motor rallies” and “tent city” gatherings in public places receive official permission.  It requires gatherings that would interfere with pedestrian or vehicle traffic to receive official agreement 10 days prior to the event; those that do not affect traffic require three days’ notice.  The law prohibits “mass rioting,” which includes teaching and learning about the organization of and participation in “mass riots.”  The law allows authorities to prohibit nighttime demonstrations and meetings and to levy fines for violating protest regulations and rules on holding public events.

Following an amendment to the criminal code signed by President Putin in December, the law imposes a fine for destroying infrastructure facilities and blocking roads and a 10-year prison sentence in the case of death of more than one person.  During demonstrations early in the year, authorities charged dozens of individuals countrywide under the new law penalizing the blocking of roads.  For example, on January 24, the Ministry of Interior opened a criminal case for “blocking roads and sidewalks” during a rally on Pushkin Square in central Moscow.  Under the pretext of its investigation, the Ministry of Interior raided the homes of 30 individuals suspected of involvement and seized their equipment and files, purportedly as evidence.

The law provides heavy penalties for engaging in unsanctioned protests and other violations of public assembly law.  Protesters convicted of multiple violations within six months may be fined substantially or imprisoned for up to five years.  The law prohibits “involving a minor in participation in an unsanctioned gathering,” which is punishable by fines, 100 hours of community service, or arrest for up to 15 days.  On June 18, Novaya Gazeta reported that several cities filed lawsuits against the supposed organizers of the January and February demonstrations in their areas in a stated effort to recuperate costs incurred by the Ministry of Interior staff and local authorities who worked on the day of the demonstrations.  In the Kemerovo region, authorities sought 700,000 rubles ($9,500) in compensation from former employees of Navalny’s regional headquarters.

Arrests or detentions for organizing or taking part in unsanctioned protests were common.  Ahead of the January 23 demonstrations, which were unauthorized, authorities preemptively detained Navalny associates, including his spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, and his Anticorruption Foundation’s lawyer, Lyubov Sobol, and investigator, Georgiy Alburov.  Ten Navalny associates, including Yarmysh, Sobol, and Navalny’s brother Oleg, were subsequently arrested on January 28 and charged with violating COVID-19-related public health rules in connection with the January 23 demonstration and placed under house arrest through June 23.  Independent media outlets characterized the arrests as an effort to prevent the political opposition from participating in the September Duma elections.  On June 7, a Moscow court extended movement and communications restrictions for Sobol and Oleg Navalny until November, and on July 21, the courts separately extended Yarmysh’s house arrest until January 2022.  Memorial considered the 10 activists of the “sanitary case” to be political prisoners.

According to an FSB internal report leaked to media, approximately 12,000 individuals, including 761 minors, were detained nationwide during the January 23 and 31 demonstrations on charges that included violations of COVID-19 preventive measures, violence against persons in authority, incitement of minors, and organization of an unauthorized protest.  Media outlets reported that of those detained, 1,200 were sentenced to administrative arrest and 2,490 were fined for their participation in the demonstrations.  The independent human rights media project OVD-Info reported that an additional 1,788 individuals were detained on April 21 during countrywide demonstrations after Navalny declared a hunger strike to seek medical care (see section 1.c.).

On February 11, the Ministry of Interior reported that it had opened 90 criminal cases for crimes committed during the demonstrations, with most cases to “illegal actions targeting police officers” or “repeated participation in an unauthorized protest.”  For example, on March 3, a court in the Volga region sentenced a man to 18 months of forced labor for attacking a police officer during the January 23 protest after the man pleaded guilty to the charge.  Based on information provided by the court reporter to OVD-Info, the man intervened in the detention of another protest participant, “causing the latter physical pain and bodily injury.”

Police often broke up protests that were not officially sanctioned, at times using disproportionate force.  OVD-Info registered at least 140 reports of police brutality against demonstrators and monitored the initiation of 90 criminal cases against demonstrators.  For example, in one instance filmed on January 23, police officers kicked a woman in the stomach, causing her to collapse and require medical assistance.  On February 5, members of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights released a statement urging officials to end the use of riot control weapons during the detention of peaceful demonstrators and to investigate “cases of excess of authority and hindrances to the activity of lawyers and journalists.”

There were reports that the government penalized employees for their participation in or support of unsanctioned assemblies.  For example, at least 40 employees of the Moscow metro were dismissed in May for their participation in or support of the January and February protests.  On May 14, Moscow City Duma deputy Mikhail Timonov reported that metro management ordered the dismal of employees whose names or whose relatives’ names appeared in a leaked database of Navalny supporters.

Media reported several instances in which authorities charged individuals for their alleged participation in or other support of the demonstrations even when the individual charged was already detained or the statute of limitations for that particular charge had expired.  For example, an employee of Navalny’s political organization, Aleksandr Kopyev, was charged on February 19 for his alleged participation in a January 31 pro-Navalny demonstration, even though he had already been detained for his earlier involvement in a demonstration on January 23.

The courts occasionally acknowledged violations of citizens’ rights to assemble.  For example, on March 3, the Smolninskiy District Court of St. Petersburg ordered the Ministry of Internal Affairs to pay compensation for moral damage to Sergey Dumtsev, who was detained for holding a single-person picket in 2019.  The court found that the police had no right to stop the picket or to detain the activist and keep him in the police office for more than three hours.  In another example, during the spring the Supreme Court of Tatarstan awarded compensation for moral damages to three activists from Naberezhnye Chelny after the executive committee refused their 2018 request to hold a rally against raising the retirement age.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government did not respect it.  Public organizations must register their bylaws and the names of their leaders with the Ministry of Justice.  The finances of registered organizations are subject to investigation by tax authorities, and foreign grants must be registered.

The government continued to use the “foreign agents” law, which requires NGOs that receive foreign funding and engage in “political activity” to register as “foreign agents,” to harass, stigmatize, and, in some cases, halt their operation, although fewer organizations were registered than in previous years.  As of December 7, the Ministry of Justice’s registry of organizations designated as “foreign agents” included 75 NGOs.  The Ministry of Justice maintained separate registries of 111 media outlets and journalists designated as foreign agents as well as 49 “undesirable organizations” (see sections 2.a., Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).  NGOs designated as “foreign agents” are banned by law from observing elections and face other restrictions on their activity.

For the purposes of implementing the “foreign agents” law, the government considered “political activities” to include:  organizing public events, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets; organizing and conducting public debates, discussions, or presentations; ‎participating in election activities aimed at influencing the result, including election observation and forming commissions; public calls to influence local and state government bodies, including calling for changes to legislation; disseminating opinions and decisions of state bodies by technology; and attempting to shape public political views, including public opinion polls or other sociological research.

To be delisted, an NGO must submit an application to the Ministry of Justice proving that it did not receive any foreign funding or engage in any political activity within the previous 12 months.  If the NGO received any foreign funding, it must have returned the money within three months.  The ministry would then initiate an unscheduled inspection of the NGO to determine whether it qualified for removal from the list.

The law requires that NGOs on the foreign agents list identify themselves as “foreign agents” in all their public materials.  Authorities fined NGOs for failing to disclose their “foreign agent” status on websites or printed materials.  For example, on April 13, the Kuybyshevskiy District Court of St. Petersburg fined the Center for the Development of Nonprofit Organizations and its director, Anna Orlova, for failure to label social media posts appropriately.

Organizations the government listed as “foreign agents” reported experiencing the social effects of stigmatization, such as being targeted by vandals and online criticism, in addition to losing partners and funding sources and being subjected to smear campaigns in the state-controlled press.  At the same time, the “foreign agent” label did not necessarily exclude organizations from receiving state-sponsored support.

The law requires the Ministry of Justice to maintain a list of “undesirable foreign organizations.”  The list expanded during the year to 49 organizations as of December 7.  The Ministry of Justice added three German NGOs involved in efforts to develop relations with Russia, three United Kingdom (UK) affiliates of opposition activist Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russian Foundation, a French NGO involved in educational exchange, a Czech NGO promoting freedom of information, a foreign college, two Church of Scientology organizations, the investigative outlet Proyekt, the International Partnership for Human Rights, four evangelical Christian groups, and the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations.

By law a foreign organization may be found “undesirable” if it is deemed “dangerous to the foundations of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation, its national security, and defense.”  Authorities did not clarify what specific threats these “undesirable” NGOs posed to the country.  Any foreign organization deemed “undesirable” must cease its activities.  Any money or assets found by authorities may be seized, and any citizens found guilty of continuing to work with the organization in contravention of the law may face up to seven years in prison.  On June 29, President Putin signed into law a bill that prohibits Russian citizens in any country from taking part in the work of NGOs designated as undesirable in Russia and from transferring money to Russia from certain countries under monitoring by the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, regardless of the transferred amount.  The law became effective on October 1.

Authorities imposed criminal penalties for purported violations of the law on “undesirable foreign organizations.”  On February 18, a court in Rostov-on-Don convicted political activist Anastasiya Shevchenko of violating the “undesirable organizations” law for her work with the UK-based NGO Open Russia.  The court sentenced her to four years of parole and ended her house arrest.  Shevchenko was the first person criminally charged under the “undesirable organizations” law.  Amnesty International considered her a prisoner of conscience.

On March 13, law enforcement authorities detained all 194 participants at a forum for municipal and city council members organized by the unregistered political movement United Democrats.  Authorities charged the detainees with administrative violations for allegedly “cooperating with an undesirable foreign organization,” even though United Democrats had not formally been recognized as such.  Attendees, including anti-Kremlin analyst and activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, prominent municipal council members Ilya Yashin and Yuliya Galyamina, and former Yekaterinburg mayor Yevgeniy Roizman, had gathered at a hotel in greater Moscow to exchange ideas and undergo training to enhance city and municipal governance.  While those detained were released pending court hearings in subsequent months, the courts fined a number of the forum participants, including Galyamina, Roizman, and Yekaterinburg city deputy Konstantin Kiselyov.  The Council of Deputies of the Timiryazevskiy district of Moscow announced its decision March 25 to deprive Galyamina of her status as a municipal deputy due to her repeated participation in unauthorized rallies; a Moscow City Court had sentenced Galyamina to two years’ probation for this offense in December 2020.

Citing the pending changes to legislation regarding “undesirable” organizations, director of the Russia-based Open Russia, Andrey Pivovarov, announced on May 27 that the organization would close all branches and annul memberships to prevent the criminal prosecution of its supporters.  Even though the Open Russia organization was declared “undesirable” in 2017, the Russian political advocacy group with the same name had not been banned as of July.  Despite his announcement, on May 31, Russian security forces boarded a flight prior to its departure from St. Petersburg and arrested Pivovarov.  The Investigative Committee subsequently charged Pivovarov for participating in the activities of an “undesirable organization,” detaining him for two months in a pretrial detention facility in Krasnodar.  On June 1, authorities also searched the premises of, detained, and opened criminal cases against other prominent Open Russia members, including former director Aleksandr Solovyov.  A court in St. Petersburg fined Pivovarov for the production and distribution of materials of an organization acting as a foreign agent, without indicating its status on July 19.  The opposition politician told media that he believed authorities were persecuting him for political reasons.  On July 21, a court in Krasnodar extended Pivovarov’s pretrial detention through the end of October.  He faced up to six years in prison if convicted on the charge of belonging to an undesirable organization.  Memorial considered Pivovarov a political prisoner.

NGOs engaged in political activities or activities that purportedly “pose a threat to the country” or that received support from U.S. citizens or organizations are subject to suspension under the 2012 “Dima Yakovlev” law, which prohibits NGOs from having members with dual Russian-U.S. citizenship.

In February, President Putin signed into law new regulations and restrictions regarding “foreign agents” and those who disseminate information about them.  The Ministry of Justice subsequently announced the creation of a new registry of “foreign agents,” consisting of unregistered NGOs or loosely defined “public associations” that purportedly receive funding from foreign sources and are engaged in political activity in Russia.  Under the new law, individuals and NGOs who meet the criteria of a “foreign agent” are obliged to register or face criminal liability, with penalties of a fine of up to 300,000 rubles ($4,000), compulsory labor for up to 480 hours, or up to two years of correctional labor or prison.  Under the law the Ministry of Justice may also assign the “foreign agent” status directly to individuals or associations.  On August 18, the election-monitoring group Golos became the first association to be included in the list.  On March 1, when the penalties under the law entered into force, prominent human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov announced the closure of the For Human Rights organization, an unregistered group of human rights activists established in 2019 after a Supreme Court ruling to liquidate his rights monitoring and advocacy organization with the same name.  Ponomaryov, who was designated a “foreign agent” in December 2020 (see section 2.a.), filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 3, demanding his removal from the registry.

On March 3, the Ministry of Justice designated the independent trade union Alliance of Doctors as a “foreign agent,” citing its “repeated receipts of foreign funding, as well as the implementation of political activities.”  Anastasiya Vasilyeva, the leader of the trade union and an associate of Navalny, was one of the activists charged as part of the “sanitary case” for violating COVID-19 protocol in the organization of the January 23 protest (see section 2.b.).  Memorial considered her a political prisoner.

