Afghanistan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes restricted these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The law provides for freedom of speech, and the country has a free press. There were reports authorities at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Criticism of the central government was regular and generally free from restrictions, but criticism of provincial government was more constrained, where local officials and power brokers exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Media were sometimes limited in their access to government information and often faced threats and violence from the internal conflict. Politicians, security officials, and others in positions of power at times threatened or harassed journalists because of their coverage. During a speech on April 30 to mark his return to the country, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar inspired protests when he publicly called the media “wicked” and told followers to censor the media.

Freedom of speech and an independent media were more constrained at the provincial level. Specific political and ethnic groups, including those led by former mujahedin leaders, owned many provincial media outlets and controlled the content. Some provinces had limited media presence.

Print media continued to publish independent magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. A wide range of editorials and dailies openly criticized the government. Still, there were concerns that violence and insecurity threatened media independence and safety. Due to high levels of illiteracy, most citizens preferred television and radio to print media. A greater percentage of the population, including those in distant provinces, had access to radio.

According to news reports, President Ghani issued a presidential decree on August 29 exempting media companies, except for television channels, from paying fines for past-due income taxes. The decree partially answered criticisms levied by press freedom groups the week prior that increased taxes and fines would hurt many independent media outlets.

Violence and Harassment: Government officials used threats, violence, and intimidation to attempt to silence opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out about impunity, war crimes, corruption, and powerful local figures. According to Reporters Without Borders, the governor of Baghlan called a journalist and two other employees of privately owned Arezo TV into his office on May 25 to make them delete news footage. The Afghan Journalist Safety Committee (AJSC) reported 10 journalists killed in the first six months of the year. For the same period, the AJSC recorded 73 cases of violence against journalists, which included killing, beating, inflicting injury and humiliation, intimidation, and detention of journalists–a 35 percent increase from the first six months of 2016. Government-affiliated individuals or security forces committed most of the violence against journalists and were responsible for 34 instances of violence, leaving 39 instances attributable to the Taliban, ISIS-K, local warlords, and individuals. According to AJSC, the Eastern zone and Kabul zone, which include provinces north of Kabul, had the most cases of violence against journalists. The Southeastern zone had the least number of cases of violence against journalists.

On May 17, ISIS-K attacked the Afghanistan National Radio and Television compound in Jalalabad and killed seven persons. The May 31 bombing, widely attributed to the antigovernment Haqqani group, killed 31 employees of the Roshan television and news media telecommunications company and caused millions of dollars of damage to the company’s headquarters. The same attack killed at least one camera operator of Tolo News and one BBC driver, injured nine employees of other media outlets, and caused extensive damage to 1TV’s headquarters.

Security conditions created a dangerous environment for journalists, even when they were not specific targets. Media organizations and journalists operating in remote areas were more vulnerable to violence and intimidation because of increased levels of insecurity and threats from insurgents, warlords, and organized criminals. They also reported local governmental authorities were less cooperative in facilitating access to information.

In August 2016 the Office of the National Security Council approved a new set of guidelines to address cases of violence against journalists. The initiative created a joint national committee in Kabul and separate committees in provincial capitals, a coordination center to investigate and identify perpetrators of violence against journalists, and a support committee run by the NDS to identify threats against journalists. Press freedom organizations reported that, although the committee met and referred cases to the Attorney General’s Office, it did not increase protection for journalists.

In March a media advocacy group reported that many female journalists worked under pseudonyms to avoid recognition, harassment, and retaliation. According to the group, there were no female journalists in the provinces of Kunduz, Nuristan, or Panjsher because of insecurity.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some media observers claimed journalists reporting on administrative corruption, land embezzlement, and local officials’ involvement in narcotics trafficking engaged in self-censorship due to fear of violent retribution by provincial police officials and powerful families. An NGO supporting media freedom surveyed journalists in 13 provinces and found 90 percent lacked access to government information. A Kabul Press Club survey showed more than half of journalists were dissatisfied with the level of access to government information.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code and the mass media law prescribe jail sentences and fines for defamation. Authorities sometimes used defamation as a pretext to suppress criticism of government officials.

National Security: Journalists complained government officials frequently invoked the national interest exception in the Access to Information law to avoid disclosing information.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some reporters acknowledged they avoided criticizing the insurgency and some neighboring countries in their reporting because they feared Taliban retribution. Insurgent groups coerced media agencies in insecure areas to prevent them from broadcasting or publishing advertisements and announcements of the security forces, entertainment programming, music, and women’s voices.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 10.6 percent of the population had internet access, mostly in urban areas, in 2016.

Media outlets and activists routinely used social media to discuss political developments, and Facebook was widely used in urban areas. The Taliban used the internet and social media to spread its messages. Internet usage remained relatively low due to high prices, a lack of local content, and illiteracy.

On November 4, the government announced a temporary ban on two popular encrypted messaging applications–WhatsApp and Telegram–from November 1 to 20. On November 6, the government rescinded the ban.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government generally respected citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully. Numerous public gatherings and protests took place during the year. Between June 2 and 12, hundreds of protesters, many from opposition political parties, installed tents and occupied major thoroughfares surrounding government buildings and foreign embassies in Kabul’s international zone to protest the government’s failure to stop the May 31 bombing. There were clashes between armed protesters and police.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right to freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. The 2009 law on political parties obliges political parties to register with the Ministry of Justice and to pursue objectives consistent with Islam. In 2012 the Council of Ministers approved a regulation requiring political parties to open offices in at least 20 provinces within one year of registration. On September 14, President Ghani signed a decree prohibiting employees and officials of security and judicial institutions, specifically the Supreme Court, Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, and National Directorate of Security, from political party membership while government employees. Noncompliant employees could be fired.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, and other persons of concern. The government’s ability to assist vulnerable persons, including returnees from Pakistan and Iran, remained limited, and it continued to rely on the international community for assistance.

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the right to freedom of movement within the borders of the country. Taxi, truck, and bus drivers reported security forces and insurgents sometimes operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods from travelers. The greatest barrier to movement in some parts of the country was the lack of security. Social custom limited women’s freedom of movement without male consent or a male chaperone.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Internal population movements increased in 2016 because of armed conflict. During the year internal displacement statistics reached a record high, with approximately 661,000 persons displaced. Most IDPs left insecure rural areas and small towns seeking relatively greater safety and government services in larger towns and cities in the same province. All 34 provinces hosted IDP populations.

Limited humanitarian access caused delays in identifying, assessing, and providing timely assistance to IDPs. IDPs continued to lack access to basic protection, including personal and physical security and shelter. Many IDPs, especially in households with a female head, faced difficulty obtaining basic services because they did not have identity documents. Many IDPs in urban areas reportedly faced discrimination, lacked adequate sanitation and other basic services, and lived in constant risk of eviction from illegally occupied displacement sites, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. Women in IDP camps reported high levels of domestic violence. Limited opportunities to earn a livelihood following the initial displacement often led to secondary displacement, making tracking of vulnerable persons difficult. Even IDPs who had access to local social services sometimes had less access than their non-IDP neighbors, due to distance from the services or other factors.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: Laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees from other countries.

Durable Solutions: The government did not officially accept refugees for resettlement, offer naturalization to refugees residing on their territory, or assist in their voluntary return to their homes. Approximately 50,000 registered refugees and 174,000 undocumented Afghans voluntarily returned to the country during the year. The government established a Displacement and Returnees Executive Committee and a Policy Framework and Action Plan to promote the successful integration of returnees and IDPs.

STATELESS PERSONS

NGOs noted the lack of official birth registration for refugee children as a significant challenge and protection concern, due to the risk of statelessness and potential long-term disadvantage.

Albania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. There were reports that the government, business, and criminal groups sought to influence the media in inappropriate ways.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of viewpoints, although there were some efforts to exert direct and indirect political and economic pressure on the media, including threats and violence against journalists who tried to investigate crime and corruption stories. Political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained the independent print media, and journalists reportedly practiced self-censorship. Lack of economic security reduced reporters’ independence and contributed to bias in reporting. The Albanian Journalists Union continued to report significant delays in salary payments to reporters at most media outlets. Financial problems led some journalists to rely more heavily on outside sources of income.

While dramatic growth in online media during the year added to the diversity of views, NGOs maintained that professional ethics were a low priority for such outlets, raising concerns over the spread of false news stories that benefited specific financial or political interests.

In its annual Media Sustainability Index, the International Research and Exchanges Board indicated that the county’s media environment deteriorated in several areas. Donor funding for organizations that pushed for a more independent press remained limited, and the press was vulnerable to misuse under constant political and economic pressure. According to the report, very few media outlets produced independent reports about organized crime because their journalists lacked financial and editorial independence.

The independence of the Audiovisual Media Authority, the regulator of the broadcast media market, remained questionable, and the role of the authority remained limited. Most owners of private television stations used the content of their broadcasts to influence government action toward their other businesses. Business owners also freely used media outlets to gain favor and promote their interests with political parties.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of violence and intimidation against members of the media, and political and business interests subjected journalists to pressure.

In May 2016 the Union of Albanian Journalists denounced the severe beating of sports journalist Eduard Ilnica, allegedly for reporting on the violent behavior of a coach during a soccer match. Authorities arrested the coach, who in February was convicted of assault by both the district court and appellate court but released for time served in pretrial detention.

On March 8, two unidentified persons attacked Elvi Fundo, a journalist and owner of the news portal citynews.al, with iron bars, causing serious injuries. Police investigated the attack but as of September had not identified the perpetrators. According to Fundo, his portal’s stories accusing other media owners of drug trafficking and some police of corruption were possible reasons for the attack.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists often practiced self-censorship to avoid violence and harassment and as a response to pressure from publishers and editors seeking to advance their political and economic interests. A 2015 survey by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) Albania found that large commercial companies and important advertisers were key sources of pressure.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law permits private parties to file criminal charges and obtain financial compensation for insult or deliberate publication of defamatory information. NGOs reported that the fines, which could be as much as three million leks ($26,000), were excessive and, combined with the entry of a conviction into the defendant’s criminal record, undermined freedom of expression.

On June 9, a member of the High Council of Justice, Gjin Gjoni, filed defamation lawsuits against two BIRN journalists and two journalists of the daily Shqiptarja.com for their coverage of his asset declaration, which was being investigated by prosecutors. Gjoni was seeking seven million leks ($61,000) from BIRN and four million leks ($35,000) from Shqiptarja.com, claiming the stories damaged his reputation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to March data from Internet World Stats, approximately 67 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

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

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Police allowed UNHCR to monitor the processing, detention, and deportation of some migrants.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR reported a few cases of police intimidation and reluctance to accept requests for asylum. On two occasions, in November 2016 and June, border authorities used force against groups of migrants who refused to be returned to Greece. Following the 2016 incident, one injured migrant was hospitalized and UNHCR filed a complaint with the border authorities.

Authorities often detained irregular migrants who entered the country. As of November authorities had detained approximately 744 migrants, mostly at the country’s southern border with Greece; those who did not request asylum were generally deported to Greece within 24 hours. Migrants detained further inland could spend several weeks at the Karrec closed migrant detention facility awaiting deportation. As of November the government reported four persons detained in the Karrec facility.

UNHCR reported that approximately 30 percent of migrants requested asylum. Some NGOs and UNHCR maintained that some migrants who requested asylum were deported as well. UNHCR made formal complaints to the government, but authorities were generally slow to address them. UNHCR reported that conditions at the Karrec center were unsuitable, particularly for children. As of September the government had referred fewer migrants to Karrec than in 2016, and only one minor–a 17-year-old boy travelling in a group–spent time there.

In-country Movement: In order to receive government services, individuals changing place of residence within the country must transfer their civil registration to their new community and prove the legality of their new domicile through property ownership, a property rental agreement, or utility bills. Many persons could not provide proof and thus lacked access to public services. Other citizens, particularly Roma and Balkan-Egyptians, lacked formal registration in the communities where they resided. The law does not prohibit their registration, but it was often difficult to complete. Many Roma and Balkan-Egyptians lacked the financial means to register, and many lacked the motivation to go through the process.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

There were credible reports from NGOs and migrants and asylum seekers that authorities did not follow due process obligations for some asylum seekers and that in other cases those seeking asylum did not have access to the system. Through November some 744 migrants–mostly Algerians, Syrians, and Libyans–entered the country, mostly via the country’s southern border with Greece. Of these, 128 requested asylum. Authorities returned those who did not request asylum to Greece, some immediately but others after weeks of detention in inadequate facilities. UNHCR was critical of the government’s migrant screening and detention procedures, particularly in view of the increased presence of children among migrants.

The law on asylum requires authorities to grant or deny asylum within 51 days of an applicant’s initial request. Under the law asylum seekers cannot face criminal charges of illegal entry if they contact authorities within 10 days of their arrival in the country. UNHCR reported that the asylum system lacked effective monitoring. In March authorities returned an Algerian woman to Greece although she had requested asylum; authorities also returned an unaccompanied Pakistani minor with no special consideration for his age. UNHCR expressed concern with the government’s mechanism for appeals of refused asylum requests since the appellate body generally lacked expertise and tended to uphold initial decisions without considering the merits of a case.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law prohibits individuals from safe countries of origin or transit from applying for asylum or refugee status. UNHCR, however, reported that no asylum requests had been refused based on the government’s list of safe countries, which includes Greece.

Employment: The law permits refugees access to work. The limited issuance of refugee identification cards and work permits, however, meant few refugees actually worked.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees access to public services, including education, health care, housing, law enforcement, courts/judicial procedures, and legal assistance. Migrants and asylum seekers often required the intervention of UNHCR or local NGOs to secure these services.

Durable Solutions: In September 2016 the government completed the process of receiving Iranian Mujahideen-e Khalq refugees from Iraq and continued to facilitate their local integration throughout the year.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided subsidiary and temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of September the government had granted subsidiary protection to two persons during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

The government had no updated information regarding the total number of persons at risk of statelessness. Using data from the cases that were resolved from 2011 to 2016 with the support of the NGO Tirana Legal Aid Society, UNHCR estimated the number to be 4,871, down from the 7,443 persons who declared themselves as unregistered during the 2011 census. Most of these were Romani or Balkan-Egyptian children. The risk of statelessness continued to exist for unregistered children born abroad to returning migrant families, although the law affords the opportunity to obtain nationality.

Algeria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and independent media outlets regularly criticized and satirized government officials and policies, but the government on some occasions restricted these rights. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics; arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws; informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists; and control of a significant proportion of the country’s advertising money and printing capabilities. Some media figures alleged the government used its control over most printing houses and large amounts of public sector advertising preferentially, and that the lack of clear regulations over these practices permitted it to exert undue influence on press outlets.

Freedom of Expression: While public debate and criticism of the government were widespread, journalists and activists believed they were limited in their ability to criticize the government publicly on topics crossing unwritten “red lines.” Authorities arrested and detained citizens for expressing views deemed damaging to state officials and institutions, and citizens practiced self-restraint in expressing public criticism. The law criminalizing speech about security force conduct during the internal conflict of the 1990s remained in place, although the government said there had never been an arrest or prosecution under the law. A separate law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for publications that “may harm the national interest” or up to one year for defaming or insulting the president, parliament, army, or state institutions. Government officials monitored political meetings.

Press and Media Freedom: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controls public advertising for print media. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF), private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. Although ANEP said in September that it represented only 15 percent of the total advertising market, nongovernmental sources assessed the majority of daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. The government’s lack of transparency over its use of state-funded advertising permitted it to exert undue influence over print media. On November 14, Hadda Hazem, the editor of the El Fadjr newspaper, began a hunger strike to protest what she described as government pressure on public and private advertisers to deprive El Fadjr of advertising revenue in retaliation for its criticisms of the government.

Police arrested blogger Merzoug Touati on January 25 on charges stemming from his publication of an interview with a former Israeli diplomat. On September 13, Touati began a hunger strike. He remained in detention at year’s end.

Many civil society organizations, government opponents, and political parties, including legal Islamist parties, had access to independent print and broadcast media and used them to express their views. Opposition parties also disseminated information via the internet and published communiques but stated they did not have access to the national television and radio. Journalists from independent print and broadcast media expressed frustration over the difficulty of receiving information from public officials. With the exception of several daily newspapers, the majority of print media outlets relied on the government for physical printing materials and operations.

Organizations wishing to initiate regular publications must obtain authorization from the government. The law requires the director of the publication to hold Algerian citizenship. The law additionally prohibits local periodicals from receiving direct or indirect material support from foreign sources.

In September the Ministry of Communication stated there were 249 accredited written publications, down from 332 last year. Of the daily printed publications, the ministry stated six were state-operated. The ministry said the decline in accredited publications was due to a reduction in advertising revenue.

The ministry’s Media Directorate is responsible for issuing and renewing accreditations to foreign media outlets operating in the country. Although this accreditation is required to operate legally, the vast majority of foreign media were not accredited. While the government tolerated their operations in the past, the Ministry of Communication said in 2016 it would limit the number of private satellite channels to 13 and foreign-based unaccredited television outlets would be shut down. At year’s end, however, the government had not shut down any such outlets. Regulations require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be Algerian citizens and prohibit them from broadcasting content that offends “values anchored in Algerian society.”

The ministry also issues and renews accreditation of foreign correspondents reporting in the country. According to the ministry, 14 accredited foreign press agencies reported during the year. In addition, six private domestic television channels, 12 foreign broadcasting channels, and two foreign radio stations operated throughout the year.

The law mandates that online news outlets must inform the government of their activities but does not require them to request authorization to operate.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation for criticism of the government.

From October 5-November 28, Tout sur l’Algerie (TSA), an online news website, was inaccessible via Algerie Telecom, the state-owned traditional internet service provider (ISP), and via Mobilis, the state-owned mobile ISP. Algerie Telecom did not provide TSA the reasons for the blockage. In October the Ministry of Communication denied any involvement, saying the issue rested with Algerie Telecom. TSA director Hamid Guemache told RSF that the explanations provided by the authorities “are not convincing” and that he suspected a “political blockage.”

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and said the definitions used as failed to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but carries a fine ranging from DZD 100,000 to DZD 500,000 ($877 to $4,385). The Ministry of Justice did not provide information on the percentage of defamation claims that originated from private citizens, as opposed to government officials. Defamation laws specify that former members of the military who make statements deemed to have damaged the image of the military or to have “harmed the honor and respect due to state institutions” may face prosecution.

The Ministry of Communication prohibited the sale of the August issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, a French monthly publication, that contained an article titled “Forbidden Memory in Algeria” about the aftermath of the internal conflict in the 1990s. The ministry said the article’s discussion of President Bouteflika’s health was injurious to the president and stated the publication did not appeal the decision.

The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Muhammed or “messengers of God.” In 2016 police in Setif arrested Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian convert, for posting statements on his Facebook page questioning the morals of the Prophet Muhammed. A court sentenced him to five years in prison, plus a DZD 100,000 ($877) fine. His sentence was subsequently reduced to three years in prison and then commuted in July as part of a broad presidential amnesty. He was scheduled for release in March 2018 as a result of the commutation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government monitored certain email and social media sites.

Internet users regularly exercised their right to free expression and association online, including through online forums, social media, and email. Activists reported that some postings on social media could result in arrest and questioning; observers widely understood that the intelligence services closely monitored the activities of political and human rights activists on social media sites, including Facebook.

The law on cybercrime establishes procedures for using electronic data in prosecutions and outlines the responsibilities of ISPs to cooperate with authorities. Under the law the government may conduct electronic surveillance to prevent offenses amounting to terrorist or subversive acts and infractions against state security, pursuant to written authorization from a competent judicial authority.

By law, ISPs face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” The Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Post, Information Technology, and Communication have oversight responsibilities. The law provides sentences of six months to five years in prison and fines between DZD 50,000 and DZD 500,000 ($438 and $4,385) for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.

On April 4, seven administrators of a Facebook page called “Granada City” appeared in court in Bouira on charges stemming from a post in January calling for a general strike. The charges against them were dropped in May.

For a second year, the government blocked access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, for several days during nationwide high school exams. The decision was in response to previous leaks of exam results, which were posted on social media.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 43 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Academic seminars generally occurred with limited governmental interference. The Ministry of Culture reviewed the content of films before they could be shown, as well as books before publication or importation. The Ministry of Religious Affairs did the same for religious publications. The law gives the authorities broad power to ban books that run counter to the constitution, “the Muslim religion and other religions, national sovereignty and unity, the national identity and cultural values of society, national security and defense concerns, public order concerns, and the dignity of the human being and individual and collective rights.” It further prohibits books that “make apology for colonialism, terrorism, crime, and racism.”

A January 17 decree by the prime minister clarified the process for the Ministry of Culture’s review of imported books, both in print and electronic form. According to the decree, importers must submit to the ministry the title, author’s name, editor’s name, edition, year, International Standard Book Number, and number of copies to be imported. Importers of books covering the “national movement and the Algerian Revolution” must submit the entire text of the books for review, including a secondary review by the Ministry of the Moudjahidine (veterans of the Revolution). The Ministry of Culture can also require a full content review of books on other topics if it chooses. The ministry has 30 days to review the importation application; in the absence of a response after 30 days, the importer may proceed with distribution of the publication. After making a determination, the ministry notifies the customs service of the decision to allow or ban the importation of the publication. Appeals may be made to the ministry, with no independent or judicial review provided for in the decree.

A government official said that rejected book importation requests were almost always for religious books that promote extremist ideas. A January 4 decree established a commission within the Ministry of Religious Affairs to review imports of the Quran. This decree requires all applications to include a full copy of the text and other detailed information. The ministry has three to six months to review the text, with the absence of a response after that time constituting a rejection of the application. A separate January 4 decree covering religious texts other than the Quran stated, “The content of religious books for import, regardless of format, must not undermine the religious unity of society, the national religious reference, public order, good morals, fundamental rights and liberties, or the law.” The importer must submit the text and other information, and the ministry must respond within 30 days. A nonresponse after this period of time is considered a rejection. Religious texts distributed without authorization may be seized and destroyed.

On March 4, police in the city of Aokas in Bejaia province reportedly prevented a local NGO from holding a conference featuring professor Younes Adli on “Kabyle [Berber] thought in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

In September press outlets reported Algiers International Book Fair Commissioner Hamidou Messaoudi announced that of the 120,000 books proposed for inclusion in the annual fair by 920 publishers representing 51 countries, the Book Fair Commission prohibited the inclusion of 130. Messaoudi said the action was taken pursuant to Algerian law prohibiting the exhibition of books that glorify terrorism, encourage radicalization, or incite racism.

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the government severely restricted the exercise of these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, but the government continued to curtail this right. A ban on demonstrations in Algiers remained in effect. Authorities utilized the ban to prohibit assembly within the city limits. Nationwide, the government required citizens and organizations to obtain permits from the national government-appointed local governor before holding public meetings or demonstrations. The government restricted licenses to political parties, NGOs, and other groups to hold indoor rallies or delayed permission until the eve of the event, thereby impeding publicity and outreach efforts by organizers. Nonetheless, in many cases authorities allowed unauthorized protests to proceed while negotiations continued regarding protesters’ demands or when government attempts to disperse protests potentially risked igniting violence.

Hotels in Algiers and other major cities continued their historic practice of refusing to sign rental contracts for meeting spaces with political parties, NGOs, and civil associations without a copy of written authorization from the Ministry of Interior for the proposed gathering.

Throughout the year police dispersed unauthorized gatherings or prevented marching groups of protesters from demonstrating. Police typically dispersed protesters shortly after a protest began and arrested and detained organizers for a few hours. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other NGOs criticized the government’s use of the law to restrict peaceful assembly.

On July 22, police in Aokas prevented organizers from holding a “Literary Cafe” featuring Berber-language books. After a crowd gathered at the cultural center where the conference was supposed to be held and forced the doors open, police removed them from the building and reportedly fired rubber bullets into the crowd as an impromptu protest formed. On July 29, another march was held to protest the government’s actions, and residents reported that this protest unfolded peacefully.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government restricted this right.

The law’s extensive requirements and uneven enforcement served as major impediments to the development of civil society. The law grants the government wide-ranging oversight of and influence in the day-to-day activities of civil society organizations. It requires national-level civil organizations to apply to the Ministry of Interior for permission to operate. Once registered, organizations must inform the government of their activities, funding sources, and personnel, including notification of personnel changes. The law imposes an additional requirement that associations obtain government preapproval before accepting foreign funds. If organizations fail to provide required information to the government or attempt to operate with or accept foreign funds without authorization, they are subject to fines between DZD 2,000 and DZD 5,000 ($17 and $43) and up to six months’ imprisonment.

According to the law, associations that apply for accreditation as required by law are entitled to receive a response within two months for national organizations, 45 days for interregional-level associations, 40 days for province-level associations, and 30 days for communal organizations. While the Ministry of Interior oversees the accreditation process for most associations, the president of a local assembly approves applications for communal associations.

The Ministry of Interior may deny a license to or dissolve any group regarded as a threat to the government’s authority or to public order, and on several occasions failed to grant in an expeditious fashion official recognition to NGOs, associations, religious groups, and political parties. According to the ministry, organizations receive a receipt after submitting their application for accreditation, and after the time periods listed above, this slip is legally sufficient for them to begin operating, to open a bank account, and to rent office or event space. The law does not explicitly include this provision, however. If the application is approved, the ministry issues a final accreditation document.

Many organizations reported that they never received a deposit slip and that even with the receipt, it was difficult to conduct necessary administrative tasks without formal accreditation. Other organizations reported they never received any written response to their application request. The ministry maintained that organizations that were refused accreditation or that did not receive a response within the specified time period could appeal to the State Council, the administrative court responsible for cases involving the government.

The ministry did not renew the accreditations of the NGOs SOS Disparu (Missing), the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), the National Association for the Fight Against Corruption, and the Youth Action Movement, all of which submitted their renewal applications in prior years.

The government issued licenses and subsidies to domestic associations, especially youth, medical, and neighborhood associations. According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 108,940 local and 1,293 national associations registered as of 2016. Unlicensed NGOs remained active, but rarely received government assistance, and citizens at times hesitated to associate with these organizations.

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted the exercise of this right.

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Civil society organizations reported that authorities prevented sub-Saharan African migrants in the areas around Tamanrasset from traveling north toward coastal population centers.

In-country Movement: The constitution provides citizens “the right to freely choose their place of residence and to move throughout the national territory.” The government maintained restrictions for security reasons on travel into the southern locales of El-Oued and Illizi, near hydrocarbon industry installations and the Libyan border, respectively. Citing the threat of terrorism, the government also prevented overland tourist travel between the southern cities of Tamanrasset, Djanet, and Illizi. Newspapers reported that the government restricted foreign tourists from traveling through trails in Tassili and Hoggar, as well as certain areas in and around Tamanrasset, due to security concerns.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states that the right to enter and exit the country is provided to citizens. The law does not permit those under age 18 to travel abroad without a guardian’s permission. Married women under 18 may not travel abroad without permission from their husbands, but married women over 18 may do so. The government did not permit young men eligible for the draft who had not completed their military service to leave the country without special authorization. The government granted such authorization to students and persons with special family circumstances.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government protected an estimated 90,000 to 165,000 Sahrawi refugees who departed Western Sahara after Morocco took control of the territory in the 1970s. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, the Algerian Red Crescent, the Sahrawi Red Crescent, and other organizations assisted Sahrawi refugees. Neither the government nor the refugee leadership has allowed UNHCR to conduct registration or complete a census of the Sahrawi refugees. In the absence of formal registration, UNHCR and WFP based humanitarian assistance on a planning figure of 90,000 refugees. There is, however, a joint Sahrawi–UNHCR effort underway to capture more accurately the actual number of persons residing in the Sahrawi camps. The government said that a drop in aid from international donors led to worsening conditions for Sahrawi refugees, and that it had increased its own contributions as a result.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Since the outbreak of violence in northern Mali in 2012, international observers reported an influx of individuals into Algeria across the Malian border inconsistent with traditional migratory movements. During the year, the government deported migrants to Mali.

The government said that more than 700 people, primarily Nigeriens, were repatriated during the year. The government, led by the Algerian Red Crescent, repatriated more than 17,000 Nigerien migrants to their country pursuant to a bilateral agreement at the request of the government of Niger since 2014, in several repatriation operations. Various international humanitarian organizations and observers criticized the operations, citing unacceptable conditions of transport, primarily on the Niger side of the border, and what they described as a lack of coordination among the Algerian Red Crescent, the government of Niger, and the Red Cross of Niger. In July the National Human Rights Committee (CNDH) said the Algerian government had dedicated an additional $3.8 million to ensuring the human rights of migrants during repatriation operations. The repatriations were conducted in coordination with consular officials from the countries of origin of the migrants, but the migrants were not permitted to challenge their removal. The government said that it maintained a policy of not removing migrants registered with UNHCR, and that in a few cases it worked with UNHCR to return registered refugees who were mistakenly removed.

Access to Asylum: While the law provides generally for asylum or refugee status, the government has not established a formal system through which refugees can request asylum. There were no reports that the government granted refugee status and asylum to new refugee applicants during the year. According to UNHCR, the government did not accept UNHCR-determined refugee status for individuals. UNHCR offices in Algiers reported an estimated 200 to 300 asylum requests per month, mostly from Syrian, Palestinian, and sub-Saharan African individuals coming from Mali, Guinea, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Those determined by UNHCR to have valid refugee claims were primarily from the DRC, Cote d’Ivoire, Iraq, and the Central African Republic. There was no evidence of any pattern of discrimination toward asylum applicants, but the lack of a formal asylum system made this difficult to assess.

As of June the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that since the start of the conflict in Syria, it accepted more than 40,000 Syrian refugees. Between 2012 and 2017, UNHCR registered more than 10,000 Syrians, but fewer than 6,000 remained registered with UNHCR as of September. The Algerian Red Crescent, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Solidarity, maintained “welcome facilities” that provided food and shelter for those Syrians without means to support themselves. The facilities were located in Sidi Fredj. The government did not grant UNHCR access to these reception centers but reported that by 2016 most Syrians no longer used the centers.

A group of Syrian refugees were stranded on the Moroccan-Algerian border from April to June, with both countries insisting the group was on the other country’s territory. Algeria offered to allow the refugees onto its territory on June 3 but they were not able to enter due to ambiguity regarding the border demarcation. Morocco announced on June 20 it would allow the migrants onto its territory, resolving the issue.

The Ministry of Interior estimated in 2016 that there were 21,073 irregular migrants residing in the country. Independent observers’ estimates in 2017 ranged from 25,000-200,000. Official statistics for 2017 were unavailable, but a government official said the numbers had likely increased compared to previous years due to instability in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Employment: UNHCR provided registered refugees with modest food assistance and lodging support. Because the government does not formally allow refugee employment, many worked in the informal market and were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status in the country. Other migrants, asylum seekers, and Malians and Syrians who had a “special status” with the government, relied largely on remittances from family, the support of local family and acquaintances, and assistance from the Algerian Red Crescent and international aid organizations.

Access to Basic Services: Sahrawi refugees lived predominantly in five camps near the city of Tindouf, administered by the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario). The Polisario (through the Sahrawi Red Crescent Society), UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, and partner NGOs provided basic services including food aid, primary health care, and primary and secondary education, while the government invested heavily in developing the camps’ infrastructure and also provided free secondary and university educations, as well as advanced hospital care, to Sahrawi refugees. The remote location of the camps and lack of government presence resulted in a lack of access by police and courts. Other refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants had access to free public hospitals, but independent NGOs reported instances of migrants turned away.

School administrators must allow migrant and refugee children to enroll in primary school through high school and require only that they present their passport and documentation showing their level of schooling from their home country. International organizations reported the children had trouble in their attempts to integrate into the educational system but that migrants’ access to education was improving, particularly in the north of the country. These organizations reported that migrant parents were often reluctant to enroll their children in Algerian schools due to language barriers or cultural differences.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement. The Sahrawi refugees had not sought local integration or naturalization during their 40-year stay in the refugee camps near Tindouf, and the Polisario Front continued to call for a referendum on independence in Western Sahara.

Temporary Protection: The law does not address formal temporary protection, but authorities provided informal, temporary protection to groups such as Syrians and Malians.

Andorra

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 98 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The country cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other international refugee relief organizations.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees, preferring to deal with them on an ad hoc basis. There is a lack of domestic legislation on asylum seekers and refugees, and in particular on measures to protect unaccompanied and refugee children. According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, Justice, and Interior, no requests for asylum or refugee status were received during the year.

Durable Solutions: The report of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) published on February 28 criticized the government for not easing residence requirements for obtaining citizenship to 10 years.

Angola

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, state dominance of most media outlets, self-censorship by journalists, and the existence of a media regulatory body limited the practical application of these rights. Most private media organizations were located in the capital. On November 9, newly elected President Lourenco dismissed and replaced heads of all major state-owned media outlets. On November 14, the president urged the new leadership of state media entities to ensure an editorial line that serves the public interest and upholds freedom of expression and the press.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals reported practicing self-censorship but generally were able to criticize government policies without fear of direct reprisal. Social media was widely used in the larger cities and provided an open forum for discussion.

Press and Media Freedom: Private radio and print media criticized the government openly and harshly. Authorities occasionally threatened journalists and publishers with harassment and arrest for covering sensitive stories. Journalists routinely complained of lack of transparency and communication from government press offices and other government officials. State dominance of major media outlets often led to one-sided reporting, with opposition and civil society figures frequently expressing their opinions in privately owned media outlets while government officials kept silent even on noncontroversial issues.

