Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the regime severely restricted this right, often terrorizing, abusing, or killing those who attempted to exercise this right.
Freedom of Expression: The law contains a number of speech offenses that limit the freedom of expression, including provisions criminalizing expression that, for example, “weakens the national sentiment” in times of war or defames the president, courts, military, or public authorities. The regime routinely characterized expression as illegal, and individuals could not criticize the regime publicly or privately without fear of reprisal. The regime also stifled criticism by invoking provisions of law prohibiting acts or speech inciting sectarianism. It monitored political meetings and relied on informer networks.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Although the law provides for the “right to access information about public affairs” and bans “the arrest, questioning, or searching of journalists,” press and media restrictions outweighed freedoms. The law contains many restrictions on freedom of expression for the press, including provisions criminalizing, for example, the dissemination of false or exaggerated news that “weakens the spirit of the Nation” or the broadcasting abroad of false or exaggerated news that “tarnishes” the country’s reputation. The law bars publication of content that affects “national unity and national security,” harms state symbols, defames religions, or incites sectarian strife or “hate crimes.” The law further forbids publication of any information about the armed forces.
The regime continued to exercise extensive control over local print and broadcast media, and the law imposes strict punishment for reporters who do not reveal their sources in response to regime requests. Freedom House reported that only a few dozen print publications remained in circulation, reduced from several hundred prior to the conflict. A number of quasi-independent periodicals, usually owned and produced by individuals with regime connections, published during the year. Books critical of the regime were illegal.
The regime owned some radio stations and most local television companies, and the Ministry of Information closely monitored all radio and television news broadcasts and entertainment programs for adherence to regime policies. Despite restrictions on ownership and use, citizens widely used satellite dishes, although the regime jammed some Arab networks.
Violence and Harassment: Regime forces reportedly detained, arrested, and harassed journalists and other writers for works deemed critical of the state as well as journalists associated with networks favorable to the regime. Harassment included intimidation, banning individuals from the country, dismissing journalists from their positions, and ignoring requests for continued accreditation. According to reliable NGO reports, the regime routinely arrested journalists who were either associated with or writing in favor of the opposition and instigated attacks against foreign press outlets throughout the country. The SNHR reported that authorities in February arrested Ahmad Orabi, who worked as a news correspondent for al Ayyam newspaper and Ana Press, despite having previously signed a reconciliation agreement with the regime. In January a U.S. federal court found the regime had perpetrated targeted murder to intimidate journalists, inhibit newsgathering and the dissemination of information, and suppress dissent, and found it liable for the 2012 death of American journalist Marie Colvin. The court ordered the regime to pay $302 million in punitive damages, which it has not paid.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported that 26 journalists, citizen journalists, and media assistants remained imprisoned, although it did not specify by whom, and the CPJ reported that at least five journalists remained missing or held hostage as of November. The reason for arrests was often unclear. RSF reported that at least 25 journalists, citizen journalists, and media assistants died in regime detention between 2011 and October. For example, in July the CPJ reported that a prison official informed the family of Alaa Nayef al-Khader al-Khalidi in July that the photojournalist died due to torture while in regime custody at Sedayna Prison.
The regime and ISIS routinely targeted and killed both local and foreign journalists, according to the COI, the CPJ, and RSF. The CPJ estimated that 129 journalists were killed since 2011, while RSF estimated more than 260 journalists, citizen journalists, and media assistants were killed during the same period. The CPJ attributed more than half of journalist deaths between 2011 and 2017 to regime and proregime forces.
During the year the CPJ, RSF, and the SNHR documented the deaths of six journalists, citizen journalists, and media assistants. Anas Al-Dyab was killed in a Russian airstrike while documenting the bombardment of Khan Sheikhoun; Amjad Hassan Bakir was killed when a missile struck the Free Idlib Army vehicle in which he was riding as an embedded journalist covering the regime’s offensive in Idlib Governorate; Mohammad Jomaa was killed by a mine in Deir Ezzour in an area that had recently been retaken by the SDF; and Omar Al-Dimashqi was killed by the explosion of an IED placed under his car by an unidentified attacker.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The regime continued to strictly control the dissemination of information, including on developments regarding fighting between the regime and the armed opposition, and prohibited most criticism of the regime and discussion of sectarian problems, including religious and ethnic minority rights. The Ministries of Information and Culture censored domestic and foreign publications prior to circulation or importation, including through the General Corporation for the Distribution of Publications, and prevented circulation of content determined critical or sensitive. The regime prohibited publication or distribution of any material security officials deemed threatening or embarrassing to the regime. Censorship was usually more stringent for materials in Arabic.
Local journalists reported they engaged in extensive self-censorship on subjects such as criticism of the president and his family, the security services, or Alawite religious groups.
RSF reported journalists fled the advance of regime troops, fearing imprisonment as soon as the regime controlled the entire province they were in. RSF assessed that the regime’s persecution of journalists for more than eight years justified their fears, especially as many of them covered the uprising since the outset, helped to document the regime’s human rights violations, and risked severe reprisals if identified with the opposition.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel, slander, insult, defamation, and blasphemy, and the regime continued to use such provisions to restrict public discussion and to detain, arrest, and imprison journalists perceived to have opposed the regime.
National Security: The regime regularly cited laws protecting national security to restrict media criticism of regime policies or public officials.
Nongovernmental Impact: According to Freedom House, media freedom varied in territory held by armed opposition groups, but local outlets were typically under heavy pressure to support the dominant militant faction. The CPJ and RSF reported that extremist opposition groups, such as the HTS, detained and tortured journalists (see section 1.g.) and posed a serious threat to press and media freedoms. The CPJ reported that four members of the HTS abducted Syrian reporter Ahmed Rahal, a reporter for the Syrian pro-civil rights news website Al-Dorar al-Sahmia, after raiding his home in September. The SNHR reported that the family of Samer Saleh al Salloum, an activist responsible for the printing and distribution of al Gherbal political magazine and Zawrak children’s magazine, was informed in August that he had reportedly been executed in detention by the HTS in April.
In July the CPJ reported that the HTS arbitrarily detained Jumaa Haj Hamdou, a reporter for the Syrian pro-civil rights opposition news website Zaman al-Wasl, at his home in western Aleppo. He was not charged and was released after six days. Fathi Ibrahim Bayoud, the editor in chief of Zaman al-Wasl, told the CPJ he believed Hamdou was detained because of his reporting.
The regime controlled and restricted access to the internet and monitored email and social media accounts. In Freedom House’s 2019 Freedom on the Net Report, the country remained a dangerous and repressive environment for internet users. Individuals and groups could not express views via the internet, including by email, without prospect of reprisal. The regime applied the law to regulate internet use and prosecute users. The anticybercrime law (also referred to as Law No. 9) increases penalties for cybercrimes, including those affecting the freedom of expression, remained in place. It also mandates the creation of specialized courts and delegates specialized jurists for the prosecution of cybercrimes in every governorate. RSF asserted the law served as a tool for the regime to threaten online freedom. As of late in the year, at least 14 citizen journalists remained imprisoned by the regime, many on charges related to their digital activism. Hackers linked to Iran continued cyberattacks against Syrian opposition groups to disrupt reporting on human rights violations.
The regime interfered with and blocked internet service, text messages, and two-step verification messages for password recovery or account activation. The regime employed sophisticated technologies and hundreds of computer specialists for filtering and surveillance purposes, such as monitoring email and social media accounts of detainees, activists, and others. The regime did not attempt to restrict the security branches’ monitoring and censoring of the internet. The security branches were largely responsible for restricting internet freedom and access; internet blackouts often coincided with security force attacks. The regime censored websites related to the opposition, including the websites of local coordination committees as well as media outlets.
