Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
On December 8, State Police shot and killed a man in Tirana who was violating a COVID-19 curfew. The officer who shot him was arrested and a prosecutor is investigating the killing. There were no other reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Civilian law enforcement agencies such as the State Police investigated whether civilian security force killings were justifiable and pursued prosecutions for civilian agencies. Military law enforcement conducted investigations of killings by the armed forces.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
While the constitution and law prohibit such actions, there were allegations that police and prison guards sometimes beat and abused suspects and prisoners, usually in police stations.
In the September 2019 report on its most recent visit in 2018 to a number of the country’s prisons and detention centers, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture reported receiving a significant number of allegations of mistreatment of criminal suspects by police officers. Most allegations involved use of excessive force at the time of or immediately following apprehension. Several allegations also concerned mistreatment during transport or initial questioning, apparently to extract a confession, obtain information, or as punishment. The alleged mistreatment consisted of slaps, punches, kicks, blows with a hard object, and excessively tight handcuffing.
The Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints (SIAC) received complaints of police abuse and corruption that led to investigations of police actions. The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent, constitutional entity that serves as a watchdog over the government, reported that most cases of alleged physical or psychological abuse during the year occurred during arrest and interrogation.
Impunity for police misconduct remained a problem, although the government made greater efforts to address it by increasing the use of camera evidence to document and prosecute police misconduct. The SIAC recorded an increase in the number of investigations, prosecutions, and sanctions against officers for criminal and administrative violations.
Poor physical conditions and a lack of medical care, particularly for mental health conditions, were serious problems, as was corruption. Conditions remained substandard in some police detention facilities outside of Tirana and other major urban centers.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the General Directorate of Prisons suspended family visits to reduce the spread of the virus. Authorities increased time for inmates’ telephone calls with their families and installed computers to enable communication through Skype. Lawyers could visit their clients but were required to use protective equipment and maintain physical distance. On March 23, the government granted a three-month leave to approximately 600 prisoners, allowing them to serve their sentences at home.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem in some facilities. The Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) and the Office of the Ombudsman reported overcrowding in Zaharia prison in Kruje.
Prison and detention center conditions varied significantly by age and type of facility. Prisoners complained prison authorities left the lights on in their cells all day; this measure is required by law. Prison facilities in Kruja, Lushnja, Rrogozhina, Saranda, Lezha, and Tepelena were reported by the Office of the Ombudsman to have urgent infrastructure issues.
The Office of the Ombudsman and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that authorities held inmates with mental disabilities in regular prisons, where access to mental health care was inadequate. Since 2018 the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health have tried to accommodate Zaharia inmates and detainees in the prison in Lezha. The AHC and ombudsman reported the government had not taken measures to turn the planned buildings in the Lezha prison into a special medical institution. The Ministry of Justice is constructing a prison for inmates over the age of 60 that is scheduled for completion in 2021.
With the exception of regional facilities in Tirana (excluding its commissariats, which are smaller units falling under regional police directorates), Durres, Gjirokaster, Kukes, Fier, and Korca, conditions in facilities operated by the Ministry of Interior, such as police stations and temporary detention facilities, were inadequate in some respects. Some detention facilities in remote areas were unheated during the winter, and some lacked basic hygienic amenities, such as showers or sinks. Facilities were cramped, provided limited access to toilets, and had little or no ventilation, natural light, or beds and benches. Camera monitoring systems were nonexistent or insufficient in most police stations. The ombudsman reported that detention facilities operated by the Interior Ministry were overcrowded mainly due to increased numbers of arrests for recently added criminal offenses and a lack of coordination with, and delays, including delays in setting trials, from the Ministry of Justice.
Administration: The ombudsman reported that prison and police officials generally cooperated with investigations. The General Directorate of Prisons received 173 complaints through November, mostly regarding employment decisions or corruption in the penitentiary system, while the ombudsman received 141 complaints from detainees and inmates through August, but did not refer any cases for prosecution.
Corruption continued to be a serious problem in detention centers, particularly in connection with access to work and special release programs. In 2018 the former general director of prisons, Arben Cuko, was arrested on corruption charges. In January the court closed the case against Cuko after reducing the charges several times. In July the director of Lushnja prison, Judmir Shurdhi, and another prison staff member were arrested for the unauthorized release of a convict. As of October, their case continued to be under investigation. Through July the General Directorate of Prisons reported that it had carried out disciplinary proceedings against 422 prison staff and had fired an additional 33. Through August the directorate dismissed six prison directors, and four more were under investigation.
In July the Assembly adopted legislation to minimize communications between organized crime and gang members in prison and their outside contacts to prevent them from running criminal organizations while incarcerated. Through August seven inmates were placed under this regime.
Through August the AHC reported one suspicious death in the Jordan Misja prison in Tirana, for which an inmate with a mental disability was charged and tried. The committee alleged prosecutors and judges in the case violated criminal procedures by denying the defendant the right to a lawyer and using excessive security measures on a person with a mental disability.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed local and international human rights groups, the media, and international bodies such as the Committee for the Prevention of Torture to monitor prisons and detention facilities.
Due to the pandemic, the ombudsman and other organizations monitoring the penitentiary system were forced to telework. The ombudsman did not conduct physical inspections of prisons during the year.
Improvements: The ombudsman and the AHC confirmed an overall decrease in prison overcrowding due to new infrastructure and amnesties. Nevertheless some penitentiary facilities were still overcrowded.
The law and constitution prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these prohibitions.
The law requires that, except for arrests made during the commission of a crime, police arrest a suspect on criminal grounds with a warrant issued by a judge and based on sufficient evidence. There were no reports of secret arrests. By law, police must immediately inform a prosecutor of an arrest. The prosecutor may release the suspect or petition the court within 48 hours to hold the individual further. A court must also decide within 48 hours whether to place a suspect in detention, require bail, prohibit travel, or require the defendant to report regularly to police. Prosecutors requested, and courts ordered, detention in many criminal cases, although courts sometimes denied prosecutors’ requests for detention of well connected, high-profile defendants.
By law and based on a prosecutor’s request, the court has 72 hours to review pretrial detention status of a court-ordered arrest. Police may detain rather than formally arrest a suspect for a period not exceeding 10 hours. Due to overcrowding in the prison system, detainees, including juveniles, occasionally remained in police detention centers for longer than the 10-hour legal maximum.
The ombudsman reported that police used excessive force when arresting protesters who took part in rallies, mainly in Tirana. The ombudsman received several complaints of excessive use of force and injuries from tear gas during those protests and referred one case for prosecution. Protests against the municipality of Tirana’s demolition of the National Theater on May 17 resulted in 64 arrests, charged with disobeying law enforcement and participating in illegal gatherings (violating curfew imposed to counter the spread of COVID-19).
The constitution requires authorities to inform detainees immediately of their rights and the charges against them. Law enforcement authorities did not always respect this requirement. The law provides for bail and a system is operational; police frequently release detainees without bail, on the condition that they report regularly to the police station. Courts also often ordered suspects to report to police or prosecutors on a weekly basis. While the law gives detainees the right to prompt access to an attorney, at public expense if necessary, NGOs reported interrogations often took place without the presence of a lawyer. Authorities placed many suspects under house arrest, often at their own request, because they would receive credit for time served if convicted.
Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Although the government generally observed these prohibitions, there were instances when police detained persons for questioning for inordinate lengths of time without formally arresting them.
Pretrial Detention: While the law requires completion of most pretrial investigations within three months, a prosecutor may extend this period. The law provides that pretrial detention should not exceed three years. Extended pretrial detention often occurred due to delayed investigations, defense mistakes, or the intentional failure of defense counsel to appear. The law authorizes judges to hold offending attorneys in contempt of court. Limited material resources, lack of space, poor court-calendar management, insufficient staff, and failure of attorneys and witnesses to appear prevented the court system from adjudicating cases in a timely fashion. As of August, 47 percent of the prison and detention center population was in pretrial detention.
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political pressure, intimidation, widespread corruption, and limited resources sometimes prevented the judiciary from functioning independently and efficiently. Court hearings were often not open to the public. Court security officers frequently refused to admit observers to hearings and routinely telephoned the presiding judge to ask whether to admit an individual seeking to attend a hearing. Some agencies disregarded court orders.
The government continued to implement an internationally monitored process to vet judges and prosecutors and dismiss those with unexplained wealth or ties to organized crime. As of November, 45 percent of judges and prosecutors who had undergone vetting had failed and been dismissed, 37 percent passed, and 18 percent resigned. As a result, the Constitutional Court had only four of nine judges seated for most of the year, depriving it of a quorum to decide on cases pending review. In December, parliament and the president added three more judges to the court, reaching a quorum of seven of nine judges. The Supreme Court had only three of 19 judges seated. Those judges did not constitute a quorum to decide cases but have begun to reduce the backlog of cases, which requires just three judges.
The politicization of past appointments to the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court at times threatened to undermine the independence and integrity of these institutions.
The implementation of justice reform provisions led to a pause in normal disciplinary processes while the country establishes independent disciplinary bodies. Since its establishment in February, the High Justice Inspectorate, which conducts disciplinary investigations, approved six decisions to start disciplinary investigations against magistrates. In July the High Justice Inspectorate initiated disciplinary proceedings on human rights violations against a prosecutor and submitted its findings to the High Prosecutorial Council.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay. The law presumes defendants to be innocent until proven guilty. It provides for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult an attorney. If they cannot afford one, an attorney is to be provided at public expense. The law provides defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and access to interpretation free of charge. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence in their defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal. The government generally respected these rights, although trials were not always public and access to an attorney was at times problematic. To protect the rights of defendants and their access to the evidence against them, a prosecutor must petition a preliminary hearing judge and make a request to send the case to trial.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
While individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations, courts were susceptible to corruption, inefficiency, intimidation, and political tampering. These factors undermined the judiciary’s authority, contributed to controversial court decisions, and led to an inconsistent application of civil law. Courts have taken steps to address the issue by using audio recording equipment. Despite the statutory right to free legal aid in civil cases, NGOs reported that very few individuals benefitted from this during the year. The Ministry of Justice established the Free Legal Aid Directorate, law clinics at state universities, an online platform during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a telephone line to request free legal aid to address these issues.