Official news outlets, including Angolan Public Television, Radio Nacional, and the Jornal de Angola newspaper, favored the ruling party and gave only limited coverage to opposition political parties. Official news outlets disproportionately covered ruling party candidates and campaign events in the period preceding the August 23 presidential and parliamentary elections, but at times included opposition party members and other commentators in nationally televised debates on issues such as elections, the rule of law, and the economy. Opposition parties received only limited coverage of their legislative participation in the National Assembly.

Violence and Harassment: Several journalists reported incidents of violence or harassment during the year. For example, a stringer for a foreign broadcaster investigating a series of mysterious fainting spells in Uige Province schools reported that police detained and beat him for photographing the transport of student victims to a hospital.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In January the National Assembly passed a package of five regulatory media laws, one of which established the Regulatory Entity for Social Communication (ERCA), a body empowered to license and delicense journalists and determine what constitutes appropriate media content. At year’s end ERCA remained largely inactive.

Journalists practiced self-censorship.

The minister of social communication, spokesperson of the presidency, and national director of information maintained significant decision-making authority over the media. It was commonly understood these individuals actively vetted news stories in the state-controlled print, television, and radio media and exercised considerable authority over some privately owned outlets. State-controlled media and private media outlets owned by those close to the government rarely published or broadcast stories critical of the ruling party, government officials, or government policies.

In March Angolan telecommunications operator ZAP, owned by Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of then president Jose Eduardo do Santos, stopped broadcasting two Portuguese-owned television channels, SIC Noticias and SIC Internacional. ZAP notified neither the channels’ owners nor ZAP subscribers in advance. Several journalists, such as Expresso newspaper correspondent in Luanda Gustavo Costa and the president of the Media Institute for Southern Africa-Angola, Alexandre Solombe, alleged that ZAP’s decision to cease broadcasting the two channels was in response to their critical reporting on corruption and poverty in the country.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a crime punishable by imprisonment or a fine, and unlike in most cases in which defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, defendants in defamation cases have the burden of proving their innocence by providing evidence of the validity of the allegedly damaging material.

Several journalists in print media, radio, and political blogs faced libel and defamation lawsuits. Journalists complained the government used libel laws to limit their ability to report on corruption and nepotistic practices. According to the PGR, some journalists abused their positions and published inaccurate stories about government officials without verifying the facts or providing the accused the right of reply. On June 21, Attorney General Joao Maria de Sousa indicted journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques for slander in response to an October 2016 article published on Marques’ website, Maka Angola. The article accused de Sousa of corruption regarding an alleged illicit purchase of land and criticized then president dos Santos for failing to curb such alleged corrupt practices. Journalist and publisher Mariano Bras was also indicted for slander for republishing the article in the newspaper O Crime. Marques could face a penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment if convicted of slander, as well as the reinstatement of a six-month suspended sentence he received for a 2015 conviction of criminal libel. At year’s end the court had not ruled on the merits of the indictments against Marques or Bras, nor had it set a trial date.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The law allows ERCA to determine what constitutes appropriate media content, including online content. The government did not, however, restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal oversight. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2016 approximately 13 percent of residents had access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for the right of peaceful assembly, but the government regularly restricted this right.

The law requires written notification to the local administrator and police three days before public assemblies are to be held. The law does not require government permission to hold public assemblies but it does require public assemblies to start after 7 p.m. The government at times prohibited events based on perceived or claimed security considerations. On June 3, thousands of UNITA supporters marched peacefully in Luanda to call for transparent elections while attended by a heavy presence of security forces. UNITA and members of government and security forces coordinated in advance of the march to ensure it took place without incident. Police and administrators did not interfere with progovernment gatherings. Nonpartisan groups intending to criticize the government or government leaders, however, often encountered the presence of police who prevented them from holding the event. Usually authorities claimed the timing or venue requested was problematic or that the proper authorities had not received notification.

Members of the Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement (LTPM) held several protests during the year. LTPM leader Jose Mateus Zecamutchima called on supporters to protest on July 29 to demand autonomy. On July 27, Lunda Norte provincial authorities arrested nine Tchokwe individuals, including four traditional leaders. Zecamutchima subsequently canceled the protest due to the arrests and heavy presence of security forces. Some protesters nevertheless proceeded with the protest, resulting in the arrest of 38 individuals. There were reports that security forces used live fire and grenades to disperse the protesters, but there were no reported injuries.

The government at times arbitrarily restricted the activities of associations it considered subversive by refusing to grant permits for organized activities. Authorities generally permitted opposition parties to organize and hold meetings. Nevertheless, opposition officials continued to report obstructions to the free exercise of their parties’ right to meet.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for the right of association, but the government did not always respect this right (see also section 7.a.). Extensive delays in the NGO registration process continued to be a problem. Nevertheless, NGOs that had not yet received registration were allowed to operate.

On July 5, the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional a 2015 presidential decree regulating the operation of NGOs. Civil society had criticized the decree as potentially restrictive and intrusive for including requirements that NGOs obtain approval from the government before the implementation of any project, provide frequent financial reports to the government on NGO activities, and allow local authorities to supervise NGO projects within their municipalities. The government stated this regulation is part of its strategy to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. The court ruled that only the National Assembly had jurisdiction to legislate such requirements according to the clearly defined separation of powers in the constitution.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government at times restricted these rights.

The government sometimes cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. UNHCR commended the government for its efforts to protect and assist more than 32,000 Congolese refugees who fled violence in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and sought refuge in Lunda Norte Province during the year. The government, however, continued to fail to provide adequate protection for asylum seekers and urban refugees.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Following a May 2016 visit, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crepeau, issued a report criticizing the government for its lack of adequate protections for refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants. Crepeau cited government failure to implement key elements of the 2015 asylum law, which had the effect of impeding refugee and asylum seekers’ access to basic services and documents, such as birth certificates for children of foreign-born parents. NGOs working with refugee and asylum-seeker populations continued to cite security force harassment of and state discrimination against those communities. At year’s end the asylum law remained unimplemented.

In-country Movement: Police maintained roadside checkpoints throughout the country. Reports by local NGOs suggested some police officers extorted money from civilians at checkpoints and during regular traffic stops. Reports from the diamond mining provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul indicated some government agents restricted the movements of local communities.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

During the year more than 32,000 Congolese, primarily women and children, fled the Kasai region of the DRC and sought refuge in Lunda Norte Province. During the early days of the refugee influx, the government was the sole provider of life-saving assistance, including food and medical care. The government cooperated closely with UNHCR, the World Food Program, and NGOs to protect and assist the community. UNHCR continued to press the government to grant the Kasai refugees prima facie status. At year’s end, however, the government had not formally granted them that status.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the law did not function in practice during the year. The 2015 asylum law provides specific procedures for the submission of an asylum application and guidance on the determination of asylum and refugee cases. UNHCR and several NGOs reported that asylum seekers and urban refugees did not have a mechanism to apply for or resolve their status. The 2015 law changed the role of the Committee for the Recognition of the Right to Asylum, the former implementing mechanism to identify, verify, and legalize asylum seekers, to that of an advisory board; however, by October the government had not put into practice an alternative mechanism to adjudicate asylum and refugee cases in the committee’s place. The law also established the creation of reception centers for refugees and asylum seekers where they are to receive assistance until the government makes a decision on their cases.

Employment: Formal restrictions on a refugee’s ability to seek employment existed. Regulation 273/13 restricted refugees from obtaining the mandatory business license required to own and operate a business. Refugees often faced difficulty obtaining employment due inability to obtain legal documents required to work in the formal sector. These difficulties were compounded by a general lack of acceptance of the refugee card and lack of knowledge about the rights it was intended to safeguard.

Access to Basic Services: Persons with recognized refugee status could at times obtain public services. UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees, however, reported that urban refugees in particular were unable to obtain legal documents following passage of the asylum law and at times faced difficulty accessing public services such as health care and education. Corruption by officials compounded these difficulties.

Antigua and Barbuda

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government respected this right on a somewhat limited basis.

Press and Media Freedoms: Privately owned print media, including daily and weekly newspapers, were active and offered a range of opinions. There were claims, however, that the government did not allow fair access to opposition and independent media. In public statements the prime minister threatened journalists and singled out the sole independent media outlet as the cause for the country’s problems.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were two libel cases pending against the country’s sole independent media outlet involving ruling party ministers.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

According to 2016 International Telecommunication Union data, 73 percent of the population had access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The country does not have any laws or legal procedures governing asylum or refugee status. The government handles asylum requests on an ad hoc basis.

Argentina

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent newspapers, radio and television outlets, and internet sites were numerous and active, expressing a wide variety of views.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were reports of media outlet shutdowns and staff dismissals during the year, primarily due to economic concerns. Media observers noted the closures mainly affected outlets that were maintained artificially through public funding mechanisms from the previous administration.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of physical attacks, threats, and harassment against journalists in relation to their reporting, most of which covered cases of official corruption.

On July 25, Jesus Baez de Nacimiento, owner of Carretero 101 FM Radio, was shot four times as he entered his home in Misiones Province. His assailants were not apprehended by year’s end. The incident was related to the radio station’s reporting on alleged complicity between local police and drug traffickers, according to local media organizations.

The Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA) reported 54 physical attacks against journalists as of October, most sustained during press coverage of protests. Buenos Aires city police detained three journalists on September 1 while they were covering a demonstration, releasing them three days later. Two other television journalists were injured by police use of tear gas during the protest. On October 1, four television journalists from various channels alleged unknown individuals assaulted them during another demonstration. FOPEA expressed concern over these attacks during protests, claiming that certain media outlets were targeted due to their editorial lines, and called for enhanced security measures to protect journalists reporting on protests.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On March 23, a national appeals court levied on the satirical magazine Barcelona a significant fine for damages after it published a controversial cover with the image of Maria Cecilia Pando de Mercado, a conservative activist. FOPEA and the Association of Argentine Journalists claimed the ruling had a negative impact on freedom of expression.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: On September 26, the government issued a presidential decree amending the 2016 law on public access to information, requiring executive branch approval of organizational structure of the Agency for Access to Public Information. Press groups welcomed the action, but the Association for Civil Rights and other NGOs expressed concern the decree would harm the agency’s autonomy.

As of October the Ministry of Security, acting under a 2016 protocol to protect journalists in cases where their activities entail risks, enacted protective measures, including police protection, in three cases where journalists received threats after conducting investigations related to drug trafficking and trafficking in persons.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The World Bank reported that 70 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Local NGOs, including CELS, expressed concerns that security-related protocols the Ministry of Security implemented informally beginning in 2016 imposed restrictions on the right to peaceful protest and assembly.

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

On January 27, the government reformed its immigration law. Local NGOs expressed concern that new regulations introduced barriers to migrant admission, complicated obtaining legal residency, accelerated deportation procedures, and restricted access to citizenship.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Decisions on asylum petitions may take up to two years to adjudicate.

Armenia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government attempted to influence media outlets for favorable or uncritical coverage. Broadcast and many larger circulation print media generally expressed views sympathetic to their owners or advertisers–a mix of government officials and wealthy business people–while print and online outlets tended to be more critical. There were several instances of violence against journalists in connection with their coverage of elections and other local developments.

Press and Media Freedom: Broadcast and larger circulation print media generally lacked diversity of political opinion and objective reporting. Private individuals or groups owned most broadcast media and newspapers, which tended to reflect the political leanings and financial interests of their proprietors, who in turn were often close to the government. Broadcast media, particularly national television, remained the primary source of news and information for the majority of the population. Politicians in the ruling party and politically connected executives owned most television stations, which tended to present uncritical views of government policy and events.

There were instances of officials blocking press access to events and information. In March, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) local service was not allowed to cover talks between the secretaries of Armenia’s and Russia’s National Security Councils. When the Russian ambassador saw the RFE/RL reporter at the session, he reportedly asked why the RFE/RL reporter was there. Following that statement, an Armenian Security Council official blocked the RFE/RL crew from entering the hotel while allowing six other outlets (three Armenian and three Russian) to cover the event.

Independent media outlets, mostly online, were not self-sustainable and survived through international donations, with limited or no revenues from commercials. Advertisers often shied away from advertising on sites critical of the government, seeing such support as risking official harassment.

According to media experts, the dominant positions in the television and online advertising market of a few companies limited diversity of opinions. According to a report presented in September 2016 by the Armenian Center for Political and International Studies, the advertising sales house Media International Services (MIS) controlled 74 percent of the country’s television advertisement gross value, with exclusive rights to sell advertising on the country’s five most watched channels. Another company, DG Sales, was majority owned by MIS shareholders and controlled more than one-third of the online commercial market, operating in a manner similar to MIS.

Regional television channels provided some alternative viewpoints, often through externally produced content. By the end of the year, however, 10 regional television stations faced risk of closure due to the mandatory transition from analog to digital broadcasting in October 2016. Although amended legislation allowed regional stations that did not have licenses to broadcast via the state-funded public multiplex to continue their analog broadcasts until a private multiplex entered the market, the requirements established for a private multiplex were too prohibitive for any company to bid. The affected regional stations remained available to a smaller audience through cable, but they faced serious financial strains due to a loss of commercial revenues.

The government did not generally control the content of online media, which together with social media, served as an important alternative source of information and diverse political opinions. Online news outlets nevertheless continued to show increasing signs of influence by politically connected owners and advertisers. There were credible reports that both online and broadcast media were in the hands of a few government-affiliated individuals. Media company ownership was mostly nontransparent.

Violence and Harassment: There were several cases of violence and professional intimidation against journalists during the April 2 parliamentary and May 14 Yerevan municipal election campaigns. Investigations were underway into cases from 2016, when police targeted journalists covering public protests, subjected them to violence, and deliberately destroyed their professional equipment. Authorities did not charge any police officers with violence against journalists in those incidents. Media watchdog groups criticized the slow pace and ineffectiveness of investigations, despite the abundance of audio and video evidence of police violence. While in the country October 6, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir emphasized the need for safe working conditions for journalists.

During parliamentary and municipal elections, several cases of violence against reporters took place. On April 2, for example, RFE/RL reporter Sisak Gabrielyan was assaulted inside the campaign headquarters of ruling RPA candidate Hakob Beglaryan after he went inside and tried to film the premises, having noticed people leaving the headquarters with what appeared to be bribes. Later that day Araratnews journalist Shoghik Galstyan and Sisak Gabrielyan were assaulted near the same headquarters while making similar reporting efforts. Beglaryan’s supporters reportedly beat them and took away their video equipment. The SIS decided not to open an investigation into the incident involving Gabrielyan inside the campaign office, concluding that the reporter did not have a right to enter the building. Law enforcement officials also suggested that the money distributed inside the campaign office were salaries, not election bribes. The SIS, however, opened a criminal case in the second incident involving the Araratnews reporter. Authorities charged two individuals, Levon Gasparyan and Julieta Kokolyan, with using violence against the reporters and preventing them from performing their professional activity. As of year’s end, the case was pending in court.

On July 28, nine prominent media watchdog organizations publicly denounced the slow pace of official investigations into the abuse of journalists during a rally of persons who sympathized with the demands of the Sasna Tsrer armed group in July 2016. The nine organizations asserted police officers and civilians targeted 27 journalists and camera operators from various media outlets, that police used physical violence against 19 of them, and prevented eight others from performing their professional activity. The action also involved the deliberate damaging of the journalists’ photo and video equipment, seizure of memory cards, and destruction of video footage. While charges were brought against eight civilians, as of year’s end, authorities had not brought charges against any law enforcement officer involved in the action. Those identified by the public as having participated in the action included the head of security for national Chief of Police Vladimir Gasparyan and two of Gasparyan’s personal bodyguards. In December 2016 President Sargsyan awarded a medal to the national chief of the internal police troops, Levon Yeranosyan, who allegedly gave the order to disperse the protesters forcibly, for “excellent maintenance of public order.”

On September 28, Narine Avetisyan, the editor in chief of Lori television, was attacked while filming a video of asphalting work being carried out in a heavy rain. According to Avetisyan, Tigran Nazaryan, the head of the Shinpuls construction company doing the work, and his employees used violence to seize Avetisyan’s mobile telephone and throw her to the ground. According to Avetisyan, this was the fifth such incident against her, and in none of the previous cases had authorities brought the perpetrators to justice. Human rights NGOs and the ombudsperson’s office condemned the violence and demanded a prompt investigation. The Investigation Committee opened an investigation into the case.

In August 2016, more than a year after police beat and detained journalists while dispersing a peaceful 2015 protest in downtown Yerevan, the SIS announced it had charged four police officers, Davit Perikhanyan, Kostan Budaghyan, Tachat Noratunkyan, and Artur Ayvazyan, with obstructing the activities of four reporters. Media NGOs considered the charges inadequate, given that two dozen journalists had been affected by police abuse, which, they maintained, had been ordered by high-ranking police officials. On February 20, the court fined Budaghyan, Noratunkyan, and Ayvazyan 500,000 drams ($1,000) each but allowed them to continue holding law enforcement positions. Perikhanyan was fined 600,000 drams ($1,200) for deliberately damaging or destroying the property of others, causing serious damage; he subsequently lost an appeal of the decision.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media outlets, particularly broadcasters, feared reprisals for reports critical of the government. Such reprisals could include lawsuits, the threat of losing a broadcast license, selective tax investigation, or loss of revenue when advertisers learned an outlet was in disfavor with the government. Fear of retribution resulted in media self-censorship. The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) reported on July 10, “undue interference of media owners into editorial autonomy resulted in self-censorship of journalists and discouragement of critical reporting of the government, including on public television.”

Libel/Slander Laws: Shortly after the NGO Union of Informed Citizens (UIC) released recordings of school and kindergarten directors involved in campaigning for the RPA in March, the progovernment daily Iravunk published personal information available only to law enforcement agencies concerning Daniel Ionnisyan, the program director of the UIC, and his family. While the Investigative Committee initially opened a criminal case into the leak, it was later dismissed for failure to identify the alleged perpetrators. With public support from RPA representatives, 30 of the school and kindergarten directors implicated by the UIC report sued Ionnisyan for libel and defamation, asking two million drams ($4,000) each in damages. After significant support from civil society for Ionnisyan, the directors withdrew their suits in July.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Individuals and groups could generally engage in the expression of views via the internet, including by email. Some human rights activists and opposition party members claimed, however, that authorities monitored their email and other internet communications (see section 1.f.). On April 2, as voters went to the polls for a parliamentary election, unknown actors targeted some of the country’s leading independent media voices on social media. Four Twitter accounts subsequently were suspended after being flagged by their Russian-language profiles; the accounts owners also attempted to hijack the election’s hashtag to spread a fake letter about foreign involvement in the election. In addition, prominent academic and commentator Babken DerGrigorian reported two attempts to hack his Facebook account; Facebook allegedly informed him the attack was state sponsored.

The International Telecommunication Union estimated that 62 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The administration and student councils of the most prominent state universities were politicized and affiliated with the ruling RPA (see section 3). For example, President Serzh Sargsyan was the president of the Board of Trustees of Yerevan State University. Government ministers led, or were members of, the boards of trustees of other universities. According to human rights observers, student councils in most universities experienced various forms of pressure to support the interests of the university rather than those of the student body and to keep the student body focused on nonpolitical and less sensitive issues. Despite this political influence, most members of academia felt they were able to deliver openly content that could be construed as critical of political institutions and processes.

In July organizers of the Golden Apricot International Film Festival canceled the screening of two LGBTI-themed films after negative public reaction (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

On September 11, media reported that the Ministry of Culture had ordered the early closing of an exhibition, entitled “Eclipse,” at the House Museum of Tumanyan that was devoted to the victims of the political repressions in the country during the Stalin era. The closing created a significant reaction in society, to which the Ministry of Culture and other officials responded that the exhibition was too “political” and that it had not been “sanctioned” by the ministry.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. In some instances, the government restricted those freedoms.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly. While most political gatherings during the campaign prior to the April parliamentary elections took place without interference, some opposition party supporters reportedly were pressured not to attend opposition campaign rallies (see section 3). In some cases during the year, the government interfered in small-scale gatherings organized by civic activists.

On July 30, Human Rights Watch released a statement stating that, while it aggressively prosecuted protesters, the government failed to ensure full accountability for police violence during the largely peaceful antigovernment protests that took place in Yerevan in July 2016. At some protests, authorities used excessive force, assaulting many demonstrators as well as journalists reporting on events. Authorities arbitrarily detained protest leaders and hundreds of participants, pressing criminal charges against some. According to Human Rights Watch, authorities indicted at least 32 protesters, convicting 21 of them and sentencing 11 to prison terms, but it had not prosecuted any officials in connection with the violence.

From February 27 to March 6, civic activist Shahen Harutyunyan organized a sit-in protest at Yerevan’s Freedom Square demanding the release from pretrial detention of a supporter of the Sasna Tsrer armed group, Artur Sargsyan (see section 1.d.). According to the Helsinki Committee, police demanded that the participants end the protest, claiming the noise bothered residents of nearby buildings, although the number of protesters never exceeded 30 and there were no residential buildings in the vicinity. Harutyunyan told reporters police harassed the participants and their families, visiting their homes or taking them to police stations. Harutyunyan alleged that, in one case, a protest participant was forced to sign a document pledging he would no longer participate in the protest under the threat from the police that his mother would lose her job as a nurse in a local hospital.

On September 19, police detained the wife and three adult children of dual national Armenian-American citizen Garo Yegnukian, who was arrested in 2016 and was standing trial for alleged support of Sasna Tsrer. The family protested the detention of Yegnukian and Zhirayr Sefilyan, both prominent government critics and members of the Founding Parliament party. Police detained the four family members, as well as two other members of the Armenian Women’s Front Movement, in Republic Square in downtown Yerevan as they were distributing leaflets on the politically motivated arrests. Members of the U.S. Congress and other Armenian diaspora guests of the government-hosted Pan-Armenian Forum were staying at a hotel in Republic Square at the time. The detentions took place without a court order, ostensibly due to an anonymous report that the family had explosive materials. According to one family member, they were not searched for explosives until two and a half hours in police custody while their residence was also reportedly searched. Authorities released Yegnukian’s family members and the Armenian Women’s Front Movement representatives after detaining them for more than three hours, exceeding the legal period of detention without filing charges.

The Helsinki Committee, in a report covering its observation of 109 public assemblies between July 2016 and June 2017, noted police presence at most of the rallies was disproportionately high and that police used blanket restrictions to ban rallies or forcibly removed protesters from certain venues, such as in front of the president’s office, the prosecutor general’s office, the prison hospital, and the Russian embassy.

According to official sources, as of mid-December, the SIS had not laid charges or identified any suspects in connection with reported abuses of official authority by law enforcement officers during the July 2016 protests.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide this right, and the government generally respected it. Under the new Law on Public Organizations, in force since February 4, NGOs have legal standing to act on behalf of their beneficiaries in court that is limited to environmental issues and has other preconditions. The limitations contradict a 2010 Constitutional Court decision that allowed all NGOs to have legal standing on matters pertaining to their charter.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

Authorities cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: While there was no systematic discrimination reported against migrants or refugees, asylum seekers of African descent, or those who adhere to faiths other than the Armenian Apostolic Church, faced discrimination in acceptance of their asylum applications and were often detained when similar ethnic Armenian applicants were not.

During the year there were repeated reports of the detention of asylum seekers for illegal entry, in particular after crossing the highly guarded and fenced border with Turkey. Authorities continued to detain and sentence asylum seekers for illegal entry into the country after registering their asylum applications. Despite a provision in the law exempting asylum seekers from criminal liability for illegal border crossing, authorities required them to remain in detention pending the outcome of their asylum applications or to serve the remainder of their sentences. In November 2016, for example, two asylum seekers from Afghanistan, who were detained for illegal border crossing in 2015, were sentenced to three years in prison. The detention and conviction took place despite their having applied for asylum almost immediately after they were apprehended at the border and despite having a final decision on their asylum claims still pending as of July. According to UNHCR, due to their prolonged detention, both individuals developed severe physical and psychological health problems.

Foreign Travel: Citizens must obtain exit visas to leave the country on either a temporary or a permanent basis. Citizens could routinely purchase exit visas for temporary travel outside the country within one day of application for approximately 1,000 drams (two dollars) for each year of validity.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

As of 2016 according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, approximately 8,400 IDPs of the estimated 65,000 households evacuated in 1988-94 were still living in displacement. Some of the country’s IDPs and former refugees lacked adequate housing and had limited economic opportunities.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law takes into account specific needs of children, persons with mental disabilities and trauma survivors and allows detention centers to receive asylum applications. Refugees who were not ethnic Armenians needed three years of legal residence in the country to be naturalized.

According to UNHCR, while the overall quality of procedures and decision making for determination of refugee status improved over the last decade, concerns remained regarding adjudication of cases of asylum seekers of certain religious profiles. UNHCR continuously observed that security considerations permeated all aspects of the asylum procedure and implementation of refugee policies. UNHCR noted with concern the increasing influence of the NSS on asylum decision making by the State Migration Service (SMS) and cases of prolonged detention of non-Christian asylum seekers who had entered the country illegally. Nevertheless, during the year the SMS for the first time recognized refugees with LGBTI/gender-based claims, overruling a negative advisory by the NSS.

Shortcomings in asylum procedures included a lack of state funding for interpreters and the limited capacity of eligibility officers. In addition, court practices did not include an in-depth analysis of the material elements of asylum claims, a substantive review of SMS arguments, or any explicit referral to international standards. Despite recent developments in which judges requested that the NSS substantiate its advisories in two asylum cases, the courts ruled that even an unsubstantiated NSS position could serve as a basis to deny asylum.

Authorities offered ethnic Armenians from Syria who remained in the country a choice of protection options, including expedited naturalization, a residence permit, or refugee status. Quick naturalization gave persons displaced from Syria the same legal right to health care and most other social services as other citizens.

The increase in violence along the line of contact and the Armenia-Azerbaijan international border in April 2016 led to the displacement of civilians from villages close to the line of contact. Some of the displaced persons remained in Nagorno-Karabakh, while others entered Armenia seeking refuge. According to UNHCR, the overwhelming majority of displaced persons consisted of women, children, and elderly persons, primarily from the villages close to the line of contact. UNHCR estimated the total number of displaced persons at approximately 2,300 at the peak of displacement, with approximately 570 of those remaining in the country as of January.

Access to Basic Services: Conditions in the only reception center for asylum seekers were substandard and did not address the needs of persons with disabilities. Housing allocated to refugees was often in limited supply and in poor condition and remained, along with employment, their greatest concern. Many displaced families relied on a rental subsidy program supported by UNHCR and diaspora organizations. In 2015 authorities opened an integration house with places for 29 refugees and offered refugees accommodation free of charge during the first months after they acquired refugee status. Language differences with Syrian-Armenian refugees who spoke a different dialect created barriers to employment and, initially, education.

Durable Solutions: In July 2016 the government adopted a concept document outlining its goals concerning the integration of persons granted asylum and refugee status as well as of long-term migrants. According to UNHCR, while in principle a welcome step to enhance the legal framework for the protection of refugees, the concept did not cover Syrians who had obtained Armenian citizenship, thus excluding from the provision of services the majority of displaced Syrians who had arrived in country since the beginning of the conflict. The concept also did not address critical aspects of integration, such as language needs and access to education.

While the government approved an initial concept on local integration, full implementation was pending due to lack of state funds. NGOs partially filled the gap with UNHCR and international donor funding.

The amended constitution and the electoral code grant refugees and certain other persons residing in the country the right to participate in local elections if they have resided in the community for at least one year prior to the election. UNHCR and its NGO partners raised awareness among refugees of this provision and encouraged displaced communities to make use of their political rights, in particular during the Yerevan municipal elections held in May.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to the Police Passport and Visas Department, the number of stateless persons has grown from 185 in 2015 to 490 persons as of July. The increase was believed to be related to the rising number of citizens renouncing their citizenship with the aim of obtaining citizenship elsewhere, particularly in the Russian Federation. In addition, authorities considered approximately 1,400 refugees from Azerbaijan to be stateless as of July.

The law provides for the provision of Armenian nationality to stateless children born on the country’s territory.

Australia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Although the constitution does not explicitly provide for freedom of speech or press, the High Court has held that the constitution implies a right to freedom of expression, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was widely available to and used by citizens.

Law enforcement agencies require a warrant to intercept telecommunications, including internet communications.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) maintained a list of “refused classification” website content, primarily pertaining to child pornography, sexual violence, and other activities illegal in the country, compiled through a consumer complaints process. The ACMA may issue a notice to the internet service provider to remove domestically hosted “refused classification” material, or links to such material, that is the subject of a complaint if an investigation concludes the complaint is justified. The list is available to providers of filtering software. An owner or operator of such a website can appeal an ACMA decision to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, an executive body that reviews administrative decisions by government entities.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Although the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association are not codified in law, the government generally respected these rights.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In April Senate Standing Committees released findings from a seven-month inquiry into allegations of serious abuse in the detention centers on Manus Island and Nauru. The inquiry documented evidence that asylum seekers were exposed to physical violence, sexual assault, medical neglect leading to death, and collected “indisputable” evidence of corresponding widespread mental health problems that led to self-harm. Members of parliament on the committee dismissed the report as “politically motivated.”

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: In February the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that immigration authorities in Australia and offshore detention centers forcibly deported refugees and asylum seekers and employed intimidation tactics so that detainees would voluntarily choose to return to their countries of origin. There were no reports of persecution or torture for returned refugees or asylum seekers, but NGOs and UNHCR believe it to be a possibility.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status. The government maintains a humanitarian refugee program that includes several types of visas available to refugees for resettlement in the country. UNHCR identifies and refers the majority of applicants considered under the program.

The law authorizes the immigration minister to designate a country as a regional offshore processing center. Parliament must be notified and then has five days to reject the proposed designation. Asylum seekers transferred to third countries for regional processing have their asylum claims assessed by the country in which the claim is processed. Per this law, in 2013 the government entered into Regional Resettlement Arrangements with Papua New Guinea and Nauru to send all unauthorized maritime arrivals to those countries for assessment and resettlement of those found to be refugees.

Processing of asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru has applied to unauthorized maritime arrivals seeking asylum since July 19, 2013. In some cases, unauthorized arrivals determined not to be refugees that made it to Christmas Island, a small Australian island approximately 300 miles south of Jakarta, were sent to Sri Lanka with the cooperation of the Sri Lankan government. Authorities also occasionally forced intercepted boats carrying smuggled persons back into the territorial waters of their country of embarkation when safe to do so.

In addition to the asylum seekers being processed out of country, as of December 2016, 29,590 asylum seekers were living in country while authorities processed their cases.

By law the government must facilitate access to legal representation for persons in immigration detention. Access to government-funded legal assistance is available only to those that arrived through authorized channels.

In July Immigration Minister Peter Dutton stated that no refugee in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, including persons with close family ties to Australia, would be resettled in Australia. Representatives from UNHCR accused the Australian Government of breaking its promise to accept refugees with close family ties.

In April 2016 the supreme court of Papua New Guinea ruled that the Manus Island regional processing center was illegal and unconstitutional. In May 2017 immigration officials began notifying asylum seekers that parts of the center will begin closing down. Also in May the Australian Immigration Minister stated that the center would be shut down entirely by the end of October and the remaining asylum seekers moved to transit centers in Lorengau or transferred to Nauru. In August hundreds of asylum seekers protested their planned eviction from the regional processing center. There were no plans to shut down the center in Nauru. A number of asylum seekers were granted refugee status by the governments of Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement from third countries and funded refugee resettlement services. The Humanitarian Settlement Services program provided case-specific assistance that included finding accommodation, employment programs, language training, registering for income support and health care, and connecting with community and recreational programs.

Temporary Protection: The law permits issuance of three-year temporary protection visas (TPV) for asylum seekers who arrived between August 13, 2012 and December 31, 2013 and introduced a “fast-track” assessment process for those who arrived during this period. It also establishes a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) that enables TPV holders to apply for five-year visas to work in non-metropolitan areas. After holding a SHEV for three and a half years, an applicant is eligible to apply for other onshore visas, such as a permanent skilled visa.

Austria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and the press.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and imposes criminal penalties for violations. The government strictly enforced these laws. In January a court in Vienna convicted a 78-year-old man who had called women wearing burkas “garbage bags” on his website to a five-month suspended prison sentence on charges of incitement (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism).

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. A significant curb on media freedom is that the law prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print media, broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers or journals, and provides criminal penalties for violations. The government strictly enforced these laws (see section 6, Anti-Semitism).

Libel/Slander Laws: Strict libel and slander laws created conditions that discouraged reporting of governmental abuse. For example, many observers believed the ability and willingness of police to sue for libel or slander discouraged individuals from reporting police abuses.

INTERNET FREEDOM

With limited exceptions, the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities continued to restrict access to websites containing information that violated the law, such as neo-Nazi sites. The law barring neo-Nazi activity provides for one- to 10-year prison sentences for public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of National Socialist crimes. The criminal code provision on incitement provides for prison sentences of up to five years. Authorities restricted access to prohibited websites by trying to shut them down and by forbidding the country’s internet service providers from carrying them.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 84 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

Abuses of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In rare cases, authorities detained unsuccessful applicants for asylum pending deportation. Some NGOs criticized the government for protracted detention in such cases. The government provided free legal counsel for persons awaiting deportation.