Authorities continued to misuse the country’s expansive definition of extremism to stifle freedom of association.  On June 4, President Putin signed a law that prohibits members of “extremist” organizations from participating in elections at all levels – municipal, regional, and federal.  An organization’s founders and leaders are barred from running for elected office for five years from the date of the organization’s ban, while members and others “involved in its work” are barred for three years.  In addition to direct membership, a person may be considered by the courts to be “involved” in the organization if that individual makes a statement of support for the group, including on social media, transfers money to it, or offers any other form of “assistance.”  The ban may also be applied retroactively, barring individuals from running for office if they were involved with the group up to three years prior to the extremist designation.  Experts and both “systemic opposition” (effectively progovernment) and independent politicians decried the law as politically motivated and unconstitutional, citing the law’s retroactive nature and ability to disenfranchise thousands of individuals as evident violations of the constitution.

On June 9, a Moscow city court designated Navalny’s Anticorruption Foundation, his political operations, and the affiliated Citizens’ Rights Protection Fund as “extremist” in a move that experts said was designed to prohibit those affiliated with Navalny and the Anticorruption Foundation from running for office.  In April the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office had filed a lawsuit seeking the organizations’ designation as “extremist,” which led to an injunction to freeze the organizations’ bank accounts and the suspension of their activities.  Experts characterized this designation and legislative changes to the “foreign agents” and “undesirable organizations” legislation as targeted political repression against opposition groups ahead of the September elections (see section 3).

In multiple cases authorities arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted civil society activists in political retaliation for their work (see section 1.e.).

There were reports authorities targeted NGOs and activists representing the LGBTQI+ community for retaliation (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

Authorities misused antiterrorism and antiextremism laws, as well as other measures to label wrongfully peaceful religious groups and their practices “terrorist,” “extremist,” and “undesirable.”  Among those designated without any credible evidence of violent actions or intentions were two foreign-based Church of Scientology organizations, four Protestant groups from Latvia and Ukraine, a regional branch of Falun Gong and seven Falun Gong-associated NGOs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Fayzrakhmani Islamic community, Tablighi Jamaat, followers of the Muslim theologian Said Nursi, and Hizb ut-Tahrir.  These designations effectively banned their worship and activities, and members were subject to prolonged imprisonment, harsh detention conditions, house arrest and house raids, discrimination, harassment, and criminal investigation for participating in the activities of a “banned extremist organization” (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).

There were reports civil society activists were beaten or attacked in retaliation for their professional activities and that in most cases law enforcement officials did not adequately investigate the incidents.  For example, on July 1, an ecological activist in Tambov Oblast, Roman Gerasimov, was attacked and stabbed three times by assailants after he filmed a video for President Putin’s annual call-in press conference requesting that a planned new landfill not be built in his region.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but in some cases authorities restricted these rights.

In-country Movement:  Although the law gives citizens the right to choose their place of residence, adult citizens must carry government-issued internal passports while traveling domestically and must register with local authorities after arriving at a different location.  To have their files transferred, persons with official refugee or asylum status must notify the Ministry of Internal Affairs in advance of relocating to a district other than the one that originally granted them status.  Authorities often refused to provide government services to individuals without internal passports or proper registration, and many regional governments continued to restrict this right through residential registration rules.

Authorities imposed in-country travel restrictions on individuals facing prosecution for political purposes.

Foreign Travel:  The law provides for freedom to travel abroad, but the government restricted this right for certain groups.  The law stipulates that a person who violates a court decision does not have a right to leave the country.  A court may also prohibit a person from leaving the country for failure to satisfy debts; if the individual is suspected, accused, or convicted of a crime; or if the individual had access to classified material.  The law allows for the temporary restriction of the right to leave the country for citizens with outstanding debts.

The government restricted the foreign travel of millions of its employees, prescribing which countries they are and are not allowed to visit.  The restriction applies to employees of agencies including the Prosecutor General’s Office, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Defense, Federal Prison Service, Federal Drug Control Service, Federal Bailiff Service, General Administration for Migration Issues, and Ministry of Emergency Situations.  On July 7, media outlets reported that Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin signed a decree stating that prior to traveling abroad, his deputies and ministers must obtain his written permission.  The travel restriction would also apply to lower-ranking officials, such as heads of agencies, who must obtain permission from their supervisors before travel.

Citizenship:  There were reports that the government revoked citizenship on an arbitrary or discriminatory basis.  For example, in April 2020 the Internal Affairs Ministry stripped the citizenship of Feliks Makhammadiyev and Konstantin Bazhenov, two members of Jehovah’s Witnesses convicted of “extremism” on the basis of their religious beliefs.  Makhammadiyev was left stateless as a result.  In January authorities deported Makhammadiyev to Uzbekistan.  Media outlets reported that authorities revoked the residency permits of several foreign nationals who had participated in the January and February protests in support of Aleksey Navalny and the people of Belarus, including individuals married to Russian citizens.

In another example, on October 26, authorities deported Tajikistan-born Bakhtiyor Usmonov, separating him from his wife and children.  Usmonov’s deportation followed his successful case in the ECHR against the Russian state, which annulled his citizenship and held him in a detention center for foreign citizens for two years.  The ECHR ordered the Russian government to restore Usmonov’s citizenship and to pay him compensation in the amount of 11,000 euros ($12,700).

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated the country was home to 1,230 internally displaced persons (IDPs) as of December 2020.  Of these, the center asserted that 130 IDPs were displaced due to weather-related events, such as floods, and 1,100 were displaced because of conflict and violence.

According to the government’s official statistics, the number of “forced” migrants, which under the government’s definition includes refugees, asylum seekers, and IDPs, decreased from 9,485 in 2019 to 5,323 in January 2020 and again in January 2021 to 2,512.  The government indicated that most forced migrants came from Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

Reliable information on whether the government promoted the safe, voluntary, dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs was not available.  According to the independent NGOs Civic Assistance Committee and Memorial, most IDPs in the country were displaced by the Ossetian-Ingush conflict of 1992 and the Chechen wars in the mid-1990s and early 2000s.  The Ossetian-Ingush conflict displaced Ingush from the territory of North Ossetia-Alania, and the Chechen wars displaced Chechens.  The government provided minimal financial support for housing to persons registered as IDPs.  The Civic Assistance Committee criticized the government’s strict rules for qualifying for assistance and long backlog of persons waiting for housing support.

f. Protection of Refugees

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported it had a working relationship with the government on asylum, refugee, and stateless persons problems.  The Civic Assistance Committee reported, however, that the government failed to provide protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.  On April 5, President Putin signed a law adopting the charter of the International Organization for Migration, which promotes the organized movement of migrants and 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.  NGOs reported applicants commonly paid informal “facilitation fees” of approximately 33,000 rubles ($445) to General Administration for Migration Issues adjudicators to have their application reviewed.  Applicants who did not speak Russian often had to pay for a private interpreter.  Human rights organizations noted that nearly all newly arrived asylum seekers in large cities, particularly Moscow and St. Petersburg, were forced to apply in other regions, allegedly due to full quotas.  NGOs also noted difficulty in applying for asylum due to long queues and lack of clear application procedures.  The General Administration for Migration Issues approved only a small percentage of applications for refugee status and temporary asylum, with exception of applications from Ukrainians, who had a much higher chance of approval.

Human rights organizations noted the government’s issuance of refugee and temporary asylum status decreased over the previous few years, pointing to the government’s systematic and arbitrary refusal to grant asylum.  NGOs reported that authorities encouraged applicants to return to their countries of origin.

Authorities reportedly also had blanket authority to grant temporary asylum to Syrians, but local migration experts noted a decrease in the number of Syrians afforded temporary asylum, suggesting that the General Administration for Migration Issues had not renewed the temporary asylum of hundreds of Syrians and, in some cases, encouraged applicants to return to Syria.

Refoulement:  The concept of nonrefoulement is not explicitly stated in the law.  The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of persons 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 responsible agency, the General Administration for Migration Issues, did not maintain a presence at airports or other border points and did not adequately publicize that asylum seekers may request access to the agency.  Asylum seekers had to rely on the goodwill of border guards and airline personnel to call immigration officials.  Otherwise, they faced immediate deportation to neighboring countries or return to their countries of origin, including in some cases to countries where they may have had reasonable grounds to fear persecution.

According to Memorial, on March 23, Russian authorities rejected the asylum request of Rozgeldy Choliyev, a citizen of Turkmenistan facing prosecution for public criticism of his home country’s government.  Choliyev had arrived in Moscow from Istanbul and spent three weeks in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport waiting for a response to his request before being deported back to Turkey because all flights from Moscow to Ashgabat were cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.  Memorial said that Choliyev faced extradition from Turkey to Turkmenistan, where he could be prosecuted for his public criticism of the government.

Human rights groups continued to allege that authorities made improper use of international agreements that permit them to detain, and possibly repatriate, persons with outstanding arrest warrants from other former Soviet states.  This system, enforced by informal ties among senior law enforcement officials of the countries concerned, permitted authorities to detain individuals for up to one month while the Prosecutor General’s Office investigated the nature of the warrants.  For example, on July 21, a Russian court ruled that Alyaksey Kudzin, world champion kickboxer and outspoken critic of Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, could be extradited to face charges for assaulting a security officer during prodemocracy protests in Belarus in August 2020.  Despite an earlier ECHR opinion that banned his extradition over concerns that he may be politically persecuted and tortured, Kudzin was handed over to Belarusian authorities and sentenced on August 11 to two and one-half years in prison.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees:  NGOs reported that police detained, fined, and threatened migrants and refugees with deportation.

In some cases temporary asylum holders who received refugee status from third countries were not granted exit visas or allowed to depart the country.

Employment:  Employers frequently refused to hire applicants who lacked residential registration.  UNHCR reported that employers frequently were not familiar with laws permitting employment for refugees and asylum seekers without work permits and refused to hire them.  NGOs reported that refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were vulnerable to exploitation in the form of forced labor because of the lack of proper documents and insufficient Russian language skills.

Access to Basic Services:  By law successful temporary asylum seekers and persons whose applications were being processed have the right to work, to receive medical care, and to attend school.  The government considered Ukrainian asylum seekers to be separate from asylum seekers from other countries, such as Afghanistan, Georgia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen.  NGOs reported authorities provided some services to Ukrainian asylum seekers, but there were instances in which applicants from other countries were denied the same service, including access to medical care and food banks.

While federal law provides for education for all children, regional authorities occasionally denied access to schools to children of temporary asylum and refugee applicants who lacked residential registration or who did not speak Russian.  The Civic Assistance Committee reported that approximately one-third of the children of refugees were enrolled in schools.  When parents encountered difficulties enrolling their children in school, authorities generally cooperated with UNHCR to resolve the problem.

Temporary Protection:  The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees.  As of January 1, a total of 19,817 persons, 92 percent of whom were citizens of Ukraine, held a certificate of temporary asylum in Russia.  A person who does not satisfy the criteria for refugee status, but who for humanitarian reasons could not be expelled or deported, may receive temporary asylum after submitting a separate application.  There were reports, however, of authorities not upholding the principle of temporary protection.

g. Stateless Persons

According to the 2010 population census, the country was home to 178,000 self-declared stateless persons.  Official statistics did not differentiate between stateless persons and other categories of persons seeking assistance.  UNHCR data showed 60,185 stateless persons, including forcibly displaced stateless persons, in the country at the end of 2020.  Law, policy, and procedures allow stateless persons and their children born in the country to gain nationality.  The Civic Assistance Committee noted that most stateless persons in the country were elderly, ill, or single former Soviet Union passport holders who missed the opportunity to claim Russian citizenship after the Soviet Union broke up.  The NGO reported various bureaucratic hurdles as obstacles to obtaining legal status in the country.  On February 24, President Putin signed a law authorizing temporary identity certificates for stateless persons that would be valid for 10 years or until the holder receives citizenship or a residence permit in another country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

While the law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, citizens could not fully do so because the government limited the ability of opposition parties to organize, register candidates for public office, access media outlets, and conduct political campaigns.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections:  On September 17-19, the country held elections for the State Duma as well as 10 gubernatorial elections and 39 regional parliamentary elections.  The independent election observation group Golos concluded the elections were neither free nor fair.  Golos noted the electoral campaign was conducted in an unfree and unequal manner and that many politically active citizens were deprived of their constitutional right to be elected.  Observers also documented fraud and violations during voting and vote-counting that undermined public confidence in the elections and cast serious doubt on the integrity of the reported results.  In the period preceding the elections, authorities intensified repression of independent observers and media, including by designating Golos and dozens of media outlets and individuals as “foreign agents.”  In six regions including Moscow, opaque online voting procedures, the reported results of which often favored the ruling party by a larger margin than in-person voting, further called into question the integrity of the vote.