Claimants who had exhausted remedies in domestic courts could appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In many cases authorities did not enforce ECHR rulings, especially those concerning the right to a fair trial. The Office of the Ombudsman expressed its concern about the increasing number of cases before the ECHR, the country’s low rate of compliance with judicial decisions, and the failure to execute the final rulings of courts and the ECHR.
Persons who were political prisoners under the former communist regime continued to petition the government for compensation. The government made some progress on disbursing compensation during the year.
The Office of the Ombudsman and NGOs reported that some claimants struggled to obtain due process from the government for property claims. Thousands of claims for private and religious property confiscated during the communist era remained unresolved with the Agency for the Treatment of Property. Claimants may appeal to the ECHR, and many cases were pending ECHR review. The ombudsman reported that as of June, 39 cases against the state were before the ECHR, involving millions of euros in claims. The ombudsman reported that the government generally paid judgements against the state according to the timeframe set by the ECHR. The Assembly enacted legislation in April that allows owners to claim restitution or compensation for agricultural property the communist government collectivized.
The country endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. It does not have any restitution or compensation laws relating to Holocaust-era confiscation of private property. Under the law, religious communities have the same restitution and compensation rights as natural or legal persons. The government reported no property claims had been submitted by victims of the Holocaust.
The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.
The constitution and laws prohibit arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence, but there were reports that the government failed to respect those prohibitions. The Tirana Prosecution Office referred two cases to trial after conducting investigations.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports that government security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution prohibits “harm[ing] an accused person physically or mentally.” Domestic and international human rights organizations, as well as detainees and former detainees, maintained that torture, abuse, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government security officials continued during the year.
Human rights groups reported accounts alleging security officials beat detainees, placed detainees in stress positions, humiliated detainees in front of other prisoners, deprived detainees of time for prayers, and insulted detainees based on their religious beliefs.
Detainees reported that security forces committed abuses during searches, arrests at private residences, and during transportation. Detainees reported intimidation, such as threats of violence, took place at the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) headquarters facility. Some detainees at the CID reported security officials used physical and psychological mistreatment to extract confessions and statements under duress or to inflict retribution and punishment.
Human rights groups reported authorities subjected children, sometimes younger than age 15, to various forms of mistreatment, including beating, slapping, kicking, and verbal abuse. The law considers all persons older than 15 to be adults.
Human rights organizations and families of inmates also reported authorities denied medical treatment to injured or ill detainees and prisoners. In November the family of 70-year-old Hasan Mushaima, a prominent leader of a dissolved political society serving a life sentence in prison since 2011, reported that his health was deteriorating and was transferred to a Bahrain military hospital for treatment and then returned to prison after six hours. International human rights organizations reported Professor Khalil al-Halwachi, who has been serving a 10-year sentence since 2014 on weapons charges, was not receiving adequate medical treatment in Jaw Prison.
The Ministry of Interior denied torture and abuse were systemic. In response to a family’s claim that their father was not receiving medical attention, the Ministry of Interior stated that inmates receive full health-care services and medication under the law and in line with humanitarian standards. The government reported all prisons, detention facilities, and interrogation rooms at local police stations and the CID were equipped with closed-circuit television cameras that monitored the facilities at all times.
The Special Investigation Unit (SIU), part of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments, reported receiving 33 complaints in the first quarter of the year and 10 complaints during the second quarter of the year alleging torture, mistreatment, and excessive force used by members of the police. As of May the SIU referred one officer to the Military Court for unknown charges of abuse. The officer received a disciplinary action as a result.
The Ministry of Interior’s Ombudsman’s Office reported it investigated all complaints and made recommendations to the government to address concerns. In the first quarter of the year, the office had four investigations underway into complaints against police directorates and had referred eight cases to criminal or to disciplinary proceedings. Fifteen complaints were submitted against the CID; 12 were under investigation. Two complaints each were submitted against the Traffic Directorate and the Customs Affairs. One complaint was submitted against the Coast Guard and was referred for criminal or disciplinary proceedings.
The Office of the Ombudsman’s sixth annual report, released in October 2019, reported 289 complaints and 778 assistance requests between May 2018 and April 2019 from alleged victims of mistreatment by police and civilian staff, or from victims’ families or organizations representing their interests. Of these complaints, 70 were referred to the relevant disciplinary body, including police administrative hearing “courts” and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, 28 were under investigation, and 50 were resolved or not upheld. The ombudsman reported receipt of 43 complaints against the CID, of which seven cases were referred for criminal or disciplinary proceedings, and 86 complaints against Jaw Prison, of which 40 cases were referred for criminal or disciplinary action. The ombudsman referred seven of the cases against the CID and 40 against Jaw Prison for criminal or disciplinary procedures; 12 and 15 additional cases were under investigation, respectively.
Zakeya al-Barboori, one of the only remaining female political prisoners who was arrested in 2018, and her family formally submitted complaints to NIHR and the Ombudsman’s Office about her treatment in prison, after the king’s 2019 royal decree restored Bahraini citizenship to al-Barboori and 550 other individuals.
Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces. The Ministry of Interior police code of conduct requires officers to abide by 10 principles, including limited use of force and zero tolerance for torture and mistreatment. The Royal Police Academy included the police code of conduct in its curriculum, required all recruits to take a course on human rights, and provided recruits with copies of the police code of conduct in English and Arabic. The ministry reported it took disciplinary action against officers who did not comply with the code, although it did not publish details of such steps.
Human rights activists reported conditions in prisons and detention centers were harsh and sometimes life threatening, due to overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
Physical Conditions: Human rights organizations and prisoners reported gross overcrowding in detention facilities, which placed a strain on prison administration and led to a high prisoner-to-staff ratio. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) reported Building 13 of Jaw Prison housed inmates at 30 percent over capacity. Prisoners complained of limited time for outdoor activities, which did not exceed one hour and a half per day. In August inmates in Building 14 undertook a hunger strike to protest religious discrimination, lack of access to medical facilities, and limits on family visitation due to COVID-19-related restrictions.
For humanitarian reasons in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 12, the king pardoned 901 prisoners, and on May 23, he pardoned and released 154 more to mark Ramadan; these releases followed a December 2019 pardon of 268 prisoners. Most of those were juveniles, patients who needed special care, and foreigners. The remaining 585 inmates, who had served half of their jail terms, reportedly received noncustodial sentences.
In December the minister of justice, Islamic affairs, and endowments announced that 4,208 prisoners had either been pardoned and released or granted noncustodial sentences under the country’s alternative sentencing law since 2017 and all juvenile inmates were released, in part due to concerns about overcrowding and COVID-19.
Although the government reported potable water was available for all detainees, there were reports of lack of access to water for washing, lack of shower facilities and soap, and unhygienic toilet facilities. On August 10, BIRD reported that Jaw Prison and Dry Dock detected a scabies outbreak due to poor hygiene practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Human rights organizations reported food was adequate for most prisoners; however, prisoners needing dietary accommodations due to medical conditions had difficulty receiving special dietary provisions.
Authorities held detainees younger than age 15 at the Juvenile Care Center; criminal records are expunged after detainees younger than 15 are released.
The government housed convicted male inmates between ages 15 and 21 in separate buildings located on the grounds of the Dry Dock Facility. The Ministry of Interior separated prisoners younger than 18 from those between the ages of 18 and 21. Upon reaching 21, prisoners enter the general population at Jaw Prison.
The Ministry of Interior reserved one ward in the pretrial detention center for the elderly and special needs detainees. Officials reported they offered these detainees special food, health care, and personal services to meet their needs.
The ministry operated a center for rehabilitation and vocational training, including various educational, drug addiction, and behavioral programs. Activists said that the programs lacked trained teachers and adequate supplies and that the government did not allow some inmates to take national exams. According to the minister of justice, Islamic affairs, and endowments, inmates released provisionally under the country’s alternative sentencing law were allowed to work at government offices, both in service and administrative positions, to complete the remainder of their prison sentences. In December the minister confirmed to the National Assembly that 22 government offices provide jobs and vocational training to prisoners released under the program, in addition to nine private-sector companies and civil society institutions.
Although the ministry reported detention centers were staffed with experienced medical specialists and outfitted with modern equipment, prisoners needing medical attention reported difficulty in alerting guards to their needs, and medical clinics at the facilities were understaffed. Prisoners with chronic medical conditions had difficulty accessing regular medical care, including access to routine medication. Those needing transportation to outside medical facilities reported delays in scheduling offsite treatment or very short stays in the hospital, especially those needing follow-up care for complex or chronic conditions.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry’s General Directorate of Reformation and Rehabilitation stated it disinfected cells on a daily basis and provided prisoners with medical kits and hygiene products. New inmates were quarantined for 14 days before they joined the general prison population.
According to the government, eight prisoners died during the year; the cause of death of seven was deemed a result of medical conditions and one a reported suicide.
Administration: Authorities generally allowed prisoners to file complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, and officials from the Ombudsman’s Office were available to respond to complaints. Human rights groups reportedly sometimes had to file multiple complaints to receive assistance. Prisoners had access to visitors at least once a month, often more frequently, and authorities permitted them 30 minutes of calls each week, although authorities denied prisoners communication with lawyers, family members, or consular officials (in the case of foreign detainees) at times. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Interior’s General Directorate of Reformation and Rehabilitation suspended family visits in March, replacing visits with video conferences between detainees and their relatives beginning in April.