In-country Movement: Asylum seekers’ freedom of movement was restricted to the district of the reception center where authorities assigned them for the duration of their initial application process until the country’s responsibility for examining the application was determined. By law, asylum seekers must be physically present in the centers of first reception for up to 120 hours during the initial application process. Authorities have 20 days in which to determine the country’s responsibility and jurisdiction for the case.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

The number of asylum applications dropped further during the year, after they had already decreased significantly in 2016 compared with a record high in 2015. According to the Interior Ministry, between January and August, there were 17,095 asylum applications.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: EU regulations provide that asylum seekers who transit an EU country determined to be “safe” on their way to Austria be returned to that country to apply for refugee status. Authorities considered signatories to the 1951 refugee convention and its 1967 protocol to be safe countries of transit. In response to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights and recommendations of the UN special rapporteur on torture, the government in 2011 effectively halted the return of asylum seekers to Greece, but resumed returns to Greece in August. This practice remained in effect during the year. The Federal Administrative Court ruled that deportations to Hungary would also have to be examined on an individual basis due to the possibility of human rights abuses there.

Employment: While asylum seekers are legally restricted from seeking regular employment, they are eligible for seasonal employment, low-paying community service jobs, or professional training in sectors that require additional apprentices. A work permit is required for seasonal employment but not for professional training. An employer must request the work permit for the employee.

Durable Solutions: There are provisions for integration, resettlement, and returns, which the country was cooperating with UNHCR and other organizations to improve. The integration section in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Integration, together with the Integration Fund and provincial and local integration offices, coordinate measures for integration of refugees. The country has a resettlement program in place for Syrian refugees. The country has bilateral agreements with several countries on implementing the return of rejected asylum seekers.

Temporary Protection: According to the Interior Ministry, in 2016 the government provided temporary protection to 3,451 individuals who might not qualify as refugees but were unable to return to their home countries. According to the Interior Ministry, between January and August, the government provided temporary protection to 4,990 individuals.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to the government’s statistical office, in January there were 13,219 persons in the country registered as stateless; that is, having undocumented or unclear citizenship. Stateless persons in the country were largely Austrian-born children of foreign nationals who were unable to acquire citizenship through their parents due to the laws in their parents’ country of origin. Authorities did not deport them because they lacked a home country. The law allows some stateless persons to gain nationality. A stateless person born in the country may be granted citizenship within two years of reaching age 18 if he or she has lived in the country for a total of 10 years, including five years continuously before application, and is able to demonstrate sufficient income. Stateless persons could receive temporary residence and work permits that must be renewed annually.

Azerbaijan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

While the law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and specifically prohibits press censorship, the government habitually violated these rights. The government limited freedom of expression and media independence. Journalists faced intimidation and at times were beaten and imprisoned. Human rights defenders considered at least 10 journalists and bloggers to be political prisoners or detainees as of year’s end. During the year authorities continued to pressure media, journalists in the country and in exile, and their relatives.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution provides for freedom of expression, but the government continued to repress persons it considered political opponents. The incarceration of such persons raised concerns about authorities’ abuse of the judicial system to punish dissent. In a September joint report, three NGOs stated, “Azerbaijan continues to use its legal and criminal justice system to keep tight control over public space and silent critical voices.” The constitution prohibits hate speech, defined as “propaganda provoking racial, national, religious, and social discord and animosity,” as well as “hostility and other criteria.”

In addition to the case of Mehman Huseynov (see section 1.c.), incarcerations included Afgan Mukhtarli, a freelance journalist and activist living in exile in Georgia, who was reportedly abducted from Georgia May 29, forcibly rendered to Azerbaijan (see section 5), and immediately arrested. Authorities charged Mukhtarli with illegally crossing the border, smuggling, and resistance to law enforcement activities (see the Country Reports on Human Rights for Georgia).

Immediately following Mukhtarli’s arrest in Azerbaijan, the heads of Georgia’s and Azerbaijan’s security services claimed Mukhtarli had voluntarily crossed the border into Azerbaijan. Mukhtarli, his wife, and other Azerbaijani activists and journalists disputed this claim. His lawyers stated he was physically abused while in detention (see section 1.c.).

A number of other incarcerations were widely viewed as related to freedom of expression. For example, on June 16, the court convicted Popular Front Party activist Fuad Ahmadli of allegedly illegally disclosing private client information of a mobile operator. On July 24, Faig Amirli, the financial director of opposition newspaper Azadliq, who was also the assistant to Popular Front Party chair Ali Kerimli, was sentenced to three years and three months and fined 39,000 manat ($22,800) for alleged tax evasion. While upholding Amirli’s conviction, the court ordered his conditional release from confinement at his September 15 appeal hearing. In 2016 Ahmadli and Amirli, despite their secular orientation, were arrested for alleged ties with Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accused of organizing the failed coup attempt in that country.

In addition to imprisonment, the government attempted to impede criticism through other measures. For example, in early October authorities reportedly granted N!DA activist Ulvi Hasanli a medical exemption from mandatory military service until 2019, but later that month they removed the exemption and forcibly conscripted him. In an example of other methods of intimidation, following a public discussion on October 15, activists reported approximately 40 uniformed and plainclothes police prevented a press conference to discuss political prisoners in the country.

Press and Media Freedom: A number of opposition and independent print and online media outlets expressed a wide variety of views on government policies, but authorities penalized them in various ways for doing so.

Human rights defenders considered at least 10 journalists and bloggers and two writers or poets to be political prisoners or detainees as of year’s end. Authorities continued exerting pressure on leading media rights organizations.

Foreign media outlets, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and the BBC, remained prohibited from broadcasting on FM radio frequencies, although the Russian service Sputnik was allowed to broadcast news on a local radio network.

Following the 2016 halt of the newspaper Azadliq’s print edition after the arrest of its financial director, no significant opposition publications remained in the country.

On May 12, in response to a suit brought by the Ministry of Transportation, Communication, and High Technologies, the Sabayil District Court blocked access to the Azerbaijani-language versions of RFE/RL and other independent media outlets, including the websites of AzadliqAzerbaycan SaatiMeydan TV, and Turan.

During the year authorities continued pressure on independent media outlets outside the country and those individuals associated with them in the country. In high-profile examples, authorities continued the criminal case against Meydan TV initiated in 2015. Prosecutors combined the criminal cases against Afgan Mukhtarli and Meydan TV.

Violence and Harassment: Local observers reported journalists from independent media outlets were subject to physical and cyberattacks during the year. The attacks mainly targeted journalists from Radio LibertyAzadliq and other newspapers, Meydan TV, and Obyektiv Television.

Activists said impunity for assaults against journalists remained a problem and that the majority of physical attacks on journalists were not effectively investigated and went unsolved. There were no indications authorities held police officers accountable for physical assaults on journalists in prior years.

Journalists and media rights leaders continued to call for full accountability for the 2015 beating and death of journalist and IRFS chairman Rasim Aliyev, who reported receiving threatening messages three weeks earlier; the 2011 killing of journalist Rafiq Tagi, against whom Iranian cleric Grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani issued a fatwa; and the 2005 killing of independent editor and journalist Elmar Huseynov.

Lawsuits suspected of being politically motivated were used to intimidate journalists and media outlets. In one example, the Ministry of Taxation opened a criminal case against the Turan Information Agency in August. On August 24, authorities detained the director of the agency, Mehman Aliyev, conditionally releasing him on September 11. On November 2, the charges against Turan apparently were dropped.

The majority of independent and opposition media outlets remained in a precarious financial situation and experienced problems paying wages, taxes, and periodic court fines. Most relied on political parties, influential sponsors, or the State Media Fund for financing.

The government continued to prohibit some state libraries from subscribing to opposition and independent newspapers, prevented state businesses from buying advertising in opposition newspapers, and put pressure on private businesses not to advertise in them. As a result, paid advertising was largely absent in opposition and independent media. Political commentators noted these practices reduced the wages that opposition and independent outlets could pay to their journalists, which allowed progovernment outlets to hire away quality staff. In addition, international media-monitoring reports indicated that intimidation by Ministry of Taxation authorities further limited the independence of the media.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most media practiced self-censorship and avoided topics considered politically sensitive due to fear of government retaliation. The National Radio and Television Council required that local, privately owned television and radio stations not rebroadcast complete news programs of foreign origin.

During the year authorities did not return work confiscated in June 2016 from the Ganun Publishing House in Baku. At the time, civil society activists reported authorities raided the publishing house after it printed posters advocating the release of imprisoned head of the REAL democratic movement, Ilgar Mammadov. The director of the publishing house, Shahbaz Khuduoghlu, reported police took some published materials and printing molds from the office.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are criminal offenses and cover written and verbal statements. The law provides for large fines and up to three years’ imprisonment for persons convicted of libel or slander. On May 31, the law was amended increasing the fine for libel from 100 to 1,000 manat ($58 to $580) to 1,000 to 1,500 manat ($580 to $875). The fine for slander was increased from 300 to 1,000 manat ($175 to $580) to 1,000 to 2,000 manat ($580 to $1,170). The law was also amended so that insulting the president could no longer be punished by fines, leaving only punishment of up to two years’ corrective labor or up to three years’ imprisonment.

Libel laws were employed against journalists. For example, on March 3, a Baku city court sentenced blogger Mehman Huseynov to two years’ imprisonment for libel after publicly stating he was tortured by police.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The websites of Voice of America, RFE/RL, and Germany-based media outlet Meydan TV were blocked at the beginning of the year, reportedly on the orders of government authorities. On May 12, at the request of the Ministry of Transportation, Communication, and High Technologies, the Sabayil District Court blocked access to the Azerbaijani-language version of RFE/RL and other independent media outlets, including the websites of AzadliqAzerbaycan SaatiMeydan TV, and Turan.

On May 2, Aziz Orucov, director of the internet television station Kanal 13, was arrested and sentenced to administrative detention. The General Prosecutor’s Office subsequently opened a criminal case against Orucov for alleged tax evasion and abuse of office. On December 15, a court convicted Orucov of these charges and sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment

The government also required internet service providers to be licensed and to have formal agreements with the Ministry of Transportation, Communications, and High Technologies. The law imposes criminal penalties for conviction of libel and insult on the internet.

There were strong indications the government monitored the internet communications of democracy activists. For example, members of the Popular Front Party reported being harassed by police and forced to delete critical Facebook posts under threat of physical abuse. During the year youth activists were questioned, detained, and frequently sentenced to administrative detention for posting criticism of government corruption and commenting on human rights abuses online.

The Freedom House annual Freedom on the Net report, covering the period from June 2016 through May 2017, stated, “Internet freedom declined in Azerbaijan in the past year” and that “the space for free expression online continued to shrink.” The report also noted that, while in previous years the government refrained from extensive blocking, the past year saw more website restrictions.

According to International Telecommunication Union statistics, approximately 78 percent of the country’s population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government on occasion restricted academic freedom. Opposition party members reported difficulty finding teaching jobs at schools and universities.

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government severely restricted freedom of peaceful assembly. Authorities at times responded to peaceful protests and assemblies by using force and detaining protesters. The law permits administrative detention for up to three months for misdemeanors and up to one month for resisting police. Punishment for those who fail to follow a court order (including failure to pay a fine) may include fines of 500 to 1,000 manat ($290 to $580) and punishment of up to one month of administrative detention.

While the constitution stipulates that groups may peacefully assemble after notifying the relevant government body in advance, the government continued to interpret this provision as a requirement for prior permission. Local authorities required all rallies to be preapproved and held at designated locations. Most political parties and NGOs found the requirements unacceptable and unconstitutional. Authorities throughout the country routinely ignored applications for public rallies, effectively denying the freedom to assemble.

As modified by the September 2016 referendum, the constitution provides that public gatherings not disrupt “public order and public morals.” The Venice Commission’s September 2016 preliminary opinion on the proposed constitutional amendments noted it is “almost inevitable” that peaceful gatherings may disrupt public order (for example, by disturbing traffic) or disturb someone’s views on morality and yet be permissible under the European Convention on Human Rights. The commission concluded, “The State should allow such gatherings and even facilitate them provided that those disturbances are not excessive and help convey the message of the public event.”

Activists reported police harassed and/or detained approximately 200 persons before, during, and after authorized rallies on September 28, October 7, and October 28 against corruption and the situation of political prisoners in the country. The courts sentenced 15 opposition activists to administrative detention ranging from 10 to 30 days, allegedly for resisting police. Activists and media reported individuals were fired by the Ministries of Education and Health and informed the reason for their termination was participation in the opposition rallies. Party representatives stated the government approved the rallies to pantomime freedom of assembly for a Western audience but punished participants to send the message to the populace that public dissent would not be tolerated.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the law places some restrictions on this right, and amendments enacted during 2014 severely constrained NGO activities. Citing these amended laws, authorities conducted numerous criminal investigations into the activities of independent organizations, froze bank accounts, and harassed local staff, including incarcerating and placing travel bans on some NGO leaders. Consequently, a number of NGOs were unable to operate.

A number of legal provisions allow the government to regulate the activities of political parties, religious groups, businesses, and NGOs, including requiring NGOs to register with the Ministry of Justice if they seek “legal personality” status. Although the law requires the government to act on NGO registration applications within 30 days of receipt (or within an additional 30 days, if further investigation is required), vague, onerous, and nontransparent registration procedures continued to result in long delays that limited citizens’ right to associate. Other laws restrict freedom of association, for example, by requiring deputy heads of NGO branches to be citizens if the branch head is a foreigner. Authorities routinely rejected the registration applications of NGOs whose names contained the words “human rights,” “democracy,” “institute,” and “society.”

Laws affecting grants and donations imposed a de facto prohibition on NGOs receiving cash donations and made it nearly impossible for them to receive anonymous donations or to solicit contributions from the public.

In 2014 the president approved a number of amendments to the administrative code and the laws on NGOs, grants, and registration of legal entities that imposed additional restrictions on NGO activities and closed several loopholes for the operations of unregistered, independent, and foreign organizations. The legislation also introduced some restrictions for donors. For example, foreign donors were required to obtain preapproval before signing grant agreements with recipients. The laws make unregistered and foreign NGOs vulnerable to involuntary dissolution, intimidated and dissuaded potential activists and donors from joining and supporting civil society organizations, and restricted their ability to provide grants to unregistered local groups or individual heads of such organizations.

In January the Cabinet of Ministers issued new regulations for establishing a “Single Window” mechanism to streamline the grant registration process. According to the new procedures, obtaining grant registration processes for multiple agencies were merged. The new procedures were not fully implemented, however, further reducing the number of operating NGOs.

Based on extensive authority provided in the 2014 amendments, the Ministry of Justice adopted new rules on monitoring NGO activities in February 2016. The rules authorize the ministry to conduct inspections of NGOs, with few provisions protecting the rights of NGOs and the potential of harsh fines if they do not cooperate.

The far-reaching investigation opened by the Prosecutor’s Office in 2014 into the activities of numerous domestic and international NGOs and local leadership continued during the year. As a result, a number of NGOs were unable to operate, the bank accounts of several NGOs remained frozen, and some NGO leaders were still banned from leaving the country.

The government continued to implement rules pursuant to a law that requires foreign NGOs wishing to operate in the country to sign an agreement and register with the Ministry of Justice. Foreign NGOs wishing to register a branch in the country are required to demonstrate they support “the Azerbaijani people’s national and cultural values” and commit not to be involved in religious and political propaganda. The decree does not specify any time limit for the registration procedure and effectively allows for unlimited discretion of the government to decide whether to register a foreign NGO. As of year’s end, no foreign NGOs had been able to register under these rules.

NGO representatives stated the Ministry of Justice did not act on submitted applications. Some experts estimated up to 1,000 NGOs remained unregistered.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected many of these rights but continued its practice of limiting freedom of movement for at least 20 opposition figures, activists, and journalists.

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

Foreign Travel: Authorities continued to prevent a number of opposition figures, activists, and journalists from traveling outside the country. Examples included Popular Front Party chairman Ali Kerimli (banned from traveling since 2006), investigative journalist and activist Khadija Ismayilova, lawyers Intigam Aliyev and Asabali Mustafayev, and at least 15 freelance journalists who filed material with Meydan TV. Authorities lifted the travel ban on opposition REAL executive secretary Natig Jafarli after the prosecution dropped a criminal case for tax evasion and abuse of office against him on August 28; a travel ban remained on REAL board member Azer Gasimli.

The law requires men of draft age to register with military authorities before traveling abroad. Authorities placed some travel restrictions on military personnel with access to national security information. Citizens charged with or convicted of criminal offenses but given suspended sentences also were not permitted to travel abroad.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

UNHCR reported 612,785 registered IDPs in the country, including persons in IDP-like situations, as of year’s end. The vast majority fled their homes between 1988 and 1993 as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

IDPs were initially required to register their places of residence with authorities and could live only in approved areas. This “propiska” registration system, which formally ceased to exist after the breakup of the Soviet Union, was enforced mainly against persons who were forced from their homes after separatists, with Armenia’s support, took control of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. The government asserted that registration was needed to keep track of IDPs to assist them.

Significant numbers of IDPs remained in overcrowded collective centers, where they reported feeling socially marginalized and faced limited employment opportunities and high rates of poverty. The law requires IDPs to register in the districts where they reside, and registration is necessary to obtain IDP status. Temporary registration where IDPs reside does not restrict migration within the country.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to some refugees through the Refugee Status Determination Department at the State Migration Service, which is responsible for all refugee matters. Although UNHCR noted some improvements, the country’s refugee-status determination system did not meet international standards. International NGOs continued to report the service remained inefficient and did not operate transparently.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: According to UNHCR, the country did not allow Russian citizens who fled the conflict in Chechnya access to the national asylum procedure. UNHCR noted, however, that the country tolerated the presence of Chechen asylum seekers and accepted UNHCR’s role in providing for their protection and humanitarian needs.

Access to Basic Services: The estimated 1,193 refugees in the country lacked access to social services. The Ministry of Education reported that 88,019 IDP students studied in 598 schools relocated from occupied regions across 34 regions of the country during the 2016-17 academic year. Many IDP and refugee children also enrolled at ordinary schools in numerous regions throughout the country.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR statistics, there were 3,585 persons in the country under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate at the end of 2016, the most recent year for which data was available. According to the State Migration Service, 573 foreigners and stateless persons were granted citizenship in 2017. The vast majority of stateless persons were ethnic Azerbaijanis from Georgia or Iran. NGOs stated there were many other undocumented stateless persons, with estimates ranging from hundreds to tens of thousands.

While the law provides for the right to apply for stateless status, some persons could not obtain the documentation required for the application and therefore remained formally unrecognized. The law on citizenship makes it difficult for foreigners and stateless persons to obtain citizenship.

For the most part, stateless persons enjoyed freedom of movement. The law permits stateless persons access to basic rights, such as access to health care and employment. Nevertheless, their lack of legal status at times hindered their access to these rights.

Amendments to the constitution adopted by referendum in September 2016 allow citizenship to be removed “as provided by law.” Previously, the constitution explicitly prohibited the loss of citizenship. As of September 2017, the government had stripped 151 persons of citizenship for their alleged affiliation with terrorist organizations.

Bahrain

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, “provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord and sectarianism are not aroused.” The government limited freedom of speech and press through active prosecution of individuals under libel, slander, and national security laws that targeted citizen and professional journalists and by passing legislation to limit speech in print and social media.

Freedom of Expression: The law forbids any speech that infringes on public order or morals. While individuals openly expressed critical opinions regarding domestic political and social issues in private settings, those who publicly expressed such opinions often faced repercussions. During the year the government took steps against what it considered acts of civil disobedience, which included critical speech, under charges of unlawful assembly or “insulting the king.” The penal code allows penalties for conviction of no less than one year and no more than seven years’ imprisonment, plus a fine, for anyone who “offends the monarch of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the flag, or the national emblem.” The government charged two persons with “insulting the king” during the year. Additionally, the government charged or convicted four individuals for “insulting a government institution.” There were 32 cases of “inciting hatred against a religious sect” and 1,017 cases of misuse of a telecommunications device.

In 2016 police arrested BCHR President Nabeel Rajab for tweets released in 2015 criticizing the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen and treatment of prisoners in Jaw Prison. His trial began in July 2016 and continued as of December. A separate trial began January 23 for a second set of charges, spreading false information and malicious rumors. The charges in the second case alleged he provided two television “foreign interviews” to foreign press in 2015 in which he defamed Bahrain. On July 10, although present for some portions of his trial, the Lower Criminal Court convicted Rajab in absentia for his foreign interviews and sentenced him to two years in prison; on September 28, an appeal of the conviction was heard before the Court of Appeals. On November 22, a judge denied Rajab’s appeal in the interviews case. Rajab’s final appeal to the Court of Cassation, the country’s highest court, was scheduled to begin January 15. His “tweets” case continued as of year’s end, with the next session also scheduled for January 15.

Press and Media Freedom: The government did not own any print media, but the Ministry of Information Affairs and other government entities exercised considerable control over privately owned domestic print media.

The government owned and operated all domestic radio and television stations. Audiences generally received radio and television broadcasts in Arabic, Farsi, and English from countries in the region, including by satellite, without interference. The ministry reviewed all books and publications prior to issuing printing licenses. The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs reviewed books that discussed religion.

On June 4, the Ministry of Information Affairs ordered the indefinite suspension of the only independent newspaper operating in the country, al-Wasat. The government accused it of publishing content “offensive to a sisterly Arab state” when it covered protests in Morocco. On June 26, the newspaper’s board of directors issued a letter terminating the contracts of its approximately 160 employees.

On January 7, journalist Faisal Hayyat, a video blogger, was released after serving three months in prison for conviction of posting an allegedly defamatory tweet against an Islamic religious figure. Security forces summoned him again for questioning on April 23 for charges related to the Diraz protests. He was released and banned from international travel while his case remained under investigation.

Violence and Harassment: According to local journalists, authorities sometimes harassed, arrested, or threatened journalists and photographers due to their reporting. Authorities claimed, however, that some individuals who identified themselves as journalists and photographers were associated with violent opposition groups and produced propaganda and recruiting videos for these groups. International media representatives reported difficulty in obtaining visas to work as journalists. The government brought criminal complaints against journalists who worked without accreditation. The government arrested or deported individuals engaged in journalism that were in the country on other types of visas.

On March 22, CID detained and questioned Agence France Presse photographer Mohammed al-Sheikh at Bahrain Airport, then released him without charge the same day.

On May 25, the government refused for the second time renewal of Nazeha Saeed’s permit as an independent journalist for France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo and fined her 1,000 dinars ($2,650). The ministry did not give a reason for its decision, nor was recourse available.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government censorship occurred. Ministry of Information Affairs personnel actively monitored and blocked stories on matters deemed sensitive, especially those related to sectarianism, national security, or criticism of the royal family, the Saudi royal family, or the judiciary. Journalists widely practiced self-censorship. Some members of media reported government officials contacted editors directly and told them to stop publishing articles, press releases, or stories on certain subjects.

The press and publications law prohibits anti-Islamic content in media and mandates imprisonment for “exposing the state’s official religion to offense and criticism.” The law states, “Any publication that prejudices the ruling system of the country and its official religion can be banned from publication by a ministerial order.”

Libel/Slander Laws: The government enforced libel and national security-related laws restricting freedom of the press. The penal code prohibits libel, slander, and “divulging secrets”; and it stipulates a punishment for conviction of imprisonment for no more than two years or a fine of no more than 200 dinars ($540). Application of the slander law was selective. The Ministry of Interior reported the government fined or imprisoned 88 individuals for “slander,” “libel,” or “divulging secrets” between January and September.

National Security: National security-related law provides for fines up to 10,000 dinars ($27,000) and prison sentences of at least six months for criticizing the king or inciting actions that undermine state security, as well as fines of up to 2,000 dinars ($5,400) for 14 related offenses. Punishable activities include publicizing statements issued by a foreign state or organization before obtaining ministry approval, publishing any reports that may adversely affect the dinar’s value, reporting any offense against a head of a state that maintains diplomatic relations with the country, and publishing offensive remarks concerning an accredited representative of a foreign country due to acts connected with the person’s position.

INTERNET FREEDOM

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 98 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016. The government blocked some websites from being accessed from inside the country, including some opposition-linked websites. After the government cut relations with Qatar in June, it blocked Qatari news websites such as al-Jazeeraal-Sharq, and Raya. The government restricted internet freedom and monitored individuals’ online activities, including via social media, leading to degradation of internet and mobile phone services for some neighborhoods and to legal action against some internet users. The government sentenced several journalists and bloggers arrested in 2016-17 to prison for social media postings.

Political and human rights activists reported being interrogated by security forces regarding their postings on social media. They sometimes reported repeated interrogations that included threats against their physical safety and that of their families, threats against their livelihood, and threats of denial of social services like housing and education. Several activists reported shutting down or deciding to cease posting to their social media accounts because of the threats.

Opposition leader Ebrahim Sharif was interrogated on January 15 for using Twitter to criticize the government’s execution of three Shia citizens that same day, and on March 20, he was charged with “inciting hatred against the regime” for a series of tweets critical of the government, including one questioning the dissolution of political societies. Sharif believed he remained under an active international travel ban.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Some academics engaged in self-censorship, avoiding discussion of contentious political issues.

Human rights advocates claimed government officials unfairly distributed university scholarships and were biased against Shia students, for both political and religious reasons, when admitting students into certain programs. In 2011 the government instituted interviews into the university selection process, partially to correct for grade inflation, as there is no national standardized test to account for different grading practices across secondary schools; however, students reported authorities questioned them on their political beliefs and those of their families during interviews. The government maintained it distributed all scholarships and made all placements based on merit.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the right of free assembly, but a number of laws restrict the exercise of this right. The Ministry of Interior maintained a prohibition on public demonstrations, stating the purpose was to maintain public order in view of recent sectarian attacks in the region and that the ban was expected to be temporary in nature. Prior to the ban, the government limited and controlled political gatherings, and activists reported the government denied permits for organized demonstrations by refusing to accept application paperwork. For the third year, there were no authorized demonstrations, although the ministry generally did not intervene in peaceful, unauthorized demonstrations. For the second year in a row, the government declined to issue permits for a “May Day” rally in support of workers’ rights. The permit would have allowed public assembly of the thousands of members of the more than 45 trade unions affiliated with the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU).

The law outlines the locations and times during which it prohibits functions, including areas close to hospitals, airports, commercial locations, security-related facilities, and downtown Manama. The General Directorate of the Police may prevent a public meeting if it violates security, public order, or for any other serious reason. The law states mourners may not turn funeral processions into political rallies, and that security officials may be present at any public gathering.

The law states every public gathering shall have a committee consisting of a head and at least two members. The committee is responsible for supervising and preventing any illegal acts during the function. According to the law, the Ministry of Interior is not obligated to justify why it approves or denies requests to allow protests. The penal code penalizes any gathering “of five or more individuals” that is held for the “purpose of committing crimes or inciting others to commit crimes.” Lawyers asserted authorities should not prevent demonstrations in advance based on assumptions crimes would be committed. Authorities prohibited the use of vehicles in any demonstration, protest, or gathering unless organizers obtained special written permission from the head of public security.

Organizers of an unauthorized gathering faced prison sentences of three to six months. The minimum sentence for conviction of participating in an illegal gathering is one month, and the maximum is two years’ imprisonment. Authorities gave longer sentences for cases where demonstrators used violence in an illegal gathering. The maximum fine is 200 dinars ($540). The law regulates election campaigning and prohibits political activities at worship centers, universities, schools, government buildings, and public institutions. The government did not allow individuals to use mosques, maatams (Shia religious community centers), or other religious sites for political gatherings.

Police continued to summon individuals for questioning over their participation in unauthorized gatherings, including protests in Diraz. The government interrogated dozens of individuals, including Shia clerics, for their participation in the protest, which began after the government revoked Sheikh Isa Qassim’s citizenship in June 2016 and ended when police broke up the protests with force on May 23. Those charged with “illegal gathering” during the year included senior defense attorney Abdulnabi al-Ekry; Wa’ad political society founder Ibrahim Sharif, Fareeda Ghulam; Eras Oun, Fatima al-Halwachi; and Adam Rajab, son of imprisoned activists Nabeel Rajab. Many of those who reported being questioned said they remained under a government-imposed “international travel ban.”

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government limited this right. The government required all groups to register: civil society groups and labor unions with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development and political societies with the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs. The government decided whether a group was social or political in nature, based on its proposed bylaws. The law prohibits any activity by an unlicensed society, as well as any political activity by a licensed civil society group. A number of unlicensed societies were active in the country (see section 3).

A civil society group applying for registration must submit its bylaws signed by all founding members, together with minutes of the founding committee’s meetings containing the names, professions, places of residence, and signatures of all founding members. The law grants the Ministry of Labor and Social Development the right to reject the registration of any civil society group if it finds the society’s services unnecessary, already provided by another society, contrary to state security, or aimed at reviving a previously dissolved society. Associations whose applications authorities rejected or ignored may appeal to the High Civil Court, which may annul the ministry’s decision or refuse the appeal.

Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society activists asserted the ministry routinely exploited its oversight role to stymie the activities of NGOs and other civil society organizations. While some local NGOs asserted bureaucratic incompetence characterized the ministry’s dealings with NGOs, many others stated officials actively sought to undermine some groups’ activities and imposed burdensome bureaucratic procedures on NGO board members and volunteers. The Ministries of Justice and Interior must vet funding from international sources, and authorities sometimes did not authorize it. (For information on the closure of the Wifaq political society, see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation.)

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

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

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

Foreign Travel: The law provides the government may reject for “reasonable cause” applications to obtain or renew passports, but the applicant has the right to appeal such decisions before the High Civil Court. Individuals, including citizens of other countries, reported authorities banned them from travel out of the country due to unpaid debt obligations or other fiduciary responsibilities with private individuals or with lending institutions, as well as for open court cases. The government launched an online website during the year that allowed individuals to check their status before they traveled. Authorities relied on determinations of “national security” when adjudicating passport applications. During the year authorities prevented a number of activists from leaving the country without providing options for legal recourse.

The government reported that as of September it had banned 102 citizens from international travel for various reasons. The “travel bans” were most often justified by the government to prevent the travel of those with pending criminal charges. Between June 2016 and October 2017, approximately 40 individuals, including activists and opposition figures, reported government agents stopped them from leaving the country. Individuals under “travel bans” sometimes claimed the government had not informed them of the ban, provided them with an official document citing the reason, or allowed them to present an appeal. Critics stated authorities tried to build cases against the individuals retroactively to give the travel bans the appearance of legality. Observers noted the travel bans prevented activists from participating in UNHRC sessions and other international events. Activists reported dozens of cases of travel bans just before and during UNHRC meetings in March, June, and September. In July 2016 the NIHR urged the government to stop issuing travel bans without a judicial order.

High-profile cases with travel bans include those imposed on Ebtisam al-Saegh (see section 1.c.) and Adam Rajab, son of imprisoned activist Nabeel Rajab.

Exile: There were no reports the government prohibited the return of individuals whom the government maintained were citizens. The government, however, prohibited the return of those whose citizenship it formally revoked, or those it no longer considered citizens. There were reports of individuals who lived in self-imposed exile, often to avoid jail time for convictions imposed in their absence.

Citizenship: As a punitive measure, the government continued to revoke citizenship for both criminal and political cases, including in the case of natural-born citizens. Authorities maintained the revocation of citizenship of some opposition political and religious figures. The government has not implemented a comprehensive legal review process concerning citizenship revocation, as recommended by the NIHR in 2015, to assure the government protected the rights of individuals and their family members. The government did not consider whether individuals may become stateless by these actions and has at times threatened to halt payments of pensions, or remove families from government-assisted housing if a head-of-household loses his citizenship. Some family members, especially women and minor children, reported difficulties renewing their passports and residence cards and obtaining birth certificates for children. During the year the government issued limited-validity passports to a number of individuals, whose citizenship it had revoked, and deported them to Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon. There is no procedure for accused persons to mount a defense prior to citizenship revocation.

On May 21, a court sentenced Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim to a one-year suspended prison sentence and confiscated money the government argued he collected illegally. The government revoked Qassim’s citizenship in 2016. Government sources reported Qassim had the right to appeal the decision, but he declined to do so. Authorities indicted him and two staff, Mirza al-Dirazi and Sheikh Hussain al-Mahrous, on money-laundering charges, citing large transfers of funds overseas that allegedly bypassed banks to avoid detection. Qassim denied the charges and did not attend any court proceedings.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government at times provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion; however, protection was mostly limited to those who had been able to obtain and maintain employment in the country. Such individuals generally had access to health care and education services while employed but were at risk of deportation if they became unemployed or if their country of origin revoked their passports. UNHCR reported that as of June 2016, there were 373 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the agency.

STATELESS PERSONS

Individuals generally derive citizenship from the father, but the king may confer or revoke it. Since the government only considers the father’s citizenship when determining citizenship, it does not generally grant children born to a non-Bahraini father citizenship, even if they were born in the country to a citizen mother (see section 6. Children). Likewise, the government does not provide a path to citizenship for foreign men married to Bahraini women, unlike the process by which foreign women married to Bahraini men may become citizens. Human rights organizations reported these laws have resulted in stateless children, particularly when the foreign father is unable or unwilling to pursue citizenship from his country of origin for his children, or when the father himself was stateless, deceased, or unknown. It was unknown how many stateless persons resided in the country. Stateless persons had limited access to social services, education, and employment. There were reports authorities refused applications for birth certificates and passports for children whose Bahraini fathers were in prison because the fathers were not able to submit the applications in person (see section 6, Children).