Ahead of the State Duma elections, the government adopted a series of repressive laws targeting independent media, human rights activists, and opposition politicians and used legislation to restrict the political participation of individuals or organizations designated as “foreign agents,” “undesirable,” or “extremist” (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).  Authorities also banned many would-be candidates from running for office and pressured several to leave the country.

At the end of 2020, President Putin signed into law a bill that permits Roskomnadzor to block or entirely remove “certain” online campaign materials during federal or regional elections.  At the time, experts assessed that the bill was adopted with Aleksey Navalny’s Smart Voting campaign in mind.  On July 26, Roskomnadzor blocked 49 websites linked to Navalny, his associates, and his political organization, including his personal blog, the website of his Anticorruption Foundation, and websites affiliated with the local political offices for alleged “propaganda and extremist activity.”  Authorities also adopted legislative changes to expand the number of voting days from one to three, ostensibly to allow physical distancing between voters.  Critics of the changes noted, however, that the longer the ballots remained open, the greater the opportunity for fraud and the more time to ensure government loyalists voted.  Many experts concluded that these actions were designed to ensure that the ruling United Russia party retained a constitutional majority.

During the year authorities routinely restricted gatherings, campaign communications, and other political activities of opposition candidates and prodemocracy groups.  Authorities often charged the opposition and independent politicians with violating COVID-19 protocols, while not restricting similar gatherings by the ruling United Russia party.  For example, on May 22, police broke up a gathering of approximately 30 independent municipal and regional deputies attending a conference in Velikiy Novgorod and charged participants with violating pandemic restrictions.  The following month, however, dozens of persons attended the June 19 United Russia party congress in Moscow without facing similar restrictions.

Russian media and experts viewed the tightening of the “undesirable” organization legislation as a move intended to place further pressure on political opposition ahead of the September 19 elections, particularly on candidates affiliated with Navalny and exiled oppositionist Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia organization.  During the year authorities routinely detained members of Navalny’s political operations throughout the country, conducted arbitrary searches of their homes and offices, and charged them with crimes on questionable grounds.  In one example, on April 12, two employees of Navalny’s newly opened campaign headquarters in Makhachkala were reported missing only to turn up later in special detention centers in Dagestan.  In another example, the Penza police sued the local director of Navalny’s organization for almost 900,000 rubles ($12,000) to offset the expenses the police department reportedly incurred on the weekend of the January 23 protest.

Authorities did not limit their election-related harassment to Navalny’s Anticorruption Foundation or Open Russia.  For example, on June 1, law enforcement officers searched the homes of former State Duma deputy and presumptive Yabloko party nominee Dmitriy Gudkov and his relatives before detaining Gudkov for 48 hours on suspicion of “property damage.”  Upon his release, Gudkov fled the country and told media that sources close to the Presidential Administration informed him if he did not leave the country, the fake criminal case would continue until his arrest.

Authorities disproportionately denied registration for independent and nonsystemic opposition candidates.  According to an investigation published by IStories on June 8, elections officials denied registration of opposition candidates at a rate of 25 percent over the past year, 10 times greater than the 2 percent of United Russia and systemic (effectively progovernment) opposition party candidates denied registration.  In a related investigation, Golos reported on June 22 that at least nine million citizens were prohibited by the state from running in elections for various reasons, representing an estimated 8 percent of the voting population.  In one example, the election commission barred prominent municipal deputy Ilya Yashin from running in the Moscow City Duma elections for his “involvement in extremist activities” due to his support of Navalny.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported that the 2018 presidential election “took place in an overly controlled environment, marked by continued pressure on critical voices,” and that “restrictions on the fundamental freedoms, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition.”  The OSCE also noted that “television, and in particular broadcasters that are state funded, owned, or supported, remains the dominant source of political information.  A restrictive legislative and regulatory framework challenges freedom of media and induces self-censorship.  Voters were thus not presented with a critical assessment of the incumbent’s views and qualifications in most media.”  Observers noted that the most prominent potential challenger, Aleksey Navalny, was prevented from registering his candidacy due to a previous politically motivated criminal conviction.

Political Parties and Political Participation:  The process for nominating candidates for the office of the president was highly regulated and placed significant burdens on opposition parties and their candidates.  While parties represented in the State Duma may nominate a presidential candidate without having to collect and submit signatures, prospective self-nominated presidential candidates must collect 300,000 signatures, no more than 7,500 from each region, and submit the signatures to the Central Election Commission for certification.  Presidential candidates nominated by parties without State Duma representation must collect 100,000 signatures.  An independent presidential candidate is ineligible to run if the commission finds more than 5 percent of signatures invalid.  On April 5, President Putin signed a law resetting his presidential term limits, reflecting amendments approved during the July 2020 constitutional referendum.

Candidates to the State Duma may be nominated directly by constituents, political parties in single-mandate districts, or political parties on their federal list, or they may be self-nominated.  Political parties select candidates for the federal lists from their ranks during party conventions via closed voting procedures.  Party conventions also select single mandate candidates.  While any of the country’s formally registered political parties may run candidates on the party list portion of the ballot, only political parties that overcame the 5 percent threshold during the previous elections may form federal and single-mandate candidate lists without collecting signatures.  Parties that did not overcome the 5 percent threshold must collect 200,000 signatures to register a candidate for the Duma.  A total of 32 parties qualified to participate in the State Duma elections, of which 14 parties met this threshold.  Self-nominated candidates generally must gather the signatures of 3 percent of the voters in their districts.

Observers and would-be candidates reported the municipal filter was not applied equally and that authorities pressured municipal deputies not to provide signatures to candidates who were not preapproved by authorities.  They asserted that no independent candidate with the potential to defeat authorities’ favored candidates was permitted to pass through the municipal filter, while progovernment candidates were passed through the filter without fulfilling technical requirements.

In some cases opposition parties were repeatedly denied registration or faced court-mandated suspensions of their activities.  The Central Election Commission announced on September 10 it had removed 16 State Duma candidates (from the Yabloko, Party for Growth, and Russian Party for Freedom and Justice parties) from their respective races for holding foreign assets.  On September 11 in Sterlitamak, a Fair Russia candidate for State Duma, Vadim Iskandarov, and seven of his supporters were detained while distributing campaign materials.  The candidate was participating in the City Day, an event where legal pre-election campaigns could be held, when National Guard officers detained the group claiming an official United Russia party event was occurring on the square.  The detainees were later released; no charges were announced.

Systemic opposition parties (i.e., quasi-independent parties permitted by the government to appear on the ballot) also faced pressure.  For example, on July 24, the Central Election Commission excluded from the party list candidate Pavel Grudinin, a prominent member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation who had run an unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2018, on the grounds that he allegedly possessed foreign assets.  Party members and other observers claimed Grudinin’s disqualification was politically motivated.  On September 8, Roman Yakovlev, a Communist Party candidate for State Duma and deputy of the Novosibirsk Legislative Assembly, attempted to hold a meeting with voters.  Local authorities allowed Yakovlev to organize the meeting, but later blocked the only road to the site of the gathering.  The authorities cited COVID-19 regulations and concerns as rationale for their actions, despite the decision of Governor Andrey Travnikov to allow all candidate meetings with voters as an exception to bans on mass gatherings.  On September 15, Yelena Beshtereva from Fair Russia, Yevgeniya Bogdanova from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and Igor Kapelyukh from United Russia withdrew their candidacies for deputies of the Legislative Assembly of Eastern Petropavlovsk in protest of unfair elections and electoral procedures.

State entities or entities closely aligned with the state also influenced their employees to vote a certain way or in a specific location.  For example, employees of the Orenburg Oblast Tax Service reported that they received a text message instructing them to unregister themselves at their home polling stations and vote instead in a precinct near their workplace.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups:  No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate.  Women’s participation remained low, accounting for approximately 15 percent of elected seats in the national legislature.  As of July women held approximately 10 percent of ministerial positions.  While members of national minorities took an active part in political life, ethnic Russians, who constituted approximately 80 percent of the population, dominated the political and administrative system, particularly at the federal level.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government acknowledged difficulty in enforcing the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.  There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption:  Corruption was widespread throughout the executive branch, including within the security sector, as well as in the legislative and judicial branches at all levels.  Its manifestations included bribery of officials, misuse of budgetary resources, theft of government property, kickbacks in the procurement process, extortion, and improper use of official position to secure personal profits.  While there were prosecutions for bribery, a general lack of enforcement remained a problem.  Official corruption continued to be rampant in numerous areas, including education, military conscription, health care, commerce, housing, social welfare, law enforcement, and the judicial system.  According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, at the start of the year, corruption-related crimes increased by approximately 12 percent compared with the previous year, with the total amount of material damage caused by corruption crimes exceeding 63 billion rubles ($851 million) in 2020.  Bribery accounted for half of the detected corruption crimes.  The Prosecutor General’s Office reported that approximately one-third of bribery cases related to “petty bribery” of less than 10,000 rubles ($135) given by citizens to police officers, schoolteachers, and prison authorities.  Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, published in January, assessed corruption in the country as high.

There were reports of corruption by government officials at the highest level.  During the year Aleksey Navalny’s Anticorruption Foundation and other investigative news outlets reported on previously undisclosed properties owned by President Putin, his family, and his close associates.  In a widely viewed video expose released on January 19, Navalny’s investigative team documented the excesses of a luxury estate on the Black Sea coast that they traced back to President Putin and his inner circle.  The investigation tracked corrupt proceeds from illicit deals and the president’s own alleged misuse of office to fund the property’s construction, which Navalny’s team estimated cost 74 billion rubles (one billion dollars) to construct and furnish.

Authorities selectively sentenced officials on corruption-related charges.  For example, on March 22, a court in Moscow sentenced the governor of the Penza region, Ivan Belozertsev, to two months in prison on allegations that he accepted 31 million rubles ($420,000) in bribes in 2020.  The Investigative Committee also opened investigations into Belozertsev for embezzlement of three billion rubles ($40.5 million) and falsification of election results in the 2020 election for governor.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operating in the country investigated and published their findings on human rights cases.  Government officials were rarely cooperative or responsive to their concerns.  Official harassment of independent NGOs continued and, in many instances, intensified, particularly of groups that focused on monitoring elections, engaging in environmental activism, exposing corruption, and addressing human rights abuses.  Some officials, including Tatyana Moskalkova, the high commissioner for human rights, and her regional representatives regularly interacted and cooperated with NGOs.

Authorities continued to use a variety of laws to harass, stigmatize, and in some cases halt the operation of domestic and foreign human rights NGOs (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).  In an investigation published in February, the investigative outlet Proyekt reported that the harassment of renowned historian of the gulag and human rights activist Yuriy Dmitriyev had been supervised by Anatoliy Seryshev, an assistant to President Putin and former head of the FSB in Karelia.  Proyekt noted that Dmitriyev began to receive threats after Memorial, the human rights organization he led, published a list in 2016 of individuals who had participated in the Stalinist repressions, which included Vasiliy Mikhailovich Seryshev, a suspected relative of Anatoliy Seryshev.  On February 16, a court rejected Dmitriyev’s appeal and ordered him to serve out his 13-year prison sentence on charges that many observers assessed to be in retaliation for his work to expose Stalin-era crimes.  Memorial considered Dmitriyev to be a political prisoner (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Russia for 2020).

Officials often displayed hostility toward the activities of human rights organizations and suggested their work was unpatriotic and detrimental to national security.  Authorities continued to apply several indirect tactics to suppress or close domestic NGOs, including the application of various laws and harassment in the form of prosecution, investigations, fines, and raids (see sections 1.e. and 2.b.).

Authorities generally refused to cooperate with NGOs that were critical of government activities or listed as a foreign agent.  International human rights NGOs had almost no presence east of the Ural Mountains or in the North Caucasus.  A few local NGOs addressed human rights problems in these regions but often chose not to work on politically sensitive topics to avoid retaliation by local authorities.  One NGO in this region reported that the organization’s employees sometimes had to resort to working in an individual capacity rather than as representatives of the organization.

In November authorities initiated legal proceedings to close two key branches of the country’s most prominent and widely cited human rights association, Memorial.  On November 8, the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office filed suit in Moscow City Court to liquidate the Memorial Human Rights Center on the grounds that the group had “hidden information about the performance of the function of a foreign agent.”  The center was also accused of “justifying extremism and terrorism” by maintaining its widely referenced list of political prisoners, which included individuals Memorial assessed had been labeled as extremists or terrorists for political reasons.

On November 11, the Prosecutor General’s Office filed a parallel lawsuit seeking to liquidate International Memorial for alleged “systemic” violations of the country’s “foreign agent” NGO law.  On December 28, the Supreme Court ordered the closure of International Memorial, and the Moscow City Court concluded its proceedings and ordered the Memorial Human Rights Center to close the next day.  Russian and international human rights organizations widely decried the moves to close the branches of Memorial as politically motivated, incommensurate to the alleged offenses, and a grave blow to independent civil society in the country.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies:  Authorities refused to cooperate with the OSCE Moscow Mechanism rapporteur investigating human rights abuses in Chechnya in 2018 and did not permit him to visit the country.  Three years after the release of the rapporteur’s report, the government had not provided the OSCE a substantive response to the report.