There were reports authorities denied prisoners access to religious services during special commemorations, such as Ashura, and prayer time. Some detainees reported prison officials limited time provided for Ashura rituals citing COVID-19 mitigation efforts, but the National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR), a government human rights body monitoring complaints of human rights violations, said inmates were given additional time to practice Ashura rituals in common areas, adding no religious rituals were allowed in prison cells as a matter of general policy.
Independent Monitoring: Authorities permitted access for the NIHR and the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission (PDRC), as well as the Ombudsman’s Office and the SIU (see section 5). International human rights organizations questioned the independence and effectiveness of these organizations. During the year the Ministry of Interior reported on the work of the Internal Audit and Investigations Department, which received and examined complaints against security forces. According to its seventh annual report, the Ombudsman’s Office received 207 complaints between May 2019 and April 2020, and it referred 23 of the cases to the SIU for further action, 25 for security prosecution, and two cases to the disciplinary committee. The office continued to investigate 21 cases. The largest number of referred cases came from Jaw Prison and the CID. The Ombudsman’s Office also received 683 assistance requests, which included securing prison visits, telephone calls, medical services, or access to education. Due to intermittent closures of government offices during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ombudsman’s Office established a WhatsApp account and continued to receive complaints via email.
During the fourth quarter of 2019, the SIU referred 12 suspects from Ministry of Interior to the courts, including two senior officials, who were accused of physically attacking inmates in Jaw Prison in April 2019. After a December 2019 hearing, the Lower Criminal Court convicted one prison guard to one year in prison and sentenced five others to three months in prison. Two other prison guards were referred to the ministry’s Military Court to receive disciplinary sentences.
Improvements: Government officials reported the completion of three new Jaw Prison buildings to phase out older facilities and better comply with international standards, including the Istanbul Protocol.
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Local and international human rights groups reported that individuals were detained without being notified at the time of the arrest of the legal authority of the person conducting the arrest, the reasons for the arrest, and the charges against them. Human rights groups claimed Ministry of Interior agents conducted many arrests at private residences either without presenting an arrest warrant or presenting an inaccurate or incomplete one. Government officials disputed these claims.
In 2017 King Hamad reinstated the arrest authority of the National Security Agency (NSA), after it had been removed following criticism in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. On June 26, the king issued an order renaming the NSA as the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). There were no reports of the NSA or NIA using its arrest authority during the year.
The law stipulates law enforcement officers may arrest individuals without a warrant only if they are caught committing certain crimes for which there is sufficient evidence to press charges. Additionally, the code of criminal procedure requires execution of an arrest warrant before a summons order to appear before the public prosecutor. Local activists reported that police sometimes made arrests without presenting a warrant and that the Public Prosecutor’s Office summoned political and human rights activists for questioning without a warrant or court order.
By law the arresting authority must interrogate an arrested individual immediately and may not detain the person for more than 48 hours, after which authorities must either release the detainee or transfer the person to the Public Prosecutor’s Office for further questioning. The office is required to question the detainee within 24 hours, and the detainee has the right to legal counsel during questioning. To hold the detainee longer, the office must issue a formal detention order based on the charges against the detainee. Authorities may extend detention up to seven days for further questioning. If authorities require any further extension, the detainee must appear before a judge, who may authorize a further extension not exceeding 45 days. The High Criminal Court must authorize any extensions beyond that period and any renewals at 45-day intervals. In the case of alleged acts of terror, law enforcement officers may detain individuals for questioning for an initial five days, which the Public Prosecutor’s Office may extend up to 60 days. A functioning system of bail provides maximum and minimum bail amounts based on the charges; however, judges often denied bail requests without explanation, even in nonviolent cases. The bail law allows the presiding judge to determine the amount within these parameters on a case-by-case basis.
Attorneys reported difficulty in gaining access to their clients in a timely manner through all stages of the legal process. They reported difficulty registering as a detainee’s legal representative because of arbitrary bureaucratic hurdles and lack of official government notaries; arbitrary questioning of credentials by police; lack of notification of clients’ location in custody; arbitrary requirements to seek court orders to meet clients; prohibitions on meeting clients in private; prohibitions on passing legal documents to clients; questioning of clients by the Public Prosecutor’s Office on very short notice; lack of access to clients during police questioning; and lack of access to consult with clients in court. While the state provides counsel to indigent detainees, there were reports detainees never met with their state-appointed attorney before or during their trial.
According to reports by local and international human rights groups, authorities held some detainees for weeks with limited access to outside resources. The government sometimes withheld information from detainees and their families regarding detainees’ whereabouts for days.
Arbitrary Arrest: Human rights groups reported the Ministry of Interior sometimes arrested individuals for activities such as calling for and attending protests and demonstrations, expressing their opinion either in public or on social media, and associating with persons of interest to law enforcement. Some of these detained individuals reported arresting forces did not show them warrants.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: There were reports that authorities sometimes delayed or limited an individual’s access to an attorney. There were no reports of courts finding individuals to have been unlawfully detained and recommending compensation. On May 18, the Minister of Justice issued an order allowing defendants’ legal representatives to attend court proceedings virtually if the defendant requested it.
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political opposition figures reported the judiciary remained vulnerable to political pressure, especially in high-profile cases. The judiciary has two branches: the civil law courts deal with all commercial, civil, and criminal cases, including family issues of non-Muslims, and the family law courts handle personal status cases of Muslims. Based on the Unified Family Law, the government subdivided family court cases into Sunni and Shia sharia-based court proceedings. Some judges were foreign citizens, serving on limited-term contracts subject to government approval for renewal and residence. The Supreme Judicial Council reported working with the Judicial Legal Studies Institute to prepare, on average, 10 new Bahraini judges per year, in an effort to increase their number. The Supreme Judicial Council is responsible for supervising the work of the courts, including judges, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
On June 15, the Court of Cassation upheld the death sentences of Zuhair Ebrahim Jassim and Hussain Abdulla Khalil Rashid. Both were prosecuted on charges of targeting security forces and killing a police officer in 2014.
On July 13, the Court of Cassation upheld the death sentences of Husain Moosa and Mohammed Ramadan. Human rights groups claimed there was evidence of torture during their interrogations. Following their 2014 convictions and death sentences by the Court of Cassation, the SIU launched a review of allegations of torture, and the Court of Cassation overturned the sentences based on the SIU’s findings and called for a retrial. In January the Supreme Court of Appeals convicted Moosa and Ramadan and reinstated their death sentences, which the Court of Cassation upheld in July. There were 10 other detainees whose death sentences had been upheld by the Court of Cassation in Bahrain.
The constitution presumes defendants are innocent until proven guilty. By law authorities should inform detainees of the charges against them upon arrest. Civil and criminal trial procedures provide for a public trial. A panel of three judges makes the rulings. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney of their choice within 48 hours (unless the government charges them pursuant to counterterrorism legislation); however, there were reports that defendants and their lawyers had difficulty getting police, public prosecutors, and courts to recognize or register representation by an attorney. The government provides counsel at public expense to indigent defendants. Plaintiffs are required to provide their own interpreters, except in labor dispute cases, when the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments may provide assistance.
Defendants have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. While defendants have the right to question witnesses against them, the judges may declare the questions to be irrelevant and prohibit a line of questioning without providing reasoning. Prosecutors rarely present evidence orally in court but provide it in written and digital formats to judges in their chambers. Defendants are not compelled to testify or to confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The government may try defendants in their absence, and at least 27 defendants with terrorism-related charges were convicted and sentenced in absentia during the year.
Family status law varied according to Shia or Sunni interpretations of Islamic law, especially for women (see section 6). In 2017 the government codified a Unified Family Law, which for the first time included a civil code for Shia family law. According to supporters of the law, the unified civil code protects women’s rights, in particular Shia women, from the imposition of arbitrary decisions by unregulated clerics. Women’s rights groups reported the family courts granted divorces more quickly and judicial decisions adhered to the new civil code.
In 2017 King Hamad also ratified a constitutional amendment that grants military courts the right to try civilians accused of threatening the security of the state. Media reported the government approved the amendment to better fight terrorist cells, while activists claimed the change would jeopardize fair trial standards. The government did not use this mechanism during the year.
In November 2019 the Public Prosecutor’s Office announced the release of 75 prisoners, most of whom were considered political prisoners, under the country’s alternative sentencing law. Prominent political opposition figures serving life sentences did not benefit from application of the alternative sentencing law and were held separately from the general prison population.
The alternative sentencing law was applied to the sentences of dozens considered political prisoners, including female inmates, who were all released. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights and opposition groups welcomed application of the alternative sentencing law. In November 2019 human rights activist Ebtisam al-Saegh posted a photograph with released prisoner Mujtaba al-Abbar and said he was the first political prisoner to receive an alternative sentence.
In June the government released prominent human rights activist and president of Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) Nabeel Rajab, who was sentenced in 2018 to five years in prison on charges of “inciting hatred against the regime.”
Leader of the Amal opposition Society Khalil al-Halwachi was arrested in 2014, convicted of “possession of a weapon” and “insulting the judiciary” in 2017, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Authorities refused to grant al-Halwachi an alternative noncustodial sentence, and his family continued to call for his release on humanitarian grounds amid concerns over his health.
During the year two persons were charged with “colluding” with Qatar and were sentenced to three to five years in prison. This was the second time the government charged citizens with “collusion,” following prior prosecutions of three members of a dissolved political society.
Citizens may submit civil suits before a court seeking cessation of or damages for some types of human rights violations. In many such situations, however, the law prevents citizens from filing civil suits against security agencies.