The regime also restricted or prohibited internet access in areas under siege. Regime officials obstructed connectivity through their control of key infrastructure, at times shutting the internet and mobile telephone networks entirely or at particular sites of unrest. There was generally little access to state-run internet service in besieged areas unless users could capture signals clandestinely from rooftops near regime-controlled areas. Some towns in opposition-held areas had limited internet access via satellite connections. Some activists reportedly gained access independently to satellite internet or through second- and third-generation (2G and 3G) cellular telephone network coverage.
The regime expanded its efforts to use social media, such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, to spread proregime propaganda and manipulate online content. Regime authorities routinely tortured and beat journalists to extract passwords for social media sites, and the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a group of proregime computer hackers, frequently launched cyberattacks on websites to disable them and post proregime material. In addition to promoting hacking and conducting surveillance, the regime and groups it supported, such as the SEA, reportedly planted malware to target human rights activists, opposition members, and journalists. Local human rights groups blamed regime personnel for instances in which malware infected activists’ computers. Arbitrary arrests raised fears that authorities could arrest internet users at any time for online activities perceived to threaten the regime’s control, such as posting on a blog, tweeting, commenting on Facebook, sharing a photograph, or uploading a video.
Observers also accused the SEA of slowing internet access to force self-censorship on regime critics and diverting email traffic to regime servers for surveillance.
The regime restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities generally did not permit academic personnel to express ideas contrary to regime policy. Authorities reportedly dismissed or imprisoned university professors in regime-held areas for expressing dissent and killed some for supporting regime opponents. Combatants on all sides of the war attacked or commandeered schools. The Ministry of Culture restricted and banned the screening of certain films.
During the conflict students, particularly those residing in opposition-held areas, continued to face challenges in taking nationwide exams. For example, school districts in Dar’a were affected by the influx of new pupils to the governorate due to hostilities, forcing many schools to hire unqualified staff and begin operating in shifts to accommodate all the pupils. The COI reported that thousands of students had to repeat classes and retake examinations as a result. Areas liberated by the SDF from ISIS reopened local schools. In Raqqa city and the surrounding rural regions, more than 130,000 students returned to classes in 322 refurbished buildings and schools previously used or destroyed by ISIS. Many school buildings required extensive repairs, sometimes including clearance of explosive remnants of the war, and administrators required assistance to obtain basic supplies for learning.
The SDF also reportedly imposed penalties for SDF and school administration staff members who enrolled their children in schools that did not use their curriculum.
The regime limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, but the law grants the government broad powers to restrict this freedom.
The Ministry of Interior requires permission for demonstrations or any public gathering of more than three persons. As a rule the ministry authorized only demonstrations by the regime, affiliated groups, or the Baath Party, orchestrating them on numerous occasions.
According to allegations by Kurdish activists and press reporting, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the YPG sometimes suppressed freedom of assembly in areas under their control. Throughout the year inhabitants in Deir Ezzor protested against alleged corruption by SDF officials, lack of access to basic services, reports of forced conscription of youths into the SDF, and lack of information on the status of men and boys detained by the SDF due to suspected affiliations to ISIS following the coalition offensive to liberate Baghuz from ISIS control. Protests generally occurred throughout northeast Syria on a variety of issues without interference from local authorities.
During the year multiple media outlets reported that the HTS increased its repression of civil society activity in August due to widespread protests held in opposition to the group. The SNHR reported that the HTS arrested approximately 182 persons as of August, among them political and media activists, 45 of whom reportedly died in detention.
The constitution provides for the freedom of association, but the law grants the regime latitude to restrict this freedom. The regime required prior registration and approval for private associations and restricted the activities of associations and their members. The executive boards of professional associations were not independent of the regime.
The regime often denied requests for registration or failed to act on them, reportedly on political grounds. None of the local human rights organizations operated with a license, but many functioned under organizations that had requisite government registration. The regime continued to block the multiyear effort by journalists to register a countrywide media association. Despite regime efforts, journalists in exile founded the Syrian Journalist Association as an independent democratic professional association in 2012 to empower the role of freedom of the press and expression.
The regime selectively enforced the 2011 decree allowing the establishment of independent political parties, permitting only proregime groups to form official parties (see section 3). According to local human rights groups, opposition activists declined to organize parties, fearing the regime would use party lists to target opposition members.
Under laws that criminalize membership and activity in illegal organizations as determined by the regime, security forces detained hundreds of persons linked to local human rights groups and prodemocracy student groups. The death notices released by the regime shed light on this practice. For example, HRW described the forcible disappearance by the regime during the year of many young protest organizers, civil society leaders, and local coordination committee members. This included Sahar, a community leader and head of the Women’s Affairs Bureau in Daraa, who was detained without cause at a local checkpoint. In several cases documented by HRW, intelligence branches either arrested or repeatedly harassed relatives of civil society activists and people who fled the country to gain information about their wanted family members or force them to return.
The HTS restricted the activities of organizations it deemed incompatible with its interpretation of Islam. HTS forces detained Munawir Hamdeen, a relief worker at the Big Heart organization in Idlib, after severely beating him at his home in 2016. After five months of detention, Hamdeen pleaded guilty to the charge of adultery and was held in detention until August, when his body was found outside the Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets) center in Idlib.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution provides for freedom of movement “within the territories of the state unless restricted by a judicial decision or by the implementation of laws,” but the regime, ISIS, and other armed groups restricted internal movement and travel and instituted security checkpoints to monitor such travel throughout the regions under their respective control. Regime sieges in Idlib Governorate restricted freedom of movement and resulted in documented cases of death, starvation, and severe malnutrition, while forced evacuations following sieges resulted in mass displacement and additional breakdowns in service provision and humanitarian assistance (see section 1.g.).
In-country Movement: In regime-besieged cities throughout the country, regime forces blocked humanitarian access, leading to severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care, and death. The violence, coupled with significant cultural pressure, severely restricted the movement of women in many areas. Additionally, the law allows certain male relatives to place travel bans on women.
The regime expanded security checkpoints into civilian areas to monitor and limit movement. Regime forces reportedly used snipers to prevent protests, enforce curfews, target opposition forces, and, in some cases, prevent civilians from fleeing besieged towns. The regime also barred foreign diplomats from visiting most parts of the country and rarely granted them permission to travel outside Damascus. The consistently high level and unpredictability of violence severely restricted movement throughout the country.
In areas they still controlled, armed opposition groups and terrorist groups, such as the HTS, also restricted movement, including with checkpoints (see section 1.g.). The COI reported in September it had received accounts of harassment, including of women, arbitrary arrest, unlawful search and seizure of property, and demands for bribes at checkpoints administered by the HTS and other armed actors.
While the Syrian Democratic Council and the SDF generally supported IDP communities in northeast Syria, in July HRW reported that the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria was restricting the movement of more than 11,000 foreign women and children suspected to be affiliated with ISIS in a separate section of the al-Hol IDP Camp. The UN secretary-general also released a report on children and armed conflict stating that 1,248 children of 46 nationalities were deprived of their liberty to move freely by the SDF due to their actual or alleged association with ISIS.