Government Human Rights Bodies:  Some government institutions continued to promote human rights and intervened in selected abuse complaints, despite widespread doubt as to these institutions’ effectiveness.

Many observers did not consider the 168-member Civic Chamber, composed of government-appointed members from civil society organizations, to be an effective check on the government.

The Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights is an advisory body to the president tasked with monitoring systemic problems in legislation and individual human rights cases, developing proposals to submit to the president and government, and monitoring their implementation.  The president appoints some council members by decree, and not all members operated independently.  Experts noted that the head of the council and senior member of the ruling United Russia party, Valeriy Fadeyev, worked closely with government authorities and often echoed their assessment of well known human rights cases.  The high commissioner for human rights, Tatyana Moskalkova, was viewed as a figure with very limited autonomy.  The country had regional ombudspersons in all regions with responsibilities similar to Moskalkova’s.  Their effectiveness varied significantly, and local authorities often undermined their independence.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence:  Rape is illegal, and the law provides the same punishment for a relative, including a spouse, who commits rape as for a nonrelative.  The penalty for conviction of rape is three to six years’ imprisonment for a single offense, with additional time imposed for aggravating factors.  According to NGOs, many law enforcement personnel and prosecutors did not consider spousal or acquaintance rape a priority and did not encourage reporting or prosecuting such cases.  NGOs reported that local police officers sometimes refused to respond to rape or domestic violence calls unless the victim’s life was directly threatened.  Authorities typically did not consider rape or attempted rape to be life threatening.

Domestic violence remained a significant problem.  There is no domestic violence provision in the law and no legal definition of domestic violence, making it difficult to know its actual prevalence in the country.  The law considers beatings by “close relatives” an administrative rather than a criminal offense for first-time offenders, provided the beating does not cause serious harm requiring hospital treatment.  The anti-domestic-violence NGO ANNA Center estimated that 60 to 70 percent of women who experienced some form of domestic violence did not seek help due to fear, public shame, lack of financial independence from their partners, or lack of confidence in law enforcement authorities.  Laws that address bodily harm are general in nature and do not permit police to initiate a criminal investigation unless the victim files a complaint.  The burden of collecting evidence in such cases typically falls on the alleged victims.  The law prohibits threats, assault, battery, and killing, but most acts of domestic violence did not fall within the jurisdiction of the Prosecutor’s Office.  The law does not provide for protection orders, which experts believed could help keep women safe from experiencing recurrent violence by their partners.

Open Media reported in January that the government “drastically cut” funding for domestic violence initiatives in the previous year, from 16.5 million rubles ($223,000) in 2019 to two million rubles ($27,000) in 2020.  During the year the government provided a grant to only one NGO of dozens of domestic violence crisis centers and legal aid organizations that sought government funding.  According to Open Media, the government instead funded projects aimed at preventing divorce or promoting “Orthodox Christian traditions to strengthen families.”

In December 2020 the Ministry of Justice added the prominent women’s rights NGO Nasiliu.net – Russian for No to Violence – to the registry of “foreign agents,” a move media attributed to the organization’s support of a draft bill to recriminalize domestic violence introduced to the State Duma in 2019.  Director Anna Rivina characterized the designation as a political reaction by the government and an effort to silence dissent and criticism of its stance on domestic violence, which experts said was influenced by conservative “traditional values.”

COVID-19-related stay-at-home orders and general restrictions on movement trapped many women experiencing domestic violence in the same space as their abusers.  Many survivors noted they could not leave their homes due to fear of being punished for violating the stay-at-home order.

There were reports that women defending themselves from domestic violence were charged with crimes.  In March authorities recognized three sisters accused of murdering their abusive father in 2018 as victims after the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against the father on charges of sexual assault, coercion into sexual acts, and torture.  Their lawyers expressed hope this “breakthrough” in the case would result in the dismissal of the sisters’ murder charges.

According to the ANNA Center, when domestic violence offenses were charged, articles under the country’s criminal law were usually applied that employed the process of private prosecution.  The process of private prosecution requires the victim to gather all necessary evidence and bear all costs after the injured party or his or her guardian took the initiative to file a complaint with a magistrate judge.  The NGO noted that this process severely disadvantages survivors.  Experts estimated that seven of 10 such cases were dropped due to reconciliation of the parties as a result of the abuser pressuring, manipulating, and intimidating the survivor who often had to continue living in the same house.

According to NGOs, police were often unwilling to register complaints of domestic violence, saying that cases were “family matters,” frequently discouraged survivors from submitting complaints, and often pressed victims to reconcile with abusers.

Most domestic violence cases filed with authorities were either dismissed on technical grounds or transferred to a reconciliation process conducted by a justice of the peace whose focus was on preserving the family rather than punishing the perpetrator.  NGOs estimated that only 3 percent of such cases eventually reached the courts.  Survivors of domestic violence in the North Caucasus experienced difficulty seeking protection from authorities.

NGOs noted government-operated institutions provided services to affected women such as social apartments, hospitals wards, and shelters.  Access to these services was often complicated, since they required proof of residency in that municipality, as well as proof of low-income status.  In many cases these documents were controlled by the abusers and not available to survivors.  A strict two-month stay limit in the shelters and limited business hours of these services further restricted survivors’ access to social services.  After COVID-19-related restrictions forced many shelters to close temporarily, NGOs rented out apartments and hotels to shelter the survivors.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C):  The law does not specifically prohibit FGM/C.  NGOs in Dagestan reported that FGM/C was occasionally practiced in some villages.  On October 23, media outlets reported that the first case of FGM/C to be prosecuted in a Russian court was likely to end without resolution due to procedural delays that extended proceedings beyond the two-year statute of limitations for the offense stipulated by law.  Criminal charges of “causing minor harm to health” were brought against a doctor in Ingushetiya who performed an FGM/C operation on a nine-year-old girl at her father’s request in 2019.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices:  Human rights groups reported that “honor killings” of women persisted in Chechnya, Dagestan, and elsewhere in the North Caucasus, but the cases were rarely reported or acknowledged.  Local police, doctors, and lawyers often collaborated with the families involved to cover up the crimes.  In some parts of the North Caucasus, women continued to face bride kidnapping, polygamy, forced marriage (including early and child marriage), legal discrimination, virginity testing before marriage, and forced adherence to Islamic dress codes.  Women in the North Caucasus often lost custody of their children after the father’s death or a divorce due to traditional law that prohibits women from living in a house without a man.

Sexual Harassment:  The law contains a general provision against compelling a person to perform actions of a sexual character by means of blackmail, threats, or by taking advantage of the victim’s economic or other dependence on the perpetrator.  There is no legal definition of harassment, however, and no comprehensive guidelines on how it should be addressed.  Sexual harassment was reportedly widespread, but courts often rejected victims’ claims due to lack of sufficient evidence.

Reproductive Rights:  There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities during the year, although there had been such reports in previous years.

There were significant social and cultural barriers to family planning and reproductive health in the North Caucasus republics, including cases of FGM/C.

There are no legal restrictions on access to contraceptives, but very few citizens received any kind of sexual education, hampering their use.  Senior government officials and church and conservative groups in the country stridently advocated for increasing the birth rate, and their opposition to family planning initiatives contributed to a social stigma that also affected the use of contraceptives.

Access to family planning and skilled medical attendance at birth varied widely based on geography and was often extremely limited in rural areas.

According to various human rights groups, COVID-19 restrictions negatively affected accessibility for the full range of reproductive health services.

The government did not deny access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, but survivors did not always seek needed treatment due to social stigma.  Emergency contraception was readily available as part of clinical management of rape in urban centers, but not necessarily in rural areas.

Discrimination:  The constitution and law provide that men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights, but women often encountered significant restrictions.  Women experienced discrimination in the workplace, in pay, and in access to credit.  At the start of the year, the government lifted Soviet-era gender-based employment restrictions, enabling women to do approximately 350 types of jobs that had previously been forbidden, such as truck driving.  The Ministry of Labor ruled 100 jobs to be especially physically taxing, including firefighting, mining, and steam boiler repair, which remained off-limits to women.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law prohibits discrimination based on nationality, but according to a 2017 report by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, officials discriminated against minorities, including through “de facto racial profiling, targeting in particular migrants and persons from Central Asia and the Caucasus.”  Activists reported that police officers often stopped individuals who looked foreign and asked them for their documents, claiming that they contained mistakes even when they were in order, and demanded bribes.

Hate crimes targeting ethnic minorities continued to be a problem.  According to a 2018 report by the human rights group Antidiscrimination Center Memorial, Roma faced widespread discrimination in access to resources and basic utilities; demolitions of houses and forced evictions, including of children, often in winter; violation of the right to education (segregation of Romani children in low-quality schools); deprivation of parental rights; and other forms of structural discrimination.

During the year the government sought to repress expressions of ethnic identity, including calls for the preservation of minority languages and cultures.  In February the City Court of Naberezhnye Chelny fined the writer and public figure Fauziya Bayramova for incitement to violate the territorial integrity of Russia.  Bayramova was convicted after authorities reviewed the translated transcript of her speech at a scientific conference organized by the All-Tatar Public Center of Kazan in 2020 in which she had spoken of the need to preserve Tatar culture and identity.  In another example, in 2019 law enforcement authorities forcibly broke up a protest in Ingushetiya against government efforts to cede disputed territory to Chechnya and detained 51 individuals on charges related to use of violence against security forces.  According to Memorial, as of July, 38 individuals had been convicted in relation to the protest, including Magomed Khamkhoyev, who was sentenced to three and one-half years in prison in February.  On December 15, seven leaders of the Ingushetiya protest movement were found guilty of forming an extremist group and assaulting law enforcement, and they received prison sentences ranging from seven to nine years.  Memorial considered them to be political prisoners.

Indigenous Peoples

The constitution and various statutes provide support for members of “small-numbered” indigenous groups of the North, Siberia, and the Far East, permitting them to create self-governing bodies and allowing them to seek compensation if economic development threatens their lands.  The government granted the status of “indigenous” and its associated benefits only to those ethnic groups numbering fewer than 50,000 and maintaining their traditional way of life.  A 2017 report by Antidiscrimination Center Memorial noted that the major challenges facing indigenous persons included “seizure of territories where these minorities traditionally live and maintain their households by mining and oil and gas companies; removal of self-government bodies of indigenous peoples; and repression of activists and employees of social organizations, including the fabrication of criminal cases.”

Indigenous sources reported state-sponsored harassment, including interrogations by security services as well as employment discrimination.  Such treatment was especially acute in areas where corporations wanted to exploit natural resources.  By law indigenous groups have exclusive rights to their indigenous lands, but the land itself and its natural resources belong to the state.  Companies are required to pay compensation to local inhabitants, but activists asserted that local authorities rarely enforced this provision.  Activists stated that interests of corporations and indigenous persons were in constant conflict.

Children

Birth Registration:  By law citizenship derives from parents at birth or from birth within the country’s territory if the parents are unknown or if the child may not claim the parents’ citizenship.  Failure to register a birth resulted in the denial of public services.

Education:  Education is free and compulsory through grade 11, although regional authorities frequently denied school access to the children of persons who were not registered local residents, including Roma, asylum seekers, and migrant workers.

Child Abuse:  The country does not have a law on child abuse, but the law prohibits murder, battery, and rape.  The penalties for conviction of such crimes range from five to 15 years in prison and, if they result in the death of a minor, up to 20 years in prison.  The law makes beatings by “close relatives” an administrative rather than a criminal offense for first-time offenders, provided the beating does not cause serious harm requiring hospital treatment, applies to children as well.  Some State Duma deputies claimed that children needed discipline and authority in the family, condoning beating as a mode of discipline.

Studies indicated that violence against children was common.  According to a report published in 2019 by the National Institute for Child Protection, one in four parents admitted to having beaten their children at least once with a belt.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage:  The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for both men and women.  Local authorities may authorize marriage from the age of 16 under certain circumstances.  More than a dozen regions allow marriage from the age of 14 under special circumstances, such as pregnancy or the birth of a child.

Sexual Exploitation of Children:  The age of consent is 16.  The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, or procuring of children for commercial sexual exploitation, and practices related to child pornography.  Authorities generally enforced the law.

The law prohibits the manufacture, distribution, and possession with intent to distribute child pornography, but possession without intent to distribute is not prohibited by law.  Manufacture and distribution of pornography involving children younger than 18 is punishable by two to eight years in prison or three to 10 years in prison if children younger than 14 are involved.  Authorities considered child pornography to be a serious problem.

Roskomnadzor has the power to shut down any website immediately and without due process until its owners prove its content does not include child pornography.