In cases where a person has no previous criminal history, is a minor, or is charged with minor legal infractions, the law provides alternative penalties and measures to reduce the number of inmates in detention centers and prisons. The government reported using the alternative sentencing law for more than 4,000 convicts since 2017, according to the Minister of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments. They were ordered to perform community service; pay their fines, debts, or both; or participate in job training and rehabilitation classes. The law on minors prohibits the imposition of prison terms on children, defined as younger than 15.
Although the constitution prohibits such actions, the government violated prohibitions against interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence. Human rights organizations reported security forces sometimes entered homes without authorization and destroyed or confiscated personal property. The law requires the government to obtain a court order before monitoring telephone calls, email, and personal correspondence. Many citizens and human rights organizations believed police used informant networks, including ones that targeted or used children younger than 18.
Reports also indicated the government used computer programs to surveil political activists and members of the opposition inside and outside the country.
According to local and international human rights groups, security officials sometimes threatened a detainee’s family members with reprisals for the detainee’s unwillingness to cooperate during interrogations and refusal to sign confession statements.
Central African Republic
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year (see section 1.g.). In a report published by the Human Rights Council in August, the UN’s independent expert stated that state security forces allegedly committed human rights abuses against civilians, including rape, use of minors at checkpoints, theft of cattle from the Peuhls, torture, and killing. Consistent with the code of military justice enacted in March 2017, military tribunals, martial courts, appeals courts, and the Court of Cassation have jurisdiction to try any violation by the military. The last session of the military court, however, dated back to 2013, and existing practice is for military offenses to be tried at the criminal court, which holds only two session a year.
In August a member of the armed forces stationed in Baoro, west of the country near the town of Bouar, killed a driver and his girlfriend out of jealousy.
In December media reports indicated a group that included Russian private military contractors, invited to the country by the government to assist with election security, and the country’s military elements used excessive force against civilians at a road checkpoint in Grimari, resulting in the death of at least four civilians, including a local employee of an international humanitarian nongovernmental organization (NGO).
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were reports that forces from the ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups were responsible for politically motivated disappearances. Those abducted included police and civilians (see section 1.g.).
There were multiple reports of disappearances committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) for the purposes of recruitment and extortion (see section 1.g.).
Although the law prohibits torture and specifies punishment for those found guilty of physical abuse, there were reports from NGOs that Central African Armed Forces (FACA) soldiers, gendarmes, and police were responsible for torture (see section 1.g.).
In June an NGO reported that a female employee of a local bank was arrested and tortured by a police unit known as the Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB).
Impunity remained persistent throughout the country. Contributing factors included poorly trained officials, inadequate staffing, and insufficient resources. Additionally, claims of corruption among top government officials, delayed receipt of salaries for law enforcement and judiciary employees, and threats from local armed groups if officials arrested or investigated members persisted. The mechanisms to investigate abuses included the gendarmerie and the court prosecutors. Military tribunals, martial courts, appeal courts, and the court of cassation have jurisdiction to try any violation by the military. The last session of the military court dated back to 2013. Consequently, military offenses, such as torture, are tried at the criminal court, which holds only two sessions a year.
The government worked with the EU to provide training on human rights for FACA and gendarme units.
According to an independent expert with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and international NGOs, conditions in prisons did not generally meet international norms and were often inhuman.
The UN Multidimensional Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) detained and transferred to government custody several medium- and high-level armed group members.
Physical Conditions: The government operated three prisons in or near Bangui: Ngaragba Central Prison, its high-security Camp de Roux annex for men, and Bimbo Women’s Prison. A combination of international peacekeepers, FACA, prison officers trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, and judicial police guarded both men’s and women’s prisons.
On April 25, President Touadera signed a decree granting pardon to 227 prisoners to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic. The pardon was directed at convicted minors, pregnant or breastfeeding women, prisoners ages 60 and older, and those with a chronic, serious, or contagious disease. Prisoners charged or convicted of murder, war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, attacks against the internal security of the State, burning of a residential house, and rape of minors younger than age 14 were excluded from the pardon.
On June 24, local press reported that Moussa Fadoul, former mayor of the fifth district of Bangui, died at Camp de Roux military prison due to medical neglect. Fadoul was apprehended in April 2019 by the police service from the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB) during an attempted theft of a humanitarian vehicle. Following the death of Fadoul, the remaining prisoners protested, demanding better living conditions, medical care, and adequate legal provisions. In a press conference held on September 30, Central African judicial authorities noted that of the 38 prison centers in the country, 13 had been rehabilitated by the partners of the Central African Republic, mainly MINUSCA.
Nine prisons were operational outside the Bangui area: Bangassou, Bouar, Berberati, Bimbo, Bossangoa, Bambari, and Mbaiki. In March detention facilities rehabilitated by MINUSCA in Bangassou and Paoua reopened. In other locations, including Bossembele and Boda, police or gendarmes kept prisoners in custody. Most prisons were extremely overcrowded. Necessities, such as food, clothing, and medicine, were inadequate and were often confiscated by prison officials. Prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electricity, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Diseases were pervasive in all prisons. Official statistics regarding the number of deaths in prison were not available. Conditions were life threatening and substantially below international standards. The national budget did not include adequate funds for food for prison inmates.
Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and failed to separate prisoners by gender. In Bangui, however, prisoners were separated by gender. Smaller prisons in cities such as Bouar, Mbaiki, Berberati, and Bossangoa segregated male prisoners from female prisoners, but conditions were substantially below international standards. Female prisoners were placed in facilities without ventilation or electricity. All detainees, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors.
There were no detention centers or separate cells in adult prisons for juvenile offenders. The accusations against detainees ranged from murder to witchcraft and petty crimes. Police and gendarmes held individuals beyond the statutory limits for detention before imposing formal charges.
Prisons were consistently underfunded with insufficient operating resources for the care of prisoners. Additionally, prison guards and administrators were accused of charging prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and other visitors’ unofficial fees. The Central African Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) reported that a prison officer at Ngaragba prison refused to release a prisoner despite the judge’s release order.
Administration: Prison detainees have the right to submit complaints of mistreatment, but victims rarely exercised this option due to the lack of a functioning formal complaint mechanism and fear of retaliation from prison officials. There were reports that complainants paid police or gendarmes fees for their complaints to be heard. Authorities seldom initiated investigations of abuse in prisons.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by UNHCR independent experts and international donors. The government also permitted monitoring by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council’s independent expert on human rights in the CAR.
Improvements: On May 28, the UN Development Program completed renovation on the prison in Camp de Roux. According to MINUSCA, the prison structure met international standards.
On June 23, 149 civilian prison officers from the first phase of initial training at the National School of Administration and Magistracy started their practical training. This training is part of a national strategy for the demilitarization of prisons, one of the priorities of the Ministry of Justice, jointly supported by MINUSCA, the UN Development Program, and UN Women.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government sometimes observed these requirements. There were, however, reports of arbitrary detention and lengthy pretrial detention. Problems included a lack of affordable legal representation and slow, if any, response from the judiciary system.
MINUSCA’s uniformed force of 12,870 military personnel, police officers, and military observers was tasked to protect the civilian population from physical violence within its capabilities and areas of deployment. MINUSCA’s 2,080 police officers were authorized to make arrests and transfer persons to national authorities.
Judicial warrants are not required for arrest. The law, however, stipulates that authorities must inform detainees of their charges and present them before a magistrate within 72 hours. This period is renewable once, for a total of 144 hours. The only exceptions are suspects involving national security. Authorities often did not respect these deadlines, in part due to poor recordkeeping, inefficient and slow judicial procedures, and insufficient number of judges.
Authorities sometimes followed legal procedures in cases managed by gendarmes or local police. Many detainees could not afford a lawyer. Although the law provides that a lawyer be provided for those unable to pay in felony cases where a sentence of 10 years or more could be imposed, lawyers are not provided for nonfelony cases. Remuneration for state-provided attorneys was 5,000 CFA francs ($8.80) per case, which deterred many lawyers from taking such cases. After lawyers protested for higher wages, their remuneration was increased for the 2019-20 criminal sessions to 50,000 CFA francs ($90) per case.
For individuals detained by ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka and placed in illegal detention centers, legal procedures were not followed and access to lawyers was not provided.
Prosecution of persons subject to sanctions by the UN Sanctions Committee did not occur during the year.
Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Arbitrary arrest was a serious problem, however, and ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups arbitrarily targeted and detained individuals.
On June 2, ex-Seleka Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC) forces detained and tortured three men in Bria accused of malfeasance. One of the detainees was subsequently released that day after the local civic leaders intervened.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a serious problem; after he visited the prison of Ngaragba in Bangui in September, the magistrate stated that 500 of 700 detainees were in pretrial detention. Although recordkeeping of arrests and detentions was poor, the slow investigation and processing of a case was the primary cause of pretrial detention. The judicial police force charged with investigating cases was poorly trained, understaffed, and had few resources, resulting in poorly processed cases with little physical evidence. The court system did not hold the constitutionally mandated two criminal sessions per year. Judges resisted holding sessions due to security concerns and insisted on receiving stipends beyond their salaries.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although the law provides detainees the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, many detainees were not able to exercise this right due to a lack of affordable legal services and an unresponsive justice system.
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, there was a lack of independence of the judiciary from political actors. In 2013 the Seleka destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country, leaving the judicial system barely functional. In 2017 the president issued a decree that appointed eight members to the Constitutional Court, four of whom, including the president of the court, were women. A total of 18 of 27 first instance and appellate courts were operating during the year, including 16 outside of Bangui. The courts in Bangui and some other major cities, notably Bangassou, Bouar, Berberati, Bossangoa, Mbaiki, Boda, and Bimbo, resumed operation, but the deployment of magistrates and administrators outside Bangui was inadequate. Many judges were unwilling to leave Bangui, citing security concerns, the inability to receive their salaries while in provincial cities, and the lack of office space and housing.
