Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, the government owned all media and exercised editorial control over content.
Press and Media Freedom: In May the government waived the 8,000 Australian dollars (AUD) ($5,780) journalist visa fee for 30 foreign journalists covering the September summit of Pacific Islands Forum leaders. The government, however, banned journalists from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from entering the country for the summit, claiming the network published biased and false reporting about the country.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government owned all media, giving the government significant control over published and broadcast content.
Libel/Slander Laws: By law “unlawful vilification” and “criminal defamation” are punishable by a maximum three years’ imprisonment. There were no reports of arrests for breach of the law, although critics contended the new offenses could inhibit free speech.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
The law makes online child pornography illegal and defines illegal access to computers or program data. The law also applies to information related to national security, enforcement of criminal law, provision of services related to public infrastructure, and the protection of public safety. In January, President Baron Waqa announced the government lifted restrictions, pursuant to the 2015 law, that it had cited previously to block Facebook.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 54 percent of the population had access to the internet, and it was widely used.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
Neither the constitution nor law specifically provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government generally respected these rights for its citizens. The government cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: On October 13, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees called for the government and the Australian government to end offshore detention and for the immediate evacuation of the remaining refugees and asylum seekers, citing a deteriorating health situation in the refugee facilities. The call came after the government expelled global medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres from the country, calling its members “political activists for refugees.”
According to media reports, children at the Refugee Processing Center indicated growing risks of self-harm, suicide attempts, or refusing all food and fluids. In August a 14-year-old male refugee who went on a hunger strike for more than 14 days was flown to Australia for treatment after he became critically ill. A 12-year-old female refugee was reportedly hospitalized in the country for injuries sustained after she attempted to set herself on fire.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law includes a provision for nonrefoulement.
Durable Solutions: The government grants five-year visas to asylum seekers after they receive refugee determination.