Institutionalized Children:  There were reports of neglect as well as physical and psychological abuse in state institutions for children.  NGOs reported that children with disabilities were especially vulnerable to low-quality care at institutions due to a lack of resources and inadequate reforms.  NGOs pointed to the closing of schools and strict stay-at-home orders during the height of COVID-19 measures as especially detrimental to at-risk children, including children in institutions.  NGOs noted that many had limited access to social services and teachers or counselors.

International Child Abductions:  The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.  See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The 2010 census estimated the Jewish population at slightly more than 150,000.  The Russian Jewish Congress (RJC) estimated the Jewish population at 172,500, while the Federation of Jewish Communities estimated there were 1.5 million persons of Jewish heritage.

In the most recent data available, the RJC reported a slight decline in the level of anti-Semitic violence in 2020, compared with previous years, and reported similar downward trends in anti-Semitism in the public sphere, with only a few notable anti-Semitic posts on social media sites that caused a negative reaction among the public and journalistic community.  The RJC reported, however, that limited political pressure on Jewish organizations continued in 2020.  There were no reported cases of anti-Semitic attacks against the Jewish community during 2020.  There was one instance in which law enforcement intervened to thwart an attempt to kill a Jewish leader that resulted in the arrest of the would-be killer.  There was only one reported instance of anti-Semitic expression on state television and a small number of anti-Semitic statements and publications by journalists and in social media posts by private citizens online.  By the end of 2020, the RJC reported 10 criminal sentences had been issued against individuals for statements that directly or indirectly related to anti-Semitism, with the most common sentence a fine for hate speech or “propaganda through the internet.”

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law provides protection for persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services.  The government did not enforce these provisions effectively.

The conditions of guardianship imposed by courts on persons with disabilities deprived them of almost all personal rights.  Activists reported that courts declared tens of thousands of individuals “legally incompetent” due to intellectual disabilities, forcing them to go through guardians to exercise their legal rights, even when they could make decisions for themselves.  Courts rarely restored legal capacity to individuals with disabilities.  By law individuals with intellectual disabilities were at times prevented from marrying without a guardian’s consent.

In many cases persons with intellectual or physical disabilities were confined to institutions where they were often subjected to abuse and neglect.  Roszdravnadzor, the Federal Service for Surveillance in Health Care, announced that it found abuses in 87 percent of institutions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities during a 2019 audit.

Federal law requires that buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities.  While there were improvements, especially in large cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, authorities did not effectively enforce the law in many areas of public transportation and in buildings.  Many individuals in wheelchairs reported they continued to have trouble accessing public transportation and had to rely on private cars.  Wheelchair-accessible street curbs were not widely available in many regions throughout the country.

Election law does not specifically mandate that polling places be accessible to persons with disabilities, and most of them were not.  Election officials generally brought mobile ballot boxes to the homes of voters with disabilities.

The government began to implement inclusive education, but many children with disabilities continued not to study in mainstream schools due to a lack of accommodations to facilitate their individual learning needs.  Many schools did not have the physical infrastructure or adequately trained staff to meet the needs of children with disabilities, leaving them no choice but to stay at home or attend segregated schools.  Even when children were allowed to attend a mainstream school, many staff and children lacked understanding to meet the educational needs of the child.  While the law mandates inclusive education for children with disabilities, authorities generally segregated them from mainstream society through a system that institutionalized them through adulthood.  Graduates of such institutions often lacked the social, educational, and vocational skills to function in society.

There appeared to be no clear standardized formal legal mechanism by which individuals could contest their assignment to a facility for persons with disabilities.  The classification of children with intellectual disabilities by category of disability often followed them through their lives.  The official designations “imbecile” and “idiot,” assigned by commissions that assess children with developmental delays at the age of three, signified that authorities considered the child uneducable.  These designations were almost always irrevocable.  The designation “weak” (having a slight cognitive or intellectual disability) followed an individual on official documents, creating barriers to employment and housing after graduation from state institutions.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV or AIDS faced significant legal discrimination, growing informal stigma-based barriers, and employment discrimination.

In 2020 the government lifted restrictions on persons with HIV who wanted to adopt children if the adoptive parents met strict criteria, such as being on dispensary observation for at least a year and having a CD4 cell level of more than 350 cells/milliliter.  Nonetheless, they also continued to face barriers to adopting children in many cases.

According to NGO activists, men who have sex with men were unlikely to seek antiretroviral treatment, since treatment exposed the fact that these individuals had the virus, while sex workers were afraid to appear in the official system due to threats from law enforcement bodies.  Many individuals who injected drugs also did not seek treatment because of the country’s aggressive criminalization of illegal drugs and marginalization of users.  By law foreign citizens who are HIV-positive may be deported.  The law, however, bars the deportation of HIV-positive foreigners who have a Russian national or permanent resident spouse, child, or parents.  Economic migrants concealed their HIV status and avoided treatment due to fear of deportation.  Younger women with HIV or AIDS, in particular, faced multiple barriers to accessing treatment because of stigma, discrimination, harmful gender stereotypes, gender-based violence, and difficulty accessing critical sexual and reproductive health care.

Children with HIV faced discrimination in education.  NGOs noted that many younger children with HIV faced resistance by other parents when trying to enroll in schools.

The Ministry of Justice continued to designate HIV-related NGOs as foreign agents, effectively reducing the number of organizations that could serve the community (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

During the year there were reports state actors committed violence against LGBTQI+ individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly in Chechnya (see section 1.b.).

There were reports that government agents attacked, harassed, and threatened LGBTQI+ activists.  For example, Meduza reported that Dagestani police forcibly returned Khalimat Taramova, a 22-year-old woman and victim of domestic violence, to Chechnya after she escaped to a women’s shelter in Makhachkala following threats by her family and local police due to her sexual orientation.  In a statement on June 12, Chechen minister Akhmed Dudayev praised law enforcement for having “foiled an attempted kidnapping” by “instigators.”  On the same day, the Russian LGBT Network said it would file a complaint with the ECHR about Taramova’s abduction and expressed concern that her sexual orientation placed her at risk of further abuse in Chechnya.

LGBTQI+ persons were targets of societal violence, and police often failed to respond adequately to such incidents.  For example, in March an LGBTQI+ activist from Murmansk, Valentina Likhoshva, reported to police that she had received threats after receiving an international award recognizing her contributions to social justice and human rights in the Barents region.  Media outlets reported that police subsequently refused to investigate her claims, commenting that because the threats came by email, their validity could not be determined.

During the year authorities acted on a limited basis to investigate and punish those complicit in societal violence and abuses by the state.  For example, on January 12, a court in Yekaterinburg sentenced Pavel Zuyev to five years in prison on robbery charges after he beat and robbed two gay men in September 2020.  The court determined that Zuyev assaulted the men due to their sexual orientation and ordered him to compensate them financially for emotional damages.

In 2020 the Russian LGBT Network released a report that showed 12 percent of LGBTQI+ respondents in a survey had experienced physical violence, 4 percent had experienced sexual violence, and 56 percent had experienced psychological abuse during their lifetime.  The report noted that LGBTQI+ persons faced discrimination in their place of study or work, when receiving medical services, and when searching for housing.  The report also noted that transgender persons were uniquely vulnerable to discrimination and violence.  The Russian LGBT Network claimed that law enforcement authorities did not always protect the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals and were sometimes the source of violence themselves.  As a result, LGBTQI+ individuals had extremely low levels of trust in courts and police.

A homophobic campaign continued in state-controlled media in which officials, journalists, and others derided LGBTQI+ persons as “perverts,” “sodomites,” and “abnormal,” and conflated homosexuality with pedophilia.

There were reports police conducted involuntary physical exams of transgender or intersex persons.  In April a St. Petersburg court ordered a transgender man, Innokentiy Alimov, to undergo a gynecological examination to determine his gender, on the basis of which he was transferred to a women’s detention center.  Alimov was sentenced to four and one-half years in prison in a drug trafficking case and spent at least two months in a “punishment cell,” which prison authorities argued was a safer place than among the general population.

The Association of Russian-speaking Intersex reported that medical specialists often pressured intersex persons (or their parents if they were underage) into having so-called normalization surgery without providing accurate information about the procedure or what being intersex meant.

The law criminalizes the distribution of “propaganda” of “nontraditional sexual relations” to minors and effectively limits the rights of free expression and assembly for citizens who wish to advocate publicly for LGBTQI+ rights or express the opinion that homosexuality is normal.  Examples of what the government considered LGBTQI+ propaganda included materials that “directly or indirectly approve of persons who are in nontraditional sexual relationships” (see section 2.a.).  Authorities charged feminist and LGBTQI+ rights defender Yuliya Tsvetkova with the criminal offense of disseminating pornography online after she shared images depicting female bodies on her social media accounts.  Tsvetkova’s trial began on April 12 and continued as of December.

The law does not prohibit discrimination by state or nonstate actors against LGBTQI+ persons with respect to essential goods and services such as housing, employment, or access to government services such as health care.

LGBTQI+ persons reported significant societal stigma and discrimination, which some attributed to official promotion of intolerance and homophobia.  In July a large health-food retail chain, VkusVill, ran and later apologized for an ad featuring a gay couple shopping in the store, which was part of a campaign featuring shoppers who visit the chain.  Media outlets reported that the initial reaction to the ad was generally positive.  As responses became increasingly critical, however, the chain was accused of promoting homosexuality.  Its leadership removed the ad and apologized for “hurting the feelings of a large number of buyers, employees, partners and suppliers.”

High levels of employment discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons reportedly persisted.  Activists asserted that the majority of LGBTQI+ persons hid their sexual orientation or gender identity due to fear of losing their jobs or homes, as well as the risk of violence.  LGBTQI+ students also reported discrimination at schools and universities.

Medical practitioners reportedly continued to limit or deny LGBTQI+ persons health services due to intolerance and prejudice.  The Russian LGBT Network’s report indicated that, upon disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity, LGBTQI+ individuals often encountered strong negative reactions and the presumption they were mentally ill.  According to a poll conducted in July by the government-controlled Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 23 percent of respondents considered members of the LGBTQI+ community to be “sick people who need help,” an opinion mainly held by men and persons older than age 60.

Transgender persons faced difficulty updating their names and gender markers on government documents to reflect their gender identity because the government had not established standard procedures, and many civil registry offices denied their requests.  When documents failed to reflect their gender identity, transgender persons often faced harassment by law enforcement officers and discrimination in accessing health care, education, housing, transportation, and employment.

There were reports LGBTQI+ persons also faced discrimination in parental rights.  The Russian LGBT Network reported LGBTQI+ parents often feared that the country’s prohibition on the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientation” to minors would be used to remove custody of their children.  On February 15, the ECHR inquired with Russian authorities on behalf of a transgender man who lost guardianship of his two foster children when authorities in Yekaterinburg learned that he had begun to change his gender.  The man was granted asylum in Spain.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides that workers may form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes.  The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, but it does not require employers to reinstate workers fired due to their union activity.  The law prohibits reprisals against striking workers.  Unions must register with the Federal Registration Service, often a cumbersome process that includes lengthy delays and convoluted bureaucracy.  The grounds on which trade union registration may be denied are not defined and can be arbitrary or unjustified.  Active-duty members of the military, civil servants, customs workers, judges, prosecutors, and persons working under civil contracts are excluded from the right to organize.  The law requires labor unions to be independent of government bodies, employers, political parties, and NGOs.

The law places several restrictions on the right to bargain collectively.  For example, only one collective bargaining agreement is permitted per enterprise, and only a union or group of unions representing at least one-half the workforce may bargain collectively.  The law allows workers to elect representatives if there is no union.  The law does not specify who has authority to bargain collectively when there is no trade union in an enterprise.

The law prohibits strikes in the military and emergency response services.  It also prohibits strikes in essential public-service sectors, including utilities and transportation, and strikes that would threaten the country’s defense, safety, and the life and health of its workers.  The law additionally prohibits some nonessential public servants from striking and imposes compulsory arbitration for railroad, postal, and municipal workers, as well as public servants in roles other than law enforcement.

Laws regulating workers’ strikes remained extremely restrictive, making it difficult to declare a strike but easy for authorities to rule a strike illegal and punish workers.  It was also very difficult for those without a labor contract to go on a legal strike.

Union members must follow extensive legal requirements and engage in consultations with employers before acquiring the right to strike.  Solidarity strikes and strikes on matters related to state policies are illegal, as are strikes that do not respect the onerous time limits, procedures, and requirements mandated by law.  Employers may hire workers to replace strikers.  Workers must give prior notice of the following aspects of a proposed strike:  a list of the differences of opinion between employer and workers that triggered the strike; the date and time at which the strike is intended to start, its duration, and the number of anticipated participants; the name of the body that is leading the strike and the representatives authorized to participate in the conciliation procedures; and proposals for the minimum service to be provided during the strike.  In the event a declared strike is ruled illegal and takes place, courts may confiscate union property to cover employers’ losses.