Corruption was a serious problem at all levels. Courts suffered from inefficient administration, understaffing, shortages of trained personnel, salary arrears, and lack of resources. Authorities, particularly those of high rank, did not always respect court orders.
In 2018 the National Assembly adopted the rules of procedure and evidence for the Special Criminal Court (SCC), and later that year the SCC officially began investigations and publicly launched a prosecutorial strategy. In 2019 the SCC moved into permanent offices. The SCC was established by law in 2015 in the domestic judicial system and operates with both domestic and international participation and support. In August, five national magistrates were sworn in after taking an oath, but the SCC was confronted with serious difficulties in recruiting international judges, delaying the opening of effective trials. The SCC has jurisdiction over serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
MINUSCA assisted in setting up the SCC victim and witness protection unit, as provided for by the SCC founding law and the SCC rules of proceedings and evidence. Some victims and witnesses were already under the unit’s protection during ongoing SCC proceedings. Additional unit protection staff were added and more were under recruitment; protection equipment was being delivered and more was in procurement; court procurement; court personnel and other individuals in contact with victims and witnesses were receiving training on protection and other subjects.
In May the SCC accepted the cases of nine members of the armed group UPC arrested for crimes committed in the towns of Obo, Zemio, and Bambouti, located in the southeastern CAR. As of September the SCC received 122 complaints and opened preliminary investigation on one case. Seven cases were being analyzed, and three were ready for preliminary investigations but postponed because of the COVID-19 crisis. Ten cases were transmitted to examining judges, and seven others were referred to ordinary courts.
Operations of the courts of appeals for criminal courts in two of the country’s three judicial districts–the Western District based in Bouar and the Central District based in Bambari–held criminal sessions during the year.
In February parliament passed a bill establishing the Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRRC) to support the 2019 Accord for Peace and Reconciliation. The law includes a wide range of responsibilities for the TJRRC, including establishing truth, determining nonjudicial responsibility for violations, creating a reparations fund, and promoting reconciliation. The TJRRC is further intended to cooperate with the SCC and create a final report with recommendations.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The penal code presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present and consult a public defender. Criminal trials use juries. The law obliges the government to provide counsel for indigent defendants; this process delayed trial proceedings due to the state’s limited resources. Defendants have the right to question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and file appeals. The government sometimes complied with these requirements. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary) from the moment charged through all appeals, to receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities, however, seldom respected these rights.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but citizens had limited access to courts in order to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. In 2015 the civil courts resumed operations with regular sessions. There is no system for protecting victims and witnesses from intimidation and insecurity. Consequently, victims, who often lived side-by-side with perpetrators, were reluctant to testify against perpetrators because there was no assurance of their safety and a credible judicial process.
The law prohibits searches of homes without a warrant in civil and criminal cases, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
There were serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law by armed groups. The ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed group fighters operated freely across much of the country. Reports of abuses included unlawful killings, torture, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property.
UN agencies and NGOs stated that humanitarian actors had not perpetrated any sexual violence during the year.
Killings: In December 2019 clashes between criminal self-defense groups and armed merchants in Bangui’s PK5 district resulted in the deaths of 50 individuals and 72 injured. The minster of public security and MINUSCA stated they opened an investigation on the case. In January judicial authorities investigated with the assistance of MINUSCA and arrested 20 suspects.
Between March and April, a series of intercommunal clashes occurred between the Runga and Goula factions of the ex-Seleka groups in N’dele, Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture. Approximately 50 individuals were reported killed, including civilians and a UN employee. The fighting forced 1,200 civilians to flee their homes. In April, after visiting the town of N’dele where violent clashes took place between the Goula and Rounga tribes, Eric Tambo, the general prosecutor of the High Court of Bangui, stated the court would investigate the case and prosecute the perpetrators for the charge of crime against humanity and war crimes.
The 3R, MPC, UPC, FPRC, and Anti-balaka groups participated in ethnic killings related to cattle theft (see section 6).
On August 24, armed men from the Party of the Rally of the Central African nation attacked and killed 11 civilians, wounded 20, and set fires to homes in the village of Bornou, near the town of Bria, in reprisal of the killing of one of their men. Approximately 400 persons fled their homes, including children, women, and the elderly.
In January, two Anti-balaka leaders, Crepin Wakanam and Kevin Bere-Bere, and 29 combatants were tried before the Criminal Court of Bangui for their responsibility in the 2017 massacre of numerous civilians and the killing of 10 peacekeepers in southeastern region. According to the United Nations, 72 persons were killed, 76 injured, and 4,400 displaced during the attack. They were tried for “crimes against humanity, war crimes, looting and murder.” During the year 20 cases were tried, resulting in more than 40 convictions. The sentences varied from five years to life in prison.
Abductions: The NGO Invisible Children reported that on April 6, an LRA group, composed of men, women, and children, camped near the community of Bougoua, in the prefecture of M’Bomou, and looted food and other items from the community, forcing 15 boys to porter the stolen goods. The boys were released later that day.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Members of armed groups, including the ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka, reportedly continued to mistreat, assault, and rape civilians with impunity.
Child Soldiers: Armed militias associated with Anti-balaka, ex-Seleka, the LRA, and other armed groups forcibly recruited and used child soldiers; however, there were no verified cases of the government supporting units recruiting or using child soldiers during the year. Armed groups recruited children and used them as combatants, messengers, informants, and cooks. Girls were often used as sex slaves. The United Nations also documented the presence of children operating checkpoints and barricades.
The MPC, FPRC, and UPC are all signatories to the United Nation’s action plan combatting the use of child soldiers; however, they continued to use child soldiers. The FPRC and UPC issued orders barring the recruitment of children; however, NGOs reported the continued presence of children among these groups.
The country is a party to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibit the involvement of children in armed conflicts. In addition, on June 15, President Touadera signed the decree enacting the Child Protection Law. The law prohibits and criminalizes the recruitment and the use of children into armed groups and their exploitation for sexual purposes; perpetrators may be sentenced from 10 years of imprisonment to hard labor. In addition the law provides a child who has served in an armed force or group may not be subject to criminal prosecution on this ground. The child must be considered a victim and not an alleged perpetrator, and the law favors social reintegration mechanisms for children.
During the year the government, UNICEF, and various NGOs worked with the armed groups to combat the exploitation of child soldiers. UNICEF stated that from January to August, 1,125 children left armed groups and registered for reintegration programs. The United Nations estimated the number of children who remained active in armed groups at approximately 5,000. On September 4, President Touadera signed a decree appointing a focal point for children affairs in the Unit in Charge of Demobilization, Reintegration, and Repatriation Program. The focal point is tasked with the mission to promote children rights and facilitate their social reintegration.
See the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: On April 22, MPC leader Alkhatim Mahamat stole construction materials sent by a National Assembly member to the town of Kabo for construction of a school.
China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
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 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. For example, in October the government formally confirmed to the United Nations the death of Abdulghafur Hapiz, a Uyghur man detained in a Xinjiang internment camp since 2017. The government claimed Hapiz died in 2018 of “severe pneumonia and tuberculosis.” His daughter said she last heard from Hapiz in 2016; sources reported he disappeared no later than 2017 and was held without charges in an internment camp.
Authorities executed some defendants in criminal proceedings following convictions that lacked due process and adequate channels for appeal. Official figures on executions were classified as a state secret. According to the U.S.-based Dui Hua Foundation, the number of executions stabilized after years of decline following the reform of the capital punishment system initiated in 2007. Dui Hua reported that an increase in the number of executions for bosses of criminal gangs and individuals convicted of “terrorism” in Xinjiang likely offset the drop in the number of other executions.
There were multiple reports authorities disappeared individuals and held them at undisclosed locations for extended periods.
The government conducted mass arbitrary detention of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim and ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang. China Human Rights Defenders alleged these detentions amounted to enforced disappearance, since families were often not provided information about the length or location of the detention.
The exact whereabouts of Ekpar Asat, also known as Aikebaier Aisaiti, a Uyghur journalist and entrepreneur, remained unknown. He was reportedly detained in Xinjiang in 2016 after participating in a program in the United States and subsequently sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
Authorities in Wuhan disappeared four citizen journalists, Chen Qiushi, Li Zehua, Zhang Zhan, and Fang Bin, who had interviewed health-care professionals and citizens and later publicized their accounts on social media in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown in Wuhan. While Li Zehua was released in April, Fang Bin’s and Chen Qiushi’s whereabouts were unknown at year’s end. Zhang Zhan was indicted on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” and authorities tried and convicted her on December 28, sentencing her to four years’ imprisonment. She was the first known person to be tried and convicted for her coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan.
Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who has been disappeared on multiple occasions, has been missing since 2017.
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.
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.
In December 2019 human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi was detained 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. As of December 2020, Ding remained in pretrial detention at Linshu Detention Center in Shandong Province.
Following her June 6 arrest, Zhang Wuzhou was tortured in the Qingxin District Detention Center in Qingyuan (Guangdong Province), according to her lawyer’s July 22 account 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.
In August an attorney for detained human rights activist and lawyer Yu Wensheng reported that Yu had been held incommunicado for 18 months before and after his conviction in June of “inciting subversion of state power” for which he received a four-year sentence. Yu reported he was repeatedly sprayed with pepper spray and was forced to sit in a metal chair for an extended period of time.
On October 22, human rights lawyer Chang Weiping, known for his successful representation of HIV/AIDS discrimination cases, was put into “residential surveillance in a designated location” in Baoji City, Shanxi Province, after posting a video to YouTube detailing torture he suffered during a January detention. As of December, Chang was still under these restrictions and denied access to his family and lawyer.