The government charged individuals whose citizenship it revoked with violating immigration law.

Bangladesh

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes failed to respect this right. There were significant limitations on freedom of speech. Some journalists self-censored their criticisms of the government due to harassment and fear of reprisal.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution equates criticism of the constitution with sedition. Punishment for sedition ranges from three years’ to life imprisonment. In 2016 several high-profile individuals were charged with sedition, including BNP leader Khaleda Zia, television personality Mahmudur Rahman Manna, and reporter Kanok Sarwar. The government did not proceed with the prosecutions of Manna and Sarwar. The law limits hate speech but does not define clearly what constitutes hate speech, which permits the government’s broad powers of interpretation. The government may restrict speech deemed to be against the security of the state; against friendly relations with foreign states; and against public order, decency, or morality; or that constitutes contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offense. The Foreign Donation Act criminalizes any criticism of constitutional bodies. Section 57 of the 2006 Information and Communication Technology Act (ICTA) references defamation of individuals and organizations and was used to prosecute opposition figures and civil society.

Press and Media Freedom: Both print and online independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views; however, media outlets that criticized the government experienced negative government pressure.

The government maintained editorial control over the Bangladesh public television station (BTV) and mandated that private channels broadcast government content at no charge. Civil society said that political interference influenced the licensing process, since all television channel licenses granted by the government were for stations supporting the ruling party.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities, including intelligence services on some occasions, subjected journalists to physical attack, harassment, and intimidation.

Utpal Das, a journalist for an online news outlet, went missing in October and reappeared in December. Das gave confusing statements after his return, and observers alleged he was forcibly disappeared as a method of intimidation. Mubasher Hasan, a university professor and social media personality, disappeared for 44 days during the year. After The Wire, a news website, alleged that the army intelligence forces were responsible for the disappearance, the government blocked access to The Wire’s website.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, on May 17, the Foreign Ministry sent letters to its embassies abroad instructing them to monitor Bangladeshi journalists traveling abroad. The letter cited a recommendation from the Parliamentary Standing Committee, which had expressed concern that traveling journalists were giving “wrong information on Bangladesh in the international arena.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Independent journalists alleged that intelligence services influenced media outlets in part by withholding financially important government advertising and pressing private companies to withhold their advertising as well.

Privately owned newspapers usually enjoyed freedom to carry diverse views. Political polarization and self-censorship remained a problem, however. The government used advertising as a weapon to control the media by withholding advertising spending.

The government penalized media that criticized the government. On multiple occasions, government officials threatened privately owned television channels not to broadcast the opposition’s activities and statements. Daily newspapers Prothom Alo and Daily Starwere denied access to prime ministerial events because they published reports critical of the government and prime minister, according to observers. The government also intervened to suppress reports deemed damaging to the ruling party. On September 22, the Burma news portal mizzima.com published a report by Indian journalist Subir Bhaumik under the headline “Bangladesh’s Hasina Survives Another Attempt on Her Life.” On September 23, the local television stations Jamuna TV and DBC News broadcast the report as breaking news but were pressured to pull it off the air.

According to some journalists and human rights NGOs, journalists engaged in self-censorship, particularly due to fear of security force retribution. Although public criticism of the government was common and vocal, some media figures expressed fear of harassment by the government.

Some international media outlets reported delays and difficulties in obtaining visas. A government-managed film censorship board reviewed local and foreign films and had the authority to censor or ban films on the grounds of state security, law and order, religious sentiment, obscenity, foreign relations, defamation, or plagiarism, but it was less strict than in the past.

Local and international media, including major news agencies, were largely able to report on the influx of Rohingya refugees from Burma, although two Burmese photojournalists were detained in September and charged with espionage. Many members of the international media traveled to the country on tourist visas, but police detained the photojournalists for using tourist visas to enter the country instead of journalist visas. After two weeks in detention, the journalists were released on bail but could not leave the country until authorities dropped the charges four weeks later.

Nongovernmental Impact: Atheist, secular, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) writers and bloggers reported they continued to receive death threats from violent extremist organizations. In November a human rights lawyer claimed he received death threats for writing about and advocating for the country’s LGBTI community.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content in isolated incidents. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) reported approximately 77 million internet subscriptions in August, including an estimated 71 million mobile internet subscriptions (one individual may have more than one subscription). The government prohibited Virtual Private Networks and Voice Over Internet Protocol telephony but rarely enforced this prohibition.

In several incidents the government interfered in internet communications, filtered or blocked access, restricted content, and censored websites or other communications and internet services. It suspended or closed many websites based on vague criteria, or with explicit reference to their pro-opposition content in violation of legal requirements.

The BTRC is charged with the regulation of telecommunications. It carries out law enforcement and government requests to block content by ordering internet service providers to take action. The BTRC filtered internet content the government deemed harmful to national unity and religious beliefs. In August 2016 the BTRC carried out a directive to block 35 news websites that had published material critical of the government and political leaders or were perceived to feature overt support for political opposition groups. Many of the sites remained blocked.

Section 57 of the ICTA criminalizes the posting online of inflammatory or derogatory information against the state or individuals. Opponents of the law said it unconstitutionally restricted freedom of speech. The government used the ICTA and the threat of sedition charges, which carry a possible death penalty, to limit online activity and curtail freedom of expression online.

According to an investigation by the Daily Star, the government prosecuted at least 21 journalists in 11 cases under section 57 of the ICTA from March to June.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Although the government placed few restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, authorities discouraged research on sensitive religious and political topics that might fuel possible religious or communal tensions. Academic publications on the 1971 independence war were also subject to scrutiny and government approval. Appointment of teachers in universities continued to be based on political affiliation.

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but there were restrictions on both.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provided for the right to peaceful assembly, but the government limited this right. The law gives the government broad discretion to ban assemblies of more than four persons. A Dhaka Metropolitan Police order requires advance permission for gatherings such as protests and demonstrations in Dhaka. According to human rights NGOs, authorities continued to use approval provisions to disallow gatherings by opposition groups. Occasionally, police or ruling party activists used force to disperse demonstrations.

During the year police prevented opposition party members from holding events on multiple occasions. For example, police denied permission to the labor committee of the main opposition party, the BNP, to hold a rally in Dhaka acknowledging Labor Day on May 1, whereas government affiliated groups were allowed to host public events.

Police did not allow members of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, an NGO that was once a political party, to meet, even for private, indoor meetings. On October 9, police detained nine Jamaat members, including its amir (president), deputy amir, and secretary general from a house in Dhaka’s Uttara neighborhood, claiming they were devising plans to create instability in the country.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for the right of citizens to form associations, subject to “reasonable restrictions” in the interest of morality or public order, and the government generally respected this right. The government’s NGO Affairs Bureau sometimes withheld its approval for foreign funding to NGOs working in areas the bureau deemed sensitive such as human rights, labor rights, indigenous rights, or humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees (see sections 2.d., 5, and 7.a.).

The 2016 Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act places additional restrictions on the receipt of foreign funds by NGOs or government officials and provides for punishment of NGOs making any “derogatory” comments regarding the constitution or constitutional institutions (see section 5). The government subsequently announced that a number of NGOs were no longer allowed to operate in the country, including Muslim Aid Bangladesh, Islamic Relief, and Allama Fazlullah Foundation, according to media reports, although it was not known whether the Foreign Donations Act was specifically used to ban them.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, except in two sensitive areas–the CHT and Cox’s Bazar. The government enforced some restrictions on foreigners’ access to the CHT.

Starting on August 25, the country experienced an influx of more than 646,000 Rohingya migrants from Burma, more than doubling the existing refugee and undocumented migrant population in the refugee camps and makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazar, near the Burmese border.

The government had a mixed record of cooperation during the year with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. For example, the government restricted UNHCR access in the first eight months of the year to only the 33,000 registered Rohingya refugees and did not allow UNHCR access to the undocumented Rohingya population, estimated to be 200,000-500,000 individuals prior to August. They lived in the towns and villages outside the two official refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar District. The government also initially denied UNHCR unrestricted access to the new influx of Rohingya refugees during the post-August 25 mass influx. Following advocacy from UNHCR and the international community, the government agreed in late September to allow UNHCR to provide protection and assistance to the full population of Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar. The government allowed access to International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other UN agencies to provide services to both the registered and undocumented Rohingya populations in Cox’s Bazar, as well as the new arrivals, after August 25.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Prior to the August influx of Rohingya, UNHCR reported 66 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in the camps who received counseling through March.

In-country Movement: The government is not a party to the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The government restricted most of the Rohingya population to the official and makeshift camp areas in Cox’s Bazar. It established checkpoints on major routes to stop movement from the border with Burma to the settlement areas and the established camp areas.

Foreign Travel: Some senior opposition officials reported extensive delays in getting their passports renewed; others reported harassment and delays at the airport when departing the country. In March a senior BNP official alleged authorities detained and harassed her for four hours at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport prior to her departure for Australia despite a court order not to prevent her from traveling abroad. She allegedly faced similar circumstances during her departure for the United Kingdom in July.

Adilur Rahman Khan, the founder of the human rights NGO Odhikar, was detained at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on July 20 for 14 hours while traveling to a conference entitled “The Abolition of the Death Penalty in Malaysia.” The Asian Human Rights Commission alleged that the Bangladesh government orchestrated Khan’s detention and deportation from Malaysia to Bangladesh.

The government prevented war crimes suspects from the 1971 independence war from leaving the country.

The country’s passports are invalid for travel to Israel, according to Bangladesh policy.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Societal tensions and marginalization of indigenous persons continued in the CHT as a result of a government policy initiated during an internal armed conflict that persisted from 1973 to 1997. This policy relocated landless Bengalis from the plains to the CHT with the implicit objective of changing the demographic balance in the CHT to make Bengalis the majority, displacing tens of thousands of indigenous persons.

The IDPs in the CHT had limited physical security. Indigenous community leaders maintained that indigenous persons faced widespread violation of their rights by settlers, sometimes supported by security forces.

In August 2016 the government amended the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act to curtail the unilateral authority of the commission chair to make decisions on behalf of the commission. The amended act failed to resolve the disputes during the year, as tribal leaders insisted on establishing a governing framework for the law before hearing disputes for resolution. The term of the commission chair, Justice Mohammad Anwarul Haque, ended on September 6, and the government had not appointed his replacement at year’s end.

The number of IDPs in the CHT remained disputed. In 2000 a government task force estimated it to be 500,000, which included nonindigenous as well as indigenous persons. The CHT Commission estimated that slightly more than 90,000 indigenous IDPs dwelled in the CHT. The prime minister pledged to resolve outstanding land disputes in the CHT to facilitate the return of the IDPs and to close the remaining military camps, but the task force on IDPs remained unable to function due to a dispute over classifying settlers as IDPs. The commission reported that authorities displaced several indigenous families to create border guard camps and army recreational facilities. No land disputes were resolved during the year.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Prior to September the government and UNHCR provided temporary protection and basic assistance to approximately 33,000 registered Rohingya refugees from Burma living in two official camps (Kutupalong and Nayapara), while the government and IOM provided assistance to approximately 200,000 undocumented Rohingya living in makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazaar. As of December the government and UNHCR estimated that 900,000 to one million undocumented Rohingya were in the country, including more than 655,000 Rohingya who entered the country seeking refuge from violence that erupted in Rakhine State, Burma, on August 25. Most of these undocumented Rohingya lived in makeshift settlements and in unofficial sites among the local population in Teknaf and Ukhiya subdistricts of Cox’s Bazar District. Led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government continued to implement a national strategy on Rohingya with six key elements: border management, security, humanitarian assistance, strengthened engagement with Burma, internal coordination on Rohingya problems, and a survey of the undocumented Rohingya.

According to the United Nations, more than 50 percent of the new arrivals since August 25 were female, including approximately 16,000 pregnant women. The new Rohingya arrivals took shelter in jungles, hill villages, and open spaces along the road from Ukhiya to Tenkaf and built homes mostly with bamboo poles and plastic sheets. The government reserved a 3,000-acre tract of land to build a megacamp designed to accommodate the new influx.

The government deployed the military to Cox’s Bazar District to streamline relief and rehabilitation activities, and to assist in registration of Rohingya in coordination with the civilian administration. The Ministry of Home Affairs instructed law enforcement agencies to provide protection to the Rohingya people and their camps. Senior government ministers stated that the new arrivals would not be recognized as refugees, referring to them as “forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals.”

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, nor has the government established a formal system for providing protection to refugees. The government provided some protection and assistance to Rohingya from Burma resident in the country. The government cooperated with UNHCR to provide temporary protection and basic assistance to registered refugees resident in two official camps. After the August 25 influx of Rohingya refugees, the government started to register the new arrivals biometrically and provided identity cards with their Burmese address. As of mid-December more than 844,000 Rohingya had been registered biometrically, to include the more than 655,000 new arrivals since August 25 and Rohingya who had arrived earlier.

Freedom of Movement: There were restrictions on Rohingyas’ freedom of movement. According to the 1993 memorandum of understanding between Bangladesh and UNHCR, registered refugees are not permitted to move outside of the two camps. After the August 25 influx, police set up checkpoints on the roads to restrict Rohingya travel beyond the government-designated areas.

Employment: The government did not authorize Rohingya refugees living in the country to work locally. Despite their movement restrictions, some refugees worked illegally as manual laborers or rickshaw pullers in the informal economy. Undocumented Rohingya also worked illegally, mostly in day-labor jobs.

Access to Basic Services: Working with UNHCR, the government continued to improve aspects of the official refugee camps following findings in recent years that sanitation, nutrition, and shelter conditions had fallen below minimum international standards. Some basic needs remained unmet, and the camps remained overcrowded, with densities on par with the country’s urban slums; this worsened after the August 25 influx. A 2014 nutrition survey report from UNHCR and World Food Program stated the prevalence of malnourished (stunted) and underweight children in refugee camps remained higher than in the rest of the country and above the emergency threshold levels set by the World Health Organization.

Public education, while mandatory as of 2010 through eighth grade throughout the country, expanded during the year to include through the seventh grade in the official refugee camps, compared with the fifth grade in previous years. The government permitted UNHCR to design and operate a nonformal, basic education program in the official camps, which reached an estimated 8,000 youth (ages three-14). The government allowed international NGOs to provide informal education to Rohingya outside the official refugee camps, starting with a group of 10,000 students.

Government authorities did not allow registered or unregistered Rohingya formal and regular access to public health care. Instead, UNHCR and NGOs provided basic health services in the official camps to registered refugees, and IOM provided health services to the unregistered Rohingya in the makeshift sites and access to local hospitals as needed.

Six international NGOs provided basic services to undocumented Rohingya and to surrounding impoverished host communities prior to the August 25 Rohingya influx. In response to the crisis, the government allowed additional NGOs to work in Cox’s Bazar. Some organizations reported delays in obtaining necessary permits for working with the Rohingya.

STATELESS PERSONS

The Rohingya in the country were legally or de facto stateless. They could not acquire citizenship, nor does the government of Burma recognize them as citizens.

Barbados

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Civil society representatives, however, reported that journalists who were overly critical of the government could be denied access to press conferences or denied the opportunity to ask questions of government officials.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Civil society representatives reported media practiced self-censorship when reporting on corruption due to fear that making allegations could invite a defamation lawsuit.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 79 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution provides for freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees, asylum seekers, or other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Immigration Department was responsible for considering refugee or asylum claims. During the year there was one reported case of a request for temporary asylum, made by a Jamaican citizen from the LGBTI community.

Belarus

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. The government did not respect these rights and enforced numerous laws to control and censor the public and media. Moreover, the state press propagated views in support of the president and official policies, without giving room for critical voices.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could not criticize the president and the government publicly or discuss matters of general public interest without fear of reprisal. Authorities videotaped political meetings, conducted frequent identity checks, and used other forms of intimidation. Authorities also prohibited wearing facemasks, displaying unregistered or opposition flags and symbols, and displaying placards bearing messages deemed threatening to the government or public order.

On April 27, anarchist activist Viachaslau Kasinerau was given a fine after a court in Minsk found him guilty of hooliganism for putting a rope around the neck of a sculpture of a city guard that stands in front of the Interior Ministry on March 12. Although the prosecutor asked for two years of “restricted freedom” (similar to house arrest), which independent human rights observers called incommensurate with his action, the judge instead fined him 115 rubles ($61).

On June 6, a court in Minsk fined prominent graffiti artist Aleh Larychau and his associate Hanna Novik 690 rubles ($370) and 230 rubles (125), respectively. Police arrested the two on charges of using obscenities after painting political street graffiti in Minsk on June 3. Larychau, a member of a street art group known for painting and posting images that mocked government officials and police officers, claimed he was followed by unidentified individuals before his arrest.

The law also limits free speech by criminalizing actions such as giving information that authorities deem false or derogatory to a foreigner concerning the political, economic, social, military, or international situation of the country.

Press and Media Freedom: Government restrictions limited access to information and often resulted in media self-censorship. State-controlled media did not provide balanced coverage and overwhelmingly presented the official version of events. Appearances by opposition politicians on state media were limited primarily to those required by law during election campaigns. Authorities warned, fined, detained, and interrogated members of media.

By law the government may close a publication, printed or online, after two warnings in one year for violating a range of restrictions on the press. Additionally, regulations give authorities arbitrary power to prohibit or censor reporting. The Ministry of Information may suspend periodicals or newspapers for three months without a court ruling. The law also prohibits media from disseminating information on behalf of unregistered political parties, trade unions, and NGOs.

On March 14, the independent newspaper Nasha Niva and the most popular news portal TUT.BY received warning Ministry of Information letters informing the publications that they had violated the Law on Mass Media by distributing information that “could cause damage to the national interests of Belarus.” Nasha Niva’s editors reported that the ministry cited eight online comments made by readers that purportedly criticized the government, police actions, and detentions following protests that were immediately removed from the newspaper’s webpage after the warning. Nasha Niva also stated that it would more meticulously moderate its online forums in order to avoid any provocative statements or remarks. In the case of TUT.BY, the warning reportedly stemmed from the site’s February 15 article regarding Belarusian volunteers fighting in Ukraine. The article was immediately removed from the portal. Authorities did not take any further action against the two media outlets.

Limited information was available in the state-run press concerning the September 2016 parliamentary elections, including on independent candidates. Although authorities did not generally censor the publication of candidates’ programs in print media, some opposition candidates complained that local television channels refused to televise their addresses.

While no independent media outlets, including newspapers and internet news websites, applied for registration to the Ministry of Information, they continued to seek to provide coverage of events. They operated, however, under repressive media laws, and most faced discriminatory publishing and distribution policies, including limiting access to government officials and press briefings, controlling the size of press runs of newspapers, and raising the cost of printing.

State-owned media dominated the information field and maintained the highest circulation through generous subsidies and preferences. There was no countrywide private television. The state-owned postal system, Belposhta, and the state distributor of printed press, Belsayuzdruk, allowed the distribution of at least nine independent newspapers and magazines that covered politics, including Novy ChasBorisovskie Novosti, and Intexpress, which have been banned from distribution for 11 years.

The exclusion of independent print media from the state distribution system and the requirement that private stores secure registration to sell newspapers and magazines effectively limited the ability of the independent press to distribute their publications.

International media continued to operate in the country but not without interference and prior censorship. Euronews and the Russian channels First Channel, NTV, and RTR were generally available, although only through paid cable services in many parts of the country and with a time lag that allowed the removal of news deemed undesirable. At times authorities blocked, censored, or replaced their international news programs with local programming.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities continued to harass and detain local and foreign journalists routinely.

Security forces continually hampered efforts of independent journalists to cover demonstrations and protests in Minsk and across the country. The independent Belarusian Association of Journalists reported that, as of November 15, police fined, detained, and arrested at least 45 journalists while performing their professional duties in more than 184 separate cases.

On March 31, police searched two Minsk offices of the Poland-based media outlet Belsat TV, confiscating television and computer equipment and reportedly detaining one journalist. The Prosecutor General’s Office authorized the searches, referring to a 2014 Supreme Court case that banned the outlet from using the Belsat TV trademark, allegedly because it was registered in 2001 by another entity called BELSATplus. On October 10, a Minsk district court sentenced Belsat TV camera operator Aliaksandr Barazenka to a fine of 920 rubles ($470) for violating trademark rights and ordered confiscation of his video and computer equipment.

The government routinely denied accreditation to journalists who work with foreign media. As of November 15, at least 22 journalists were fined in 55 cases for not having government accreditation or cooperating with a foreign media outlet. For example, on April 5, a Minsk city court denied an appeal filed by Belsat TV camera operator Aliaksandr Barazenka. Police detained Barazenka at the March 25 protests in Minsk, where he was covering the protest with his colleagues. Authorities convicted him for using obscenities and sentenced him to 15 days in jail. Barazenka’s defense lawyer presented a video in court of his defendant being detained that showed he had not shouted any political slogans or obscenities and had informed police he was a journalist.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government exerted pressure on the vast majority of independent publications to exercise self-censorship, warning them not to report on certain topics or criticize the government. The government tightly and directly controlled the content of state broadcast and print media. Local independent television stations operated in some areas and reported local news, although most were under government pressure to forgo reporting on national and sensitive issues or risk censorship.

Authorities allowed only state-run radio and television networks to broadcast nationwide. The government used this national monopoly to disseminate its version of events and minimize alternative or opposing viewpoints.

Authorities warned businesses not to advertise in newspapers that criticized the government. As a result, independent media outlets operated under severe budgetary constraints.

Journalists reporting for international media that gave extensive coverage to the country, such as the Warsaw-based independent satellite channel Belsat TV and Radio Racyja, were denied press accreditation and received warnings from the Prosecutor’s Office and heavy fines.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are criminal offenses. There are large fines and prison sentences of up to four years for defaming or insulting the president. Penalties for defamation of character make no distinction between private and public persons. A public figure who is criticized for poor performance while in office may sue both the journalist and the media outlet that disseminated the critical report.

On March 24, a district court in Minsk ended Aliaksandr Lapitski’s compulsory treatment for mental illness. In April 2016 Lapitski was for convicted of “committing socially dangerous acts” and violating Article 368 (“insulting the President of the Republic of Belarus”), and Article 369 (“insulting the authorities”), Article 391 (“insulting a judge or a lay judge”) of the Criminal Code of Belarus. The charges against Lapitski stemmed from his emails and blog posts that, according to authorities, insulted the president. Authorities stated that Lapitski suffered from mental illness and sentenced him to a period of compulsory psychiatric treatment.

National Security: Authorities frequently cited national security as grounds for censorship of media.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government interfered with internet freedom by monitoring email and internet chat rooms. While individuals, groups, and publications were generally able to engage in the peaceful expression of views via the internet, including by email, all who did so risked possible legal and personal repercussions, and at times were believed to practice self-censorship. Opposition activists’ emails and other web-based communications were likely to be monitored.

By law news websites and any internet information sources are subject to the same regulations as print media. Online news providers must remove content and publish corrections if ordered to do so by authorities and must adhere to a prohibition against “extremist” information. The law also restricts access to websites whose content includes promotion of violence, wars, “extremist activities”; materials related to illicit weapons, explosives, and drugs; trafficking in persons; pornography; and information that may harm the national interests of the country. Authorities may block access to sites that fail to obey government orders, including because of a single violation of distributing prohibited information, without a prosecutor or court’s mandate. In addition owners of internet sites may be held liable for users’ comments that carry any prohibited information, and these sites may be blocked. The amended law also mandates the creation of a database of news websites. If a news website receives two or more formal warnings from the authorities, it may be removed from the database and lose its right to distribute information. The law prohibits foreign states and foreign individuals from holding more than a 20 percent stake in the country’s media companies.

Independent online media outlets generally were not blocked during the year.

Authorities monitored internet traffic. By law the telecommunications monopoly Beltelekam and other organizations authorized by the government have the exclusive right to maintain internet domains.

A presidential edict requires registration of service providers and internet websites, and requires the collection of information on users at internet cafes. It requires service providers to store data on individuals’ internet use for a year and provide that information to law enforcement agencies upon request. Violations of the edict are punishable by prison sentences.

State companies and organizations that included the workplaces of up to 70 percent of the country’s workers reportedly had internet filters.

In response to the government’s interference and internet restrictions, many opposition groups and independent newspapers switched to internet domains operating outside the country. Observers reported that the few remaining independent media sites with the country domain BY practiced self-censorship at times.

On several occasions, cyberattacks of unknown origin temporarily disabled independent news portals and social networking sites.

According to various media sources, the number of internet users reached more than seven million persons, of which approximately 90 percent used the internet daily or numerous times a month. Internet penetration was approximately 83 percent among users ages 15 to 50.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.

Educational institutions were required to teach an official state ideology that combined reverence for the achievements of the former Soviet Union and of Belarus under the leadership of Lukashenka. Government-mandated textbooks contained a heavily propagandized version of history and other subjects. Authorities obligated all schools, including private institutions, to follow state directives to inculcate the official ideology and prohibited schools from employing opposition members as their principals. The minister of education has the right to appoint and dismiss the heads of private educational institutions.

Use of the word “academic” was restricted, and NGOs were prohibited from including the word “academy” in their titles. Opportunities to receive a higher education in the Belarusian language (vice Russian) in the majority of fields of study were scarce. The administrations of higher educational institutions made no effort to accommodate students wishing to study in Belarusian-language classes.

The Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRYU), an official organization modeled on the Soviet-era KOMSOMOL, urged university students to join the BRYU to receive benefits and dormitory rooms. Local authorities pressured BRYU members to campaign on behalf of government parliamentary candidates and to vote early. Students from various universities and colleges reported to an independent election-monitoring group that their faculties were pressuring students into early voting by threatening them with eviction from their dormitories. Additionally, authorities at times reportedly pressured students to act as informants for the country’s security services.

According to a Ministry of Education directive, educational institutions may expel students who engage in antigovernment or unsanctioned political activity and must ensure the proper ideological education of students. School officials, however, cited poor academic performance or absence from classes as the official reason for expulsions. In March the Mahilyou State University administration expelled Alena Kisel after she was fined 345 rubles ($180) for participating in unauthorized protests in the city.

On May 24, a Minsk district court dismissed an appeal filed by Khrystsiyan Shynkevich challenging his expulsion from the Belarus State Teachers Training University after his detention on March 26 in Minsk. A university representative claimed in court that Shynkevich was expelled because he failed to attend 40 percent of his classes during the academic year.

In some cases the government also restricted cultural events, selectively approving performances of what they deemed opposition music groups at small concert halls. Approvals required groups to go through cumbersome and time-consuming procedures to receive permissions. The procedures continued to force some opposition theater and music groups from public venues and into bars and private apartments by banning their performances.

The government also restricted the activities of a nonofficial writers union, the independent Union of Belarusian Writers, and extensively supported the progovernment Union of Writers of Belarus. Authorities harassed distributors of books authored by critical and independent writers or written in the Belarusian language. Authorities did not allow local printing of books by Sviatlana Aleksievich, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, although her books were widely available in bookstores and online, primarily in Russian editions.

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the government severely restricted this right. Authorities employed a variety of means to discourage demonstrations, disperse them, minimize their effect, and punish the participants. The law provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted it and selectively enforced laws and registration regulations to restrict the operation of independent associations that might criticize the government.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Only registered political parties, trade unions, and NGOs could request permission to hold a demonstration of more than 1,000 persons. Authorities usually denied requests by independent and opposition groups. A general atmosphere of repression and the threat of imprisonment or large fines exercised a chilling effect on potential protest organizers.

The law criminalizes the announcement of demonstrations via the internet or social media before official approval, the participation in the activities of unregistered NGOs, the training of persons to demonstrate, the financing of public demonstrations, or the solicitation of foreign assistance “to the detriment” of the country. Violations are punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.

Organizers must apply at least 15 days in advance for permission to conduct a public demonstration, rally, or meeting, and government officials are required to respond no later than five days prior to the scheduled event. Authorities, however, generally granted permits for opposition demonstrations only if held far from city centers. Authorities used intimidation and threats to discourage persons from participating in demonstrations, openly videotaped participants, and imposed heavy fines or jail sentences on participants in unsanctioned demonstrations. In addition authorities required organizers to conclude contracts with police, fire department, health, and sanitary authorities for their services during and after a mass event. In some localities, local officials told permit applicants that they must first secure these contracts before a permit could be issued. During the year local authorities countrywide rejected dozens of applications for permission to stage demonstrations to protest a presidential decree requiring Belarusian nationals and noncitizens permanently residing in the country who officially work less than 183 calendar days per year to pay an annual tax. They also rejected applications to demonstrate on May Day on May 1.

Opposition activists held dozens of unsanctioned rallies during the year and faced administrative charges and fines for allegedly violating the Law on Mass Events. Those who refused to pay fines, calling them politically motivated, potentially faced property confiscation and travel bans. Authorities regularly fined the same activists for their continuous political activity during the year. For example, on August 1, a Minsk district court sentenced Leanid Kulakou, an activist of the European Belarus campaign, to a fine of 690 rubles ($350) for participating in a July 7 unauthorized protest in Minsk against the September Belarus-Russia joint military exercise ZAPAD.

On March 3-24, authorities detained, fined, or jailed for up to 15 days approximately 300 individuals for their participation in various unauthorized protests against a presidential decree across the country. Activists described continued abuse of force by police, including against Ales Lahviniec, a democratic activist who was hospitalized with a concussion and broken nose after being arrested on March 23.

Authorities took various measures to prevent prodemocracy activists from celebrating Freedom Day, the March 25 anniversary of the country’s 1918 declaration of independence (an event the government does not recognize). The Minsk city authorities failed to respond to an opposition’s application for permission to hold a demonstration in central Minsk within the legally required five days prior to the demonstration. While the Mayor’s Office had originally scheduled a meeting with the Freedom Day organizing committee on March 20, it was postponed until March 24. The organizing committee argued it was too late to notify the public of the changed route requested by the city.

In a police operation meant to prevent any unsanctioned demonstrations from taking place in the center of Minsk to celebrate Freedom Day, metro trains did not stop near the gathering point of the demonstration in front of the Academy of Sciences. Buses and other public transportation also did not stop in the vicinity. Police detained more than 600 participants throughout the city. The majority of those detained were released the same day; more than one hundred faced a variety of charges, including minor hooliganism, resisting police, or participating in an unsanctioned demonstration.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

All NGOs, political parties, and trade unions must receive Ministry of Justice approval to become registered. A government commission reviews and approves all registration applications; it based its decisions largely on political and ideological compatibility with official views and practices.

Actual registration procedures required applicants to provide the number and names of founders, along with a physical address in a nonresidential building for an office, an extraordinary burden in view of the tight financial straits of most NGOs and individual property owners’ fears of renting space to independent groups. Individuals listed as members were vulnerable to reprisal. The government’s refusal to rent office space to unregistered organizations and the expense of renting private space reportedly forced most organizations to use residential addresses, which authorities could then use as a reason to deny registration or to deregister. The law criminalizes activities conducted on behalf of unregistered groups and subjects group members to penalties ranging from large fines to two years’ imprisonment (also see section 7.a.).

The law on public associations prohibits NGOs from keeping funds for local activities at foreign financial institutions. The law also prohibits NGOs from facilitating provision of any support or benefits from foreign states to civil servants based on their political or religious views or ethnicity, a provision widely believed to be aimed at the Polish minority.

Only registered NGOs may legally accept foreign grants and technical aid and only for a limited set of approved activities. NGOs must receive approval from the Department for Humanitarian Affairs of the Presidential Administration and the Ministry of the Economy for technical aid before they may accept such funds or register the grants.

The government continued to deny registration to some NGOs and political parties on a variety of pretexts, including “technical” problems with applications. Authorities frequently harassed and intimidated founding members of organizations in an effort to force them to abandon their membership and thus deprive their groups of the number of petitioners necessary for registration. Many groups had been denied registration on multiple occasions.

On May 15, the Ministry of Justice registered Tell the Truth as a public association. On April 11, the group has filed application for registration; it was the seventh time the group had applied for registration as an NGO.

On July 21, the Justice Ministry denied an application to register the research and educational NGO known as “Dzeya (Act).” The main goal of the group was to monitor human rights and fundamental freedoms, track the country’s compliance with international agreements, and promote the rule of law, civil society, and development of democratic institutions. The ministry noted that the application missed a surname and had some other minor errors.

On October 4, the Supreme Court upheld the Justice Ministry’s decision to deny registration to the Social Christian Movement, a new NGO affiliated with the unregistered Belarusian Christian Democracy party. In August the Ministry denied the registration because a component of one of the founders’ name was written incorrectly and because the NGO chairperson was not named in the application documents. This was the group’s second denial during the year.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government at times restricted the right of citizens, former political prisoners in particular, to foreign travel. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: Passports serve as a form of identity and authorities required them for permanent housing, work, and hotel registration. Police continued to harass selectively individuals who lived at a location other than their legal place of residence indicated in mandatory stamps in their passports.

The law also requires persons who travel to areas within 15 miles of the border (aside from authorized crossing points) to obtain an entrance pass.