Until the territorial defeat of ISIS in March, ISIS restricted the movement in areas under its control of regime supporters or assumed supporters, especially the Alawite and Shia populations, as well as Yezidi, Christian, and other captives. The Free Yezidi Foundation further reported that Yezidis were held against their will by ISIS. ISIS reportedly did not permit female passengers to traverse territory it controlled unless accompanied by a close male relative.
Foreign Travel: While citizens have the right to travel internationally, the regime denied passports and other vital documents, based on the applicant’s political views, association with opposition groups, or ties to geographic areas where the opposition dominated. The regime also imposed exit visa requirements and routinely closed the Damascus airport and border crossings, claiming the closures were due to violence or threats of violence. Additionally, the regime often banned travel by human rights or civil society activists, their families, and affiliates. Many citizens reportedly learned of the ban against their travel only when authorities prevented them from departing the country. The regime reportedly applied travel bans without explanation or explicit duration, including in cases when individuals sought to travel for health reasons. The regime comprehensively banned international travel of opposition members, often targeting any such individual who attempted to travel. Local media and human rights groups repeatedly stated that opposition activists and their families hesitated to leave the country, fearing attacks at airports and border crossings.
The regime also often refused to allow citizens to return. According to several media outlets, Richard Kouyoumjian, Lebanon’s minister of social affairs, stated in March that the regime accepted less than 20 percent of the refugees who attempted to return to the country from Lebanon.
Syrians born abroad to parents who fled the conflict and remained in refugee camps generally did not have access to Syrian citizenship documents. The regime allowed Syrians living outside of the country whose passports had expired to renew their passports at consulates. Many who fled as refugees, however, feared reporting to the regime against which they may have protested or feared the regime could direct reprisals against family members still in the country.
Women older than 18 have the legal right to travel without the permission of male relatives, but a husband may file a request with the Interior Ministry to prohibit his wife from departing the country.
During the year violence continued to be the primary reason for displacement, much of it attributed to regime and Russian aerial attacks. Regime and proregime evacuations of besieged areas, often overseen by Russian forces, forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of persons. Years of conflict and evacuations repeatedly displaced persons, and each displacement depleted family assets. In September the United Nations estimated there were more than 6.2 million IDPs in the country, including 2.5 million children and five million individuals in need of acute assistance. This number included 1.5 million new IDPs since the start of the year. In May UNOCHA recorded 27,969 spontaneous IDP returnees in several areas across the country. The greatest number of these returns were recorded in Homs with 8,290 returnees, approximately 45 percent of whom were displaced within the governorate. Deir Ezzor received the second-largest number of IDP returnees with 5,373 spontaneous returns, while 4,349 returns were recorded in rural Damascus. The fourth largest number of returnees was recorded in Aleppo, with 3,592 returnees, followed by Daraa with 3,098 recorded spontaneous returns. UN humanitarian officials reported that most IDPs sought shelter with host communities or in collective centers, abandoned buildings, or informal camps. The humanitarian response to the country was coordinated through a complex bureaucratic structure. The crisis inside the country continued to meet the UN criteria for a level 3 response–the global humanitarian system’s classification for response to the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises.
The regime generally did not provide sustainable access to services for IDPs, did not offer IDPs assistance, did not facilitate humanitarian assistance for IDPs, and provided inconsistent protection. The regime forcibly displaced populations from besieged areas and restricted movement of IDPs. The regime did not promote the safe, voluntary, and dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs and, in many cases, refused to allow IDPs to return home (see section 1.e., Property Restitution).
According to HRW, the regime confiscated more than 70 residential households with all internal contents in the Eastern Ghouta Region. The regime restricted access to many of the neighborhoods and converted several properties into military headquarters. In November the Middle East Institute reported that regime security and intelligence forces had seized a number of homes and other properties belonging to local residents using several different methods. Those with a backlog of service bills or back taxes who were unable to pay their debt to the regime were given a brief window to leave their property, while some former opposition members had their homes and businesses summarily seized by intelligence forces. The regime routinely disrupted the supply of humanitarian aid, including medical assistance, to areas under siege as well as to newly recaptured areas (see section 1.g.).
The SARC functioned as the main partner for international humanitarian organizations working inside the country to provide humanitarian assistance in regime- and some opposition-controlled areas. NGOs operating from Damascus faced regime bureaucratic obstruction in attempting to provide humanitarian assistance. UN agencies and NGOs sought to increase the flow of assistance to opposition-held areas subject to regime offensives to meet growing humanitarian needs, but the regime increasingly restricted cross-line operations originating from Damascus. The UN and its humanitarian partners continued to provide cross-border assistance from Turkey and Iraq during the year. While humanitarian aid was provided cross-border from Turkey to northwest Syria (Idlib and Aleppo) via two border crossings, Turkey placed restrictions on the provision of humanitarian and stabilization aid to areas of northeast Syria from Turkey.
Assistance reached some hard-to-reach locations, but the regime continued to hinder UN and NGO access, and the regime secured control over many of these areas during the year. Humanitarian actors noted that access remained a pressing concern for service delivery in areas controlled by the regime and nongovernmental actors. The United Nations reported that only seven humanitarian assistance convoys accessed hard-to-reach areas during the year.
In September the United Nations and SARC delivered humanitarian assistance to 15,000 individuals and facilitated the voluntary return of nearly 400 individuals at Rukban Camp in southeast Syria near the Jordanian border. In early November the United Nations and SARC delivered humanitarian assistance to approximately 45,000 persons in need and provided an emergency vaccination campaign to protect some 5,000 children against measles, polio, and other diseases. Humanitarian conditions in Rukban remained dire due to inconsistent access to the area. The regime frequently took months to approve aid convoy requests, and Jordan declined requests to deliver aid from its side of the border, although it allowed a small, exceptional delivery by an NGO from Jordan during Ramadan. The United Nations reported that, since February, approximately half of the camp’s estimated population, or 18,000 individuals, left the camp through the regime-established transit point, primarily towards collective shelters in Homs, where the United Nations and SARC provided services, before moving onwards.
Armed opposition groups and terrorist groups such as the HTS and ISIS, also impeded humanitarian assistance to IDPs. Humanitarian actors reported that the HTS impeded the delivery of aid and services in areas of the northeast, making it difficult to effectively respond to displacement near Idlib. For example, in March the United Nations criticized Turkish-supported Syrian armed opposition groups, including the FSA, for providing inconsistent, restricted access to IDPs in Afrin. In October the United Kingdom temporarily suspended the delivery of aid to Idlib Province due to the HTS taxes on aid trucks. The United Kingdom subsequently resumed aid delivery and, as of November, was still delivering aid to Idlib. NGOs continued to report bureaucratic challenges in working with the HTS Salvation Government, which impeded delivery of services in the camps.
The SDF and SDC generally facilitated the safe and voluntary return of IDPs during the year, particularly to Deir Ezzour and Raqqa.
UNHCR maintained that conditions for refugee return to the country in safety and dignity were not yet in place and did not promote, nor facilitate, the return of refugees to the country during the year. Throughout the year, however, the regime and Russia maintained a diplomatic campaign to encourage the return of refugees to Syria. While Russia reportedly was eager to use the return of Syrian refugees as a means to secure international donations for Syria reconstruction efforts, the regime adopted a more cautious approach on promoting the return of refugees, reportedly due to its suspicion that many Syrian refugees supported the opposition.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The regime inconsistently cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The regime provided some cooperation to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Both regime and opposition forces reportedly besieged, shelled, and otherwise made inaccessible some Palestinian refugee camps, neighborhoods, and sites, which resulted in severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care and humanitarian assistance, and civilian deaths.