The Federal Labor and Employment Service (RosTrud) regulates employer compliance with labor law and is responsible for “controlling and supervising compliance with labor laws and other legal acts which deal with labor norms” by employers.  Several state agencies, including the Ministry of Justice, Prosecutor’s Office, RosTrud, and Ministry of Internal Affairs, are responsible for enforcing the law.  These agencies, however, frequently failed to enforce the law, and violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining provisions were common.  Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those under other similar laws related to civil rights.

Employers frequently engaged in reprisals against workers for independent union activity, including threatening to assign them to night shifts, denying benefits, and blacklisting or firing them.  Although unions were occasionally successful in court, in most cases managers who engaged in antiunion activities did not face penalties.

In March the medical professional trade union Alliance of Doctors was put on a “foreign agent” list.  Anastasiya Vasilyeva, the head of the union, had previously treated Aleksey Navalny.  Vasilyeva was detained again in January and again in September.  In October, Vasilyeva was convicted of breaching COVID-19 safety protocols for joining protests demanding Navalny’s release, which resulted in one year of restrictions, including a curfew and travel limitations.

In April and May, an estimated 200 workers with the Moscow Metro subway system were fired for registering online to participate in a protest in support of Aleksey Navalny.  As of August, 42 of the workers had sued the company and at least two of the workers had been reinstated.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor but allows for it as a penal sentence, in some cases as prison labor contracted to private enterprises.

The government did not effectively enforce laws against forced labor, although prescribed penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes.  Compulsory prison labor occurred, which in some cases was used as punishment for expressing political or ideological views.  Human rights groups expressed concern regarding the prison system being used in the construction sector in remote regions, due to insufficient numbers of Central Asian migrant workers.  Instances of labor trafficking were reported in the construction, manufacturing, logging, textile, and maritime industries, as well as in sawmills, agriculture, sheep farms, grocery and retail stores, restaurants, waste sorting, street sweeping, domestic service, and forced begging (see section 7.c.).  Serious problems remained in protecting migrant laborers, particularly from North Korea, who generally earned 40 percent less than the average salary.  Migrant workers at times experienced exploitative labor conditions characteristic of trafficking cases, such as withholding of identity documents, nonpayment for services rendered, physical abuse, unsafe working conditions, and extremely poor living conditions.

Under a state-to-state agreement, North Korean citizens worked for many years in the country in a variety of sectors, including the logging and construction industries in the Far East.  To comply with the 2017 UN Security Council resolution prohibiting the employment of North Koreans, Russia had largely eliminated from the workforce North Korean laborers working in the country legally and continued to affirm its commitment to do so.  Many North Korean laborers, however, continued to enter the country via fraudulent channels to work informally, for example by obtaining tourist or student visas.  Authorities failed to screen departing North Korean workers for human trafficking and indications of forced labor.

There were reports of forced labor in the production of bricks, raising livestock, and at sawmills, primarily in Dagestan.  While both men and women were exploited for forced labor in these industries in the Northern Caucasus region, victims were primarily male job seekers recruited in Moscow.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all worst forms of child labor, explicitly prohibiting work in unhealthy or dangerous conditions, underground work, or jobs that might endanger a child’s health and moral development.  The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 16 in most cases and regulates the working conditions of children younger than 18.  The law permits children at age 14 to work under certain conditions and with the approval of a parent or guardian.  Such work must not threaten the child’s health or welfare.  RosTrud is responsible for inspecting enterprises and organizations to identify violations of labor and occupational health standards for minors.  The government effectively enforced the law, although penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes.

There were no available nationally representative data on the prevalence of child labor in the country, although children reportedly worked in the informal and retail sectors.  Some children, both Russian and foreign, were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, forced participation in the production of pornography, and forced begging (see section 6, Children).

See the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in respect to employment and occupation based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, age, and refugee status, but does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, gender identity, or disability.  Although the country placed a general ban on discrimination, the government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other civil rights-related laws.

Discrimination based on gender in compensation, professional training, hiring, and dismissal was common, but very difficult to prove.  Employers often preferred to hire men to save on maternity and child-care costs and to avoid the perceived unreliability associated with women with small children.  The law prohibits employer discrimination in posting job vacancy information.  It also prohibits employers from requesting workers with specific gender, race, nationality, address registration, age, and other factors unrelated to personal skills and competencies.  Notwithstanding the law, vacancy announcements sometimes specified gender and age requirements or a desired physical appearance.

According to the Center for Social and Labor Rights, courts often ruled in favor of employees filing complaints, but the sums awarded were often seen as not worth the cost and time required to take legal action.

Women are restricted from employment in certain occupations in the chemical industry, metallurgy, oil production, coal mining, manufacturing of insulation, and some others owing to the harmful effects of certain compounds on women’s reproductive health.  In January an amended law went into effect that reduced the number of labor categories prohibited to woman from 456 to 98.  According to the Ministry of Labor, women on average earned 39 percent less than men in 2019.  The legal age requirements for women and men to access either their full or partial pension benefits are not equal.

Sexual harassment in the workplace continued.  The law does not prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, and there are no criminal or civil remedies for sexual harassment experienced in the workplace.

The law requires applicants to undergo a mandatory pre-employment health screening for some jobs listed in the labor code or when enrolling at educational institutions.  The medical commission may restrict or prohibit access to jobs and secondary or higher education if it finds signs of physical or mental problems.  The law prohibits discrimination of persons with disabilities, but they were often subjected to employment discrimination.  Companies with 35 to 100 employees have an employment quota of 1 to 3 percent for persons with disabilities, while those with more than 100 employees have a 2 to 4 percent quota.  An NGO noted that some companies kept persons with disabilities on the payroll to fulfill the quotas but did not actually provide employment for them.  Inadequate workplace access for persons with disabilities also limited work opportunities.

Many migrants regularly faced discrimination and hazardous or exploitative working conditions.  The COVID-19 pandemic more severely impacted migrant workers.  Employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was a problem, especially in the public sector and education.  Employers fired LGBTQI+ persons for their sexual orientation, gender identity, or public activism in support of LGBTQI+ rights.  Primary and secondary school teachers were often the targets of such pressure due to the law on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientation” targeted at minors (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

Persons with HIV or AIDS were prohibited from working in areas of medical research and medicine that dealt with bodily fluids, including surgery and blood drives.  The Ministry of Internal Affairs does not hire persons with HIV or AIDS, although persons who contract HIV or AIDS while employed are protected from losing their job.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wages and Hour Laws:  The law provides for a minimum wage for all sectors, which was above the poverty income level.  Some local governments had minimum wage rates higher than the national rate.

Nonpayment of wages is a criminal offense and is punishable by fines, compulsory labor, or imprisonment.  Federal law provides for administrative fines of employers who fail to pay salaries and sets progressive compensation scales for workers affected by wage arrears.  The government did not effectively enforce the law, and nonpayment or late payment of wages remained widespread.  According to the Federal State Statistics Service, Rosstat, as of November 1, wage arrears amounted to approximately 1.34 billion rubles ($18.1 million).

The law provides for standard workhours, overtime, and annual leave.  The standard workweek may not exceed 40 hours.  Employers may not request overtime work from pregnant women, workers younger than 18, and other categories of employees specified by federal law.  Standard annual paid leave is 28 calendar days.  Employees who perform work involving harmful or dangerous labor conditions and employees in the Far North regions receive additional annual paid leave.  Organizations have discretion to grant additional leave to employees.

The law stipulates that payment for overtime must be at least 150 percent for the first two hours and not less than 200 percent after that.  At an employee’s request, overtime may be compensated by additional holiday leave.  Overtime work may not exceed four hours in a two-day period or 120 hours in a year for each employee.

RosTrud is responsible for enforcing wage and hour laws and generally applied the law in the formal sector.  The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law in all sectors.  Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions, although there were significant restrictions on inspectors’ authority to inspect workplaces.  Experts generally pointed to prevention of these offenses, rather than adequacy of available punishment, as the main challenge to protection of worker rights.  RosTrud noted state labor inspectors needed additional professional training and that the agency needed additional inspectors to enforce consistent compliance.  Although the labor inspectorate frequently referred cases for potential criminal prosecution, few of these cases were instituted by the Prosecutor’s Office.  In addition, courts routinely cancel decisions and penalties imposed by labor inspectors.

The government made efforts to effectively enforce minimum wage and hour laws, although resources and inspectors were limited.  Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Occupational Safety and Health:  Occupational safety and health standards were appropriate within the main industries.  The law establishes minimum conditions for workplace safety and worker health, but it does not explicitly allow workers to remove themselves from hazardous workplaces without threat to their employment.  The law entitles foreigners working in the country to the same rights and protections as citizens.

RosTrud is also responsible for enforcing occupational safety and health laws.  The government made efforts to effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws, although resources and inspectors were limited.  Serious breaches of occupational safety and health provisions are criminal offenses, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other similar crimes.

No national-level information was available on the number of workplace accidents or fatalities during the year.  According to Rosstat, in 2019 approximately 23,300 workers were injured in industrial accidents, including 1,060 deaths.

Informal Sector:  As of September an estimated 15 million persons were employed in the shadow economy, an 11.5 percent increase from the same period in 2020.  Employment in the informal sector was concentrated in the southern regions.  The largest share of laborers in the informal economy was concentrated in the trade, construction, and agricultural sectors, where workers were more vulnerable to exploitative working conditions.  Labor migrants worked in low-skilled jobs in construction but also in housing, utilities, agriculture, and retail trade sectors, often informally.  Labor law and protections apply to workers in the informal sector.

Tibet

Read A Section: Tibet

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The majority of ethnic Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China live in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties in Sichuan, Qinghai, Yunnan, and Gansu Provinces. The Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee exercises paramount authority over Tibetan areas. As in other predominantly minority areas of the People’s Republic of China, ethnic Han Chinese members of the party held the overwhelming majority of top party, government, police, and military positions. Ultimate authority rests with the 25-member Political Bureau (Politburo) of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee and its seven-member Standing Committee in Beijing, neither of which had any Tibetan members.

The main domestic security agencies include the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Public Security, and the People’s Armed Police. The People’s Armed Police continue to be under the dual authority of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Central Military Commission. The People’s Liberation Army is primarily responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Local jurisdictions also frequently use civilian municipal security forces, known as “urban management” officials, to enforce administrative measures. Civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment by the government; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisals against individuals located outside the country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom including site blocking; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions on religious freedom, despite nominal constitutional protections voided by regulations restricting religious freedom and effectively placing Tibetan Buddhism under central government control; severe restrictions on freedom of movement; the inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of government corruption; coerced abortion or forced sterilization; and violence or threats of violence targeting indigenous persons.

Disciplinary procedures for officials were opaque, and aside from vague allegations of corruption or violations of “party discipline,” there was no publicly available information to indicate senior officials punished security personnel or other authorities for behavior defined under laws and regulations of the People’s Republic of China as abuses of power and authority.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were public reports or credible allegations the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in January that Buddhist monk Tenzin Nyima died in late December 2020 or early January after suffering severe beatings over the course of many months. Sources told HRW that the beatings and other mistreatment left Tenzin in a coma, severely malnourished, and likely paralyzed when he died. Phayul.com reported in May that Norsang (no last name), held incommunicado after his 2019 detention for refusing to participate in People’s Republic of China (PRC)-led political re-education training, was allegedly tortured to death. According to the report, Norsang died in 2019 while in the custody of local security officials, who did not reveal his death until May.

b. Disappearance

There were no credible reports of disappearances, although the whereabouts of many persons detained by security officials was unknown (see information on incommunicado detention in section 1.c., below).

Gen Sonam, a senior manager of the Potala Palace, was reportedly detained in 2019, and his whereabouts remained unknown.

The whereabouts of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the second most prominent figure after the Dalai Lama in Tibetan Buddhism’s Gelug school, remained unknown. Neither he nor his parents have been seen since they were disappeared, allegedly by or on behalf of PRC authorities in 1995, when he was six years old.

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

According to sources, police and prison authorities employed torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment in dealing with some detainees and prisoners. There were reports that PRC officials severely beat some Tibetans who were incarcerated or otherwise in custody. In February the Tibet Sun reported Kunchok Jinpa, a political prisoner serving a 21-year sentence, died in a hospital shortly after his release from prison. According to the report, Kunchok died from a severe brain hemorrhage resulting from beatings he endured in prison.

Reports from released prisoners indicated some were permanently disabled or in extremely poor health because of the harsh treatment they endured in prison. Former prisoners also reported being isolated in small cells for months at a time and deprived of sleep, sunlight, and adequate food. Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported in March that Gangbu Rikgye Nyima, serving a 10-year sentence for participation in protests, was released in February, a year early. According to RFA, the release came about because Gangbu’s health had deteriorated badly due to beatings and torture in prison.

RFA reported in September that Tibetan monk Thabgey Gyatso was released after serving 12 years of his 15-year sentence. Sources told RFA that “due to harsh treatment in the prison, his vision and overall health have become very weak.”