Foreign Travel: The government’s database of persons banned from traveling abroad contained the names of individuals who possessed state secrets, faced criminal prosecution or civil suits, or had outstanding financial obligations. Authorities informed some persons by letter that their names were in the database; others learned only at border crossings. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and security agencies, border and customs services, and financial investigation departments have a right to place persons on “preventive” surveillance lists.

Students required permission from the head of their educational institution to study abroad. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is also required to track citizens working abroad, and employment agencies must report individuals who do not return from abroad as scheduled.

Exile: The law does not allow forced exile, but sources asserted that security forces continued to threaten some opposition members with bodily harm or prosecution if they did not leave the country, and many were in self-imposed exile.

Many university students who were expelled or believed they were under the threat of expulsion for their political activities opted for self-imposed exile and continued their studies abroad.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, complementary and temporary protection to foreign citizens and stateless persons, with some exceptions. The government has established a procedure for determining refugee status and a system for providing protection to refugees. The law provides for protection against refoulement granted to foreigners who are denied refugee status or temporary protection but cannot be returned to their countries of origin.

All foreigners except Russians have the right to apply for asylum. According to the terms of the Union Treaty with Russia, Russians may legally settle and obtain residence permits in the country based on their Russian citizenship. Overall, as of October 1, immigration authorities accepted 463 applications for asylum compared with 596 in 2016, including from 359 Ukrainians, 10 Syrians, 8 Afghans, and 12 Pakistani.

In addition to refugee status, the country’s asylum law provides for complementary protection in the form of temporary residence. In the period January-September, 364 foreigners were granted complementary protection (333 Ukrainians, 14 Syrians, six Yemenis, seven Afghans, one Georgian, and three Egyptians).

Freedom of Movement: Asylum seekers have freedom of movement within the country but must reside in the region where they filed their applications for refugee status and in a place known to authorities while their applications are being considered, including during appeals. Authorities reportedly often encouraged asylum seekers to settle in rural areas; however, the majority settled in cities and towns. Change of residence was possible with a notification to authorities. Authorities issue registered asylum seekers certificates that serve as documents to confirm their status of asylum-seekers and identity and protect them from expulsion. In accordance with the law, they also must register with local authorities at their place of residence.

Durable Solutions: Adult asylum seekers have to pay for higher education as well as for nonemergency medical services while minors receive education and medical services free of charge. Free legal assistance, housing, and language training are not available to either asylum seekers or refugees.

Temporary Protection: Although the government may provide temporary protection (for up to one year) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, it did not do so during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

As of July 1, the Ministry of the Interior and UNHCR listed 5,915 stateless persons in the country; all had permanent residence according to authorities.

Permanently resident stateless persons held residence permits and were treated comparably to citizens in terms of access to employment, with the exception of a limited number of positions in the public sector and law enforcement that were available only to citizens. There were reports that stateless persons occasionally faced discrimination in employment, since authorities often encouraged them to settle in rural areas where the range of employment opportunities was limited. According to UNHCR, stateless persons could freely change their region of residence.

There is a path towards citizenship for this stateless population. The main requirement is at least seven years’ permanent residence. Authorities have a procedure for expedited naturalization procedures but mostly for individuals born or permanently residing in the country prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, ethnic Belarusians, their spouses, and descendants. If a child is born into a family of stateless persons permanently residing in the country, the child is entitled to Belarusian citizenship. The decrease of the number of stateless individuals in the country was attributed to their naturalization.

Belgium

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks and attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred are criminal offenses punishable by a minimum of eight days (for Holocaust denial) or one month (incitement to hatred and sexist remarks/attitudes) and up to one year in prison and fines, plus a possible revocation of the right to vote or run for public office. If the incitement to hatred was based on racism or xenophobia, the case would be tried in the regular courts. If, however, the incitement stemmed from other motives, including homophobia or religious bias, a longer and more costly trial by jury generally would be required. The government prosecuted and courts convicted persons under these laws.

In January an appellate court upheld the 2015 Liege court sentencing of French stand-up comedian Dieudonne to two months of prison and a 9,000 euro ($10,800) fine for incitement to hatred, anti-Semitic and discriminatory statements, and Holocaust denial. Dieudonne made the statements during a 2012 one-man show he held in Liege.

In September an appellate court sentenced former federal representative Laurent Louis to a six-month suspended prison sentence and an 18,000 euro ($21,600) fine for Holocaust denial statements he made on his blog in 2014. Louis was also sentenced to visit one concentration camp each year for the next five years and write up a summary of the visit on his blog. Louis was first sentenced in 2015.

Press and Media Freedom: The prohibition of Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks and attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred apply to the print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

According to estimates compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 86 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, including specific subsidiary protection that goes beyond asylum criteria established by the 1951 Convention relating to the Treatment of Refugees and its 1967 protocol. Effective July 2016 refugee status and residence permits are limited to five years and become indefinite if extended.

See section 6, Children, for information on unaccompanied minors who filed asylum claims.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to asylum seekers who arrived from a safe country of origin or transit, pursuant to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation.

Durable Solutions: The country accepted refugees through UNHCR, including persons located in Italy and Greece, under the EU Emergency Relocation Mechanism. The country also conducted a voluntary return program for migrants in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who do not satisfy the legal criteria for refugee status but who cannot return to their country of origin due to a real risk of serious harm. Under EU guidelines, individuals granted “subsidiary protection” are entitled to temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, and equal access to health care and housing. In 2016 authorities granted subsidiary protection to 3,281 individuals. In the first half of the year, authorities granted protection to 1,636 individuals.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR, by mid-2016 there were 2,027 persons in the country who fell under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate. Belgium does not have a significant number of residents who are stateless, de jure or de facto, and does not contribute to statelessness, as the legal framework for stripping an individual of his or her Belgian citizenship does not exist (except in cases of dual citizenship with another country).

To be recognized as stateless, a requestor must go through legal proceedings and acquire a ruling by court on the status of his or her statelessness. The requestor may appeal the court’s ruling. A recognition of statelessness does not automatically afford a stateless person resident status in the country. Stateless persons may apply for Belgian nationality after meeting the requirements legal residency.

Belize

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judicial system, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Violence and Harassment: In May the sergeant of arms for the National Assembly physically assaulted two members of the press and threatened another, who was covering a protest in the Senate. The government did not immediately censure him, but he was eventually suspended from attending subsequent sessions.

In September a female journalist was physically assaulted by an officer attached to the Special Patrol Unit of the Police while she was covering a political event in Orange Walk. She subsequently made a formal complaint to the PSB. The minister of state of home affairs responded to the incident by stating, “The police department has a job to do and in that situation we have always asked the media to stay a distance away from the situation.”

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to local marketing firm, Idea Labs Ltd., 45 percent of the population had internet access as of June 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. Although the government committed to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, persons at risk of becoming stateless, or other persons of concern under the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, the Belize Refugees Act, and the UN Convention for Statelessness, the government has yet to approve any refugee or asylum applications.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government does not distinguish between refugees and asylum seekers, as the law itself does not reference asylum seekers–only refuges and recognized refugees. As of September, 3,019 persons (1,754 men and 1,265 women) had requested refugee status. The government has not granted refugee status to any applicant since the early 1990s. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Help for Progress, UNHCR’s implementing partner in the country, continued to assist by providing limited basic services, including shelter, clothing, and food to refugees and asylum seekers.

Employment: Persons awaiting adjudication of their refugee applications were unable to work legally in the country.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees were able to use the education system and the socialized medical system, but the government offered no assistance with housing or food except in extreme cases that involved children and pregnant women.

Temporary Protection: The Immigration Department issued renewable special residency permits for periods of 60 to 90 days to those who applied for refugee status within the 14-day deadline.

Benin

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights.

There were a large number of public and private media outlets, including two public and seven private television stations, three public and 50 private radio stations, and approximately 175 newspapers and periodicals. Many of these were openly critical of authorities, nearly always without consequence.

Unlike in previous years, there were few reports the government inhibited freedom of the press.

Press and Media Freedom: The press and media were closely regulated, and the government considered itself to have an essential role in ensuring the press did not behave in an “irresponsible” or “destabilizing” way. The High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) is a quasigovernmental commission with members appointed by the president, private media, and the legislature. HAAC has a dual–and perhaps inherently contradictory–role of ensuring press freedom and protecting the country against inflammatory, irresponsible, or destabilizing coverage.

In November 2016 HAAC suspended seven media outlets. Radio Soleil FM, E-Tele, and Eden TV, were suspended for allegedly not informing HAAC of changes of address. Sikka TV, La Beninoise TV, La Chretienne TV, and Unafrica TV, were suspended for broadcasting without proper authorization. On January 26, HAAC lifted the broadcasting ban on Radio Soleil FM, E-Tele, and Eden TV.

On May 22, the Court of Cotonou ordered HAAC to authorize the reopening of Sikka TV affiliate Ideal Production. The court ordered HAAC to pay 50 million CFA francs ($83,753) in damages. The court decision did not allow Sikka TV to resume direct broadcasting; its broadcasts, however, were available via satellite or internet.

Independent media generally were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Publications criticized the government freely and frequently. An independent nongovernmental media ethics commission censured some journalists for unethical conduct, such as reporting falsehoods or inaccuracies or releasing information that was embargoed by the government.

The government owned and operated the most influential media organizations. HAAC controlled broadcast range and infrastructure. Private television and radio had poorer coverage due to inadequate equipment and limited broadcast ranges awarded to them by HAAC.

Most citizens were illiterate, lived in rural areas, and generally received news via radio. The state-owned National Broadcasting Company broadcast in French and in 18 local languages.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: HAAC publicly warned media outlets against publishing information related to legal cases pending before criminal courts because this could be interpreted as an attempt to influence court rulings. It was possible to purchase and thus influence the content of press coverage. HAAC warned the media against such practices. Some journalists practiced self-censorship because they were indebted to government officials who granted them service contracts. Other journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear the government would suspend their media outlets. HAAC held public hearings on alleged misconduct by media outlets during the year.

Libel/Slander Laws: In 2015 after years of lobbying by professional media associations, the National Assembly passed a revised press code, the Information and Communication Code, repealing the previous code that imposed prison sentences for conviction of certain abuses of freedom of expression. The press code, signed into law by the president in 2015, disallows prison sentences for journalists charged with defamation and some other offenses. Although journalists may no longer be imprisoned for libel and slander, they may face legal prosecution and fines for incitement of crimes through the press.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 12 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association. Permits are required for demonstrations and other public gatherings. The government generally respected these rights. Although opposition groups cited instances in which they did not seek permits, anticipating they would be opposed, there were no instances of denial on political grounds.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right.

The government requires and generally granted permits for use of public places for demonstrations. Authorities sometimes cited “public order” to deny requests for permits from opposition groups, civil society organizations, and labor unions.

On June 21, the prefect of the Department of Littoral Modeste Toboula banned political opposition demonstrations scheduled planned to take place in Cotonou the next day. Toboula asserted that there were not enough police officers available to monitor the demonstrations. The president countermanded the prefect’s ban and the demonstrations, took place as scheduled.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. There were, however, instances where the government violated freedom of association.

On March 16, the Constitutional Court overturned a Council of Ministers decree banning the activities of university student groups as a violation of freedom of association. The decree claimed that student groups were engaged in military training and intended to disrupt public security and peace. The court ruled that the government’s public order concerns did not justify the suspension of citizens’ constitutional rights.

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

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

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.

In-country Movement: The presence of police, gendarmes, and illegal roadblocks inconvenienced domestic movement. Authorities justified roadblocks as a means of enforcing vehicle safety and customs regulations, but police and gendarmes exacted bribes from travelers at many checkpoints.

Foreign Travel: The government maintained documentary requirements for minors traveling abroad as part of its campaign against trafficking in persons. This was not always enforced, and trafficking of minors across borders continued.

The government’s policy toward the seasonal movement of livestock allowed migratory Fulani (Peul) herdsmen from other countries to enter and depart freely; the government did not enforce designated entry points.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Durable Solutions: The government and UNHCR assisted former refugees and asylum seekers with obtaining documents from their countries of origin while granting their status as privileged residents. The government also facilitated naturalization of refugees as part of a local integration effort. The government involved civil society, the media, and academia in the process.

STATELESS PERSONS

There were large communities of stateless individuals residing in eight villages along the border with Niger and Nigeria. These villages were returned to Benin following the resolution of land disputes among Benin, Niger, and Nigeria. The residents lacked the necessary identification documents to claim citizenship.

During the year the government’s Agency for Integrated Management of Spaces, with the assistance of UNHCR, worked with local authorities in communes to increase the registration of births and issuance of birth certificates.

Bhutan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. Citizens could criticize the government publicly and privately without reprisal.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution provides for freedom of speech including for members of the press. Defamation can carry criminal penalties, and citizens were cautious in their expression, especially as it related to criticism of the royal family or government practices.

Press and Media Freedom: The media law does not provide specific protections for journalists or guarantee freedom of information. The media law also prohibits media outlets from supporting political parties. Media sources suggested that while there was commitment to media freedom at the highest levels, some media professionals continued to find bureaucrats unwilling to share information, especially on issues of corruption and violations of the law. Independent media outlets relied heavily on government advertisements for revenue, and most news outlets struggled to generate sufficient revenue to operate.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In its Freedom in the World 2016 report, Freedom House reported that a 2015 survey of 119 current and former Bhutanese journalists revealed general concerns about press freedom and access to information. Local contacts reported increased use of social media to raise complaints of official misconduct or abuse.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally permitted individuals and groups to engage in peaceful expression of views via the internet. Government officials stated the government did not block access, restrict content, or censor websites. Freedom House reported the government occasionally blocked access to websites containing pornography or information deemed offensive to the state. Such blocked information typically did not extend to political content. The Annual Statistics 2017 of the Ministry of Information and Communications estimated the number of internet users at 72 percent of the population.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The government limited/restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and/or association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for the right to assemble peacefully, the government restricted this right. The 1992 National Security Act permits the government to control the public’s right to assembly “to avoid breaches of the peace” by requiring licenses, prohibiting assembly in designated areas, and declaring curfew. The penal code prohibits “promotion of civil unrest” as an act that is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony among different nationalities, racial groups, castes, or religious groups.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government permitted the registration of some political parties and organizations that were deemed “not harmful to the peace and unity of the country.” Many of the NGOs in the country maintained formal or informal connections to members of the royal family. In its Freedom in the World 2016 report, Freedom House stated the government did not permit the operation of NGOs working on the status of Nepali-speaking refugees. Under the law, all NGOs must register with the government. To register an NGO, an individual must be a Bhutanese citizen, disclose his or her family income and assets, disclose his or her educational qualifications, and disclose any criminal records.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government limited freedom of movement and repatriation. Freedom of movement was sometimes restricted based on location of permanent residence. Rules established differences in citizenship categories and determined whether a person may be granted a “route permit” to travel internally or obtain a passport for international travel. (Bhutanese citizens are required to obtain a security clearance certificate to obtain a passport.)

Foreign Travel: The law establishes different categories of citizenship under which foreign travel is restricted. NGOs reported these restrictions primarily affected ethnic Nepalis although children of single mothers who could not establish citizenship through a Bhutanese father also were affected.

Exile: The law does not address forced exile, and there were no reported cases of forced exile during the year. In the early 1990s, the government reportedly forced between 80,000 and 100,000 Nepali-speaking residents to leave the country, following a series of decisions taken during the 1970s and 1980s establishing legal requirements for Bhutanese citizenship.

In its Freedom in the World 2016 report, Freedom House stated that 18,000 Nepali-speaking refugees remained in Nepal as of late 2015. The government claimed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) failed to screen individuals who originally entered these camps to determine whether they had any ties to Bhutan. As of September 2016, after years of international efforts resulting in the resettlement of thousands of refugees, approximately 8,000 Nepali-speaking refugees remained in two refugee camps in Nepal administered by UNHCR.

There continued to be delays in government consideration of claims to Bhutanese citizenship by refugees in Nepal.

Citizenship: Under the constitution, only children whose parents can both be proven to be citizens of Bhutan can apply for citizenship up to their first birthday, after which a petition must be filed with the king to be granted citizenship. Civil society groups noted disproportionate barriers to citizenship faced by Lhotshampa communities and the wives of non-Bhutanese citizens.

NGOs reported that approximately 9,000 applicants have received citizenship since 2006. In June the king granted 137 persons citizenship at a ceremony in Tashichhodzong. The law provides for revocation of the citizenship of any naturalized citizen who “has shown by act or speech to be disloyal in any manner whatsoever to the king, country, and people.” The law permits reapplication for citizenship after a two-year probationary period. The government can restore citizenship after successful completion of the probation and a finding that the individual was not responsible for any act against the government.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) reported that since the 1960s, the country had sheltered Tibetan refugees who were initially located in seven settlements. The government reported that the Tibetans had successfully integrated into society and that approximately 1,600 had applied for and received citizenship. As of July, Department of Immigration records showed 2,583 Tibetan refugees in Bhutan. No current records indicate any of these refugees hold work permits. The CTA did not have an official presence in the country and did not provide social and economic assistance to Tibetans in Bhutan. Authorities keep the country’s border with China closed, and Tibetans generally did not transit the country en route to India. The Tibetan population is decreasing as Tibetan refugees adopt Bhutanese citizenship according to the Department of Immigration.

Employment: Reports suggested that some Tibetan refugees and some Nepali-speaking Bhutanese citizens could not obtain security clearances for government jobs, enroll in higher education, or obtain licenses to run private businesses. According to the government, all Bhutanese citizens are eligible for security clearances provided they do not have criminal records.

Access to Basic Services: The government stated that Tibetan refugees have the same access to government-provided health care and education as citizens. According to the CTA, 13 Tibetan refugees have received licenses to run businesses. The CTA also said that while Tibetan refugees are not eligible for government employment, a few Tibetan refugees worked as teachers and health-care providers under temporary government contracts. They reportedly have difficulties traveling within and outside the country.

Durable Solutions: Tibetan refugees could travel to India, although many faced obstacles in obtaining travel permits. There were also reports the government did not provide the travel documents necessary for Tibetan refugees to travel beyond India. The government continued to delay implementing a process to identify and repatriate refugees with claims to Bhutanese residency or citizenship.

STATELESS PERSONS

A nationwide census in 1985 resulted in a determination that many Nepali-speaking persons in Bhutan were not citizens, effectively rendering them stateless. The government alleged that they were not citizens because they could not prove they had been resident in the country in 1958. Officials repeated the census in 1988-89 in the southern districts. During the second round of the census, those who were deemed not to be citizens in 1985 could apply for citizenship provided they met certain conditions. The government categorized those who did not meet the new criteria as illegal immigrants and expelled them. According to NGOs, an unknown number of Nepali-speaking stateless persons remained in the country, mainly in the south. Officials conducted the last census in 2005. While records do not show any figures on stateless persons, informed sources estimated 1,000 families are stateless.

For a child to qualify for Bhutanese citizenship, both parents must be Bhutanese citizens. NGOs and media sources highlighted the existence of stateless children born to unwed mothers who were unable to prove the identity of the father of the child. According to 2014 NGO reports, more than 700 children born in the country were not recognized as Bhutanese citizens because their fathers’ nationality was undocumented. Nonetheless, the government claimed that 20 children in the kingdom fell into this category. In May the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) urged the government to end discrimination against children based on ethnic origin, particularly in access to education. The UNCRC also requested that the government amend the Citizenship Act of 1985.

Stateless persons cannot obtain “no objection certificates” and security clearance certificates, which are often necessary for access to public healthcare, employment, access to primary and secondary education, enrollment at institutions of higher education, travel documents, and business ownership. The National Commission for Women and Children stated children without citizenship were eligible for public educational and health services.

Bolivia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including of the press, the government frequently carried out reprisals against media outlets that expressed dissenting opinions. Government actions to curb criticism created a climate of hostility towards independent journalists and media and resulted in self-censorship of many news sources. Some media sources reported the government pressured and intimidated them to report favorably about its policies, particularly by withholding of government advertising and imposing steep taxes.

Freedom of Expression: The government continued to denounce press critics and independent media sources. The National Association of Bolivia Press (ANP) Monitoring Unit of Freedom of Expression registered 59 verbal and physical aggressions towards reporters and photographers in 2016.

On April 28, in its annual report, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights enumerated several limitations the government placed on the media, including the use by some government officials of the term “the cartel of lies” (“cartel de la mentira”) to discredit independent journalists and news outlets; the situation of journalists who were forced to leave the country in 2016; pressure against notable journalists who criticized the government; and discriminatory use of state advertising, among others.

In January the former presidency minister and current ambassador to Cuba, Juan Ramon Quintana, denounced an “international cartel of lies,” which he claimed operated in the country. According to Quintana, international news sources, including the British publication The Daily Mirror and Chilean news sources, were guilty of trying to “damage the president and the government’s image” through their reporting.

According to the international NGO Freedom House, freedom of press declined during the year. The report cited the government’s threats of legal action, the “cartel of lies” campaign against independent media, and the fact that two journalists, Carlos Valverde and Wilson Garcia, fled the country to avoid government reprisal. In June, Reporters without Borders began a signature collection campaign to pressure the government to restore the fundamental rights of Garcia, former executive director of the print and digital newspaper Sol de Pando, and allow him to return to the country without fear of reprisal from the government.

Press and Media Freedom: According to the Inter American Press Association, Bolivia is one of a number of countries whose government regularly attempts to disqualify the independent press by accusing it of acting as “political opposition,” and a “bearer of false news” responsible for generating social tension. According to Supreme Decree 181, the government is responsible for providing goods and services to all media outlets in a nondiscriminatory manner. There were many credible reports that the government chose not to purchase state advertisements in media outlets they designated as adversarial to the government.

Some media outlets alleged the government pressured news organizations to report favorably about government policies and retaliated against news organizations that did not comply. The National Press Association and several journalists alleged the government’s retaliatory tactics included withdrawing all of its advertisements, thus denying a significant source of revenue, and launching excessive tax audits, which forced companies to spend unreasonable time and resources to defend themselves. On May 3, the ANP expressed its concern that the government continued to attack independent news outlets and “economically suffocate” media entities that did not cater to the government.

Despite official denials, financial actions on the part of the government appeared to support the claim that the government was trying to control the media narrative. In 2016 the government increased media investment by 22 percent over the previous 12 months. Further, the Ministry of Communication received a 367 million boliviano ($54 million) budget allocation for 2016, an increase of 260 million bolivianos ($38 million) compared with 2015. Finally, the government invested in the creation of the new General Directorate of Social Networks, an entity dedicated specifically to placing government-friendly messages in social media outlets and engaging in online harassment of social media users who criticize the government on their personal pages.

Violence and Harassment: On October 20, members of the Police Operations Tactical Unit assaulted two journalists who were interviewing protesters in Plaza Murillo, a main gathering square in La Paz. According to a complaint the Federation of Press Workers filed with the police commander, the attacks violated legally guaranteed freedoms of assembly and press and resulted in injuries to the journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government censored journalists, and journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of losing their jobs, fear of prosecution, and fear of losing access to government sources. According to a 2014 study published by the University of Texas’ Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and the Unite Foundation, 54 percent of journalists reported being censored, and 83 percent stated they knew of colleagues who had been censored. Of those responding, 59 percent admitted to self-censorship. Approximately 28 percent of journalists were censored for topics that could have caused conflict with the government, 26 percent for reasons that could have affected the interests of advertisers, and 26 percent for reasons that could have exposed journalists to lawsuits.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government systematically monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Government employees faced reprisal for expressing support for initiatives, ideas, and events critical of the MAS administration online and on social media. Reprisals included termination of employment.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 40 percent of the population had internet access in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, although political considerations allegedly influenced academic appointments.

Although the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, civil society groups, especially, but not limited to, those critical of the government, faced harassment from government officials.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

While the law requires a permit for most demonstrations, the government rarely enforced the provisions, and most protesters demonstrated without obtaining permits. Most demonstrations were peaceful, but occasionally demonstrators carried weapons, including clubs, machetes, firearms, firecrackers, and dynamite. Security forces at times dispersed protest groups carrying weapons or threatening government and private facilities.

Former human rights ombudsman Rolando Villena accused the government and the current ombudsman David Tezanos of violating the constitution by impeding doctors’ right to organize. The minister of health responded to the doctors’ 24-hour work stoppage on April 20 by instructing hospitals and insurance companies to document the names of doctors who went on strike and deduct from their pay an amount corresponding to the time they were absent. The minister of labor announced a day after the strike that any further similar actions would be illegal due to the doctors’ “noncompliance with the necessary steps to hold a strike.”

On May 11, the government issued Supreme Decree 3174, which eliminates the 30 boliviano ($4.38) fee associated with the medical certificate patients need to excuse their absences from work due to illness. While the government justified this action by stating that it would “further the goal of providing quality medical care to all Bolivians,” the president of the Medical Association claimed it was “punishment” for the April 20 strike and the association’s general opposition to the government. On May 17, doctors in the public and private medical sectors went on a 48-hour strike to protest Decree 3174 and the Law of Free Association.

On May 18, the human rights ombudsman introduced a “Popular Action” in the La Paz Departmental Justice Tribunal, arguing the actions of the doctors violated the human rights of their patients. In response, the Medical Association announced a plan to conduct a 72-hour strike. On May 29, the tribunal ruled that the doctors were prohibited from suspending health services to carry out this strike, leading the doctors’ to suspend the strike.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government did not respect this right. NGOs continued to be targets of government officials, including the president, vice president, and government ministers, if they operated in a manner perceived as adversarial to the government. Some NGOs alleged that government registration mechanisms were purposefully stringent in order to deter an active civil society.

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

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

In-country Movement: The law prohibits travel on election days and on census days and restricts foreign and domestic travel for up to three months as a penalty for persons who do not vote.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees through the National Commission on Refugees. The country has a legal structure and framework to accommodate those seeking refuge and has a registry of refugees and stateless persons.

Employment: Refugees have the right to work once authorities grant their residency status but not while waiting on pending applications.

Durable Solutions: By law refugees have a path to naturalization, and the government assumes 90 percent of the fees associated with this process. As of June the government had granted citizenship to 10 refugees.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but governmental respect for this right remained poor during the year. Intimidation, harassment, and threats against journalists and media outlets continued with the same intensity as in prior years, while the majority of media coverage was dominated by ethnic and political bias, often encouraging intolerance. Absence of transparency in media ownership remained a problem. In the RS, authorities did not implement a law enacted in 2015 restricting internet speech critical of officials and other individuals.

Freedom of Expression: The country’s law provides for freedom of expression, but irregular implementation and application of the law often undermined press freedoms. The law prohibits expression that provokes racial, ethnic, or other forms of intolerance, including “hate speech,” but authorities did not enforce these restrictions.

According to BiH Journalists’ Association data covering 2006 to 2015, authorities prosecuted approximately 25 percent of reported criminal acts committed against journalists and investigated more than a third of all cases alleging violation of journalists’ rights. Under pressure from professional organizations to address criminal acts against journalists, the Council of Ministers in February adopted an action plan to protect the rights of journalists and media professionals. The BiH Journalists’ Association subsequently noted increased readiness on the part of law enforcement agencies and prosecutors’ offices to address alleged violations of press freedom.

Independent analysts noted the continued tendency of politicians and other leaders to label unwanted criticism as hate speech or treason and to discriminate against media outlets perceived as hostile in their coverage. In one example, in January the Office of the RS President refused to issue credentials to an N1 television crew. Following criticism from the BiH Journalists’ Association, the BiH ombudsman, and the Communications Regulatory Agency (CRA), authorities issued credentials to both N1 and BNTV, a recognized pro-opposition media outlet based in Bijeljina. As of July, the CRA registered one complaint alleging hate speech in the media, although the complaint was later rejected. As of August, the self-regulatory BiH Press Council received 113 complaints related to hate speech and determined that there were 55 cases of incitement and speech spreading hate. Almost all reported instances of hate speech occurred in online media.

Press and Media Freedom: The law prohibiting expression that provokes racial, ethnic, or other forms of intolerance applies to print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals but was not enforced. In addition, the BiH constitution, the constitutions of the entities, and the Statute of the Brcko District guarantee freedom of expression; implementation and enforcement of these legal protections remained sporadic. While the country has decriminalized defamation, a large number of cases continued to be brought against journalists, often resulting in extremely high financial fines. Laws delegate responsibility for safeguarding freedom of the press in most instances to the cantons in the Federation and to the entity-level authorities in the RS. While numerous outlets continued to express a wide variety of views, coverage diverged along political and ethnic lines, and media outlets remained subject to excessive influence from government, political parties, and private interest groups. A number of independent media outlets continued to encounter financial problems that endangered their operations.

Authorities continued to exert pressure on media outlets to discourage some forms of expression, and party and governmental control over the major information outlets narrowed the range of opinions represented in both entities. Public broadcasters remained under strong pressure from government and political forces due to a lack of long-term financial stability and their dependence on politically controlled funding sources. These factors limited their independence and resulted in news that was consistently subjective and politically biased.

The main public broadcasters–Radio and Television of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BHRT), Radio and Television of the Republika Srpska (RTRS), and Federation Radio and Television (FTV)–faced continued financial instability due to the loss of dedicated tax revenue. The nationwide public broadcaster BHRT, whose content was considered to be politically neutral, remained on the verge of financial collapse. Institutional instability within the governing structures of FTV also remained unresolved, leaving the Federation’s public broadcaster open to political pressure. FTV continued to demonstrate political bias. The RS government continued directly to control RTRS, using it for promotion of the RS political establishment and to undercut political opposition. After monitoring the public broadcasters’ news programs, the CRA found that RTRS reporting on RS authorities never included criticism. On July 17, the CRA fined the RTRS 29,000 marks ($17,700) for violating provisions requiring fairness and impartiality.

Entity governments and institutions further undercut the independence of their respective broadcasters by excluding the CRA from the process of appointing governing boards for the broadcasters. The various authorities remained subject to competing political interests and failed to establish a public broadcasting service corporation to oversee the operations of all public broadcasters in the country as provided by law.

Violence and Harassment: Intimidation and threats against journalists continued during the year. There were instances of intimidation and politically motivated litigation against journalists for unfavorable reporting on government leaders and authorities. As of July the Free Media Help Line recorded 338 cases involving violations of journalists’ rights and freedoms or pressure from government and law enforcement officials. Authorities registered five death threats against journalists during the year.

After publishing a story on June 29 about a boy crying and begging for food at an iftar meal during Ramadan in the RS village of Konjevic Polje, news director Amir Zukic and journalist Adisa Imamovic from CNN-affiliate N1 were subject to serious threats posted on the Facebook page Bosnjaci.net. N1 filed a criminal complaint against Bosnjaci.net, accusing the website of jeopardizing the safety of its journalists by publishing threatening commentary that incited religious and national hatred. Despite the complaint, the threats continued, and legal proceedings over the criminal complaint were ongoing at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Multiple political parties and entity-level institutions attempted to influence editorial policies and media content through legal and financial measures. As a result, some media outlets practiced self-censorship.

In some instances, media sources reported that officials threatened outlets with loss of advertising or limited their access to official information. Prevailing practices reflected close connections between major advertisers and political circles and allowed for biased distribution of advertising time. Public companies, most of which were under the control of political parties, remained the key advertisers. Outlets critical of ruling parties claimed they faced difficulties in obtaining advertising.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that it monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law prohibits expression of racial, ethnic, or other intolerance, which includes hate speech. Authorities, however, did not enforce these prohibitions for online media.

While access to the internet is not explicitly listed as a legal right, constitutional and legal protections have been interpreted to also apply to the internet. In the RS, the law declares that internet-based social networks are part of the public domain and provides fines for “insulting or disturbing” content, not clearly defined, published on the internet. Independent analysts considered this provision as an attempt to control online activism and social media, noting that the law broadens police authority. RS authorities have not implemented the law, having initially met strong negative reaction from journalists, NGOs, opposition political parties, and the international community. In 2016 the RS Constitutional Court rejected as unfounded an appeal submitted jointly by Transparency International, the BiH Journalists’ Association, and the Banja Luka Club of Journalists that challenged the legality and constitutionality of the law.

Many news portals were not registered and did not list any contact information, making it difficult to respond against them. The vast majority of registered hate speech cases in the country occurred online.

According to the International Telecommunication Union statistics, approximately 69 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Following municipal elections in October 2016, the cantonal governments in Tuzla and Sarajevo passed laws that could restrict the independence and academic freedom of universities within their jurisdiction by giving elected municipal authorities the right to hire and fire university personnel, including academics, at their discretion. The new laws reflected a trend towards increased ethno-politicized influence in the administration of universities, with effects ranging from greater corruption in higher education to ethnic and political bias in the university environment.