Both regime and opposition forces reportedly besieged, shelled, and otherwise made inaccessible some Palestinian refugee camps, neighborhoods, and sites, which resulted in severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care and humanitarian assistance, and civilian deaths.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the regime has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR and UNRWA were able to maintain limited protection areas for refugees and asylum seekers, although violence hampered access to vulnerable populations. In coordination with both local and international NGOs, the United Nations continued to provide such individuals essential services and assistance.
Employment: The law does not explicitly grant refugees, except for Palestinians, the right to work. While the regime rarely granted non-Palestinian refugees a work permit, many refugees found work in the informal sector as guards, construction workers, street vendors, and in other manual jobs.
Access to Basic Services: The law allows for the issuance of identity cards to Palestinian refugees and the same access to basic services provided to citizens. The regime also allowed Iraqi refugees access to publicly available services, such as health care and education, but residency permits were available only to those refugees who entered the country legally and possessed a valid passport, which did not include all refugees. The lack of access to residency permits issued by authorities exposed refugees to risks of harassment and exploitation and severely affected their access to public services. The approximately 45,000 non-Palestinian refugees and asylum seekers in the country faced growing protection risks, multiple displacements, tightened security procedures at checkpoints, and difficulty obtaining required residency permits, all of which resulted in restrictions on their freedom of movement. The COI reported a rise in sexual- and gender-based violence and child-protection concerns among refugees, including child labor, school dropouts, and early marriages.
Following the 1962 census, approximately 150,000 Kurds lost their citizenship. A legislative decree had ordained the single-day census in 1962, and the government executed it unannounced to the inhabitants of al-Hasakah Governorate. Anyone not registered for any reason or without all required paperwork became “foreign” from that day onward. The government at the time argued it based its decision on a 1945 wave of alleged illegal immigration of Kurds from neighboring states, including Turkey, to Hasakah, where they allegedly “fraudulently” registered as Syrian citizens. In a similar fashion, authorities recorded anyone who refused to participate as “undocumented.” Because of this loss of citizenship, these Kurds and their descendants lacked identity cards and could not access government services, including health care and education. They also faced social and economic discrimination. Stateless Kurds do not have the right to inherit or bequeath assets, and their lack of citizenship or identity documents restricted their travel to and from the country.
In 2011 President Assad decreed that stateless Kurds in Hasakah who were registered as “foreigners” could apply for citizenship. It was unclear how many Kurds benefited from the decree. UNHCR reported that approximately 40,000 of these Kurds remained unable to obtain citizenship. Likewise, the decree did not extend to the approximately 160,000 “unregistered” stateless Kurds. The change from 150,000 to 160,000 reflected an approximate increase in population since the 1962 census.
Children derive citizenship solely from their father. Because women cannot confer nationality on their children, an unknown number of children whose fathers were missing or deceased due to the continuing conflict were at risk of statelessness. Mothers could not pass citizenship to children born outside the country, including in neighboring countries hosting refugee camps. Children who left the country during the conflict also experienced difficulties obtaining identification necessary to prove citizenship and obtain services.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government restricted these rights.
Freedom of Expression: The authorities continued to curb freedom of speech through detentions, prosecutions, the threat of heavy fines, the passage of strict and overreaching slander legislation, and the forced closure of media outlets. By law a person may be imprisoned for as long as five years for insulting the president.
In 2016 the Parliament amended Article 137 of the Criminal Code, originally passed in 2007 which provides for criminal responsibility for public insult or slander, including on the internet, against the president. The amendment, Article 137(1), also criminalizes such speech against the “leader of the nation.” Such an offense in both instances can carry an imprisonment term of up to five years.
In December 2018 authorities established a recommended list of 70 topics that state-run television stations were encouraged to analyze and criticize. The recommendations followed President Rahmon’s call in October 2018 for journalists to write more articles about problems facing society. According to media reports, the recommended topics for discussion included construction, education, water problems, garbage collection, factory malfunctioning, bad roads, obesity, extremism and radicalism in society, and land disputes, among others.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media faced significant and repeated government threats on media outlets. Although some print media published political commentary and investigatory material critical of the government, journalists observed that authorities considered certain topics off limits, including, among other matters, questions regarding financial improprieties of those close to the president or content regarding the banned IRPT.
Several independent television and radio stations were available in a small portion of the country, but the government controlled most broadcasting transmission facilities. A decree issued by the government, Guidelines for the Preparation of Television and Radio Programs, stipulates that the government through a state broadcast committee has the right to “regulate and control the content of all television and radio networks regardless of their type of ownership.”
On June 26, the Foreign Ministry denied video journalist Barotali Nazarov’s press accreditation during a meeting in Dushanbe between the Foreign Ministry and Nazarov’s employer, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service (Radio Ozodi). According to a statement from the news outlet, security services ordered the journalist’s credential temporarily revoked after Nazarov published stories mentioning the banned opposition party IRPT. In addition six employees of Radio Ozodi have been unable to renew their accreditation through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the year, a factor that effectively barred these individuals from working as journalists in the country. Three other accreditations for newly hired Ozodi journalists were pending, and the credentials of two other journalists expired on November 1, leaving Radio Ozodi with insufficient staff to continue functioning at its current level. In a July 3 press statement, the Foreign Ministry stated its analysis of Radio Ozodi content showed that instead of reporting important news, the broadcaster was instead engaging in the publication of “sensational and inaccurate information.” The statement also accused Radio Ozodi of acting as a “propaganda wing” for banned opposition groups such as the IRPT and the banned opposition movement Group 24. As of November 21, the Foreign Ministry had partially renewed accreditation for seven Radio Ozodi journalists, leaving 11 unaccredited.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face harassment and intimidation by government officials. Although the government decriminalized libel in 2012, state officials regularly filed defamation complaints against news outlets in retaliation for publishing stories critical of the government.
On January 11, the Khujand city court sentenced in absentia independent journalist Khayrullo Mirsaidov, who resides outside of the country, to eight months in prison for “nonexecution of a previous court ruling” and unauthorized travel, after Mirsaidov left his place of residence without notifying the court. Mirsaidov told media he was forced to leave the country because he could not find a job to pay the fines and court-ordered restitution fees. Mirsaidov was sentenced in June 2018 to 12 years in a high-security penal colony, after the Khujand city court found him guilty of “embezzlement of public funds,” “forgery of documents,” and “dissemination of false information.” Following an appeal, the court in August 2018 released Mirsaidov and reduced the charges after he spent more than eight months incarcerated.
In June, Humayro Bakhtiyor, a prominent local journalist in self-imposed exile in Europe, wrote on social media that authorities were pressuring her to return to the country. She claimed that if she did not return, her 57-year-old father, Bakhtiyor Muminov, would be arrested. According to Bakhtiyor, police summoned Muminov on June 12 and told him that he had to convince his daughter to return to the country or he would lose his job as a schoolteacher. According to Bakhtiyor, police told her father that “he had no moral right to teach children if he was unable to raise his own daughter properly.” The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called upon the authorities to investigate reports of Muminov’s harassment.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists regularly practiced self-censorship to avoid retribution from officials. Opposition politicians had limited or no access to state-run television. The government gave opposition parties minimal broadcast time to express their political views, while the president’s party had numerous opportunities to broadcast its messages.