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, Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).
There was no direct evidence of an involuntary or prisoner-based organ transplant system; however, activists and some organizations continued to accuse 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. An NGO research report noted that public security and other authorities in Xinjiang have collected biometric data–including DNA, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types–of all Xinjiang residents between 12 and 65 years of age, which the report said could indicate evidence of illicit organ trafficking. 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. The government continues to claim that it had ended the long-standing practice of harvesting the organs of executed prisoners for use in transplants in 2015.
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 CCP to investigate corruption, 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 (see section 4).
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.
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.
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 nongovernmental organizations (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 existing internment camps for Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims. In some cases authorities used repurposed schools, factories, and prisons to hold detainees. 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 August, Qelbinur Sedik, a former teacher at a women’s internment camp, reported approximately 10,000 women had their heads shaved and were forced to live in cramped, unsanitary conditions, injected with unknown substances without their permission, and required to take contraceptive pills issued by a birth-control unit. She reported women were raped and sexually abused on a daily basis by camp guards and said there was a torture room in the camp basement.
In October the government charged Yang Hengjun, an Australian author and blogger who encouraged democratic reform in China, with espionage. He was detained in January 2019 then formally arrested in August 2019. In a September message to his family, Yang said he had been interrogated more than 300 times, at all hours of day and night, for four to five hours at a time.
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 implemented. 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.
Arbitrary arrest and detention remained serious problems. 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.
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.
The National Supervisory Commission-Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (NSC-CCDI; see section 4) official detention system, known as liuzhi, faced allegations of detainee abuse and torture. 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 is unclear.
Although liuzhi operates outside the judicial system, confessions given while in liuzhi were used as evidence in judicial proceedings. According to 2019 press reports and an August 2019 NGO report, liuzhi detainees were subjected to extended solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, beatings, and forced standing or sitting in uncomfortable positions for hours and sometimes days.
There were no statistics available for the number of individuals in the liuzhi detention system nationwide. Several provinces, however, publicized these numbers, including Hubei with 1,095 and Zhejiang with 931 detained, both in 2019. One provincial official head of the liuzhi detention system stated suspects averaged 42.5 days in detention before being transferred into the criminal justice system.
On January 8, Guangzhou police detained Kwok Chun-fung, a Hong Kong student enrolled at the Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, on charges of “soliciting prostitution.” The university issued a statement on January 15 stating that Kwok was under suspicion of soliciting prostitution after being caught in a hotel room with a woman and outlined charges on two additional related offenses that allegedly occurred between November and December 2019. Kwok was cofounder of FindCMed, which provided medical help to injured protesters during Hong Kong’s antigovernment protests. A Hong Kong Baptist University instructor and Kwok’s associates said that the CCP habitually used “soliciting prostitution” as a charge to target opponents since police could detain a suspect administratively without court review. Local media and Kwok’s associates implied his detention was the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government’s retaliation against him for his role in the protests.
In September following her diagnosis with terminal lung cancer, authorities allowed Pu Wenqing, mother of Sichuan-based human rights activist Huang Qi, detained since 2016, to speak to her son in a 30-minute video call, the first contact with her son allowed to her after four years of trying. Pu remained under house arrest with no charges filed as of December. She had been disappeared in 2018 after plainclothes security personnel detained her at a Beijing train station. She had petitioned central authorities earlier in 2018 to release her detained son for health reasons and poor treatment within his detention center.
In a related case, Beijing authorities arbitrarily detained Zhang Baocheng, who had assisted and escorted the elderly Pu Wenqing around Beijing in 2018 as she sought to petition central authorities over her son’s detention. In December 2019 Beijing police charged Zhang, a former member of the defunct New Citizens Movement that campaigned for democracy and government transparency, with “picking quarrels, promoting terrorism, extremism, and inciting terrorism.” A Beijing court convicted him of “picking quarrels” and sentenced him in November to three and one-half years in prison, using his posts on Twitter as evidence against him.
In September, Hursan Hassan, an acclaimed Uyghur filmmaker, was sentenced to 15 years on the charge of “separatism.” Hassan had been held since 2018 arbitrarily without any contact with his family.
Following local resistance to a policy announced on August 26 mandating Mandarin be used for some school courses in Inner Mongolia in place of the Mongolian language, several prominent dissidents were either detained or held incommunicado. Ethnic Mongolian writer Hada, who had already served a 15-year jail term for “espionage” and “separatism” and was under house arrest, was incommunicado as of December. His wife and child’s whereabouts were also unknown. Ethnic Mongolian musician Ashidaa, who participated in protests against the new language policy, was also detained, and family members and lawyers were not permitted to visit him.
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. 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.
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 and 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 ill 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 is 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), 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 forced vacations.
In February a Ningbo court sentenced Swedish citizen bookseller and Hong Kong resident Gui Minhai to 10 years’ imprisonment for “providing intelligence overseas;” the court said Gui pled guilty. Gui went missing from Thailand in 2015, was released by Chinese authorities in 2017, and was detained again in 2018 while traveling on a train to Beijing, initially for charges related to “illegal business operations.” The Ningbo court said that Gui’s PRC citizenship had been reinstated in 2018 after he allegedly applied to regain PRC nationality.
In May, Nanning authorities tried Qin Yongpei behind closed doors, not allowing his lawyer to attend; as of December there was no update on the trial’s outcome. Qin was detained in October 2019 then formally arrested on charges of “inciting subversion of state power.” He remained in Nanning No. 1 Detention Center. His lawyer, who was not allowed to see Qin until shortly before the trial, said Qin had suffered poor conditions in detention–no bed, insufficient food, sleep deprivation, and extreme indoor heat and humidity in the summers. Authorities continued to block Qin’s wife from communicating or visiting him in prison while local police intimidated their daughters. Qin had worked on several human rights cases, including those of “709” lawyers (the nationwide government crackdown on human rights lawyers and other rights advocates that began on July 9, 2015) and Falun Gong practitioners, assisted many indigent and vulnerable persons, and publicized misconduct by high-level government and CCP officials. He was disbarred in 2018 after having practiced law since the mid-1990s. After being disbarred, Qin founded the China Lawyers’ Club to employ disbarred lawyers.
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 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.” Due to her poor health, Li’s attorney submitted multiple requests to Shenyang authorities to release her on medical parole, but each time her request was denied without reason or hearing. Following a January 8 meeting, Li’s lawyer said she was suffering from various medical conditions and applied for bail, but the court rejected her application. Since their January 8 meeting, authorities blocked the lawyer’s access to Li citing COVID-19 concerns. Li’s trial was postponed repeatedly.
On August 14, the Shenyang Tiexi District Court sentenced human rights advocate Lin Mingjie to a total of five years and six months in prison and a 20,000 renminbi (almost $3,000); an appeal was pending at year’s end. Lin had been detained in 2016 for assembling a group of demonstrators in front of the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing to protest Shenyang Public Security Bureau Director Xu Wenyou’s abuse of power. In 2018 Lin was sentenced to two years and six months in prison, including time served, and was reportedly released in April 2019, although his attorney had neither heard from him nor knew his whereabouts. In September 2019 police reportedly detained Lin again for “picking quarrels and provoking disturbance.” Police also detained Lin Mingjie’s brother, Lin Minghua, for “provoking disturbance” in 2016. The Tiexi District Court sentenced Lin Minghua to three years in prison. The authorities did not disclose the details of the case, including the types of “disturbance” of which the two brothers were accused.
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 in an attempt 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 July the United Kingdom broadcasting regulator found in its formal investigation that China Global Television Network, the international news channel of China Central Television, broadcast in 2013 and 2014 a confession forced from a British private investigator imprisoned in China. China Global Television Network faced potential statutory sanctions in the United Kingdom. “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).
“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).
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 require trials to be open to the public, with the exception of cases involving state secrets, privacy issues, minors, or on the application of 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 state 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, with the exception of 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. 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 some 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 August the Hunan provincial justice department revoked the license for human rights lawyer Xie Yang for his 2017 conviction for “inciting subversion of state power.” Xie said the revocation did not follow proper administrative processes and the complaint against was without proper merits. Xie was a “709” detainee and restarted his law practice soon after his release from prison in 2017.
Other government tactics to intimidate or otherwise pressure human rights lawyers included unlawful detention, vague “investigations” of legal offices, disbarment, harassment and physical intimidation, and denial of access to evidence and to clients.
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 state 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 and limited time to review evidence, and defendants and lawyers were not allowed to communicate with one another 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.
In May labor activists Wu Guijun, Zhang Zhiru, He Yuancheng, Jian Hui, and Song Jiahui were released after being sentenced to suspended jail terms of two to four years in a closed-door trial. They were detained in January 2019 on the charge of “disrupting social order;” according to media Zhang and Wu were prevented from hiring lawyers.
In September, three public interest lawyers–Cheng Yuan, Liu Yongze, and Wu Gejianxiong, also known as the “Changsha Three”–were tried without notice to family or their lawyers on suspicion of “subversion of state power.” The lawyers worked for Changsha Funeng, an organization that litigated 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. The details of the trial and its outcome remained unknown as year’s end.
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.
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 and Rahile Dawut; 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, and Yu Wensheng; blogger Wu Gan; and Shanghai labor activist Jiang Cunde.
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 about the cases of their relatives. Authorities barred certain members of the rights community from meeting with visiting dignitaries.
There were credible reports the government attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as a reprisal against specific individuals located outside the country. There also were credible reports that for politically motivated purposes, the government attempted to exert bilateral pressure on other countries aimed at having them take adverse action against specific individuals.
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 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.