The country’s eight public universities remained segregated along ethnic lines, including their curricula, diplomas, and relevant school activities. Professors reportedly on occasion used prejudicial language in their lectures, while the selection of textbooks and school materials reinforced discrimination and prejudice.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. In the RS, assembly in front of public institutions is prohibited. NGOs reported that RS authorities at times manipulated and controlled the process of granting the right to assembly to civil society groups. In May the Sarajevo Canton Ministry of Transport failed to respond in a timely matter to a lawful permit request submitted by the Sarajevo Open Center for an LGBTI march for human rights in Sarajevo.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Under the law, NGOs can register at the state, entity, and cantonal levels in a generally streamlined and simple administrative process. Cooperation between the government and civil society organizations at the state and entity levels, however, remained weak, while government support for civil society organizations remained nontransparent, particularly regarding the allocation of funds.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, but some restrictions remained.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance for internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities routinely placed asylum seekers in the immigration detention center without documenting their asylum requests and frequently issued expulsion and detention orders to would-be asylum seekers without giving them an opportunity to present asylum applications. According to UNHCR, authorities held 45 individuals seeking asylum from Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Poland, Cuba, Turkey, Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon at the center during the first six months of the year. Information on the right to seek asylum appeared not to be readily available to potential asylum seekers in the detention center. UNHCR expressed concern that foreigners in detention may not have access to asylum procedures and that authorities may prematurely return some potential asylum seekers under readmission agreements before they have been afforded due opportunity to file a claim for asylum.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees statistics indicated that 98,574 persons still held IDP status resulting from the 1992-95 conflict. The majority of Bosniaks and Croats fled the RS, while Serbs fled the Federation. At the beginning of the year, UNHCR was directly providing protection and/or assistance to 5,344 IDPs. According to UNHCR, an estimated 7,000 persons, including IDPs, continued to live in collective accommodations located throughout the country and meant to be temporary. A substantial number of IDPs and returnees lived in substandard conditions that affected their livelihoods.

The Dayton Peace Accords provide for the right of persons displaced by the conflict to return to their homes. The country’s constitution and laws provide for the voluntary return or local integration of IDPs consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

While physical violence against minority returnees subsided significantly after the war, isolated attacks continued but were generally not investigated or prosecuted adequately. Minority returnees continued to face obstacles in exercising their rights in places of return.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum (refugee or subsidiary protection status), and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Asylum seekers with pending claims have a right to accommodation at the asylum center until the Ministry of Security makes a final and binding decision on their claims. Asylum seekers have the right to appeal a negative decision. The system for providing protection to refugees seeking asylum continued to suffer from a lack of transparency.

UNHCR reported that applicants for refugee status did not have sufficient legal assistance, that there were no clear standards of proof or methods of assessing the credibility of claims, including country of origin, and that guidelines for determining whether there was a risk of persecution were unduly strict. UNHCR also expressed concern regarding the detention of potential asylum seekers who may be denied access to asylum procedures and returned under readmission agreements.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law provides for the application of the concept of “safe country of origin or safe third country.” Under this provision, authorities may deny asylum to applicants who cannot prove they were unable to return to their country of origin or to any country of transit without risking refoulement.

Durable Solutions: The laws provide a program for integration and return of refugees and displaced persons. The country was party to a regional housing program funded by international donors and facilitated in part by UNHCR and the OSCE to provide durable solutions for up to 74,000 refugees and displaced persons from four countries in the region, including 14,000 of the most vulnerable refugees, returnees, and IDPs from BiH. The process of selecting program beneficiaries was protracted, however, due to capacity and management problems that resulted in extended delays in the reconstruction of homes. Fragmented institutional arrangements added administrative delays to the process, as did the political imperative to select beneficiaries proportionally from among the country’s constituent peoples.

Temporary Protection: The government provided subsidiary protection status to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. In the first six months of the year, authorities provided subsidiary protection to one individual and extended existing protection to three others.

Botswana

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Freedom of Expression: The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, however the law restricts the speech of some government officials and fines persons found guilty of insulting public officials or national symbols. The law states, “Any person in a public place or at a public gathering (who) uses abusive, obscene, or insulting language in relation to the president, any other member of the National Assembly, or any public officer” is guilty of an offense and may be fined up to 400 pula ($40). The penal code also states that any person who insults the country’s coat of arms, flag, presidential standard, or national anthem is guilty of an offense and may be fined up to 500 pula ($50).

Press and Media Freedom: NGOs and media reported the government attempted to limit press freedom. The government dominated domestic broadcasting.

The government owned and operated the Botswana Press Agency, which dominated the print media through its free, nationally distributed newspaper, Daily News, and two state-operated FM radio stations. State-owned media generally featured reporting favorable to the government and, according to some observers, were susceptible to political interference. Opposition political parties claimed state media coverage heavily favored the ruling party. The government ombudsman stated in an August 28 report that public broadcaster Botswana Television “unduly favored” the ruling party in its political coverage.

The independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views, which frequently included strong criticism of the government; however, members of the media complained they were sometimes subject to government pressure to portray the government and country in a positive light. Private media organizations had more difficulty than government-owned media obtaining access to government-held information.

Violence and Harassment: In March, DISS agents reportedly detained and threatened three journalists from the INK Center for Investigative Journalism near President Khama’s private residence in Mosu. The journalists were researching claims that public funds were being used to construct the residence.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some members of civil society organizations alleged the government occasionally censored stories in the government-run media it deemed undesirable. Government journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship. The government banned private radio station GabzFM from broadcasting live content after it aired a controversial live interview with anti-lesbian, gay,bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) American pastor Steven Anderson in September 2016.

Libel/Slander Laws: In 2014 police arrested Sunday Standard editor Outsa Mokone and charged him with sedition for publishing articles about an automobile accident allegedly involving President Khama. Observers noted the use of the penal code’s sedition clause for a newspaper article was unprecedented and further noted the Sunday Standard had published several articles exposing corruption allegations within the DISS. In 2016 lawyers for Mokone sought to have the charges dropped based on the penal code’s infringement of the defendant’s constitutional right to freedom of expression. That same year the High Court ruled the penal code’s sedition clause was constitutional and charges of sedition against Mokone could proceed. The case was still pending at year’s end.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2015 approximately 27 percent of individuals used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected these rights.

In February tertiary students protested delays in student allowance payments and course accreditation in a series of riots in Gaborone. There were media reports the BPS used rubber bullets, tear gas, and rubber whips to disperse crowds. One student was reportedly shot with a rubber bullet and others beaten. A student claimed to have been mistreated while in police custody based on her transgender identity, saying police made her strip to disclose her gender.

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting more than 2,800 refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. The government held refugees and asylum seekers in CII in Francistown until the Refugee Advisory Committee (RAC), a governmental body, made a status recommendation. The committee met four times during the year. UNHCR representatives participated in advisory committee meetings as observers and technical advisers. Through September, RAC authorities approved refugee status for 37 minors who received derivative status from their parents.

The ministry of defense, justice, and security introduced biometric identity cards for refugees and asylum seekers.

The government applies the principle of first country of asylum; on that basis in 2015 it detained more than 400 individuals, many of whom had received refugee status in a third country and then entered the country illegally and claimed asylum.

In November the Court of Appeal ruled only recognized refugees were authorized to reside at Dukwi Refugee Camp, and asylum seekers who were transferred there earlier in the year based on a July High Court order should be returned to the CII. The ruling prompted the majority of the asylum seekers to flee the camp rather than be returned to the CII, where they had allegedly been physically abused by guards and prison inmates. More than 400 persons, including more than 200 children, sought asylum during 2015; the majority were from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Composed mainly of families that had transited Zambia and Tanzania, the RAC refused their claims based on its “first country of asylum” policy and held the families at the CII while they awaited deportation. UNHCR urged the government to review its decision to deny asylum and to keep the asylum seekers at the CII, where authorities separated families, and women and children lived in tents in substandard conditions. Prior to July, asylum seekers were housed at the CII with inmates from the local men’s prison while it underwent refurbishment. Security at the CII was a concern, and an inmate allegedly sexually assaulted a 12-year-old male asylum seeker. There were reports food rations provided to asylum seekers were inadequate.

In December the private weekly The Botswana Gazette ran a 16-page special report by the INK Center for Investigative Journalism summarizing a four-month investigation into the treatment of the asylum seekers at the CII. According to the report, the asylum seekers said Botswana authorities physically abused them.

Employment: As of August most of the country’s 2,153 registered refugees and 727 registered asylum seekers were living in Dukwi Camp without the right to work outside the camp. As a general policy, all registered refugees must reside in Dukwi under a strict encampment policy, although the government may issue a residence permit to remain outside the camp in exceptional cases, such as for refugees enrolled at a university, in need of specialized medical care, or with unique skills.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees in Dukwi had access to education and basic health care. They were unable to access government programs for HIV/AIDS medication, but the government allowed an international donor-funded parallel program to provide such medication. UNHCR facilitated refugee and asylum seekers’ exit permit applications for medical referrals as necessary through their implementing partner, the Botswana Red Cross. Officials typically granted exit permits for three days; refugees found outside the camp without a permit were subject to arrest.

According to UNHCR there was no access to education in the CII. The center hosts a clinic, and a specialized nurse provides basic health care, while critical cases were referred to the Francistown city hospital.

Durable Solutions: According to UNHCR, as of October there were 27 voluntary repatriations of Namibian and Zimbabwean refugees.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection at Dukwi to individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol. UNHCR provided food and other provisions to individuals under temporary protection.

Brazil

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with minimal restriction, but nongovernmental criminal elements subjected journalists to violence because of their professional activities. Despite national laws prohibiting politically motivated judicial censorship, some local-level courts engaged in judicial censorship. In instances of violence perpetrated by protesters or provocateurs during massive demonstrations, at times security forces injured journalists during crowd-control operations.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes subject to harassment and physical attacks as a result of their reporting. The Brazilian Association of Radio and Television recorded 174 acts of violence against journalists in 2016, compared with 116 cases in 2015. Law enforcement personnel perpetrated the majority of the attacks during protests related to the 2016 impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff. According to a report by the international NGO Article 19 on violations of freedom of expression published in May, in 2016 there were 31 “serious violations against communicators,” which included four killings, five homicide attempts, and 22 death threats. Communicators encompassed journalists, bloggers, radio broadcasters, and owners of media outlets. Sao Paulo was the state that registered the most violations (16 percent), while the Northeast was the region with the most violations (45 percent). Public authorities such as politicians and law enforcement officials perpetrated 77 percent of the violations, and police did not open investigations in 39 percent of the cases.

In September, Roseli Ferreira Pimentel, the mayor of Santa Luzia–part of metropolitan Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais State–was arrested for ordering the killing of Mauricio Campos Rosa, owner of the newspaper O Grito, in August 2016. According to a local radio station, the motive was likely related to Rosa’s journalistic investigations into corruption involving city councilors and a cooperative responsible for garbage collection. Police arrested Pimentel after discovering that she had diverted 20,000 reais ($6,190) from public funds to pay the perpetrators.

Although there were no reported deaths of journalists in the first half of the year, journalists and bloggers continued to be the victims of serious threats. On March 3, the car of journalist Rodrigo Lima was set on fire outside the offices of the newspaper Diario da Regiao, in Sao Jose do Rio Preto, Sao Paulo State. On March 24, police searched the home of blogger Carlos Eduardo Cairo Guimaraes and seized his laptop, his cell phone, and his wife’s cell phone in an effort to identify the sources of a February story in which he wrote that police would question former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as part of a corruption investigation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: President Temer and his wife Marcela were accused of censorship when Marcela Temer’s lawyers filed an injunction ordering the national daily newspapers O Globo and Folha de Sao Paulo to remove articles about a person found guilty in October 2016 of blackmailing Marcela Temer following the hacking of her cell phone. Her lawyers argued the articles violated her privacy. On February 13, a judge in Brasilia granted a judicial order that required removal of the articles and prohibited any further publication of material about the case. The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism, National Association of Magazine Editors, Brazilian Association of Radio and Television, National Association of Newspapers, and Brazilian Press Association called the ruling censorship. Both newspapers appealed the decision; on February 15, an appeals court overturned the injunction against Folha de Sao Paulo. In June Marcela Temer’s lawyers dropped the legal case against both newspapers.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or systematically censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

The 2014 landmark Marco Civil law–considered an internet “bill of rights”–enshrines net neutrality and freedom of expression online and provides for the inviolability and secrecy of user communications online, permitting exceptions only by court order. Nevertheless, several legal and judicial rulings citing Marco Civil had the potential to threaten freedom of expression on the internet. Anonymous speech is explicitly excluded from constitutional protection, which left little privacy protection for those who used the internet anonymously through a pseudonym. Police and prosecutors may obtain data pursuant to three main statutes: the Wiretapping Act, Secrecy of Financial Data Act, and Money Laundering Act.

Private individuals and official bodies took legal action against internet service providers and providers of online social media platforms, such as Google and Facebook, holding them accountable for content posted to or provided by users of the platform. In June WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton participated in a two-day hearing held by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of judicial suspensions in 2016 of WhatsApp and the possibility of retrieving encrypted data related to criminal investigations. As of October no date had been set for trials related to these matters.

The electoral law regulates political campaign activity on the internet. The law prohibits paid political advertising online and in traditional media. During the three months prior to an election, the law also prohibits online and traditional media from promoting candidates and distributing content that ridicules or could offend a candidate.

According to CGI.br, the country’s internet management committee, 60 percent of households had access to the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government generally respected the right of freedom of peaceful assembly, but police occasionally intervened in citizen protests that turned violent. In May approximately 35,000 antigovernment protesters marched in Brasilia, starting a fire inside the Ministry of Agriculture and damaging other ministerial buildings. Protesters clashed with police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets, resulting in injuries to approximately 50 protesters. On May 24, President Temer, citing the police’s inability to contain the demonstrations, deployed federal troops to restore order in the capital. Temer revoked the deployment the next day.

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The National Committee for Refugees cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. By law refugees are provided official documentation, access to legal protection, and access to public services. In May President Temer signed a new migration law, replacing the Foreigner Statue of 1980; the new law was to go into effect in November. Conditions for granting and maintaining asylum under the new law are to be delineated through the regulation process, which was scheduled to be completed by November.

In 2016 a significantly increasing number of Venezuelan economic migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees began arriving in Roraima State in the north. As of August the government had registered 14,400 official requests for asylum from Venezuelans, and 100-150 new applicants were appearing daily.

Temporary Protection: In March the National Immigration Council issued a decree allowing Venezuelans who enter the country via a land border to apply for a two-year residency permit. According to the Federal Police, as of the beginning of November, 2,700 Venezuelans had submitted requests for temporary residence status.

Brunei

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Under the law and emergency powers, the government restricted freedom of expression, including of the press.

Freedom of Expression: Members of the LegCo may “speak their opinions freely,” but they are prohibited from using language or exhibiting behavior deemed “irresponsible, derogatory, scandalous, or injurious.” Under the law it is an offense to challenge the royal family’s authority. The law also makes it an offense to challenge “the standing or prominence of the national philosophy, the Malay Islamic Monarchy concept.” This concept, the all-pervasive ideology that underscores the law, proclaims Islam as the state religion and monarchical rule as the sole form of government to uphold the rights and privileges of the Brunei Malay race. The law also criminalizes any act, matter, or word intended to promote “feelings of ill will or hostility” between classes of persons or “wound religious feelings.”

The SPC includes provisions barring contempt for or insult of the sultan, administration of sharia, or any law related to Islam. There were no known cases of persons charged under these sections, but online criticism of the law was largely self-censored, and online newspapers ceased publishing comments on stories after the sultan issued repeated warnings.

All public musical or theatrical performances required prior approval by a censorship board composed of officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The SPC was interpreted by the government as prohibiting public celebration of religions other than Islam, including displaying Christmas decorations.

Press and Media Freedom: The law requires local newspapers to obtain operating licenses and prior government approval for hiring foreign editorial staff, journalists, and printers. The law also gives the government the right to bar distribution of foreign publications and requires distributors of foreign publications to obtain a government permit. The law allows the government to close a newspaper without giving prior notice or showing cause. In 2016 one of the two English-language dailies ceased operations without prior notice. The newspaper’s website and social media presence were removed without access to archives. Although the newspaper’s board of directors attributed the closure to business sustainability, poor journalistic standards, and competition from alternative media, there were widespread reports that the government shuttered the paper following a complaint from the Saudi Arabian embassy regarding alleged “inaccurate” reporting on a change in visa fees for citizens wishing to visit Saudi Arabia.

Foreign newspapers generally were available, although the government must approve their distribution. Internet versions of local and foreign media were generally available without censorship or blocking.

The government owned the only local television station. Three Malaysian television channels were also available, along with two satellite television services. Some content was subject to censorship based on theme or content, including sexual or religious content, but such censorship was not consistent.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law provides for prosecution of newspaper publishers, proprietors, or editors who publish anything with an alleged seditious intent. The government may suspend publication for a maximum of one year and prohibit publishers, printers, or editors from publishing, writing, or editing any other newspaper. The government may also seize printing equipment. Persons convicted under the law face a maximum fine of 5,000 Brunei dollars (BND) ($3,640) and a maximum jail term of three years. Journalists deemed to have published or written “false and malicious” reports may be subject to fines or prison sentences. In 2016 the government reprimanded the media for their portrayal of certain events and encouraged reporters to avoid covering controversial topics such as the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. At least one editorial deemed critical of government policy was removed from news sites, but there were no reports of fines or charges. The government maintained that most censorship was aimed at stopping violent content from entering the country.

The SPC includes regulations barring publication or importation of publications giving instruction about Islam contrary to sharia. It also bars the distribution of publications related to religions other than Islam to Muslims or persons with no religion. The SPC bars the publication, broadcast, or public expression of a list of words generally associated with Islam (such as Quran) in a non-Islamic context. The SPC also prohibits religious teaching without written approval. There were no reports of charges under these regulations.

Journalists commonly reported practicing self-censorship because of social pressure, reports of government interference, and legal and professional concerns.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law prohibits bringing into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the sultan and/or the government. Persons convicted under the law face a fine of BND 5,000 ($3,640) and/or a maximum of three years in prison. For the first time in 30 years, on July 27, the government charged an official of the Ministry of Health, Shahiransheriffuddin bin Sharani Muhammad, with making seditious comments criticizing the Ministry of Religious Affairs following the implementation of the Sultanate’s new halal certification standards approved in May. Bin Sharani posted on his personal Facebook page about the halal certification requirements’ negative impact on small businesses. He pleaded not guilty and is free on bail awaiting trial.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government monitored private email and internet chat room exchanges believed to be propagating religious extremism or otherwise subversive, including those of religious minorities, or on topics deemed immoral. The Ministry of Communications and the Prime Minister’s Office enforced the law that requires internet service providers and internet cafe operators to register with the director of broadcasting in the Prime Minister’s Office. The Attorney General’s Chambers and the Authority for Info-Communications Technology Industry advised internet service and content providers to monitor for content contrary to the public interest, national harmony, and social morals. The government blocked websites promoting violent extremism and some websites containing sexually explicit material. Internet companies self-censor content and reserve the right to cut off internet access without prior notice. The government also ran an awareness campaign aimed at warning citizens about the misuse of and social ills associated with social media, including the use of social media to criticize Islam, sharia, or the monarchy.

The great majority of the population had access to the internet, and the country had a high rate of social media usage. Social media websites were widely accessible.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Although there are no official government restrictions on academic freedom, quasi-governmental authorities must approve public lectures, academic conferences, and visiting scholars. Academics reported practicing self-censorship, and some researchers chose to publish from overseas under a pseudonym when they perceived that certain topics would not be well received within Brunei. Religious authorities reviewed publications to verify compliance with social norms.

A censorship board composed of officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Ministry of Religious Affairs determined the suitability of concerts, movies, cultural shows, and other public performances, and censored, banned, or restricted these activities. Traditional Chinese New Year lion dance performances were limited to a two-day period and confined to Chinese temples, Chinese school halls, and private residencies of Chinese association members.

The government limited/restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government’s proclamation of emergency powers restricts the right to assemble. Public gatherings of 10 or more persons require a government permit, and police may disband an unofficial assembly of five or more persons deemed likely to cause a disturbance of the peace. Permits require the approval of the minister of home affairs. The government routinely issued permits for annual events, but occasionally used the restrictions to disrupt political gatherings. Organizers of events on sensitive topics tended to hold meetings in private locations rather than apply for permits, or practiced self-censorship at public events.

On February 21, 19 Indian migrant workers were each fined BND 300 ($211) after pleading guilty to taking part in an unlawful assembly in support of the ancient Indian sport of Jallikattu. In handing down the sentence, the judge reminded the public that it must obtain a permit from the commissioner of police in order to hold a public meeting.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law does not provide for freedom of association. It requires formal groups, including religious, social, business, labor, and cultural organizations, to register with the Registrar of Societies and provide regular reports on membership and finances. The government reported the majority of applications to form associations were accepted, but applicants were subject to background checks, and proposed organizations were subject to naming requirements, including a prohibition on names or symbols linked to triad societies (Chinese organized crime networks). Some new organizations reported delaying their registration applications after receiving advice that the process would be difficult. The government may suspend the activities of a registered organization if it deems such an act to be in the public interest.

Organizations seeking to raise funds or donations from the general public are required to obtain permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs, and each individual fundraising opportunity requires separate permits. Approved organizations dealt with matters such as pollution, wildlife preservation, arts, entrepreneurship, and women in business. An organization called Youth Against Slavery founded in 2015 continued to raise awareness about human trafficking and forced labor, but it had not officially registered as of December.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: Citizens and stateless persons face no restriction on internal travel and travel freely throughout the country. Women do not need the consent of a husband or other male to travel.

Foreign Travel: Government employees, including both citizens and foreign residents working on a contractual basis, must apply for exit permits to travel abroad. Government guidelines state no government official may travel alone and unrelated male and female officers may not travel together, but this was enforced inconsistently based on ministry and gender. The country’s tourist passports state the bearer may not travel to Israel. There were reports of individuals suspected of violating sharia being told that they were on a travel blacklist or being refused exit from the country, without being notified of the charges against them or of how to appeal the ban.

Exile: By law the sultan may forcibly exile, permanently or temporarily, any person deemed a threat to the safety, peace, or welfare of the country. There have been no cases of banishment since the country became fully independent in 1984.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: During the year a refugee family traveling on UN Convention travel documents and in possession of valid Brunei entry visas was denied entry and informed that their travel documents were not recognized by the government and their entry permits had been issued in error.

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

STATELESS PERSONS

The 2011 Population and Housing Census reported 13,310 stateless persons normally resident in the country. A significant number of stateless persons were of Chinese or aboriginal descent. The vast majority of stateless persons held a certificate of identity (COI), which looks like and functions as a passport. COI holders have rights including to subsidized health care and education similar to those of permanent residents. The government had no data available on stateless persons who hold no form of residency or COI.

Stateless persons may apply for citizenship if they are permanent residents who have contributed to the country’s economic growth, spouses married to citizens for two years, women married to permanent residents for five years, or children of permanent resident fathers older than two years and six months. All applicants must pass a test demonstrating sufficient knowledge of Malay culture and language.

Stateless persons without permanent resident status or a COI were ineligible for most benefits or services from the government and for government employment. Nonetheless, government agencies offered welfare services to stateless parents unable to gain access to basic needs. The Ministry of Home Affairs sought to expedite the permanent resident registration of the country’s stateless persons if they met all necessary requirements. The strict procedure for assessing the applications continued to cause bureaucratic delays. Contacts in the stateless community who passed the Malay culture and language test reported that five to 10 years had elapsed since they passed their test and they still had not been granted citizenship.

Bulgaria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. Concerns persisted, however, that corporate and political pressure combined with the growing and nontransparent concentration of media ownership and distribution networks, as well as government regulation of resources and support for the media, gravely damaged media pluralism.

The International Research and Exchanges Board’s (IREX) 2017 Media Sustainability Index identified the growth of political pressure and the use of media by oligarchs to “exert influence, ruin the reputations of political and business opponents, and manipulate public opinion” as major threats to the public’s trust in the media. IREX noted that the government actively hindered free media development. Reports of intimidation and violence against journalists continued.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals generally criticized the government without official reprisal, although a few incidents of reprisals were reported. In August police called Vasil Kotsev for interrogation regarding his April social media post addressing the prime minister: “…your actions will not only throw you out of power, but we will cut your head off! Are you trying to make Bulgarians pick up arms and knives?…The day is coming!” Police forced Kotsev to sign a declaration that he would not threaten the prime minister again. The prime minister subsequently apologized for the excessive police reaction.

As of September publisher Economedia was still appealing a 50,000 lev ($30,000) fine imposed by the Financial Supervision Commission (FSC) after Economedia outlets implicated FSC chair Stoyan Mavrodiev in a money laundering case and accused him of having connections with an organized crime figure.

The law provides for one to four years’ imprisonment for incitement to “hate speech.” The law defines hate speech as speech that instigates hatred, discrimination, or violence based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, marital or social status, or disability. A 2016 survey by the NGO Open Society Institute found “a disturbing trend of increasing public instances and acceptance of hate speech.” NGOs noted that the presence of nationalist parties in the government “empowered” their supporters to resort to hate speech as a norm, rather than an exception. Paid “trolls” populated forums and social media of all media outlets, targeting political opponents with racist and xenophobic comments.

As of October prosecutors had opened 14 hate crime investigations and had pursued four indictments against 12 persons; the courts issued four convictions, including two prison sentences.

Press and Media Freedom: The media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Laws restricting “hate speech” also applied to material appearing in the print media. According to the Reporters without Borders’ 2017 World Press Freedom Index, the press environment was “dominated by corruption and collusion between media, politicians, and oligarchs.” The report noted that there was lack of transparency in the government’s allocation of funding to certain media outlets, which had the effect of bribing editors to be lenient in their political reporting or refrain from covering problematic cases. Despite a 2016 European Court of Human Rights ruling that publishers are responsible for the content of their forums, few online media outlets imposed stricter policies on posts. Domestic and international organizations criticized both print and electronic media for lack of ownership and financial transparency, editorial bias, and susceptibility to economic and political influence.

On March 21, the publishers of Pras Pres, a satirical periodical criticizing the government, filed a complaint with the Commission for Protection of Competition claiming that the National Distribution company had abused its dominant position in the press distribution market and stopped the first Pras Pres edition from sale in its outlets. This edition had been distributed in 10,000 copies on March 1. In June the commission decided that National Distribution had not violated competition regulations, citing the company’s explanation that it runs between 5,000 and 10,000 outlets and it was possible some of them did not get any Pras Pres copies.

Violence and Harassment: In July three unidentified men assaulted public Bulgarian National Television morning show anchor Ivo Nikodimov in broad daylight on his way home from work. Nikodimov suffered facial injuries. As of September the attackers and their motives remained unknown.

On October 6, National Assembly member Anton Todorov told Nova Television morning talk show host Viktor Nikolaev that he “would have fired him” for a question referring to Todorov’s past strong criticism of the party he represented in the National Assembly. Nikolaev’s next guest, Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov, accused the journalist of “shaking the government,” and when Nikolaev responded that “the government is shaking itself,” Simeonov suggested that Nikolaev could easily lose his job. In response, the Association of European Journalists Bulgaria called for boycotting politicians who threaten journalists. Both politicians subsequently asserted that their words had been taken out of context and misinterpreted as threats. On October 9, Todorov tendered his resignation from the National Assembly, citing his desire to save the reputation of his party, while Simeonov called for an apology from the four electronic media outlets that he believed misinterpreted him and threatened to sue them.

In December the prosecution service indicted Martin Dushev and Veselin K. for the January 2016 assault on Pomorie journalist Stoyan Tonchev, who suffered numerous fractures and was temporarily in a coma. According to Tonchev, the attack was prompted by his criticism and investigation exposing corrupt deals by the local government.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists continued to report self-censorship, editorial prohibitions on covering specific persons and topics, and the imposition of political points of view by corporate leaders. In March businessman and publisher Sasho Donchev stated at a business forum that he had been invited to a private meeting with the prosecutor general “to tell me that he finds my behavior increasingly unacceptable and insufferable.” Donchev alleged that the prosecutor general accused him of support for a specific political party, pressured him over articles in his newspaper, threatened his business, and warned him that his communications were being monitored. The prosecutor general denied the allegations, insisting that Donchev had initiated the meeting and had requested that the prosecutor general exert influence on prosecutors working on a case related to Donchev’s business.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is illegal and punishable by a 3,000-15,000 lev ($1,800-$9,000) fine and public censure. Journalists’ reporting on corruption or mismanagement prompted many defamation cases brought by politicians, government officials, and other persons in public positions. According to the Association of European Journalists, journalists generally lost such cases because they could rarely produce hard evidence in court.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 63.5 percent of households had access to the internet in 2016.

The security services could access electronic data with judicial permission when investigating cyber and other serious crimes, and electronic data traffic in cases related to serious crime or national security (also see section 1.f.).

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution and law provide for freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Human rights organizations continued to report police and societal violence against migrants and asylum seekers, including assaults, beatings, and humiliation at the country’s borders. In August the Sofia City Court sentenced Yordan Partalin and Robert Ganev to 10 years in prison each for the 2015 attempted murder of a Cameroonian asylum seeker returning to a refugee center after a trip to the grocery store. The initial indictment treated the attempted murder as a racial and xenophobic act, but those charges were dropped during the trial.

In October Medecins Sans Frontieres reported that there was “[asylum seeker] abuse around borders, but also mistreatment in police stations, detention centers, and camps” and that “children and young refugees often endure beatings and other forms of abuse.” In August three Afghans and five Syrians reported that they were pushed back to Turkey after being beaten and robbed by Bulgarian police while attempting to cross the border. An August BBC report, based on interviews with migrants and NGO experts, implicated some border authorities in receiving bribes from migrants to facilitate their entry. According to the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, interviews with migrants indicated that some border guards took bribes and provided migrants with in-country transportation.

With the overall decrease in the number of migrants and asylum seekers in the country, there were no reports of vigilante groups conducting citizen arrests of migrants along the border with Turkey. In August the Burgas District Court stated there was not enough evidence that Petar Nizamov had illegally detained three Afghan migrants, and the court acquitted him. Nizamov had been prosecuted based on an April 2016 video showing him with three migrants forced to lie on the ground with their hands zip-tied behind their backs. As of October the town of Sredets’ investigation of the self-proclaimed “migrant hunter” Dinko Valev, which started in November 2016, continued. Valev, who had filmed himself detaining 16 migrants and subjecting them to death threats and verbal abuse, was accused of ethnic/nationality-based discrimination, violence, and hatred.

Extreme nationalist parties used antimigrant rhetoric in their political campaigns. Most other political parties’ election platforms called for curbs on migration flows and for increased border security. Negative coverage of migrants appeared in some media, claiming they were mostly fanatics and terrorists or that most of them were economic migrants and not legitimate asylum seekers–repeating negative stereotypes that encouraged societal intolerance. On several occasions mayors refused to register refugees with recognized status, and local residents protested against refugee attempts to settle in their respective locations. In March Belene municipal councilor Krasimir Todorov started a campaign and attracted local citizens to protest against a Syrian family taken in by the Catholic priest Paolo Cortese. The family was forced to leave Belene, and the priest, who received death threats, was recalled by the Vatican, which discontinued its aid to the region.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of migrants and asylum seekers to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

In December the UNHCR criticized the government for violating the principle of nonrefoulement with the “expulsion of more than 2,500 [third-country nationals] and the August 2016 extradition of Turkish citizen Abdullah Buyuk, despite two court rulings against his extradition.”

NGOs continued to criticize the government for indiscriminately deporting Turkish political asylum seekers. As of September, 12 Turkish citizens applied for protection, nine received denials, and three disappeared before the refugee status decision. The government responded that Turkey is officially a safe country and all refugee status denials had received judicial confirmation.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for protecting refugees. The president may grant asylum to persons who are persecuted for their belief or activities advocating for internationally recognized rights and freedoms. The council of ministers may provide temporary protection in case of mass influx of foreign nationals driven by an armed conflict, civil war, violence or large-scale human rights violations in their country of origin, as determined by the Council of the European Union.

The overall number of asylum seekers entering the country decreased by nearly 94 percent compared with 2016. Independent observers had access to refugee reception centers, whose capacity was 5,190 and were 19 percent occupied at the end of the year. Humanitarian organizations and volunteers helped with food, educational, and other support. NGOs expressed concern that the government has no administrative mechanism for the early identification, referral, and provision of adequate services to vulnerable asylum seekers, such as minors, persons with disabilities, the elderly, pregnant women, and survivors of rape, torture, or other forms of severe physical or sexual violence.

Freedom of Movement: In September the government decided to restrict asylum seekers’ movement to the administrative region in which the reception center where they have been accommodated is located. The restriction is valid until the asylum procedure is completed.

Access to Basic Services: On July 12, the government adopted a new refugee integration ordinance that allows municipal mayors to sign integration agreements with persons who have refugee status, spelling out the basic services–housing, education, language training, health services, professional qualification, and job search assistance–to which they will receive access, and the obligations of the responsible institutions. As of September no refugee had signed an integration agreement. According to the State Agency for Refugees, local governments were reluctant to settle and integrate refugees. In addition, refugees who hoped to settle in another Western European country were reluctant to sign such agreements.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement, offered naturalization to refugees residing on its territory, and assisted in their voluntary return to their homes. As of September the country had accepted 50 refugees relocated from Greece, out of an agreed quota of 1,302.

Temporary Protection: The government provided humanitarian protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of September the government provided protection to 782 persons.

STATELESS PERSONS

In September the government granted the first-ever status of a stateless person. As of December, according to the Ministry of Interior, 43 persons had received such status, 30 statelessness applications were in process, and two were rejected. In December 2016 amendments to the law provided a procedure through which stateless persons could acquire status.

Burkina Faso

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. In 2015 the government adopted a law decriminalizing press offenses. The law replaces prison sentences with penalties ranging from one million to five million CFA francs ($1,838 to $9,191). Some editors complained that few newspapers or media outlets could afford such fines.