Newspaper publishers reported the government exercised restrictions on the distribution of materials, requiring all newspapers and magazines with circulations exceeding 99 recipients to register with the Ministry of Culture. The government continued to control all major printing presses and the supply of newsprint. Independent community radio stations continued to experience registration and licensing delays that prevented them from broadcasting. The government restricted issuance of licenses to new stations, in part through an excessively complex application process. The National Committee on Television and Radio, a government organization that directly manages television and radio stations in the country, must approve and then provide licenses to new stations. The government continued to deny the BBC a renewal of its license to broadcast on FM radio.
Libel/Slander Laws: In 2012 the government repealed the law criminalizing libel and defamation and downgraded the offenses to civil violations, although the law retains controversial provisions that make publicly insulting the president an offense punishable by a fine or up to five years in jail. Nevertheless, libel judgments were common, particularly against newspapers critical of the government.
Individuals and groups faced extensive government surveillance of internet activity, including emails, and often self-censored their views while posting on the internet. Authorities blocked some critical websites and news portals, and used temporary full blackouts of internet services and messaging to suppress criticism. According to Human Rights Watch, authorities periodically cut access to mobile and messaging services when critical statements about the president, his family, or the government appeared online.
There were sporadic government restrictions on access to internet websites, such as Facebook, YouTube, Google, Google services, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Asia-Plus although some of the restrictions were lifted during the year. Independent and opposition news agencies and websites located outside the country have been blocked by the government for several years. The State Communications Service, the official communications regulator, routinely denied involvement in blocking these sites, but the government admitted to periodically implementing a law that allows interruption of internet content and telecommunications “in the interest of national security.” The government continued to implement a 2015 law enabling the GKNB to shut off internet and telecommunications during security operations.
In 2017 the Majlisi Milli, the upper house of parliament, passed a law giving law enforcement bodies the right to track citizens using the internet. According to the new law, the security agencies can monitor internet traffic and have access to information about which internet sites citizens visit and the type of information they seek. In June 2018 the Majlisi Namoyandagon, the lower house of the parliament adopted amendments to the Criminal Code, making those who use the “like” or “share” function on social media regarding “terrorism” and “extremism-related” topics subject to up to 15 years in jail. Members of Parliament amended Article 179 that provides, “Public calls for the commission of terrorist crimes and (or) publicly justifying terrorist activities,” adding “via the internet” to the second part of this article.
The Ministry of Education maintained a dress code that bans wearing the hijab in schools and government institutions. Authorities allowed women to wear a traditional version of the head covering–a scarf that covers hair but not the neck–to schools and universities. Some female students wore the hijab to and from school but removed it upon entering the school building. Parents and school officials appeared to accept this arrangement. The ministry also maintained its ban on beards for all teachers. Students with beards reported being removed from class, questioned, and asked to shave. A Ministry of Education decree obliges all female teachers, university students, and schoolchildren to wear traditional dress during the academic year.
Government authorities increased the urgency of their effort to dissuade citizens from wearing “foreign clothing,” primarily focused on the hijab, which covers the hair, ears, and neck. According to media reports, the government’s Committee on Women and Family Affairs, in cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, conducted informational campaigns, or “raids,” in public areas against women wearing the hijab, threatening those who refused to remove their hijab with a large fine and six months imprisonment. In addressing these media reports, the ministry denied that such measures existed and claimed the government was conducting a public campaign to promote national culture and clothing. In February librarian Malika Sanginova sued the Medical University of Tajikistan for dismissing her for wearing a headscarf. The university alleged she was fired for being rude to students and other issues.
A Ministry of Education directive requires school administrators to inform students of the Law on Parental Responsibility, which bans all persons younger than age 18 from participating in public religious activities, with the exception of funerals. The law provides that, with written parental consent, minors between the ages of seven and 18 may obtain a religious education during their free time from school and outside the state education curriculum and may worship as part of educational activities at religious institutions.
The government requires all persons studying religion abroad to register with the Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA), Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The law provides criminal penalties for violating restrictions on sending citizens abroad for religious education, preaching and teaching religious doctrines, and establishing ties with religious groups abroad without CRA consent.
The Ministry of Education reportedly issued a regulation in 2018 requiring students and academic staff to request government permission before any education-related travel abroad. The ministry issued an amendment to the regulation this year which requires students who wish to travel abroad for educational purposes to provide detailed personal information about close relatives but does not specify consequences for noncompliance. Civil Society organizations requested the ministry to exclude the data requirement as it allegedly violates the provisions of Articles 8, 10, 16 and 21 of the Law of Tajikistan “On Personal Data,” but the ministry has not yet responded.
There were several reports throughout the year that academics writing on sensitive subjects regarding politics, religion, and history feared publishing or even submitting their articles for review because of possible government retribution.
The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association through requirements to obtain permission from local governments and through frequent inspections by various government agencies.
The constitution provides the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government required that individuals obtain permission from the government to stage public demonstrations. Individuals considering the staging of peaceful protests reportedly chose not to do so for fear of government reprisal.
On April 22, according to media reports, police forcibly confiscated signed petitions from more than 200 opponents of a proposed price hike for mobile internet usage.
The constitution protects freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. As in the previous year, civil society organizations reported a noticeable increase in the number and intensity of registration and tax inspections by authorities. In January President Rahmon signed into law amendments to the Law on Public Associations (PAs), which require all PAs to post detailed financial reports on their websites and potentially imposes burdensome reporting requirements, according to civil society sources.
The government continued to enforce the ban on activities held under the banner of the IRPT. As a result of a 2016 constitutional referendum, nonsecular political parties became illegal.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at http://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government imposed some restrictions. According to Article 14 of the constitution, restrictions on the rights and freedoms of a person and a citizen are allowed only for ensuring the rights and freedoms of others, public order, protecting the foundations of the constitutional order, state security, national defense, public morality, public health, and the territorial integrity of the republic.
The government rarely cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, or other persons.
In-country Movement: The government prohibits foreigners, except diplomats and international aid workers, from traveling within a 15-mile zone along the borders with Afghanistan and China in the Khatlon Region and the Gorno-Badakhsan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) unless they obtain permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Officials did not always enforce the restrictions along the western border with Afghanistan, although the government continued to require travelers (including international workers and diplomats) to obtain special permits to visit the GBAO. The government also continued to enforce a policy barring Afghan refugees from residing in urban areas.
Foreign Travel: Individuals in some cases do not have the right to leave the country without arbitrary restrictions. Civil society organizations asserted that a new regulation requiring the Ministry of Education’s approval for all students wishing to study abroad is a restriction of citizens’ rights to freedom of movement inside and outside the country and is a violation of the country’s international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In response, the ministry stated that the decree is necessary to better regulate international education programs, safeguard students, and better maintain education statistics.
Refoulement: The government in some cases forced asylum seekers or refugees to return to countries where they may face persecution or torture. There were eight refugee families (32 persons total) whose status the government revoked and who continued to be at risk of penalty and subsequent deportation for alleged violation of Resolution 325, a law that prohibits refugees from living in major urban areas, including Dushanbe. The cases of revoked status exhausted all available local judicial remedies and were under appeal in regional court with the support of UNHCR. In July media reported that authorities transferred to Kabul 80 Afghanistan citizens who were serving their sentences in local prisons. These were mainly drug smugglers and violators of the state border of the country. Among those transferred to Kabul was a UNHCR “mandate refugee” who was serving his sentence after being convicted of theft.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the access to asylum and granting of refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Nevertheless, the process for making refugee status determinations lacked transparency, and administrative and judicial procedures did not comply with international standards. Although not required by law, government officials required refugees and asylum seekers to obtain a visa and a valid travel document before entering the country. Government officials without due process detained and deported individuals not in possession of a visa.