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 July, the PRC state publication China Daily, which targets foreign audiences, challenged the account of a foreign citizen, Ferkat Jawdat, who was called by his mother in May 2019 after having lost contact with her because she was in an internment camp and urged to stop his activism and media interviews; the article said Ferkat’s mother was “living a normal life in Xinjiang and has regular contact with him.” In July, China Daily also contradicted the 2019 account of another Uyghur individual, Zumrat Dawut, regarding her elderly father’s death, saying he was not detained and interrogated but died in a hospital beside her older brothers and other family members. Relatives of Dawut joined in a video in November 2019 urging her to stop “spreading rumors.” Overseas-based relatives said the PRC government coerced their family members to produce such videos.
In July a Chinese activist living in Australia on a temporary work visa told SBS World News that the government tracked and harassed her and her family in an attempt to silence her. The activist, who goes by Zoo or Dong Wuyuan, ran a Twitter account that made fun of Xi Jinping and previously had organized rallies in memory of Li Wenliang, the doctor who died after being one of the first to warn the world about COVID-19. She reported her parents were taken to a police station in China on a weekly basis to discuss her online activities. A video showed a police officer in the presence of Zoo’s father telling her, “Although you are [in Australia], you are still governed by the law of China, do you understand?”
In September an Inner Mongolian living in Australia on a temporary visa reported receiving a threatening call from Chinese officials stating that he would be removed from Australia if he spoke openly about changes to language policy in China.
Even those not vocal about Xinjiang faced PRC pressure to provide personal information to PRC officials or return to Xinjiang. Yunus Tohti was a student in Egypt when PRC police contacted him through social media, asked when he would return to Xinjiang, and ordered him to provide personal details such as a copy of his passport. Yunus then fled from Egypt to Turkey and later arrived in the Netherlands. Police in Xinjiang called Yunus’ older brother in Turkey, told him they were standing next to his parents, and said he should return to Xinjiang, which he understood to be threat against his parents’ safety. Yunus Tohti subsequently lost contact with his family in Xinjiang and worried that they may have been detained.
Courts deciding civil matters faced the same limitations on judicial independence as criminal courts. The law provides administrative and judicial remedies for plaintiffs whose rights or interests government agencies or officials have infringed. The law also allows compensation for wrongful detention, mental trauma, or physical injuries inflicted by detention center or prison officials.
Although historically citizens seldom applied for state compensation because of the high cost of bringing lawsuits, low credibility of courts, and citizens’ general lack of awareness of the law, there were instances of courts overturning wrongful convictions. Official media reported that in October, Jin Zhehong was awarded 4.96 million renminbi ($739,000) in compensation for 23 years spent behind bars following an overturned conviction for intentional homicide. The Jilin High People’s Court in an appeal hearing ruled the evidence was insufficient to prove the initial conviction. Jin had originally applied for more than 22 million renminbi (three million dollars) in total compensation after he was freed.
The law provides for the right of an individual to petition the government for resolution of grievances. Most petitions address grievances regarding land, housing, entitlements, the environment, or corruption, and most petitioners sought to present their complaints at local “letters and visits” offices. The government reported approximately six million petitions were submitted every year; however, persons petitioning the government continued to face restrictions on their rights to assemble and raise grievances.
While the central government prohibits blocking or restricting “normal petitioning” and unlawfully detaining petitioners, official retaliation against petitioners continued. Regulations encourage handling all litigation-related petitions at the local level through local or provincial courts, reinforcing a system of incentives for local officials to prevent petitioners from raising complaints to higher levels. Local officials sent security personnel to Beijing to force petitioners to return to their home provinces to prevent them from filing complaints against local officials with the central government. Such detentions often went unrecorded and often resulted in brief periods of incarceration in extralegal “black jails.”
In September relatives of Guo Hongwei, a resident of Jilin City, visited him in prison and reported that Hongwei was physically abused, poorly fed, and suffering unfair mistreatment by prison authorities. He was first arrested and jailed in 2004 for engaging in an “economic dispute” with the Jilin Electronic Hospital. After his release, Hongwei complained to authorities regarding the “unjust treatment” he suffered from the courts and others involved in his case, and he petitioned officials to expunge his prison records and allow him to return to his previous employment. His father said Hongwei appealed his case for years after being released, but authorities ignored his request and at times violently beat Hongwei in their attempt to stop him from appealing, leaving him physically disabled and unable to walk. Despite severe harassment by Jilin security authorities, Hongwei continued to press his case with help from his mother. In 2015 Siping city police reportedly arrested Hongwei and his mother Yunling for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and “blackmailing the government.” Hongwei was sentenced to 13 years and Yunling to six years and four months in prison. After Yunling and Hongwei were imprisoned, Hongwei’s sister and Yunling’s daughter–Guo Hongying–began to appeal their cases to the authorities. After being detained in 2018, in April 2019 Hongying was sentenced to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and 18 months for “hindering public affairs.” Yunling was released at the end of 2019; Hongwei and Hongying remained in prison.
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. On May 28, the government passed a new civil code scheduled to enter into force on January 1, 2021, that introduces 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 monitored telephone calls, text messages, faxes, email, instant messaging, and other digital communications intended to remain private. 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 case for the bribery conviction of his older brother Lin Xiaonan, the former mayor of Fu’an City, Fujian Province. In June, 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 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, smart city/safe city platforms, 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. December media reports said Chinese technology companies developed artificial intelligence, surveillance, and other technological capabilities to help police identify 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.”
According to Human Rights Watch, the Ministry of State Security partnered with information technology firms to create a “mass automated voice recognition and monitoring system,” similar to ones already in use in Xinjiang and Anhui, to help with solving criminal cases. According to one company involved, the system was programmed to understand 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.
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, combined with a lack of effective government oversight or media scrutiny of local officials’ involvement in property transactions, as well as 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. In August, Lu Lina, wife of dissident and rights activist Liu Sifang, used Liu’s Twitter account to document how her landlord in Chancheng District, Foshan city, Guangdong Province, under an order from local police, asked her to move out of the apartment. Approximately 10 days prior, her child had been expelled from school. Liu Sifang joined the “Xiamen meeting” at the end of 2019 with other citizen activists and organizers. In January police arrested many of the individuals who attended that meeting. Liu was abroad at year’s end.
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 often generically referred to as the country’s “social credit system,” these two systems collect 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. As such, the social credit system often collected information on academic records, traffic violations, social media presence, friendships, adherence to birth control regulations, employment performance, consumption habits, and other topics.
Although the government’s goal is 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. For example, there were reports in which 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 of 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 about 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 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no credible reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The law prohibits such practices, but there were several reports police physically abused or degraded detainees. In March, Amnesty International reported interviews with multiple alleged victims of police brutality. Police denied these allegations. Protests associated with the lead-up to the implementation of the National Security Law featured multiple clashes between police and protesters, some of which involved physical violence.
In the week of May 25, police arrested approximately 400 protesters, including some 100 minors. During their arrest and detention, officials made no effort to address health concerns created by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a September case demonstrating the more aggressive tactics adopted by police, police were recorded tackling a 12-year-old girl, who fled after police stopped her for questioning.
There were reports of prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.
Physical Conditions: According to activists, detained protesters were held at the Castle Peak Immigration Center under unacceptable hygienic conditions and subjected to verbal and mental abuse. In response to a 2019 police brutality allegation and after the September 2019 closure of the San Uk Ling Holding Center, in May the Hong Kong Police Force border commissioner convened a task force to investigate the accusations made by protesters.
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. Activists and legislators, however, urged the government to establish an independent prisoner complaint and monitoring mechanism for prisons and detention centers.
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 police watchdog, responsible for investigating alleged corruption or abuses. In a November 19 ruling, a court of first instance (trial court) declared the complaints council incapable of effective investigation, as it lacked necessary investigative powers and was insufficient to fulfill the Special Administrative Region (SAR) government’s obligations under the Basic Law to provide an independent mechanism to investigate complaints against police. The SAR government was appealing the ruling.
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. Several claims of arbitrary arrest were made in connection with the protests and alleged National Security Law (NSL) violations.
At the time of its passage, the Hong Kong SAR and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) claimed the NSL was not retroactive.
On July 1, within hours of the NSL’s passage, police detained individuals based on their attire, searched their belongings, and arrested them for violating the NSL if the items in their possession were deemed to be against the PRC or the local government.
On August 10, police arrested 16 more individuals, including Agnes Chow, one of the cofounders of the former opposition party Demosisto, although Chow and the other two cofounders, Nathan Law and Joshua Wong, disbanded Demosisto the day before the NSL became effective. Chow refrained from political activity after the law was passed. She and human rights activist concluded that her arrest meant that the national security forces were retroactively applying the NSL.
During a protest on October 1, Chinese National Day, police reportedly indiscriminately rounded up persons in a popular shopping district, despite having no evidence that those individuals participated in the protest.
The Hong Kong Police Force maintains internal security and reports to the SAR’s security bureau. The People’s Liberation Army is responsible for foreign defense. 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. All Hong Kong security services, in theory, ultimately report to the chief executive, but following the implementation of the NSL imposed by Beijing, the SAR established an Office of Safeguarding National Security, a National Security Committee, and a National Security branch of the Hong Kong police. Because these organs ultimately report to the Chinese central government and mainland security personnel are present in some or all of these bodies, the ability of SAR civilian authorities to maintain effective control over the security force was no longer clear.
Multiple sources reported suspected members of the Chinese central government security services in the SAR monitoring political activists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and academics who criticized the Chinese central government’s policies.
Although the Independent Police Complaints Council is supposed to be an independent investigatory body responsible for addressing accusations of police corruption or abuses, activists expressed concern that the chief executive appointed all council members and noted that its lack of power to conduct independent investigations limited its oversight capacity. There was wide public support for the establishment of a commission of inquiry into alleged police abuses in handling the protests. In May the council released its report on the police response to the 2019 protests and claimed that while there was room for improvement, and acknowledging some specific flaws in police operations, such as excessive and indiscriminate use of tear gas, there were no systematic abuses and the police force acted in accordance with the law. The report did not address any specific cases of alleged abuse; the council chose to address police actions “thematically” by looking at major incidents during the period of protest.