Despite the advent of the 2015 law, journalists occasionally faced criminal prosecution for libel and other forms of harassment and intimidation.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits persons from insulting the head of state or using derogatory language with respect to the office. Individuals generally criticized the government without reprisal, but opposition leaders accused the government of tailing and wiretapping opposition figures in the government.

Press and Media Freedom: There were numerous independent newspapers, satirical weeklies, and radio and television stations, some of which strongly criticized the government. Foreign radio stations broadcast without government interference. Government media outlets–including newspapers, television, and radio–sometimes displayed a progovernment bias but allowed significant opposition participation in their newspaper and television programming. On June 17, the minister of communications stated that government-owned national television news broadcasts should begin with the activities of government officials and that journalists employed by government media should either support the government or resign. On July 21, the journalists’ union denounced the minister for his statement, and in September the journalists’ union launched strikes and demanded that the government end “intimidation and pressure.”

All media are under the administrative and technical supervision of the Ministry of Communications, which is responsible for developing and implementing government policy on information and communication. The Superior Council of Communication (CSC) monitored the content of radio and television programs, newspapers, and internet websites to enforce compliance with standards of professional ethics and government policy. The CSC may summon journalists and issue warnings for subsequent violations. Hearings may concern alleged libel, disturbing the peace, inciting violence, or violations of state security. On July 14, the CSC suspended the programming of private radio Optima for one month, due to alleged abusive remarks uttered by the radio show host.

Violence and Harassment: According to local press, journalist Mamadou Ali Compaore, known to be critical of the regime on television programs, claimed he received threats from two individuals on January 6. Journalist Lookman Sawadogo, owner of local newspaper Le Soir, was prosecuted on defamation charges following statements on social media on April 5 denouncing acts of corruption by magistrates who were in charge of investigating the magistracy. Sawadogo was released at trial, and all charges against him were dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In addition to prohibitions on insulting the head of state, the law also prohibits the publication of shocking images or material that demonstrates lack of respect for the deceased. Journalists practiced self-censorship. On February 26, police ordered the Burkina Information Agency to remove an article–Fara: Bandits Shut Down Police Station before Robbing It–from the agency’s website, claiming that the report was offensive and false. Police later forced the agency to issue a denial of the accuracy of the story.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, although the CSC monitored internet websites and discussion forums to enforce compliance with regulations. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 14 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right.

Political parties and labor unions may hold meetings and rallies without government permission, although advance notification and approval are required for public demonstrations that may affect traffic or threaten public order. If a demonstration or rally results in violence, injury, or significant property damage, penalties for the organizers include six months to five years’ imprisonment and fines of between 100,000 and two million CFA francs ($183 and $3,676). These penalties may be doubled for conviction of organizing an unauthorized rally or demonstration. Demonstrators may appeal denials or imposed modifications of a proposed march route or schedule before the courts.

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family, aided by the National Committee for Refugees (CONAREF), is the focal point for coordination of national and international efforts. According to UNHCR, as of May 31, there were 34,207 refugees in the country, including 33,501 Malian refugees. Of this number, 23,318 Malian refugees lived in Burkina Faso’s two refugee camps, Goudebou and Mentao, 8,800 resided in villages in Ouadalan and Soum Provinces, and 1,383 lived in the cities of Ouagadougou and Bobo Dioulasso. Government assistance to Malian refugees totaled 240 million CFA francs ($441,176) in 2016.

In 2012 fighting resumed in northern Mali between government forces and Tuareg rebels, resulting in the flight of more than 250,000 Malians to neighboring countries, including Burkina Faso. According to UNHCR, approximately 50,000 Malians–most of them Tuaregs and Arabs–fled across the border to Burkina Faso and registered with local authorities as displaced persons. Authorities granted all displaced persons from Mali prima facie refugee status, pending the examination of all applications individually. Authorities settled most of the refugees in Soum and Oudalan Provinces in the Sahel Region. The ministry, aided by CONAREF, was the government focal point to help coordinate all national and international efforts to assist more than 33,500 Malian refugees remaining in the country at year’s end. During the year the refugees received an undetermined amount of government assistance.

Burma

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides that “every citizen shall be at liberty in the exercise of expressing and publishing freely their convictions and opinions,” but it contains the broad and ambiguous caveat that exercise of these rights must “not be contrary to the laws enacted for national security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquility, or public order and morality.” Threats against and arrests of journalists increased.

Freedom of Expression: Authorities arrested, detained, convicted, and imprisoned citizens for defaming religion and expressing political opinions critical of the government, the military, and ultranationalist Buddhist groups, generally under the charges of defamation, protesting without a permit, or violating national security laws. Freedom of expression was more restricted during the year compared with 2016. This included a higher number of detentions of journalists using various laws, including laws carrying more severe punishments than those used previously.

The criminal defamation clause under the Telecommunications Law, known as Section 66(d), was frequently used to restrict freedom of expression and press. There was a dramatic increase in Section 66(d) cases compared with prior years. According to the Research Team of Telecommunication Law, an activist group whose aim is to abolish Section 66(d), 93 cases were enforced under the law, including seven cases brought by members of the NLD and another seven cases brought by members of the military from March 2016 to mid-November. Fifteen cases had already reached a verdict. At least 11 cases against 19 journalists under this law were pending as of October.

In August parliament amended Section 66(d), reducing the maximum sentence to three years, restricting third parties from filing charges without written consent from the offended party, and allowing judges to authorize bail in most cases (see section 1.d.). Civil society organizations and journalists noted the amendment as a positive step but expressed concern the law could still be used to restrict freedom of expression and the press. Several journalists, as well as critics of the government and the military, continued to face charges under this law. Other problematic laws that remained on the books, including the Unlawful Associations Act, Habitual Offenders Act, Electronic Transactions Law, Television and Video Act, Official Secrets Act, Law on Safeguarding the State from the Danger of Subversive Elements, and Section 505(b) of the penal code, were used to censor or prosecute public dissent. The Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens, enacted in March, was also used to prosecute a critic of the NLD-appointed chief minister of Mon State.

In March, Swe Win, editor of Myanmar Now news agency, was arrested following charges filed against him by Kyaw Myo Shwe, a supporter of the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion (Ma Ba Tha), an ultranationalist Buddhist organization, under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law. Kyaw Myo Shwe alleged Swe Win shared a Facebook post suggesting the monk Wirathu, a prominent Ma Ba Tha figurehead, violated the monastic code of conduct by making statements commending the January 28 assassination of well-known Muslim constitutional lawyer Ko Ni (see section 1.a.). Swe Win was released on bail the next day by Mandalay Region’s Maha Aung Myay Township Court but was rearrested on July 30 at Yangon International Airport. Police stated he was arrested for trying to leave the country while a case was pending against him. He was later released. As of September the court had postponed the trial of Swe Win, declaring permission had not yet been granted for plaintiff Kyaw Myo Shwe–detained in Obo Prison for organizing a protest against the government in Mandalay–to attend court proceedings.

On April 12, NLD official Myo Yan Naung Thein, who was charged with Section 66(d) of the Telecommunication Law and arrested in October 2016 for posting comments critical of the military’s response in northern Rakhine State, was sentenced to six months in prison and released by a presidential pardon a few weeks prior to completing the sentence.

Some persons remained wary of speaking openly about politically sensitive topics due to monitoring and harassment by security services and ultranationalist Buddhist groups. Police continued to monitor politicians, journalists, writers, and diplomats. Journalists continued to complain about the widespread practice of government informants attending press conferences and other events, which they said intimidated reporters and the events’ hosts. Informants demanded lists of hosts and attendees.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and able to operate, despite some restrictions. The government continued to permit the publication of privately owned daily newspapers. As of September authorities approved 28 dailies; however, press freedom declined compared with 2016, and the security forces detained journalists under laws carrying more severe sentences than those it used in previous years.

Local media could cover human rights and political issues, including democratic reform, although stories critical of political figures and the security forces sometimes resulted in criminal charges. The government generally permitted the media to cover protests and civil conflict, topics not reported widely in state-run media. Nonetheless, during the year the government detained three journalists related to their coverage of civil conflict, and two related to their coverage of the situation in Rakhine State. In June an Irrawaddy journalist, two DVB journalists, and their support staff were detained under the Unlawful Associations Act, which had not been used against journalists in recent years, for their coverage of a drug-burning ceremony by the TNLA. In December, two Reuters reporters were detained and charged under the Official Secrets Act related to their investigation of security forces’ activities in northern Rakhine State.

Self-censorship continued, particularly on issues related to Buddhist extremism, the military, the situation in Rakhine State, and the peace process. The government ordered the media to use certain terms and themes to describe the situation in northern Rakhine State and threatened penalties against journalists who did not follow the government’s guidance, which exacerbated already high levels of self-censorship on this topic. Authorities prevented journalists from accessing northern Rakhine State, with the exception of several government-organized trips that participants reported to be tightly controlled and designed to advance the government’s narrative. The government continued to use visas to control foreign journalists, who reported visa validities ranged from 28 days to six months. The government barred the entry to the country by a journalist from Pakistan because of alleged security concerns regarding the situation in Rakhine State.

The military continued to practice zero tolerance of perceived critical media commentary. Editor Kyaw Min Swe of The Voice and satire columnist Kyaw Zwa Naing (pen name “British Ko Ko Maung”) were charged with defamation under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law and detained in June for writing and publishing a satirical story of a military film. As in similar cases, the court did not provide bail for Kyaw Min Swe, although the satirist was released based on the Telecommunications Ministry’s comment he did not break the law. Kyaw Min Swe’s case was one of the five cases withdrawn by the military in early September.

Radio and television were the primary mass communication media. Circulation of independent news periodicals remained stable outside of urban areas. Several print publications maintained online news websites that were popular among those with access to the internet. The military, government, and government-linked businesspersons controlled the content of the eight privately or quasi-governmentally owned FM radio stations.

The government loosened its monopoly and control on domestic television broadcasting. It offered six public channels–five controlled by the Ministry of Information and one by the military; the ministry channels regularly showed the military’s content. The government allowed the general population to register satellite television receivers for a fee, but the cost was prohibitive for most persons outside of urban areas. The ministry announced it would allow five media outlets to apply for television channel licenses as private broadcasters. In April the ministry selected five media companies, including formerly exiled media groups DVB and Mizzima Media, to broadcast their content in a landmark public-private broadcasting partnership. The five companies planned to use state-owned broadcaster Myanmar Radio and Television’s transmission infrastructure, but would develop their own content. Many media outlets, however, reported the cost of applying for and maintaining a television channel was prohibitive.

Violence and Harassment: Nationalist groups continued to target journalists who spoke out regarding intercommunal and Rakhine State issues. Businesspersons engaged in illegal enterprises, sometimes together with local authorities, also harassed and threatened journalists reporting on their activities. Officials continued to monitor journalists in various parts of the country.

In December 2016 Eleven Media reporter Soe Moe Tun’s body was found on the side of a road in Monywa, Sagaing Region. He was investigating illegal logging and wood smuggling there at the time of his death. Police reported Soe Moe Tun was attacked and beaten in the back of the head with a stick. His friends and relatives expressed frustration at the police’s perceived lack of effort to investigate the case, and at year’s end, no one had been charged. Police claimed their investigation continued.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Although generally not enforced, laws prohibit citizens from electronically passing information about the country to media located outside the country, exposing journalists who reported for or cooperated with international media to potential harassment, intimidation, and arrest. There were no reports of overt prepublication censorship of press publications, and the government allowed open discussion of some sensitive political and economic topics, but incidents of legal action against publications that criticized the military or the government continued to raise concern among local journalists and led to some self-censorship.

Instances of media self-censorship and suppression continued in connection with violence in northern Rakhine State. Reporters and media executives were reportedly fired for printing stories critical of the military’s actions in Rakhine State. In one instance after the August 25 attacks on security forces in Rakhine State, state television station MNTV temporarily cut broadcasts of BBC coverage of Rakhine State.

The organizer of the annual Human Rights, Human Dignity International Film Festival told reporters the government required him to submit all films to the government censorship board prior to screening them at the festival. This process resulted in the censorship of one film.

Libel/Slander Laws: Elements of the military sued journalists on multiple occasions for what they perceived as defamation or inaccurate reporting. The military sometimes dropped the cases after a lengthy court process.

Individuals, including political figures, also used the Telecommunications Law to sue reporters for perceived defamation. On May 26, Ma Sandi Myint Aung, a Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) supporter from Bago, was sentenced to six months in prison under the Telecommunications Law for sharing Facebook posts deemed insulting to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi; the charges were pressed by another Bago local. The 2016 defamation suit by the chief minister of Rangoon, Phyo Min Thein, against Eleven Media Group chief executive U Than Htut Aung and the editor in chief Wai Phyo was pending as of September. The chief minister had argued that an article insinuating he was corrupt because he wore an expensive wristwatch amounted to defamation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, although some NGOs reported the government blocked access to their web content on intercommunal dialogue. The government reportedly monitored internet communications under questionable legal authority and used defamation charges to intimidate and detain some individuals using social media to criticize the military. There were also instances of authorities intimidating online media outlets and internet users. Social media continued to be a popular forum to exchange ideas and opinions without direct government censorship. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 25 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2016, but estimated mobile phone penetration was 90 percent, and other experts noted the majority of mobile handsets in the country could connect to the internet. The most recent Freedom on the Net report issued by international NGO Freedom House rated internet freedom in the country not free, and the rating worsened slightly from previous years.

Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act limited freedom of expression online. For example, on February 28, a social media user named Zaw Zaw was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment under Section 66(d) for posting text and photographs on Facebook that were considered defamatory toward leaders of the civilian government.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were similar government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events as in 2016. The Ministry of Education in some cases demonstrated willingness to collaborate with international institutions to host educational and cultural events, as well as to expand educational opportunities for undergraduate students.

Although the government restricted political activity and freedom of association on university campuses, it generally allowed the informal establishment of student unions. Nonetheless, there are no laws that allow student unions to register officially with the government, and among university rectors and faculty there was considerable fear and suspicion of student unions. The office of the Students’ Union of Myanmar opened at Yangon University in July, and the Yangon University of Foreign Languages also opened a student union office. As in previous years, the All Burma Student’s Union was unable to register but participated in some activities through informal networks.

There were reported incidents of the government restricting cultural events. In January the military sued a group of nine high school and college students from Pathein under Article 500 of the criminal code for allegedly defaming the armed forces by performing an antiwar play. In June the Motion Picture Classification Board banned the showing of a film entitled Sittwe, which was due to open at an international human rights festival in Rangoon. The board cited concerns the film, which is a documentary about Buddhist and Muslim youth affected by conflict and forced segregation in northwestern Rakhine State, could have “festered” religious tensions.

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides the right to peaceful assembly, and peaceful protests were generally permitted around the country, although in November, the Rangoon region security and border affairs minister instructed police in 11 Rangoon townships to temporarily deny all applications for processions or assemblies, and sometimes the law was used to restrict peaceful protests if prior notification had not been granted or if conducted on private property. Farmers and social activists continued to hold protests over land rights and older cases of land confiscation throughout the country, and human rights groups continued to report cases in which the government arrested groups of farmers and those supporting them for demanding the return of confiscated land. Many reported cases involved land seized by the military under the former military regime and given to private companies or persons with ties to the military. The government also arrested some peaceful ultranationalist protesters. In September, four Burmese nationalists were sentenced to seven months in prison for staging an anti-Rohingya protest outside an embassy in April 2016. The four persons were sentenced for “inciting public unrest” and for violating the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Act. The court justified the verdict on the basis that Kamayut Township had authorized the rally to take place in another location far from the embassy.

Common charges used to convict peaceful protesters included criminal trespass, violation of the Peaceful Assembly and Processions Act, and violation of Section 505(b) of the penal code, which criminalizes actions the government deemed likely to cause “an offence against the State or against the public tranquility.”

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Although the constitution and laws allow citizens to form associations and organizations, the government sometimes restricted this right.

On May 23, the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee ordered that no group or individual would be allowed to operate under the banner of Ma Ba Tha, some of whose members, including Wirathu, had been sanctioned earlier in the year for inflaming tensions towards the Muslim community using ultranationalist rhetoric. The formal name of the organization is the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion. Responding to the ban, Ma Ba Tha leaders rebranded the organization under the name Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation.

The law on registering organizations stipulates voluntary registration for local NGOs and removes punishments for noncompliance for both local and international NGOs. Some NGOs that tried to register under this law found the process extremely onerous.

Activists reported civil society groups, community-based organizations, and informal networks operated openly and continued to discuss openly human rights and other political problems. They also reported, however, state surveillance of such operations and discussions was common.

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

The law does not explicitly and comprehensively protect freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Laws provide rights for citizens to settle and reside anywhere in the country “according to law.” Laws related to noncitizens empower the president to make rules for requiring registration of foreigners’ movements and authorize officials to require registration for every temporary change of address exceeding 24 hours.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government committed widespread and systematic abuses against the Rohingya population (see Stateless Persons).

In-country Movement: Regional and local orders, directives, and instructions restricted freedom of movement.

The government restricted the ability of IDPs and stateless persons to move. While a person’s possession of identification documents primarily related to their freedom of movement, authorities also considered race, ethnicity, religion, and place of origin as factors in enforcing these regulations. Residents of ethnic-minority states reported the government restricted the travel of, involuntarily confined, and forcibly relocated IDPs and stateless persons.

Restrictions on in-country movement of Muslims in Rakhine State were extensive. Authorities required the Rohingya, a largely stateless population, to carry special documents and travel permits for internal movement in five areas in Rakhine State where the Rohingya ethnic minority primarily resides: Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Rathedaung, Kyauktaw, and Sittwe. Township officers in Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships continued to require Rohingya to submit a “form for informing absence from habitual residence” for permission to stay overnight in another village and to register on the guest list with the village administrator. Obtaining these forms and permits often involved extortion and bribes.

Restrictions governing the travel of foreigners, Rohingya, and others between townships in northern Rakhine State varied, depending on township, and generally required submission of a document known as “Form 4.” A traveler could obtain this form only from the township Immigration and National Registration Department (INRD) and only if that person provided an original copy of a family list, temporary registration card, and two guarantors. Travel authorized under Form 4 is valid for 14 days. The cost to obtain the form varied from township to township, with payments required to village administrators or to the township INRD office in amounts ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 kyats ($38 to $76). Change of residency from one village or township to another in northern Rakhine State required permission from the INRD or the township, district, and state officials. While Rohingya could change residency, the government would not register them on a new household registration list in that new location. This practice effectively prevented persons from changing residency.

International and local humanitarian staff required travel authorizations from the union and state level in order to operate in Rakhine State. Local staff had to submit travel applications two weeks in advance, and they were often denied. Humanitarian access to northern Rakhine State was suspended entirely in August; however, by the end of the year, the Red Cross Movement, World Food Program, and several other organizations had regained some degree of access. Media and human rights professionals were routinely denied access to Rakhine State.

Travel restrictions effectively prevented Rohingya from northern Rakhine State from traveling outside the state. There were reports the government prevented Rohingya living outside Rakhine State from traveling into the northern part of the state.

There were reports of regular, unannounced nighttime household checks in northern Rakhine State and in other areas.

In October the Kayin State government reportedly issued a letter calling on Muslim travelers to request and receive authorization from village officials. This letter was reportedly rescinded by the chief minister a few days later. Similarly, in Thandwe in southern Rakhine State in October, local officials reportedly required registration of Muslim travelers arriving at the airport, although no official restriction was in place.

Foreign Travel: The government maintained restrictions preventing foreign travel of political activists, former political prisoners, and some local staff of foreign embassies. While some administrative restrictions remained, local organizations reported encountering far fewer delays and restrictions. Stateless persons, particularly Rohingya, were unable to obtain documentation necessary for foreign travel.

Exile: There was a sizeable diaspora, with some citizens choosing to remain outside the country after years of self-imposed exile. During the year the government encouraged exiles to help rebuild their country, and some returned home; however, the government appeared to maintain an opaque “black list” of individuals, including some from the exile community, who were prohibited from entering the country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

An estimated 220,000 persons remained internally displaced by violence in Kachin, Rakhine, and northern Shan States at the end of the year. As of September the UN Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs estimated more than 98,000 persons remained displaced because of continued armed conflict in Kachin and Shan States. Camps housing more than half of the IDPs were located in areas beyond government control where government forces restricted humanitarian access. Some IDPs also found refuge with hosting families, and others hid in forested areas straddling the border with China. Approximately 120,000 Rohingya had been confined to IDP camps in Rakhine State since 2012 intercommunal violence. A small number of Kaman and Rakhine had also lived in IDP camps since 2012. This figure did not include an additional unknown number, estimated between 30,000 and 100,000, who were internally displaced following atrocities beginning in August in northern Rakhine State. Accurate figures were difficult to determine due to poor access to affected areas.

Fighting between government forces and ethnic armed groups continued in Kachin, Shan, Kayin, and Rakhine States. Ethnic armed groups also clashed among themselves in northern Shan State. Access to displaced persons in or near conflict zones continued to be a challenge, with the government restricting access by humanitarian actors to provide aid to affected communities.

Nearly 90,000 Rohingya IDPs lived in Sittwe’s rural camps, displaced since 2012, where they relied on assistance from aid agencies. Humanitarian agencies provided access to clean water, food, shelter, and sanitation in most IDP camps. The government limited health and education services and livelihood opportunities through severe and systematic restrictions on movement. Conditions in Aung Mingalar, the sole remaining Muslim quarter in Sittwe, remained poor, with Rohingya allowed to leave the fenced and guarded compound only to shop for necessities at nearby markets or to visit outside health clinics if they paid a fee to security services.

During the year humanitarian agencies received travel authorizations to provide assistance sporadically, and international humanitarian staff were not allowed to travel outside of urban areas in Kachin, northern Shan, and northern Rakhine States for much of the year. Humanitarian access to Rakhine State was irregular and restricted. Humanitarian workers continued to be under pressure from local communities to reduce assistance to Muslim IDPs and villages, despite limited access to meet humanitarian needs.

Following the August attacks in northern Rakhine State, security forces launched security operations consisting of atrocities against civilians, and the government temporarily restricted all humanitarian access to central Rakhine State and the three townships of northern Rakhine State–Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung. The government allowed sporadic access to some parts of central Rakhine State to some organizations in September. In northern Rakhine State the government authorized only Red Cross Movement organizations to provide emergency assistance in that area, and humanitarian access remained severely limited at year’s end. Beginning in August local staff of humanitarian organizations, many of whom lived among affected populations, had to apply for travel permits in order to provide services.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted some small-scale, spontaneous IDP returns in the southeast of the country.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The country’s laws do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR did not register any asylum seekers during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

The Myanmar Population and Housing Census reported in 2016 there were an estimated 1.09 million persons in Rakhine State who were not enumerated in the census. According to UNHCR, this number reflected an accurate estimate of the Rohingya population in Rakhine State, the vast majority of whom were stateless. Following the forced displacement of approximately 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh, an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 Rohingya remained in Rakhine State. There were likely significant numbers of stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality throughout the country, including persons of Chinese, Indian, and Nepali descent.

Provisions of the Citizenship Law contributed to statelessness. Following the entry into force of the 1982 law and procedures, the government released a list of 135 recognized “national ethnic groups” whose members are automatically “citizens.” This list excluded the Rohingya, and subsequent actions by the government rendered the vast majority of the Rohingya ethnic minority stateless. The law defines “national ethnic group” only as a racial and ethnic group that can prove origins in the country dating back to 1823, the year prior to British colonization. Several ethnic minority groups, including the Chin and Kachin, criticized the classification system as inaccurate. While the majority of the country’s inhabitants automatically acquired citizenship under these provisions, some minority groups, including the Rohingya; persons of Indian, Chinese, and Nepali descent; and “Pashu” (Straits Chinese), some of whose members had previously enjoyed citizenship in the country, are not included on the government’s list. The Rohingya and others are technically eligible for full citizenship via standard mechanisms unrelated to ethnicity, but they were made to go through a special scrutinization process that generally resulted in naturalized citizenship and did not result in provision of rights generally associated with citizenship. The law does not provide protection for children born in the country who do not have a “relevant link” to another state. UNHCR, the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, and a number of human rights and humanitarian organizations continued to advocate amendment of the Citizenship Law to bring it in line with the country’s international human rights obligations and commitments (see section 6, Children).

The name Rohingya is used in reference to a group that self-identifies as belonging to an ethnic group defined by religious, linguistic, and other ethnic features. Rohingya hold that they have resided in what is now Rakhine State for generations. In May 2016 the government established a policy of using “Muslims in Rakhine State” to refer to the population, although military officials and many government officials, particularly in Rakhine State, continued to use the pejorative term “Bengali,” and the term was still used on identification documents. The government offers a citizenship verification process to Rohingya to determine who qualifies for citizenship on the basis of mechanisms in the 1982 law that provide pathways to citizenship other than being a member of a national ethnic race. This process met with limited participation from the Rohingya community. The government no longer requires all participants to identify as “Bengali” as a condition of participating in the process, nor does it require applicants to list their race or religion on forms in the earliest phases of the process, although implementing officials reportedly continued to require participants to identify as “Bengali.” Those who are verified as a citizen (of whatever type) would have “Bengali” listed as their race on their citizenship scrutiny card. This process and the separate national verification process was not seen as credible by the Rohingya community, in part because many continued to be told they were required to apply as “Bengali,” because the few Rohingya who received national verification cards or citizenship through these processes did not receive significant rights and benefits, and because the government implemented the process in a coercive manner, for example, by requiring a national verification card to go fishing or access a bank account. The government continued to call on Rohingya to participate, but many of them expressed the need for more assurances about the results of the process. Many said they were already citizens and expressed fear the government would either not affirm their citizenship or would provide a form of lesser citizenship–naturalized rather than full–thereby formalizing their lack of rights.

According to the Citizenship Law, two lesser forms of citizenship exist: associate and naturalized. According to other legal statutes, these citizens are unable to run for political office; serve in the military, police, or public administration; inherit land or money; or pursue certain professional degrees, such as medicine and law. According to the Citizenship Law, only the third generation of associate or naturalized citizens are able to acquire full citizenship.

Rohingya experienced severe legal, economic, and social discrimination. The government required them to receive prior approval for travel outside their village of residence; limited their access to higher education, health care, and other basic services; and prohibited them from working as civil servants, including as doctors, nurses, or teachers. Authorities singled out Rohingya in northern Rakhine State to perform forced labor and arbitrarily arrested them. Authorities required Rohingya to obtain official permission for marriages and limited the registration of children to two per family, but local enforcement of the two-child policy was inconsistent. For the most part, authorities registered additional children beyond the two-child limit for Rohingya families, yet there were cases of authorities not doing so.

Restrictions impeded the ability of Rohingya to construct houses or religious buildings.

Local security officials in Rakhine State committed violent crimes and arbitrarily arrested an unknown number of Rohingya, according to reports. Many of these reports cited events from August to December.

Burundi

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press but ban “defamatory” speech about the president and other officials, material deemed to endanger national security, and racial or ethnic hate speech. Restrictions on freedom of speech and press increased significantly following dissent against the president’s 2015 announcement that he would seek a third term in office and government accusations of media complicity in the 2015 failed coup. These restrictions continued and were applied to press outlets critical of the government or the human rights situation in the country. Journalists and outspoken critics reported harassment and intimidation by security services or government officials. Social media networks, primarily Twitter and WhatsApp, serve as news outlets, often replacing traditional news outlets. Forces allied to the CNDD-FDD repressed media perceived as sympathetic to the opposition, including print and radio journalists, through harassment, intimidation, and violence.

Freedom of Expression: The Penal Code, passed in 2009, protects public servants and the president against “words, gestures, threats, or writing of any kind” that is “abusive or defamatory” or would “impair the dignity of or respect for their office.” The law also prohibits racially or ethnically motivated hate speech. The law mandates a penalty of six months to five years in prison and a fine of 10,000 to 50,000 Burundian francs ($5.65 to $28.35) for insulting the head of state. Some journalists, lawyers, NGO personnel, and leaders of political parties and civil society alleged the government used the law to intimidate and harass them.

Press and Media Freedom: The government owned and operated a daily newspaper, Le Renouveau, and a radio/television station, Burundi National Television and Radio (RTNB). The directors general of both outlets report to the Presidency. Rema FM, a CNDD-FDD radio station, also enjoyed support from the government, although it was technically independent. Radio Isanganiro was the country’s largest independent radio station. Iwacu, an independent newspaper, continued to publish articles in French and English that were critical of the government and its policies. The family of an Iwacu journalist who disappeared in July 2016 reported that it received death threats throughout the year.

Government reports identified 20 public and independent radio stations, four community radio stations, 24 periodicals, and 12 press associations operating in the country. After being closed in the aftermath of the failed coup in 2015, Radio REMA FM, Radio Isanganiro, Radio Humuriza, and Maison de la Presse were reauthorized in February 2016 and continued operating during the year.

On September 28, the National Council for Communication (CNC) announced a decision to withdraw the licenses of Radio Bonesha, Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), and Radio/Television Renaissance for breaches of their agreements with the CNC or for not abiding by content regulations. These three stations had been shuttered by the government in 2015 after unidentified men destroyed their broadcasting equipment following the failed coup in May 2015. Radio Bonesha continued to operate a website and RPA continued to broadcast into the country from Rwanda. In the same communique the CNC also announced the suspension for three months of CCIB FM +, a radio station operated by the Federal Chamber of Commerce of Burundi (CFCIB), following a broadcast including critical coverage of the government’s response to the killing of 39 Burundian refugees in the DRC by Congolese security forces. CFCIB appealed the suspension to the CNC and dismissed the station’s editor in chief; there were reports he subsequently fled the country after receiving threats. In December the CNC announced the six-month suspension of Radio Ntumbero for violations of its charter and suspended for one month the opinion section of the Igihe news site. The CNC also revoked the licenses of other radio or television stations because they did not begin broadcasting in a timely manner.

In 2013 the government passed a media law that required journalists to reveal sources in some circumstances and prohibited the publication of articles deemed to undermine national security. In 2014 parliament revised the law following journalists’ successful appeal to the East African Court of Justice. The court’s decision caused parliament to remove from the media law some of its more draconian elements. Following the failed coup of May 2015, the government invoked the law to intimidate and detain journalists.

Reporters who were able to continue working complained that government agents harassed and threatened media that criticized the government and the CNDD-FDD. Journalists had difficulty corroborating stories, as local sources were intimidated.

Violence and Harassment: The majority of independent journalists fled the country since the political crisis and crackdown in 2015; very few had returned, citing threats to their safety. Several media outlets alleged they received explicit threats that they would be closed if they published or broadcast stories critical of the government. The government detained or summoned for questioning several local and international journalists investigating subjects such as human rights violations, corruption, or refugees fleeing the country. Journalists experienced violence and harassment at the hands of security service members and government officials.

On April 5, intelligence agents interrogated Joseph Nsabiyabandi, the editor in chief of Radio Isanganiro about his alleged collaboration with Burundian radio stations operating in exile in Rwanda. In July 2016 unknown men abducted Iwacu reporter Jean Bigirimana. Police and the SNR denied that he was in their custody. As of October, Bigirimana’s whereabouts remained unknown. According to media reports, his spouse received several anonymous death threats after his disappearance and subsequently fled the country with her children.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government censors media content via restrictive press laws established by the CNC, an organization that is nominally independent but subject to political control in practice. In 2016 the CNC passed two decrees regarding media activity: one for domestic journalists and one for foreign outlets operating in the country. The first compels all journalists to register with the CNC annually. The second limits the access granted to international journalists and establishes content restrictions on the products disseminated by these outlets. As of October the government had not enforced these laws on a regular basis. Broadly interpreted laws against libel, hate speech, endangering state security, and treason also fostered self-censorship, including by journalists working for the national broadcaster. Those who did not self-censor reportedly faced “reassignment” to jobs where they did not have access to the public or were fired.

The CNC regulates both print and broadcast media, controls the accreditation of journalists, and enforces compliance with media laws. The president appoints all 15 members, who were mainly government representatives and journalists from the state broadcaster. According to Freedom House, observers regarded the CNC as a tool of the executive branch, as it regularly issued politicized rulings and sanctions against journalists and outlets.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel laws prohibit the public distribution of information that exposes a person to “public contempt” and carry penalties of prison terms and fines. The crime of treason, which includes knowingly demoralizing the military or the country in a manner that endangers national defense during a time of war, carries a criminal penalty of life imprisonment. It is a crime for anyone knowingly to disseminate or publicize rumors likely to alarm or excite the public against the government or to promote civil war. It is illegal for anyone to display drawings, posters, photographs, or other items that may “disturb the public peace.” Penalties range from two months’ to three years’ imprisonment and fines. Some journalists, lawyers, and leaders of political parties, civil society groups, and NGOs alleged the government used these laws to intimidate and harass them.

Nongovernmental Impact: Many members of the governing party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, collaborated with government security forces. In some cases they were official members of mixed security councils, which comprise police, local administration officials, and civilians. Journalists and human rights defenders accused Imbonerakure members of acting as irregular security forces, using government resources to follow, threaten, and attack individuals they perceived as opposition supporters.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: In February 2016 the government announced it would allow two radio stations to resume broadcasting after their closure and destruction in 2015. As a condition for reopening, REMA FM (which supported the ruling party) and Radio Isanganiro (which was critical of the ruling party) were obliged to sign an agreement stating they would be “balanced and objective” and not threaten the country’s security. As of October both stations continued to operate.