The government processed asylum applications through the National Refugee Status Determination Commission and granted applicants documents to regularize their stay and prevent deportation. Government-recognized refugees enjoy socioeconomic rights on par with local nationals and can legally reside in the country. Formal notifications of administrative and legal decisions provided little insight into the rationale for adjudications. In some instances, when denying claimants asylum status, officials cited, in broad terms, a lack of evidence of persecution in the refugee’s home country or “malpractice” on the part of refugees applying to renew their status, such as violation of the prohibition of living in big cities, including Dushanbe.
The government continued to place significant restrictions on claimants, and officials continued to enforce a law decreed in 2000 prohibiting asylum seekers and refugees from residing in the capital and all major cities in the country. Security officials regularly monitored refugee populations. Police subjected them to raids if they were believed to be residing in prohibited areas.
During the year the government brought an increased number of administrative cases against refugees and asylum seekers due to a regulation that prohibits refugees from living in major urban areas, including Dushanbe. In many cases prosecutions to enforce this regulation–codified in Government Resolution 325–were carried out retroactively and due to the city of Dushanbe’s annexation of land that had previously fallen outside the definition for a major urban area.
Local law grants refugee status for as long as three years. Since 2009 the Department of Citizenship and Works with Refugees, under the Passport Registration Services within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, has had responsibility for refugee issues. Refugees must check-in annually with authorities to verify their address, but this is not a reregistration of their status. According to government statistics, there was a significant increase in the number of newly arrived asylum seekers in the first half of the year. The country has 2,130 registered refugees, 99 percent of whom were Afghan.
Freedom of Movement: According to Government Resolution 325, refugees are not permitted to live in major urban areas, including Dushanbe, which restricts their ability to find work and go to school.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers are legally entitled to education and health services alongside local citizens. The Ministry of Education allowed Afghan parents to send their children to local schools without paying fees. UNHCR partners provided books, school uniforms, and some language classes to these children. The law provides registered refugees with equal access to law enforcement, health care, and the judicial system, although in practice refugees did not always have equal access. Vulnerable refugee families received assistance with medical expenses. When refugees and asylum seekers face legal issues, UNHCR’s legal assistance partner assisted clients in obtaining judicial redress while providing training and awareness-raising sessions to local authorities to strengthen their understanding of refugee rights.
Durable Solutions: Following the amended Constitutional Law on Nationality adopted in 2015, the government removed provisions for expedited naturalization, leaving refugees on equal standing with nonrefugee foreigners when applying for citizenship.
The total population of stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality identified and registered by UNHCR and its partners is 39,031 persons (11,622 men and 27,409 women). The government, UNHCR, and NGO partners continued to implement a project to identify and find solutions for stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality–such as former USSR citizens–in three pilot provinces of the country (Khatlon, Soghd, and Districts of Republican Subordination). UNHCR, NGOs, and local authorities worked together to find solutions–including confirming nationalities and issuing citizenship and identification documents–for 33,062 persons, both adults and children. Some registered individuals, however, struggled to achieve a durable solution because they lived in remote areas and lacked the financial means to pay for transportation and fees associated with confirming their citizenship. As a result, UNHCR assisted a total of 6,841 individuals residing in remote districts in the three separate pilot areas in covering their legal fees and the administrative costs associated with nationality confirmation.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of speech but does not explicitly provide for freedom of the press. There were criminal penalties for libel.
Freedom of Expression: Public criticism of the government resulted in punitive action in some cases. Authorities used the Cybercrimes Act to bring criminal charges against individuals who criticized the government on a variety of electronic media. In March 2018 the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations became law, requiring the TCRA to certify all bloggers and operators of online forums through a licensing process.
On July 19, three students from Kampala International University in Tanzania were sentenced on counts of distributing pictures through WhatsApp groups showing President Magufuli wearing a hijab. The students were sentenced to four years in prison.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media on the mainland were active and generally expressed varying views, although media outlets often practiced self-censorship to avoid conflict with the government.
Registering or licensing new media outlets, both print and broadcast, continued to be difficult. Newspaper registration was at the discretion of the registrar of newspapers at the information ministry on both the mainland and Zanzibar. Acquiring a broadcasting license from the TCRA took an estimated six months to one year, and the TCRA restricted the area of broadcast coverage. The TCRA imposes mandatory registration and annual fees for commercial and community radio stations. The fee structure disproportionately disadvantages the existence and creation of small community radio stations.
On February 27, the government suspended publication of the Citizen newspaper and website for seven days, following the publication of a story titled “Closely Monitor Falling of Shilling, Experts Caution.” The director of information services alleged that the Citizen published false and misleading information about the devaluation of the country’s currency.
On August 22, Joseph Gandye, an investigative journalist for Watetezi television was arrested for “spreading fake news” after his story on police brutality in Iringa aired. On August 24, he was released on bail.
In 2017 the TCRA clarified a requirement that all broadcast stations receive approval from the Tanzania Film Board for locally produced content, including music videos, films, cartoons, and other video content. In June the government passed an amendment to the Films and Stage Plays Act (Amendment 3), providing the Tanzania Film Board the authority to regulate, monitor and determine if foreign and local motion pictures, television, radio and stage plays and performances are approved for exhibition.
The Zanzibari government-owned daily newspaper, Zanzibar Leo, had an estimated circulation of 25,000. There was one privately owned weekly newspaper with a much smaller circulation. The government of Zanzibar controlled content on the radio and television stations it owned. There were government restrictions on broadcasting in tribal languages, and broadcasts in Kiswahili or English were officially preferred. The nine private radio stations on Zanzibar operated independently, often reading the content of national dailies, including articles critical of the Zanzibari government.
Lack of access to information from government sources continued despite changes to the Statistics Act.
Violence and Harassment: Law enforcement authorities attacked, harassed, and intimidated journalists during the year. Journalists and media outlets have also begun to self-censor to avoid government retribution. Investigative journalist Erick Kabendera’s July 29 arrest was marked by irregularities, including denial of access to a lawyer in the early stages of his detention.
On September 27, the TCRA fined three online television channels–Kwanza Television, Millard Ayo Television, and Watetezi Television–five million TZS ($2,200 each and suspended Kwanza Television for six months. All three channels have been described as being critical of President Magufuli.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law authorizes police to raid and seize materials from newspaper offices and authorizes the minister of information to “prohibit or otherwise sanction the publication of any content that jeopardizes national security or public safety.”
According to Reporters without Borders, since President Magufuli came to office in 2015, the laws regulating media have been tightened, and there have been cases of newspapers and radio stations being suspended for “incitement.”
A September 3 Time Magazine article on the world’s most urgent cases threatening press freedom cited Erick Kabendera and Azory Gwanda among their examples.
A permit was required for reporting on police or prison activities, both on the mainland and in Zanzibar, and journalists needed special permission to cover meetings of the National Assembly or attend meetings in the Zanzibar House of Representatives. Anyone publishing information accusing a Zanzibari representative of involvement in illegal activities was liable to a fine of not less than TZS 250,000 ($110), three years’ imprisonment, or both. The government may fine and suspend newspapers without warning.