Impunity for violations of human rights was pervasive. There were no reports that officials investigated or punished those responsible for unlawful killings and other abuses in previous years.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical Conditions: Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. According to individuals who completed their prison terms in recent years, prisoners rarely received medical care except in cases of serious illness.

Administration: Independent observers with access to members of the Tibetan community believed that in many cases officials denied visitors, including attorneys, access to detained and imprisoned persons.

Independent Monitoring: There was no evidence of independent monitoring or observation of prisons or detention centers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arbitrary arrest and detention remained serious problems. Legal safeguards for detained or imprisoned Tibetans were inadequate in both design and implementation.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Public security agencies are required by law to notify the relatives or employer of a detained person within 24 hours of their detention but often failed to do so when Tibetans and others were detained for political reasons. Pretrial bail procedures are codified under the PRC law, but Tibetans and others who have been detained for politically sensitive reasons are denied access to pretrial release. According to criminal law, public security officers may detain persons for up to 37 days without formally arresting or charging them. Further detention requires approval of a formal arrest by the prosecutor’s office; however, in cases pertaining to “national security, terrorism, and major bribery,” the law permits up to six months of incommunicado detention without formal arrest.

When a suspect is formally arrested, public security authorities may detain the person for up to an additional seven months while the case is investigated. After the completion of an investigation, the prosecutor may detain a suspect an additional 45 days while determining whether to file criminal charges. If charges are filed, authorities may then detain a suspect for an additional 45 days before beginning judicial proceedings.

Despite the laws and regulatory procedures, incommunicado detention was a common practice. In one case, multiple nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and news agencies reported Tibetan writer Go Sherab Gyatso was arrested in October 2020 in Chengdu, Sichuan; no further information about his whereabouts or the charges was released. Media and NGOs also reported that Rinchen Tsultrim’s whereabouts remained unknown. Rinchen had been detained in late summer 2019 at the Ngabao Public Security Bureau in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and was allegedly charged with “incitement to split the country.”

Arbitrary Arrest: Derung Tsering Dhundrup, a senior Tibetan scholar who was also the deputy secretary of the Sichuan Tibet Studies Society, was reportedly detained in 2019. Local reports suggested he was released in April under strict parole conditions; his whereabouts were unknown at year’s end.

On July 6, HRW published an extensive report on a crackdown, beginning in 2019, on monks in the Tengdro Monastery in Tingri County, TAR. The crackdown began after police searched the mobile phone of monk Choegyal Wangpo and found images of the Dalai Lama and records of messages with Tibetans overseas. Police reportedly detained, interrogated, and beat Wangpo and then raided a nearby village, detaining approximately 20 monks and subjecting villagers to political re-education sessions. One monk, Lobsang Zoepa, reportedly took his own life in protest. Most of the monks were released but four, including Wangpo, were held for more than a year before being tried in secret and sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison.

Tibet.net reported a case in which Konmay (no last name), a Tibetan monk in Ngaba, Sichuan, was arrested in July for unknown reasons.

On July 6, Chinese authorities reportedly arrested 19 monks and approximately 40 Tibetans in Dza Wonpo in Ganz Autonomous Tibetan Prefecture, Sichuan Province. Those held allegedly possessed pictures of the Dalai Lama. Media reported the arrests followed several months of heightened restrictions and surveillance in the area. On August 25, authorities summoned residents ages 18 and older to a town meeting, with penalties for failure to attend. At the meeting, authorities demanded that residents “follow the Communist party” and prohibited residents from keeping pictures of the Dalai Lama or sharing “sensitive information” with Tibetans in exile, according to media reports.

Pretrial Detention: Security officials frequently violated the legal limits for pretrial detention, and pretrial detention periods of more than a year were common. Individuals detained for political or religious reasons were often held on national security charges, which have looser restrictions on the length of pretrial detention. Many political detainees were therefore held without trial far longer than other types of detainees. Authorities held many prisoners in extrajudicial detention centers without charge and never allowed them to appear in public court.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: This right does not exist in the TAR or other Tibetan areas.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

There is no judicial independence from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or the PRC government in law or practice. In August for example, the TAR Higher People’s Court announced the hiring of six court clerks. Among the job requirements was successful passage of a “political background check” by candidates and all their family members. In cases that authorities claimed involved “endangering state security” or “separatism,” trials often were cursory and closed.

In July HRW issued a report detailing the September 2020 denial of a fair trial to four Tibetan monks from the Tengro Monastery in Tingri County, TAR. The report indicated that the four were arrested for having foreign contacts. Their access to lawyers and to the evidence used against them was restricted and no details of their trial were made public.

Trial Procedures

Criminal suspects in the PRC have the right to hire a lawyer or other defense representation, but many Tibetan defendants, particularly those facing politically motivated charges, did not have access to legal representation while in pretrial detention. In many cases lawyers were unwilling to take clients due to political risks or because Tibetan families often did not have the resources to cover legal fees. In rare cases, defendants were denied access to legal representation entirely. For example, Tashi Wangdui, a Tibetan HIV and AIDS awareness campaigner sentenced to life imprisonment in 2008 for “endangering state security,” has been denied access to any of his lawyers since his conviction.

While some Tibetan lawyers are licensed in Tibetan areas, observers reported they were often unwilling to defend individuals in front of ethnic Han judges and prosecutors due to fear of reprisals or disbarment.

Local sources noted trials were predominantly conducted in Mandarin, with government interpreters provided for defendants who did not speak Mandarin. Court decisions, proclamations, and other judicial documents, however, generally were not published in Tibetan.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

An unknown number of Tibetans were detained, arrested, or sentenced because of their political or religious activities.

FreeTibet.net reported in November that well-known Tibetan writer Lobsang Lhundup (pen name: Dhi Lhaden) had been sentenced to four years in prison. Lobsang had been arbitrarily detained in Chengdu in 2019 before the FreeTibet.net report indicated he was charged with “disrupting social order.” According to the report, Lobsang was sentenced after a “secret trial”; no further details were provided.

Outside observers examined publicly available information and, as of late May, identified between 500 and 2,000 Tibetans known or believed to be detained or imprisoned by PRC authorities in violation of international human rights standards. Of the 115 cases for which there was information available on sentencing, punishment ranged from 15 months’ to life imprisonment. These data, for both overall detentions and sentencing, were believed to cover only a small fraction of the actual number of political prisoners.

In January official media reported that in 2020 the TAR prosecutor’s office approved the arrest and prosecution of 74 individuals allegedly for “threatening” China’s “political security.” Details, including the whereabouts of those arrested, were unknown.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Approximately 150,000 Tibetans live outside Tibet, many as refugees in India and Nepal.

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: The Tibetan overseas community is frequently subjected to harassment, monitoring, and cyberattacks believed to be carried out by the PRC government. In September the Jamestown Foundation reported on tactics PRC officials used to target Tibetan activists overseas and the Tibetan diaspora community. The report described the secret infiltration of communities, reporting on Tibetans, and the use of disinformation. The report also indicated that Chinese consulates abroad often collect data from family members applying for visas to use the information to identify and target Tibetans in the PRC. Media outlets reported PRC government efforts to hack into the mobile phones of officials in the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and of several leaders of the Central Tibetan Administration, the overseas Tibetan community’s governance organization. The PRC government at times compelled Tibetans in China to pressure family members seeking asylum overseas to return.

Bilateral Pressure: There were credible reports that the PRC continued to put heavy pressure on Nepal to implement a border systems management agreement and a mutual legal assistance treaty, as well as to conclude an extradition treaty that could result in the refoulement of Tibetan refugees to the PRC. Nepal does not appear to have implemented either proposed agreement and postponed action on the extradition treaty.

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

Authorities electronically and manually monitored private correspondence and searched, without warrant, private homes and businesses for photographs of the Dalai Lama and other forbidden items. Police routinely examined the cell phones of TAR residents in random stops or as part of other investigations to search for “reactionary music” from India or photographs of the Dalai Lama. Authorities also questioned and detained some individuals who disseminated writings and photographs over the internet or listened to teachings of the Dalai Lama on their cell phones. Authorities continued to employ pervasive surveillance systems, including the use of facial recognition and smart identity cards.

The “grid system,” an informant system also known as the “double-linked household system,” facilitated authorities’ efforts to identify and control persons considered “extremist” or “splittist.” The grid system groups households and other establishments and encourages them to report problems to the government, including financial problems and political transgressions, in other group households. Tibet.net reported in March that TAR authorities issued new regulations designed to encourage Tibetans to spy on each other. The article noted that the PRC often tests the loyalty of Tibetans by having them report on each other. Authorities rewarded individuals with money and other forms of compensation for their reporting. The maximum reward for information leading to the arrests of social media users deemed disloyal to the government increased to 300,000 renminbi ($42,800), six times the average per capita GDP in the TAR, according to local media.

According to sources in the TAR, Tibetans frequently received telephone calls from security officials ordering them to remove from their cell phones photographs, articles, and information on international contacts the government deemed sensitive. Security officials visited the residences of those who did not comply with such orders. Media reports indicated that in some areas, households were required to have photographs of PRC President Xi Jinping in prominent positions and were subject to inspections and fines for noncompliance. In a May case, media reported local officials sentenced a Tibetan herder from Qinghai Province for having “Tibet-related” material on his mobile phone.

The TAR regional government punished CCP members who followed the Dalai Lama, secretly harbored religious beliefs, made pilgrimages to India, or sent their children to study with Tibetans in exile.

Individuals in Tibetan areas reported they were subjected to government harassment and investigation because of family members living overseas. Observers also reported that many Tibetans traveling to visit family overseas were required to spend several weeks in political education classes after returning to China. Pharul.com reported in August that in April PRC authorities ordered Tibetans in Shigatse Prefecture, Dingri County, TAR to provide a list of their relatives living overseas. The demand followed similar efforts elsewhere in the TAR. Failure to do so would result in these individuals losing PRC-provided benefits.

The government also interfered with the ability of persons to find employment. Media reports in May noted that advertisements for 286 positions of different types in the TAR required applicants to “align ideologically, politically, and in action with the CCP Central Committee,” “oppose any splittist tendencies,” and “expose and criticize the Dalai Lama.” The advertisements explained that all applicants were subject to a political review prior to employment.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

Neither in law nor practice were constitutional provisions for freedom of expression respected.

Freedom of Expression: Authorities in the TAR and other Tibetan regions punished persons for the vaguely defined crime of “creating and spreading rumors.” Voice of America reported in March that three Tibetans were arrested for “violating regulations” by establishing a WeChat group. Tibetans who spoke to foreigners or foreign reporters, attempted to provide information to persons outside the country, or communicated information regarding protests or other expressions of discontent, including via mobile phones and internet-based communications, were subject to harassment or detention for “undermining social stability and inciting separatism.”

The Tibet Post reported in March that Rinchen Tsultrim, a Tibetan monk from the TAR, was sentenced to four and a half years for contacting Tibetans overseas. Tibet.net reported in August that PRC authorities arrested three men for posting photographs on their social media accounts and charged them with sharing information with overseas Tibetans.

RFA reported in August that authorities in Sichuan Province arrested 60 Tibetans for allegedly having photos of the Dalai Lama on their mobile phones. Security officials held a community meeting three days later to inform the local populace that they were prohibited from having photographs of the Dalai Lama.

In September RFA reported that two Tibetans in Qinghai were detained for discussing China’s Sinicization policy. The two men had apparently discussed on WeChat PRC policies and how they related to Tibet, resulting in their arrest.

According to multiple observers, security officials often cancelled WeChat accounts carrying “sensitive information,” such as discussions about Tibetan language education, and interrogated the account owners.

During the year, the TAR carried out numerous propaganda campaigns to encourage pro-CCP speech, thought, and conduct. These included a “TAR Clear and Bright 2021” program, designed to crack down on persons “misusing” the internet, including by making “wrong” comments on the party’s history and “denigrating” the country’s “heroes and martyrs.” The TAR Communist Party also launched specialized propaganda campaigns to counter support for “Tibetan independence” and undermine popular support for the Dalai Lama. The PRC’s continuing campaign against organized crime also targeted supporters of the Dalai Lama, who were considered by police to be members of a criminal organization. In August Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Yang and TAR Communist Party secretary Wu Yingjie publicly urged everyone to follow Xi Jinping and avoid the Dalai Lama “clique” and separatist forces.

A re-education program called “Unity and Love for the Motherland” continued to expand. Participants in the program received state subsidies and incentives for demonstrating support for and knowledge of CCP leaders and ideology, often requiring them to memorize party slogans and quotations from past CCP leaders and to sing the national anthem. These tests were carried out in Mandarin. In June Reuters reported observing a broadening of China’s political education campaign among lay individuals and religious figures in the TAR. The report included monks indicating that President Xi was their “spiritual leader.” Reuters also reported that Tibet’s College of Buddhism began focusing on political and cultural education aligned with CCP teaching.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Authorities tightly controlled journalists who worked for the domestic press and could hire and fire them based on assessments of their political reliability. CCP propaganda authorities were in charge of journalist accreditation in the TAR and required journalists working there to display “loyalty to the party and motherland.” The deputy head of the TAR Propaganda Department simultaneously held a prominent position in the TAR Journalist Association, a state-controlled professional association to which local journalists must belong.