Police generally apprehended suspects openly when they observed suspects committing a crime or with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. Police must promptly charge arrested suspects. The government respected this right and generally brought arrested persons before a judicial officer within 48 hours. Detainees were generally informed promptly of charges against them. There was a functioning bail system that allowed persons not charged to put up bail to be released from detention pending the filing of charges. Activists argued that the bail system left the arrested in purgatory–not officially charged but with a monthly check-in requirement and no defined period under the law within which the government is required to file charges. During routine check-ins, activists and protesters have been rearrested, often having new charges brought against them.
For example, in August 2019, Joshua Wong was arrested, charged with organizing an illegal assembly, and released on bail. Following his release, during a routine bail check-in held in September, Wong was rearrested and charged for a nearly one-year-old violation of the 2019 antimask emergency regulation. Wong was convicted of the initial charge of organizing an illegal assembly and sentenced to 13.5 months’ imprisonment on December 2.
Democracy activists were increasingly denied bail. In December during a routine bail check-in, media owner and democracy activist Jimmy Lai was arrested on fraud charges related to the use of office space and denied bail. Legal scholars noted bail denial is unusual in civil suits; Lai was subsequently charged on December 11 under the NSL. The NSL sets a higher standard for bail than do other laws, and in one case, activists alleged that this higher standard violated the presumption of innocence. The court, however, found that the defendant in that case would have been denied bail even under the pre-existing standards of Hong Kong law.
Authorities allowed detainees access to a lawyer of their choice, although the Hong Kong Bar Association reported that lawyers experienced obstruction at police stations and delays in seeing clients arrested during protests. Suspects were not detained incommunicado or held under house arrest. Interviews of suspects are required to be videotaped.
Although the law generally provides for an independent judiciary, there were indications that this independence was being challenged. As it did for the police force, the Department of Justice set up a separate office that deals with NSL prosecutions. There were media reports that this office also managed certain prosecutions against opposition activists not charged under the NSL. Activists voiced concern that those charged under the NSL may be denied a fair and public trial, as the NSL allows extradition to the mainland for trial. Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces in Hong Kong 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 case; they also criticized sentences deemed too lenient. Arrests made by police and the prosecutions pursued by the Justice Department appeared to be increasingly politically motivated in nature.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent 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.
Defendants are presumed innocent, except in official corruption cases: Under the law 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 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 level. 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.
The SAR’s courts are charged with interpreting those 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 (NPC). 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 standing committee has issued five interpretations of the Basic Law since 1997. The most recent, issued in 2016, requires lawmakers “to accurately, completely, and solemnly” swear an oath to uphold the Basic Law and recognize the Hong Kong SAR as a part of China before taking office. This ruling was the basis, in 2017, for disqualifying six opposition figures from taking their Legislative Council seats.
Under the NSL the chief executive provides a list of judges eligible to hear NSL cases. The NPC Standing Committee determines how the NSL is interpreted, not a SAR-based judiciary or elected body. The standing committee has the power in certain cases to extradite the accused to the mainland and hold trials behind closed doors. As of November, no cases have come to trial to validate or negate apprehensions about the NSL trial mechanisms.
Activists claimed the SAR increasingly used legal tools, such as denial of bail and pursuing minor charges, to detain prodemocracy figures. In one such case, the courts denied Jimmy Lai bail for fraud charges, which is a civil offense. While in custody, security forces charged Lai with “foreign collusion” under the NSL, a provision that is not well defined.
The NSL is not restricted to the SAR or its residents, but instead claims jurisdiction over any individual, regardless of location, deemed to be engaged in one of the four criminal activities under the NSL: secession, subversion, terrorist activities, or collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security. In August the national security forces purportedly issued arrest warrants for six individuals, all residing abroad, and one of whom had foreign citizenship and had 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 the warrants.
There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters and access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations by SAR agencies or persons, with the possible exception of employees of the National Security division, as well as Central Government Liaison Office, depending on interpretations of the law.
The law prohibits such actions, but there were reports the SAR government failed to respect these prohibitions, including credible reports that Chinese central government security services and the Beijing-mandated Office for Safeguarding National Security monitored prodemocracy and human rights activists and journalists in the SAR. In October the national security police force arrested Tony Chung near a foreign diplomatic office and charged him with violating the NSL. Media reports claimed Chung intended to request asylum but was arrested before making his request. In a June statement to the South China Morning Post, SAR security chief John Lee stated that PRC security services would operate in Hong Kong “as needed.” There were also reports central government security services detained, questioned, and intimidated Hong Kong-based activists visiting the mainland. Hong Kong authorities also reportedly froze bank accounts for former lawmakers, civil society groups, and other political targets. Media reports indicated that thousands of persons, primarily police officers, protesters, and protest movement leaders, had their personal information publicly revealed online.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no public reports or credible allegations the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. There were no reports that officials investigated or punished those responsible for unlawful killings in previous years.
Unlike in previous years, there were no public reports or credible allegations of new disappearances carried out by authorities or their agents.
Derung Tsering Dhundrup, a senior Tibetan scholar who was also the deputy secretary of the Sichuan Tibet Studies Society, was reportedly detained in June 2019, and his whereabouts remained unknown as of December. Gen Sonam, a senior manager of the Potala Palace, was reportedly detained in July 2019, and his whereabouts were unknown as of December.
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 People’s Republic of China (PRC) authorities disappeared them in 1995, when he was six years old. In May shortly after the 25th anniversary of his abduction, a PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson stated the Panchen Lama was a college graduate with a job and that neither he nor his family wished to be disturbed in their “current normal lives.” The spokesperson did not provide any further specifics.
According to credible 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. Lhamo, a Tibetan herder, was reportedly detained by police in June for sending money to India; in August she died in a hospital after being tortured in custody in Nagchu Prefecture, Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).
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. In April, Gendun Sherab, a former political prisoner in the TAR’s Nakchu Prefecture died, reportedly due to injuries sustained while in custody. Gendun Sherab was arrested in 2017 for sharing a social media message from the Dalai Lama.
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: There were many cases in which officials denied visitors access to detained and imprisoned persons.
Independent Monitoring: There was no evidence of independent monitoring or observation of prisons or detention centers.
Arbitrary arrest and detention remained serious problems. Legal safeguards for detained or imprisoned Tibetans were inadequate in both design and implementation.
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. Public security officers may legally 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 him/her 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.
Pretrial Detention: Security officials frequently violated these legal requirements, 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.
The judiciary was not independent of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or government in law or practice. In March for example, officials in Mangkhang County, TAR, announced that the local prosecutor’s office would hire five court clerks. Among the job requirements were loyalty to the CCP leadership and a critical attitude toward the 14th Dalai Lama. The November establishment of “Xi Jinping Thought on the Rule of Law” sought to strengthen this party control over the legal system.
Soon after an August meeting of senior CCP officials about Tibet during which President Xi Jinping stated the people must continue the fight against “splittism,” the Dui Hua Foundation reported that the Kandze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture Intermediate People’s Court in Sichuan Province had convicted nine Tibetans of “inciting splittism” during the year. Little public information was available about their trials.
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 rare cases, defendants were denied access to legal representation entirely, but in many cases lawyers are unwilling to take clients due to political risks or because Tibetan families often do not have the resources to cover legal fees. For example, Tibetan language activist Tashi Wangchuk, arrested in 2016 and convicted in 2018, has been denied access to his lawyer since his conviction. Access was limited prior to his trial, and the government rejected petitions and motions appealing the verdict filed by his lawyer and other supporters, although PRC law allows for such appeals.
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. In cases that authorities claimed involved “endangering state security” or “separatism,” trials often were cursory and closed. 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.
An unknown number of Tibetans were detained, arrested, or sentenced because of their political or religious activities.
Credible outside observers examined publicly available information and, as of late 2019, identified records of 273 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 available information on sentencing, punishment ranged from 15 months’ to life imprisonment. This data was believed to cover only a small fraction of the actual number of political prisoners.
In January official media reported that in 2019 the TAR prosecutor’s office approved the arrest and prosecution of 101 individuals allegedly part of “the Dalai Lama clique” for “threatening” China’s “political security.” Details, including the whereabouts of those arrested, were unknown.
Approximately 150,000 Tibetans live outside Tibet, many as refugees in India and Nepal. 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 has postponed action on the extradition treaty.
In January in its annual work report, the TAR Higher People’s Court noted that in 2019 the first TAR fugitive abroad was repatriated. The fugitive reportedly was charged with official-duty-related crimes. The report stated the repatriation was part of the TAR’s effort to deter corruption and “purify” the political environment; no other details were available.
The Tibetan overseas community is frequently subjected to harassment, monitoring, and cyberattacks believed to be carried out by the PRC government. In September media outlets reported PRC government efforts to hack into the phones of officials in the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and of several leaders in the Central Tibetan Administration, the governance organization of the overseas Tibetan community. The PRC government at times compelled Tibetans located in China to pressure their family members seeking asylum overseas to return to China.
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 mobile phones.
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. 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), according to local media. This amount was six times the average per capita GDP of the TAR.
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 President Xi Jinping in prominent positions and were subject to inspections and fines for noncompliance. In a July case, international media reported local officials detained and beat a number of Tibetan villagers from Palyul in Sichuan’s Tibetan autonomous prefecture’s Kardze County for possessing photographs of the Dalai Lama found after raids on their residences.
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.
The government also interfered in the ability of persons to find employment. Media reports in June noted that advertisements for 114 positions of different types in Chamdo City, 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.