There were examples of the government repressing information, extending to online newspapers and journals. In June parliament passed amendments to the 2015 Statistics Act that lifted some restrictions on publishing statistical information. It now allows individuals and organizations to conduct surveys and collect research data; however, Amnesty International stated that under these amendments, authorities still maintain control over who is able to gather and publish information, as well as to determine what is factual. While the World Bank stated the amended Statistics Act is in line with international norms, many observers continued to self-censor because of possible personal and professional repercussions, including the government’s ability to use media services and cybercrime acts against individuals who publish or share data that does not align with the government’s messaging.
In March the EACJ ruled in favor of CSOs who challenged the country’s Media Services Act of 2016. Three NGOs, the Media Council of Tanzania, the Legal and Human Rights Center (LHRC) and the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) filed the case in 2017. The court found that sections on sedition, criminal defamation, and false news publication restrict press freedom and freedom of expression and thereby breach the EACJ Treaty.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides for arrest, prosecution, and punishment for the use of seditious, abusive, or derogatory language to describe the country’s leadership. Section 36 of the Media Services Act of 2016 makes defamation a criminal act. Defamation is defined as any matter likely to injure the reputation of any person by exposing him to hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or likely to damage any person in his profession or trade by an injury to his reputation.
In February, CHADEMA Member of Parliament (MP) Halima Mdee was called in for questioning related to a 2017 charge of insulting the president, for which she was detained for six days. The case is pending in court and is postponed until 2020. The court has expressed interest in dismissing the case due to a lack of cooperation from prosecutors.
On April 24, the Kisutu Resident Magistrates Court continued with the criminal case against opposition MP Zitto Kabwe. The case alleges that Zitto made several seditious remarks against the TPF, accusing it of killing more than 100 civilians in Kigoma. On October 23, the case was heard and adjourned until 2020.
On March 10, Minister for Home Affairs Kangi Lugola ordered regional police commanders throughout the country to arrest leaders of opposition parties who insult the president. On September 26, Lugola also warned CSOs against insulting the government.
National Security: In March 2018 the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations were passed, requiring online content providers to monitor and filter content that threatens national security or public health and safety.
The government restricted access to the internet and monitored websites and internet traffic. The Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations tighten control of internet content through registration requirements and licensing fees. Bloggers and persons operating online forums, including online television and radio streaming services, must obtain certification from the TCRA by submitting a license application requiring information such as the nature of services offered, estimated cost of investment, staff qualifications, and plans. In addition all online content providers must pay application and licensing fees totaling more than two million TZS ($880) in initial costs. Licenses are valid for three years and must be renewed annually for one million TZS ($440). Prohibitive costs led some citizens to stop blogging or posting content on online forums, including international social media platforms.
Under the regulations internet cafes must install surveillance cameras to monitor persons online. Online material deemed “offensive, morally improper” or that “causes annoyance,” is prohibited, and those charged with violating the regulations face a minimum fine of TZS five million ($2,200) or a minimum sentence of 12 months in prison. The Cybercrimes Act of 2015 criminalizes the publication of false information, defined as “information, data or facts presented in a picture, texts, symbol, or any other form in a computer system where such information, data, or fact is false, deceptive, misleading, or inaccurate.” Individuals who made critical comments about the government on electronic media were charged under the act, even when remarks reflected opinions or were factually true.
In 2018 Bob Wangwe appealed to the High Court of Dar es Salaam a Kisutu court conviction and sentence imposing a fine of five million TZS ($2,200) or a jail term of 18 months for publishing inaccurate information on Facebook. In March he won his appeal. The court ruled that the government would have to prove that the information posted online by Wangwe was authentic, and what its intent was.
On September 7, Sebastien Atilio was arrested for publishing false news and practicing journalism without accreditation under the Media Services Act in connection with messages he sent in a WhatsApp Group called Mufindi Media Group. The original bail hearing set for September 18 was postponed several times. On October 28, Atilio was released on bail and the judge instructed the public prosecutor to complete the investigation within 61 days or the judge would withdraw the case until the investigation is completed. The case remained pending as of December.
In June parliament passed amendments for the second time in two years to the 2015 Statistics Act, which had required individuals and organizations to obtain permission from the National Bureau of Statistics before conducting surveys, collecting research data, or publicizing results. The amendment removed the threat of prison for civil society groups if they publish independent statistical information. It also states people have the right to collect and disseminate statistical information, and puts a system in place for people who want to access and/or publish national data.
The government restricted freedom of peaceful assembly and association, including through bans decreed by authorities but not supported by law. The government requires organizers of rallies to obtain police permission. Police may deny permission on public safety or security grounds or if the permit seeker belongs to an unregistered organization or political party. The government and police continued to limit the issuance of permits for public demonstrations and assemblies to opposition political parties, NGOs, and religious organizations. The only political meetings allowed in principle are by MPs in their constituencies; outside participants, including party leaders, are not permitted to participate. Restrictions were also applied to nonpolitical gatherings deemed critical of the government.
The ruling CCM is the only party that may legally conduct public rallies. It uses the umbrella of the implementing party manifesto to inform members when it is time to register to vote.
Opposition political parties continued to be harassed and detained by law enforcement and have unsuccessfully sought redress in the courts. For example, on May 27, the former minister for tourism and natural resources Lazaro Nyalandu and two opposition members from CHADEMA were arrested in Itagi Ward in Sigida during a closed-door meeting. They were released on bail the next day, after being questioned by the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) for more than two hours.
In July, Zanzibar police arrested Seif Hamad Sharif during a commemoration event for the 10th anniversary of political reconciliation in Zanzibar. The police questioned Seif before releasing him and canceling the event.
The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Thousands of NGOs and societies operated in the country. Political parties were required to register and meet membership and other requirements. Freedom of association for workers was limited (see section 7.a.).
According to The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law and the LHRC midyear report, the freedom of association for NGOs has been jeopardized by amendments of the NGO act, which reduces the autonomy of NGOs and provides for excessive regulation of the NGO sector. The registrar stated that the process of deregistering underscored the need for NGOs to comply with the law and provide for transparency and accountability in their activities. Under existing law, however, the registrar of NGOs is granted sweeping powers to suspend and deregister NGOs, leaving loopholes which could be used to obstruct opposition and human rights NGOs. For example, the registrar deregistered 158 NGOs in August. Community Health Education Services and Advocacy, Kazi Busara na Hekima (KBH Sisters), and AHA Development Organization Tanzania were deregistered for supposedly promoting acts in society which violate ethics and culture because they supported LGBTI protection and rights. Others that withdrew were Pathfinder Green City, Hamasa Poverty Reductions (Hapore), and Hope.
The law makes a distinction between NGOs and societies and applies different registration procedures to the two. It defines a society as any club, company, partnership, or association of 10 or more persons, regardless of its purpose, and notes specific categories of organizations not considered societies, such as political parties. The law defines NGOs to include organizations whose purpose is to promote economic, environmental, social, or cultural development; protect the environment; or lobby or advocate on issues of public interest. Societies and organizations may not operate until authorities approve their applications. In August the government began a verification exercise that required all NGOs to reregister. Registration of new NGOs was suspended until December 1.
The government rarely registered societies within the legally required 14-day period. In April the minister of home affairs stated that from July 2018 to March, the registrar of societies received 150 registration applications, 77 from religious institutions and 73 from CSOs. The registrar registered 69 applications: 38 CSOs and 31 religious institutions. Of the applicants, 81 were still working on their applications.
NGOs in Zanzibar apply for registration with the Zanzibar Business and Property Registration Agency. While registration generally took several weeks, some NGOs waited months if the registrar determined additional research was needed.