Throughout the year, the TAR implemented its “Regulations on Establishing a Model Area for Ethnic Unity and Progress,” which mandated media organizations to cooperate with ethnic unity propaganda work and criminalized speech or spreading information “damaging to ethnic unity.”

In June TAR party secretary Wu Yingjie held a special region-wide mobilization conference on propaganda and political ideological topics; some journalists and media workers in the region reported they had officially promised to implement the CCP’s line and resolutely fight separatism and “reactionary press and media” overseas.

Foreign journalists may visit the TAR only after obtaining a special travel permit from the government, and authorities rarely granted such permission. When authorities permitted journalists to travel to the TAR, the government severely limited the scope of reporting by monitoring and controlling their movements and intimidating and preventing Tibetans from interacting with them.

Violence and Harassment: PRC authorities arrested and sentenced many Tibetan writers, intellectuals, and singers for “inciting separatism.” Numerous prominent Tibetan political writers, including Jangtse Donkho, Kelsang Jinpa, Buddha (no last name), Tashi Rabten, Arik Dolma Kyab, Gangkye Drupa Kyab, and Shojkhang (also known as Druklo), reported security officers closely monitored them following their releases from prison between 2013 and 2021 and often ordered them to return to police stations for further interrogation, particularly after they received messages or calls from friends overseas or from foreigners in other parts of the PRC. Some of these persons deleted their social media contacts or shut down their accounts completely.

RFA reported in April that six influential Tibetan writers, monks, and cultural figures were arrested in Sichuan. Four of the individuals, Gangkye Drubpa Kyab, Sey Nam, Gangbu Yudrum, and Gang Tsering Dolma, were named in the RFA report, but two of the individuals remained unknown.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Authorities prohibited domestic journalists from reporting on repression in Tibetan areas. Authorities promptly censored the postings of bloggers and users of WeChat who did so, and the authors sometimes faced punishment. Authorities banned some writers from publishing; prohibited them from receiving services and benefits, such as government jobs, bank loans, and passports; and denied them membership in formal organizations.

The TAR Internet and Information Office maintained tight control of a full range of social media platforms.

The PRC continued to disrupt radio broadcasts of RFA’s Tibetan- and Mandarin-language services in Tibetan areas, as well as those of the Voice of Tibet, an independent radio station based in Norway.

In addition to maintaining strict censorship of print and online content in Tibetan areas, PRC authorities sought to censor the expression of views or distribution of information related to Tibet in countries and regions outside mainland China.

In March, police in the TAR city of Shigatse seized and destroyed “illegal publications” as well as illegal equipment for satellite signal reception.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Tibetans do not enjoy the rights to assemble peacefully or to associate freely.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Even in areas officially designated as “autonomous,” Tibetans generally lacked the right to organize. Persons who organized public events for any purpose not endorsed by authorities faced harassment, arrest, prosecution, and violence. Unauthorized assemblies were frequently broken up by force. Any assembly deemed by authorities as a challenge to the PRC or its policies, for example, to advocate for Tibetan language rights, to mark religious holidays, or to protect the area’s unique natural environment, provoked a particularly strong response both directly against the assembled persons and in authorities’ public condemnation of the assembly. Authorities acted preemptively to forestall unauthorized assemblies.

Freedom of Association

In accordance with PRC law, only civil society organizations approved by the CCP and essentially directed by it are legal. Policies noted above designed to bring monasteries under CCP control are one example of this policy. Persons attempting to organize any sort of independent association were subject to harassment, arrest on a wide range of charges, or violent suppression.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

PRC law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; however, the government severely restricted travel and freedom of movement for Tibetans, particularly Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns as well as lay persons whom the government considered to have “poor political records.”

In-country Movement: The outbreak of COVID-19 led to countrywide restrictions on travel, which affected movement in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. During the year, the TAR and other Tibetan areas were often in “closed-management,” which restricted Tibetans’ in-country movement. This also meant all major sites, including monasteries and cultural sites, were closed.

People’s Armed Police and local public security bureaus have for years set up roadblocks and checkpoints in Tibetan areas on major roads, in cities, and on the outskirts of cities and monasteries, particularly around sensitive dates. These roadblocks restricted and controlled access for Tibetans and foreigners to sensitive areas. Tibetans traveling in monastic attire were subjected to extra scrutiny by police at roadside checkpoints and at airports. Tibetans without local residency were turned away from many Tibetan areas deemed sensitive by the government.

Authorities sometimes banned Tibetans, particularly monks and nuns, from leaving the TAR or traveling to it without first obtaining special permission from multiple government offices. Some Tibetans reported encountering difficulties obtaining the required permissions. Such restrictions made it difficult for Tibetans to practice their religion, visit family, conduct business, or travel for leisure. Tibetans from outside the TAR who traveled to Lhasa also reported that authorities there required them to surrender their national identification cards and notify authorities of their plans in detail on a daily basis. These requirements were not applied to Han Chinese visitors to the TAR.

Outside the TAR, many Tibetan monks and nuns reported travel for religious or educational purposes beyond their home monasteries remained difficult; officials frequently denied them permission to stay at a monastery for religious education.

Foreign Travel: Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic which prompted authorities to limit the issuance of passports, Tibetans faced significant hurdles in acquiring passports. For Buddhist monks and nuns it was virtually impossible. Sources reported that Tibetans and members of certain other ethnic minority groups had to provide far more extensive documentation than other citizens when applying for a PRC passport. For Tibetans the passport application process sometimes required years and frequently ended in rejection. Authorities’ unwillingness to issue new or renew old passports in effect created a ban on foreign travel for the Tibetan population.

Some Tibetans reported they were able to obtain passports only after paying substantial bribes and offering written promises to undertake only apolitical or nonsensitive international travel. Many Tibetans with passports were concerned authorities would place them on the government’s blacklist and therefore did not travel abroad.

Tibetans encountered particular obstacles in traveling to India for religious, educational, and other purposes. Tibetans who had traveled to Nepal and planned to continue to India reported that PRC officials visited their family homes and threatened their relatives in Tibet if they did not return immediately. Sources reported that extrajudicial punishments included blacklisting family members, which could lead to loss of a government job or difficulty in finding employment; expulsion of children from the public education system; and revocation of national identification cards, thereby preventing access to social services such as health care. The government restricted the movement of Tibetans through increased border controls before and during sensitive anniversaries and events.

Government regulations on the travel of international visitors to the TAR were uniquely strict in the PRC. The government required all international visitors to apply for a Tibet travel permit to visit the TAR and regularly denied requests by international journalists, diplomats, and other officials for official travel. Approval for tourist travel to the TAR was easier to secure but was often restricted around sensitive dates. PRC security forces used conspicuous monitoring to intimidate foreign officials and followed them at all times, preventing them from meeting or speaking with local contacts, harassing them, and restricting their movement in these areas.

Exile: Among Tibetans living outside of China are the 14th Dalai Lama and several other senior religious leaders. The PRC denied these leaders the right to return to Tibet or imposed unacceptable conditions on their return.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

According to law, Tibetans, like other Chinese citizens, have the right to vote in some local elections. The PRC government, however, severely restricted its citizens’ ability to participate in any meaningful elections. Citizens could not freely choose the officials who governed them, and the CCP continued to control appointments to positions of political power.

The TAR and many Tibetan areas strictly implemented the Regulation for Village Committee Management, which stipulates that the primary condition for participating in any local election is the “willingness to resolutely fight against separatism”; in many cases this condition was interpreted to require candidates to be CCP members and denounce the Dalai Lama.

Recent Elections: Not applicable.

Political Parties and Political Participation: TAR authorities have banned traditional tribal leaders from running their villages and often warned those leaders not to interfere in village affairs. The top CCP position of TAR party secretary continued to be held by a Han Chinese, as were the corresponding positions in the vast majority of all TAR counties. Within the TAR, Han Chinese persons also continued to hold a disproportionate number of the top security, military, financial, economic, legal, judicial, and educational positions. The law requires CCP secretaries and governors of ethnic minority autonomous prefectures and regions to be from that ethnic minority; nonetheless, party secretaries were Han Chinese in eight of the nine autonomous prefectures in Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan Provinces. One autonomous prefecture in Qinghai had an ethnic Tibetan party secretary.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: There were no formal restrictions on women’s participation in the political system, and women held many lower-level government positions. Nevertheless, women were underrepresented at the provincial and prefectural levels of party and government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

PRC law provides criminal penalties for corrupt acts by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively in Tibetan areas, and high-ranking officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption in Tibetan areas; some low-ranked officials were punished.

Corruption: Local sources said investigations into corruption in the TAR and autonomous prefectures were rare.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Some domestic human rights groups and NGOs were able to operate in Tibetan areas, although under substantial government restrictions. Their ability to investigate impartially and publish their findings on human rights cases was limited. PRC law on the activities of overseas NGOs limits the number of local NGOs able to receive foreign funding and the ability of international NGOs to assist Tibetan communities. Foreign NGOs reported being unable to find local partners willing to work with them. There were no known international NGOs operating in the TAR. PRC government officials were not cooperative or responsive to the views of Tibetan or foreign human rights groups.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: See section 6, Women, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.

Sexual Harassment: See section 6, Women, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.

Reproductive Rights: See section 6, Women, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.

Discrimination: See section 6, Women, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Although observers believe that ethnic Tibetans made up the great majority of the TAR’s permanent, registered population – especially in rural areas – there were no accurate data reflecting the large number of long-, medium-, and short-term Han Chinese migrants, such as officials, skilled and unskilled laborers, military and paramilitary troops, and their dependents, in the region.

Observers continued to express concern that major development projects and other central government policies disproportionately benefited non-Tibetans and contributed to the considerable influx of Han Chinese into the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Large state-owned enterprises based outside the TAR engineered or built many major infrastructure projects across the Tibetan plateau; Han Chinese professionals and low-wage temporary migrant workers from other provinces, rather than local residents, generally managed and staffed the projects.

Economic and social exclusion was a major source of discontent among a varied cross section of Tibetans.

Government propaganda against alleged Tibetan “proindependence forces” contributed to Chinese social discrimination against ordinary Tibetans. Many Tibetan monks and nuns chose to wear nonreligious clothing to avoid harassment when traveling outside their monasteries. Some Tibetans reported that taxi drivers outside Tibetan areas refused to stop for them, hotels refused to provide lodging, and Han Chinese landlords refused to rent to them.

There were reports in prior years that some employers specifically barred Tibetans and other minority-group members from applying for job openings. There were, however, no media reports of this type of discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: See section 6, Children, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.

Education: The PRC’s nationwide “centralized education” policy was in place in most rural areas. To ensure its success, the policy forced the closure of many village schools, even at the elementary level; and of monastic schools or other Tibetan-run schools. Students from closed schools were transferred to boarding schools in towns and cities. There were multiple reports of parents reluctant to send their children away from home being intimidated and threatened.

The Tibet Action Institute issued a report in December that detailed the significant changes in PRC Sinicization policies in the TAR and other Tibetan-inhabited areas made to the education of Tibetan children. The report cited PRC statistics that showed approximately 800,000 Tibetan children (nearly 78 percent of Tibetan students ages 6 to 18) attending state-run boarding schools. An unknown but increasing number of 4- and 5-year-old children were also enrolled in boarding schools. Ethnic Chinese children, even in rural areas, attend boarding schools at far lower rates.

The report contends that these boarding schools and other PRC Sinicization efforts are “part of a deliberate effort by the state to eliminate the core of Tibetan identity and replace it with a hollowed-out version compatible with the Party’s aims.” Among the features that promote this outcome: instruction is almost entirely in Mandarin Chinese; there is no provision for religious or cultural activities; and the highly politicized curriculum emphasizes Chinese identity. These and other aspects of education policy led many Tibetan parents to express deep concern about growing “ideological and political education” that was critical of the “old Tibet,” and taught Tibetan children to improve their “Chinese identity” beginning at the preschool level.

Media reports also highlighted discrimination within government boarding-school programs. Tibetans attending government-run boarding schools in eastern China reported studying and living in ethnically segregated classrooms and dormitories justified as necessary security measures, although the government claimed cultural integration was one purpose of these programs.

Authorities enforced regulations limiting traditional monastic education to monks older than 18. Instruction in Tibetan, while provided for by PRC law, was often inadequate or unavailable at schools in Tibetan areas. FreeTibet.net reported in November that Qinghai authorities expelled 80 monks from their monasteries. The report indicated that PRC authorities claimed the monks were younger than 18.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: See section 6, Children, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: See section 6, Children, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.

International Child Abductions: See section 6, Children, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.

Anti-Semitism

See section 6, Anti-Semitism, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.

Persons with Disabilities

See section 6, Persons with Disabilities, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

See section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.

Section 7. Worker Rights

See section 7, Worker Rights, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.