In July an NGO said Zanzibar has an outdated NGO policy and that local authorities are unable to catch up with the changing requirements of NGOs and operations countrywide. According to some NGOs, security and government organizations were interfering with the work of NGOs. As an example the Office of the Second Vice President suspended implementation of a project for youth, explaining it needed more time to examine the scope of the project. The government, however, views any youth group as the opposition organizing.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights; however, there were cases of political opposition leaders being barred from leaving the country.
In-country Movement: Refugees are confined to camps and are subject to arrest if they leave them. Under its more restrictive approach to hosting refugees, the government limited refugee movement and enforced its encampment policy more strictly during the year, including the arrest of refugees caught moving outside the camps without official permission. With permits more difficult to obtain and livelihood opportunities inside the camps heavily constrained, refugees compelled to leave the camps in search of work were apprehended by police and arrested. Usually these persons were prosecuted and sentenced in local courts to six months’ detention or payment of a fine.
Foreign Travel: On June 12, immigration officials in Zanzibar detained opposition leader and MP Zitto Kabwe, who was en route to Kenya for a retreat with leaders of his Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT) Party. Acting on instructions from the PCCB not to permit Kabwe to leave the country due to pending charges under the Media Services Act, immigration officials transferred Kabwe to police custody. The police later released Kabwe but confiscated his mobile phone and laptop.
In February the travel of migrant workers overseas for employment was temporarily suspended, ostensibly to allow time for the government to strengthen migrant-worker protection mechanisms.
Citizenship: There were no reports of revocation of citizenship on an arbitrary or discriminatory basis.
There were no reports of large numbers of internally displaced persons.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Despite government assurances that its borders remained open to refugees, during the year authorities closed the borders to new refugee arrivals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Burundi. In January 2018 the government withdrew from the UN’s Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, announced it would no longer provide citizenship to Burundian refugees, and stated it would encourage refugees to return home. At that time the government assured the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) it would respect the choice of refugees on whether or not to return to their country of origin. While nearly 75,000 Burundian refugees had been repatriated with assistance between September 2017 and September 2019, there were numerous accounts of refugees facing intimidation or pressure by Tanzanian authorities to return home. Some refugees who were pressured into returning to Burundi became refugees in other countries or returned to Tanzania.
In August, Minister of Home Affairs Lugola announced a bilateral agreement with Burundi to repatriate 2,000 Burundians per week, whether voluntary or not. Although the government of Tanzania subsequently restated its commitment to voluntary repatriation, UNHCR remained concerned about validating the voluntariness of the returns. In addition the government suspended livelihood options for refugees, including the closure of businesses operating inside the camps and common markets outside the camps where refugees and the surrounding communities could exchange goods. According to NGOs working in the camps, there has been an increase in gender-based violence and other concerns due to the loss of livelihoods.
Refugees apprehended more than 2.5 miles outside their camps without permits are subject by law to sentences ranging from a fine up to a three-year prison sentence. In addition there have been reports of refugees found outside the camps being detained, beaten, tortured, raped, or killed by officials or citizens.
On April 5, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Hamad Yusuph Masauni reported that 13,393 illegal immigrants were arrested in the country. Of this number, 2,815 were charged for illegally entering the country, 117 paid fines, and 429 were sentenced to a jail term. Of those arrested, 6,316 were deported and 1,313 were released after confirming residency. The Department of Immigration is the lead agency in the government on identifying immigrant status and subsequent action. According to one report, 39 illegal farmers from neighboring countries were arrested in the Kagera region.
Sex- and gender-based violence against refugees continued, including allegations against officials who worked in or around refugee camps. UNHCR worked with local authorities and residents in the three refugee camps to strengthen coordination and address violence, including sexual violence, against vulnerable persons. The public prosecutor investigated, prosecuted, and punished perpetrators of abuses in the camp, while international NGOs provided assistance to the legal team when requested by a survivor. Local authorities and the public prosecutor handled most cases of refugee victims of crime and abuse outside the camp. Residents of the refugee camps suffered delays and limited access to courts, common problems also faced by citizens.
Refoulement: The government closed the last of the country’s official refugee reception centers in 2018, and during the year there were credible reports of push backs at the border as well as instances of obstructions to access for Congolese and Burundian asylum seekers following requests for international protection in the country. In addition the Burundian refugees who had been assisted by UNHCR during the year to return voluntarily to Burundi, but were forced to flee again and seek asylum for a second time, were unable to register with the authorities. This prevented them from being able to access humanitarian assistance or basic services.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. The National Eligibility Committee is required to meet regularly and make determinations on asylum applications.
Despite the government’s strict encampment policy, authorities continued to permit a small population of urban asylum seekers and refugees to reside in Dar es Salaam; this group consisted principally of persons in need of international protection arriving from countries that are not contiguous as well as individuals with specific reasons for being unable to stay in the refugee camps in the western part of the country. While access to formal employment opportunities remained limited for urban refugees, they did enjoy access to government health services and schools. UNHCR continued to intervene in cases of irregular migrants in need of international protection following their arrest by authorities in Dar es Salaam or other urban centers to ensure that the migrants had access to national asylum procedures and were protected from forced return to their country of origin.
During the year the government and the IOM continued to support training for law enforcement officers on the use of biometric registration equipment intended to provide irregular migrants a basis for either regularizing their status or voluntarily returning to their places of origin.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: No policy for blanket or presumptive denials of asylum exists for applicants arriving from a “safe country of origin” or through a “safe country of transit.” All asylum applications are evaluated individually. The law provides that, unless the transit country is experiencing a serious breach of peace, an asylum claim can be refused upon failure to show reasonable cause as to why asylum was not claimed in the transit country prior to entry into Tanzania.
Freedom of Movement: Policy restrictions limiting refugee freedom of movement and access to livelihoods left the refugee population almost totally dependent on humanitarian assistance and vulnerable to a range of protection risks, including sexual and gender-based violence. Interpartner violence continued to be reported as the leading category of sexual and gender-based violence, accounting for approximately 75 percent of incidents. Observers attributed this level of violence to the difficult living conditions in refugee camps, split-family decisions resulting from government pressure to return and substance abuse; closure of larger markets, which undermined women’s self-reliance; and restrictions on freedom of movement, which placed women and girls in a precarious situation when they left the camps to collect firewood and seek other foods to diversify their family’s diet.
Durable Solutions: During the year the government focused on repatriation and did not support local integration as a durable solution. The government maintained pressure on Burundian refugees to return to Burundi, promoting repatriation as the only durable solution for Burundian refugees. UNHCR continued to assist voluntary returns under the framework of a tripartite agreement between the governments of Burundi and Tanzania and UNHCR, stressing that conditions inside Burundi were not yet conducive for large-scale returns because many Burundian refugees remained in need of international protection. Nonetheless, in August the government increased pressure on Burundian refugees to sign up for returns, agreeing with the government of Burundi to return 2,000 Burundians a week, but also saying that all Burundian refugees would be returned by the end of the year. The government implemented measures to make life more difficult for refugees, including closing the shared refugee and host community markets in February and restricting camp exit permits.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, from July 2018 to March 28,h a total of 662 Burundian refugees repatriated voluntarily. According to UNHCR, nearly 75,000 Burundian refugees have returned with assistance since 2017. The government granted 162,000 former Burundian refugees citizenship in 2014-15. During the year, 1,350 refugees from the DRC and 82 from other countries were resettled in other countries.