INTERNET FREEDOM

According to the International Telecommunication Union’s 2016 survey, only 5 percent of individuals used the internet. Some citizens relied heavily on the social media platforms WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook on both internet and mobile telephone networks to get information about current events. There were no verifiable reports the government monitored email or internet chat rooms. One journalist reported harassment by security officials for the content of messages he composed on WhatsApp. Several radio stations that were closed after the failed coup continued to publish radio segments and articles online.

Beginning in late October, some media websites were occasionally unavailable to internet users in the country. Publications affected included the newspaper Iwacu, which was generally critical of the government, but also the generally progovernment online publication Ikiriho. There was no official comment on the outages; both the reason and mechanism remained unclear. In most cases the outages lasted a few days before access was restored.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were allegations that hiring practices, student leadership elections, and provision of grades at the University of Burundi were subject to political interference in favor of CNDD-FDD members.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government severely restricted this right (see section 1.d.). The law requires political parties and large groups to notify the government with details at least four days prior to a meeting, but even when notified, authorities in most cases denied permission for opposition members to meet and dispersed meetings already underway. By contrast, supporters of the CNDD-FDD and government officials were regularly able to organize demonstrations on short notice; these demonstrations were frequently large and included participation by senior officials.

Freedom of assembly was further restricted following the failed coup attempt in May 2015, and these restrictions remained in place. Members of the wing of the FNL political party associated with Agathon Rwasa alleged that government officials harassed or arrested supporters for holding unauthorized meetings. Other political parties reported being unable to hold party meetings or conduct political activities outside Bujumbura.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association within the confines of the law, but the government severely restricted this right. On January 27, the government enacted new laws governing domestic CSOs. The law requires registration of CSOs with the Ministry of Interior (or with provincial governments if they operate in a single province), a complex process that includes approval for an organization’s activities from the Ministry of the Interior and other ministries depending on their areas of expertise. There is no recourse when authorities deny registration. The law provides for the suspension or permanent closure of organizations for “disturbing public order or harming state security.” Registration must be renewed every two years.

On January 23, the government also enacted a law restricting international NGOs. The law includes requirements that international NGOs deposit a portion of their budgets at the Bank of the Republic of Burundi and that they maintain ethnic balance in the recruitment of local personnel. The new law contains several clauses that give the government considerable control over NGO selection and programming. In November an international NGO was instructed to suspend its agricultural programs due to a disagreement with the Ministry of Agriculture on program design; in December another international NGO was expelled for allegedly distributing rotten seeds.

In October 2016 the government permanently banned five CSOs that it claimed were part of the political opposition. In December 2016 the government announced its intention to ban Ligue Iteka, the country’s oldest human rights organization, for “sow[ing] hate and division among the Burundian population following a social media campaign created by the International Federation of Human Rights and Ligue Iteka in which a mock movie trailer accused the president of planning genocide.” The ban took effect on January 3; Ligue Iteka continued to operate from Uganda and report on conditions in Burundi. As of year’s end there were no further reported closings of CSOs.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government severely restricted these rights.

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

In-country Movement: According to several news sources, the government enforced the use of “cahiers de menage,” booklets that listed the residents and domestic workers of each household in some neighborhoods of the capital. In numerous instances police arrested persons during neighborhood searches for not being registered in household booklets. Persons who attempted to cross the border to flee violence and reach refugee camps were sometimes stopped and turned back by police, the SNR, or Imbonerakure members. Stateless persons also faced restrictions on movement, since in addition to not having identification papers, they cannot apply for driver’s licenses and cannot travel freely throughout the country.

The government strongly encouraged citizens to participate in community-level work projects every Saturday morning and imposed travel restrictions on citizens from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Authorities required permits for movement outside of one’s community during those hours, and police enforced the restrictions through roadblocks. There were reports that members of the Imbonerakure compelled individuals to engage in community work, including an instance in which Imbonerakure members compelled travelers on buses to disembark and participate. Persons could obtain waivers in advance. Foreign residents were exempt.

Foreign Travel: The price of passports was 235,000 Burundian francs ($133). The government issued arrest warrants against members of the opposition group National Council for the Respect of the Arusha Accord and the Rule of Law, whom it accused of participation in the May 2015 failed coup, that were also circulated as Red Notices by the International Police Organization (INTERPOL). Authorities required exit visas for foreign nationals who held nonofficial passports; these visas cost 48,000 Burundian francs ($28) per month to maintain. Stateless persons cannot apply for a passport and cannot travel outside the country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) counted approximately 187,626 IDPs displaced as of December. According to IOM, 69 percent were displaced due to natural disasters while 31 percent were displaced for political or social reasons. Some IDPs reported feeling threatened because of their perceived political sympathies. Some IDPs attempted to return to their homes, but the majority remained in IDP sites or relocated to urban centers. The government generally permitted IDPs at identified sites to be included in programs provided by UNHCR, IOM, and other humanitarian organizations, such as shelter and legal assistance programs.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

UNHCR estimated 63,234 refugees were in the country as of September. Of these approximately 61,995 were Congolese refugees, including new arrivals during the year. Continuing violence in the DRC prevented their return. Efforts to resettle Congolese refugees in third countries, begun in 2015, continued.

Employment: The employment of refugees was subject to restrictions. The government is a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention Related to the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees, but with a reservation regarding the employment of refugees that meant Burundian nationals had preferred access to employment opportunities over refugees. In 2016 the government committed to lifting these reservations, but as of December had not taken steps to do so.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees residing in camps administered by the government and the United Nations and its partners received basic services. The large percentage of refugees residing in urban areas also accessed services, such as education, health care, and other assistance offered by humanitarian organizations.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR an estimated 974 persons at risk of statelessness lived in the country as of October 2016. All were from Oman, were awaiting proof of citizenship from the government of Oman, and had lived in Burundi for decades. Most of those who remained at risk of statelessness had refused an offer of Burundian citizenship from the government if they could not get Omani citizenship. Stateless persons face limited freedom of movement as they were ineligible for driver’s licenses and passports.

Cabo Verde

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. The independent press, effective judiciary, and functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. In March the minister of culture provoked an outcry from media professionals when he called on “old” journalists to step aside. At the same time, he spoke on the need to streamline government-run media and stated that innovation is the future. He appeared in the control room during a broadcast on the state-run television channel. Journalists sued, labeling his activities a form of intimidation, and the president of the journalists’ union called for his resignation. While neither side backed down, the standoff eventually faded with no major changes in policy.

Censorship or Content Restriction: Journalists and other media professionals practiced limited self-censorship, apparently largely due to their desire to retain their jobs. Journalists showed their ability and interest in playing a watchdog role.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

According to the Cabo Verdean National Communications Authority’s 2016 Second Quarter Report, 70 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country has not established legislation or an institutional body for granting asylum or refugee status. While very few asylum applications were registered (UNHCR reported only two cases in 2011 and 2012 and none since), the actual number of asylum seekers was unknown, since there is no systematic procedure in place to register and process asylum claims. Because UNHCR does not have an established presence in the country, asylum seekers who request protection and assistance are referred by the International Organization for Migration to UNHCR’s regional representation for West Africa in Dakar, Senegal, which conducts refugee status determinations. Temporary protection mechanisms and access to basic services are in place for asylum seekers while they await a decision.

Cambodia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the government did not always respect these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution grants freedom of expression except where it adversely affects public security. The constitution also declares that the king is “inviolable,” and a Ministry of Interior directive implementing the country’s criminal defamation law reiterates these limits and prohibits publishers and editors from disseminating stories that insult or defame not just the king, but also government leaders and institutions.

Election laws contain provisions that require civil society organizations to remain “neutral” during political campaign periods and prohibit them from “insulting” political parties through media.

The government used the penal code to prosecute citizens on disinformation and incitement charges, which carry a maximum sentence of three years imprisonment. Judges also can order fines, which may lead to jail time if not paid. Courts interpreted “incitement” broadly and senior government officials threatened to prosecute opposition figures on incitement charges for acts including calling for a “change in government” by electoral means.

Local human rights NGOs, media, and several independent analysts continued to express concern publicly about government actions targeting their work, including the arrests of ADHOC officials. On September 13, authorities arrested Dem Kundy and Hun Vannak, who worked for the NGO Mother Nature, on charges of incitement to commit a felony and violating privacy for filming sand-dredging operations in Koh Kong Province, a politically sensitive environmental issue.

Press and Media Freedom: A majority of Khmer-language newspapers received financial support from persons closely associated with the ruling CPP.

On September 4, The Cambodia Daily, an independent English language newspaper that had published uninterrupted since 1993, ceased operations a week after it received a warning from the government to pay tax arrears calculated at more than $6 million. The newspaper’s director of press claimed the government used the charge of tax evasion as a pretext to shutter independent press freedom in the country. Tax authorities refused to present detailed information about the tax charges, and information about the arrears quickly leaked to government-controlled media, despite laws calling for the government to attempt to resolve issues of tax noncompliance privately.

The three largest pro-CPP newspapers never criticized the government for politically motivated or human rights problems. As of August no pro-opposition newspapers published regularly, and the government restricted critical voices on electronic publications and social media.

The government, military forces, and the ruling political party continued to influence broadcast media. The great majority of domestic radio and television stations operated under the control or influence of the CPP. In August the government shut down CNRP-aligned Moha Nokor radio station and closed all stations broadcasting content from the Voice of America (VOA) and Voice of Democracy (VOD), claiming the stations violated the law by committing tax evasion and for failing to obtain permission from the Ministry of Information before airing new content. According to an NGO that monitors media, the government routinely used state and state-influenced private television stations to promote the activities of the government and the CPP and to criticize the opposition, while not granting the opposition parties equal access. On September 12, Radio Free Asia (RFA) announced closure of its office in the country, citing legal harassment and a government crackdown on independent media prior to national elections. On November 14, authorities arrested two former RFA journalists on charges of espionage and for allegedly helping foment a “color revolution” in the country. The charges were widely seen as politically motivated.

Authorities never permitted the CNRP to open a television station, despite a 2014 agreement from the government to allow it.

Violence and Harassment: Threats and violence against journalists and reporters remained common. In May local authorities in Ratanakiri Province briefly detained six journalists for reporting on illegal logging in the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area. On August 28, authorities charged two Cambodia Daily reporters with “inciting violence” for election-related coverage in Ratanakiri.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits prepublication censorship, and no formal censorship system existed. The government, however, increasingly used other means to censor the media and social media following the assassination of Kem Ley, the arrest of some government critics, and by threats from the government, including the prime minister. Methods included harassment and intimidation. Because the government controls permits and licenses for journalists, most media outlets not directly controlled by the government or CPP practiced self-censorship to some degree. Some reporters and editors continued to self-censor their reporting due to fear of government reprisal. Some media agencies reported receiving calls from the Ministry of Interior threatening to revoke their licenses if they did not cease broadcasting opposition-produced content and programs produced by VOA, RFA, and VOD.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel, slander, defamation, and denunciation laws to restrict public discussion on issues it deemed sensitive or against its interests. Prime Minister Hun Sen launched a lawsuit against political analyst and commentator Kim Sok for his online accusation that the government was complicit in the murder of Kem Ley. In August the courts sentenced Kim Sok to 18 months in prison and fined him 800 million riels ($200,000).

National Security: The government continued to cite national security concerns to justify restricting citizens’ rights to criticize government policies and officials. In particular the government routinely threatened to prosecute and arrest anyone who questioned the demarcation of the country’s border with Vietnam or suggested the government had ceded national territory to Vietnam.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, censored online content, and there were credible reports government entities monitored private online communications. According to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, more than 31 percent of the population had internet access, primarily those living in urban areas.

The telecommunications law was widely criticized by leading civil society and human rights activists, who stated it provides the government broad authority secretly to monitor online public discussion and communications using private telecommunication devices. According to Licadho the law gave the government legal authority to monitor every telephone conversation, text message, email, social media activity, and correspondence between individuals without their knowledge or consent. Any opinions expressed in these exchanges that the government deemed to violate its definition of national security could result in maximum imprisonment of 15 years.

As of October a local human rights NGO stated authorities arrested at least five persons for content they posted online. One woman was threatened by the government in April for posting online a video of herself throwing a shoe at a billboard depicting the prime minister.

A “Cyber War Team” in the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit is responsible for monitoring and countering “incorrect” information from news outlets and social media. The Quick Reaction Unit was responsible for publishing several videos claiming civil society, independent media, and the opposition were colluding with foreign powers to overthrow the government. The government often used these videos as justification to crack down on those who opposed the rule of the prime minister.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

In general there were no formal or overt government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, although scholars tended to exercise caution when teaching political subjects due to fear of offending politicians. Many individuals in academia resorted to self-censorship or expressed their opinions anonymously. In May 2016 the Ministry of Education reminded public and private education institutions the education law strictly prohibits all political activities and discussions on school campuses. Senior government officials again reminded public education institutions of the law in the months leading up to the June 4 local commune council elections. Many activists asserted the law aims to stifle youth support of the opposition, adding that most school principals supported the CPP. Government officials appeared to exempt some large campus-based organizations affiliated with the ruling party, however, including one run by the prime minister’s son, stating these were “extracurricular” groups that promoted “humanitarian causes.” In August a district governor in Battambang Province dismissed a vice principal of a high school for allegedly teaching students about “politics.”

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government did not always respect this right.

The LANGO requires all groups to register and also requires advance notification for meetings, training, protests, marches, or demonstrations, although authorities inconsistently enforced this requirement. One provision requires five days’ notice for most peaceful demonstrations, while another requires 12 hours’ notice for impromptu gatherings on private property or protests at designated venues, and limits such gatherings to 200 persons. By law provincial or municipal governments may issue demonstration permits at their discretion. Lower-level government officials, particularly in Phnom Penh, generally denied requests unless the national government specifically authorized the gatherings. All levels of government routinely denied permits to groups critical of the ruling party.

There were credible reports the government occasionally prevented associations and NGOs from organizing public events, arguing the groups had not registered. Regulations promulgated before the June 4 commune council elections allowed civil servants to campaign after working hours, but did not grant the same freedoms to employees of NGOs or others working in civil society. Following the September 3 arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, many provincial governments prohibited meetings, events, and demonstrations by the opposition CNRP even before its forced dissolution on November 16.

Authorities cited the need for stability and public security–terms not defined in the law and therefore subject to wide interpretation–as reasons for denying permits. Government authorities also occasionally cited provisions of the law to prevent associations and NGOs from organizing public events or to break up meetings and training deemed hostile to the government. At the same time, the government routinely allowed progovernment demonstrators to gather.

Despite these restrictions, the press reported numerous public protests, most related to land or labor disputes. In some cases police forcibly dispersed peaceful groups assembled without a permit, sometimes causing minor injuries to demonstrators. In other cases police used force against demonstrators after they interfered with traffic, made threats of or carried out acts of violence, or refused orders to disperse.

According to a joint report released in August by the CCHR, ADHOC, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, and the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, from April 2016 to March, there were 60 incidents of NGOs prevented by authorities from holding meetings, training, or gatherings due to LANGO provisions. The report also recorded 246 restrictions of fundamental freedoms by the government and third-party entities linked to the government between April and September. Although the vast majority of restrictions occurred in Phnom Penh, restrictions were documented in every province except Prey Veng and Kep. The government sometimes took legal action against peaceful protesters. On October 27, authorities arrested five persons who planned to distribute leaflets during the Water Festival to call for demonstrations to demand the government release political prisoners. On the same day, the Phnom Penh municipal court summoned Leng Seng Hong, president of the Cambodian Democratic Student Intellectual Federation, to appear in the court on charges of incitement to commit felony for appealing to the public to protest if the CNRP was dissolved.

Senior government and military officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, Phnom Penh governor Khoung Sreng, CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan, Council of Ministers spokesperson Phay Siphan, and Armed Forces commander-in-chief Pol Sarouen, warned the public not to gather or demonstrate in the capital during the trial hearings of opposition leader Kem Sokha following his September 3 arrest. Minister of Defense Tea Banh publically called for “crushing the opposition” warning the military would “smash the teeth of protesters” planning to demonstrate against June 4 commune election results. Minister of Social Affairs Vong Sauth said demonstrators who dispute the upcoming 2018 elections would be “hit with …bamboo poles.” The commander of the prime minister’s bodyguards, General Hing Bun Heng, threatened to use force to “crush” any demonstration, citing his possession of “100 tanks.”

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng also instructed provincial governors and police chiefs to block opposition supporters from traveling to the capital and to prevent any demonstrations. Khoung Sreng said authorities would not allow “anarchic” protests in the city and that security forces in all 12 districts of the capital needed to be on alert: “The toughest measures will be applied on the people protesting against the court and [we] won’t forgive those people,” Khoung Sreng said. The threats against peaceful protests followed months of warnings against protesting election results. Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened that a CNRP victory in June commune elections would lead to “civil war.”

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government did not always respect this right, particularly with regard to workers’ rights (see section 7.a.). The LANGO requires all associations and NGOs to be politically neutral, which not only restricts the right to association, but also restricts those organizations’ rights to free expression.

In June Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the Ministry of Interior to dissolve The Situation Room, a consortium of 40 of the country’s most prominent human rights NGOs, after they issued findings on the conduct of the June 4 commune elections. The Situation Room was charged with violating the LANGO for failing to register as an NGO (although each of the 40 constituent NGOS were registered individually) and for violating the LANGO provisions on political neutrality.

Vaguely worded provisions in the LANGO, the Law on Trade Unions (TUL), and Amended Political Parties Law prohibit any activity that may “jeopardize peace, stability, and public order” or harm “national security, national unity, traditions, and culture of Cambodian society.” Civil society organizations expressed concern these provisions created a substantial risk of arbitrary restriction of the right of association. According to critics the LANGO and TUL (see section 7.a.) establish heavily bureaucratic, multistep registration processes that lack both transparency and administrative safeguards, rendering the registration processes vulnerable to politicization. These laws also impose burdensome reporting obligations on activities and finances, including the disclosure of all successful funding proposals, financial or grant agreements, and bank accounts.

The local NGO consortium Cooperation Committee for Cambodia reported in July that NGOs generally lacked guidance from the government on how to comply with the requirements. As of August the Ministry of Economy and Finance had summoned six civil society and media organizations to prove their compliance with local tax laws. This included ADHOC, Licadho, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, The Cambodia Daily, VOA, and RFA.

On September 15, the Ministry of Interior nullified the registration of Mother Nature, a local NGO working on environmental protection, without providing justification to the organization. In late September the government began requiring all NGOs to report their management structures, funding sources, and other details to the Ministry of Interior. On August 23, the government abruptly ejected the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and its foreign staff from the country, claiming the organization had failed to register properly under the LANGO. NDI had submitted its registration documents more than 18 months prior to its ejection and had failed to receive a reply from government authorities despite a clause in the law that notification was to be given within 45 days of document submission.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

Exile: In 2016 the government ordered immigration officials to take unspecified legal action to prevent former opposition leader Sam Rainsy from returning to the country. He had gone into exile in France in 2015, when the government issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of defamation while he was outside of the country. Thun Saray, the president of ADHOC, escaped the country and remained in Canada under self-imposed exile due to fear of being targeted by the government. Following the arrest of Kem Sokha, nearly every senior leader of the CNRP went into hiding or exile, with acting CNRP President Pol Ham and Parliamentary Whip Son Chhay the only two prominent leaders remaining in the capital while many lower-level party activists reported increased police surveillance and intimidation.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Stating they were “economic migrants,” the government returned at least 140 Montagnard asylum seekers to Vietnam since 2015, including 13 in August, without conducting proper refugee status determinations. In August, Rhona Smith, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, released a statement following her two-week mission to the country in which she stated the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) acknowledged the legitimacy of the asylum claims of 36 Vietnamese Christian Montagnards and had decided to find a solution outside of the country and that the government had not agreed to settle them in country or facilitate their transit to the third country. In October the government cooperated in sending seven of the 36 Montagnards to the third country, claiming the remaining 29 had weak asylum claims. The government dismissed the special rapporteur’s statement and condemned her for what it described as interference in its domestic affairs.

The government increased monitoring at the UNHCR-managed compound that provides support to Montagnard asylum seekers. In April authorities forcibly removed a pregnant woman and her husband from the premises and took them to an immigration center for questioning. The family was awaiting final refugee status determination, and authorities later released them.

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

The government failed to grant equal access to that system for all asylum seekers. In particular, authorities routinely denied access by Montagnard asylum seekers from Vietnam since 2014. During the year the Refugee Department at the Ministry of Interior recognized three Montagnards as refugees and took proactive steps to deport the 29 persons it claimed had weak asylum claims. Some NGOs attributed the government’s lack of commitment to granting asylum to Montagnards to pressure from the government of Vietnam.

Employment: Persons granted refugee status do not have the right to work.

Access to Basic Services: Persons granted refugee status do not have access to basic services, including public and banking services.

Durable Solutions: By agreement with Australia, the government since 2014 has accepted for domestic resettlement seven refugees detained while seeking asylum in Australia. The last refugee arrived in April. Of the seven, three who were Rohingya from Burma remained in the country, while the other four–one from Burma and three Iraqis–chose to return to their countries. Although the three Rohingya refugees decided to stay in the country, no effective pathway to citizenship existed for them.

STATELESS PERSONS

The country had habitual residents who were de facto stateless. There was no recent, reliable data on the number or demography of stateless persons; however, UNHCR reported that they were primarily ethnic Vietnamese. The government did not effectively implement laws or policies to provide such persons the opportunity to gain nationality (see section 6, Children). The most common reason for statelessness was lack of proper documents from the country of origin.

According to an NGO, individuals without proof of nationality often did not have access to formal employment, education, marriage registration, the courts, or the right to own land.

Cameroon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government often restricted this right.

Freedom of Expression: Government officials penalized individuals or organizations that criticized or expressed views at odds with government policy. Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately frequently faced reprisals. On several occasions, the government used the law requiring permits or government notification of public protests to stifle discourse, and many civil society and political organizations reported increased difficulty in obtaining approval to organize public gatherings. The government attempted to impede criticism by monitoring political meetings. In May government authorities reportedly shut down an Amnesty International news conference at which the rights group planned to discuss the plight of three students sentenced to a decade in prison for a Boko Haram joke.

The government also used antiterrorism legislation to exercise control over public and private expression. On April 24, the military court in Yaounde sentenced Radio France International (RFI)’s Hausa service journalist Ahmed Abba to 10 years in prison for “nondenunciation of acts of terrorism” and “laundering the proceeds of terrorist acts.” Authorities arrested Abba in 2015 in Maroua, Far North region, on suspicion of collaborating with Boko Haram and withholding information. After a 29-month imprisonment, Abba was released on December 22 when an Appeals Court judge acquitted him of “laundering of the proceeds of terrorism.” The judge, however, upheld the “nondenunciation of acts of terrorism” charge and sentenced Abba to 24 months in prison (time served) and a fine of CFA 55 million francs ($102,611).

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although there were restrictions, especially on editorial independence, in part due to stated terrorism concerns, the fight against Boko Haram, and the crisis in the two Anglophone regions. Journalists reported practicing self-censorship to avoid repercussions for criticizing the government, especially on security matters.

Violence and Harassment: Police, gendarmes, and other government agents arrested, detained, physically attacked, and intimidated journalists for their reporting.

Based on estimates by the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), authorities arrested at least eight journalists in connection with their reporting of the Anglophone crisis. On February 9, security forces arrested Atia Tilarious Azohnwi, a political journalist with The Sun and Amos Fofung, bureau chief at The Guardian Post. Both were released in August without charges. Tim Finnian and Hans Achomba were arrested in January for reporting critical of the government; they were released after the president’s August 30 decree, which freed 55 detainees.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The National Communication Council (NCC) is empowered to ensure all printed media comply with the legal requirement that editors in chief deposit two signed copies of each newspaper edition with the Prosecutor’s Office for scrutiny within two hours of publication. Journalists and media outlets practiced self-censorship, especially if the NCC had suspended them previously. The NCC issued several warnings and suspensions during the year.

NCC president Peter Esoka publicly warned journalists several times in the year to refrain from publishing stories on secession and federalism activities in the two Anglophone regions. On January 10, Northwest regional authorities sealed the premises of Bamenda-based Hot Cocoa 94 FM Radio. The authorities allegedly accused the station of inciting the population to civil disobedience. According to a CPJ report, the station was allowed to resume broadcasting within 48 hours with the condition that it handle sensitive issues objectively, especially during crisis situations. Epervier Plus and its editor received a six-month suspension for publishing allegations of embezzlement involving a senior divisional officer.

Libel/Slander Laws: Press freedom is further constrained by strict libel laws. These laws authorize the government, at its discretion and the request of the plaintiff, to criminalize a civil libel suit or to initiate a criminal libel suit in cases of alleged libel against the president or other high government officials. Such crimes are punishable by prison terms and heavy fines. The libel law places the burden of proof on the defendant. The government contended libel laws were aimed at safeguarding citizens whose reputations could be permanently damaged by defamation. The government and public figures reportedly used laws against libel or slander to restrict public discussion. On February 22, police arrested Medjo Lewis, editor of La Detente Libre. The High Court of Bafoussam, West region, subsequently sentenced him to two years in prison plus a fine of 10 million CFA francs ($18,656) for defamation. Lewis was granted an early release in September.

INTERNET FREEDOM

From January 17 to April 20, the government blocked access to the internet in the Southwest and Northwest regions. On January 17, the country’s four telephone operators, including South Africa’s MTN and France’s Orange, informed their subscribers in both regions that internet services were no longer available for reasons “beyond their control.” In late March the minister of telecommunications acknowledged authorities were behind the internet shutdown. Government authorities claimed the shutdown was an attempt to limit the propagation of images and misinformation about the crisis in the Anglophone regions, which the government perceived as a threat to peace and national unity. The Global Network Initiative released a statement in January expressing deep concerns about the restrictions on the internet and urging the government to lift the restrictions immediately.

Civil society organizations reported renewed, targeted Internet disruptions in select locations in the Southwest and Northwest regions after September 22 and following major protests in the Anglophone regions on October 1. Public announcements from the government indicated a willingness to block internet access again should the government deem it necessary. In October the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights voiced concern over tensions in the country’s Anglophone regions, noting that people should be allowed to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, including through uninterrupted access to the internet.

The International Telecommunication Union estimated that 25 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Although there were no legal restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, state security informants reportedly continued to operate on university campuses. There were no reports the government censored curricula; sanctioned academic personnel for their teachings, writing, or research; restricted academic travel or contacts; intimidated academics into self-censorship; or attempted to influence academic appointments based on political affiliation. There were a few reports, however, of security personnel disrupting student extracurricular activities.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government often restricted this right. The law requires organizers of public meetings, demonstrations, and processions to notify officials in advance but does not require prior government approval of public assemblies and does not authorize the government to suppress public assemblies that it has not approved in advance. Nevertheless, officials routinely asserted the law implicitly authorizes the government to grant or deny permission for public assemblies. The government often refused to grant permits for assemblies and used force to suppress assemblies for which it had not issued permits. Authorities typically cited “security concerns” as the basis for deciding to block assembly. The government also prevented civil society organizations and political parties from holding press conferences. Police and gendarmes forcibly disrupted meetings and demonstrations of citizens, trade unions, and political activists throughout the year.

The Divisional Officer (DO) for Douala V, Littoral region, prohibited a meeting and rally that the opposition Social Democratic Front party intended to organize on March 4 at “Carrefour Le Pauvre” intersection, followed by a march along a specific itinerary. The DO stated the event was likely to disrupt public order. On March 4, authorities allegedly deployed police and gendarmerie antiriot cars, as well as armed gendarmes and police officers, around the planned meeting spot. Security forces erected barricades along the planned course for the rally. In the early hours of the day, authorities also deployed troops around the DO’s residence in Ndogpassi neighborhood in Douala.

In May authorities banned two events scheduled to take place in Yaounde, including press conferences by Amnesty International and NGO New Human Rights (NDH). The objective of Amnesty International’s conference was to communicate the contents of letters and petitions requesting President Biya to release three students whom a military court sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for exchanging jokes about Boko Haram by short message service. A dozen security agents in uniform and plainclothes invaded the meeting venue early in the morning and asked hotel officials to close the meeting hall. The NDH conference intended to focus on the topic “human rights and the fight against terrorism in Cameroon.” The DO alleged the event was likely to disturb public order. In August the Cameroon Political Journalists Club could not hold the ninth edition of its monthly Cafe Politique, which was scheduled to host a National Democratic Institute representative. Yaounde’s DO claimed the conference would disturb the public order and peace.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the law also limits this right. On the recommendation of the senior divisional officer, the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization may suspend the activities of an association for three months on grounds the association is disrupting public order. The minister may also dissolve an association if it is deemed a threat to state security. National associations may acquire legal status by declaring themselves in writing to the ministry but the ministry must explicitly register foreign associations and religious groups; if they do not, the law imposes heavy fines for individuals who form and operate any such association. The law prohibits organizations that advocate a goal contrary to the constitution, laws, and morality, as well as those that aim to challenge the security, territorial integrity, national unity, national integration, or republican form of the state.

The conditions for recognition of political parties, NGOs, or associations were complicated, involved long delays, and were unevenly enforced. This resulted in associations operating in legal uncertainty, their activities tolerated but not formally approved.

On January 17, the minister of territorial administration and decentralization banned the Southern Cameroons National Council and the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, officially prohibiting all activities, meetings, and demonstrations initiated by either group or anyone sympathetic to them. The minister stated the purpose and activities of these organizations were contrary to the constitution and could jeopardize the security of the state, territorial integrity, national unity, and integration.

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

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, at times the government restricted these rights. The government worked closely with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: Police and gendarmes at roadblocks and checkpoints in cities and on most highways often extorted bribes and harassed travelers. Police frequently stopped travelers to check identification documents, vehicle registrations, and tax receipts as security and immigration control measures. Between September 29 an October 5, authorities in the two Anglophone regions closed regional land and sea borders, banned movement from one division to another, and in some cases, prevented people from leaving their homes on October 1.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Several thousand persons abandoned their homes in some villages on the border with Nigeria and fled to cities in the Far North region because of frequent attacks by Boko Haram. The International Organization for Migration’s Displacement Tracking Matrix Round 11 for the Far North region indicated a total displaced population of 335,016 individuals, including 241,987 IDPs, 29,337 unregistered refugees, and 63,692 returnees. Of the IDP population, 92 percent was reportedly displaced due to the conflict with Boko Haram; and 8 percent was displaced due to flooding and other climatic factors.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Following security measures taken by authorities in the Far North region to counter Boko Haram, UNHCR and NGOs reported more than four thousand cases of forced returns in the year to December, mostly of Nigerians. In a press release on February 23, UNHCR expressed concern over the forced expulsion of 517 Nigerians, including 313 who had requested asylum. During a press conference on March 23, the minister of communications refuted all allegations of forced returns. He acknowledged, however, that the government escorted refugees from several localities of Mayo Sava Division to Banki, Borno State, Nigeria. The minister said the operations were carried out in agreement with Nigerian authorities, especially the National Emergencies Management Agency and Borno’s State Emergency Management Agency. UNHCR also reported that 887 Nigerian refugees, who were alleged to have been forcibly returned, arrived in Banki on June 27.

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system of providing protection to refugees. UNHCR continued to provide documentation and assistance to the refugee population. UNHCR and the government continued to conduct biometric verification and registration of refugees, including of those not living in refugee camps. Nevertheless, local authorities did not always recognize these documents as official, which prevented refugees from travelling and engaging in business activities. As of November 30, the country hosted 247,777 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) and 90,728 from Nigeria. The country hosted 652,967 persons of concern to UNHCR as of November 30.

Access to Basic Services: Most refugees had access to health care, education, and limited employment opportunities. Access to these services varied according to the location of the refugees, with those in camps receiving support through humanitarian organizations while refugees living in host communities faced difficulty receiving services.

Durable Solutions: On March 2, UNHCR and the governments of Cameroon and Nigeria signed a tripartite agreement concerning voluntary repatriation. On August 10, the tripartite commission met for the first time and directed its technical working group to set up a timetable and procedures “to ensure the safe, dignified, voluntary return and sustainable reintegration of Nigerian refugees from Cameroon.” Between April and June, the number of Nigerian refugees returning from Cameroon to Banki, Nigeria, reached 15,036. In addition the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) registered 5,224 individuals who had earlier returned to Banki between January and March. In total the NIS registered 20,260 returnees between January and June, according to UNHCR. Observers and NGOs, however, continued to report as of November that the agreement had yet to be fully implemented and that Cameroon continued forcibly to repatriate Nigerian refugees to Nigeria.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary, unofficial protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, extending this protection to hundreds of individuals during the year, including third-country nationals who had fled violence in the CAR. Due to their unofficial status and inability to access services or support, however, many of these persons were subject to harassment and other abuse.

Canada

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: The Supreme Court has ruled that the government may limit free speech in the name of goals such as ending discrimination, ensuring social harmony, or promoting gender equality. The court has also ruled that the benefits of limiting hate speech and promoting equality are sufficient to outweigh the freedom of speech clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the country’s constitutional bill of rights.

The criminal code prohibits public incitement and willful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group in any medium. Inciting hatred (in certain cases) or genocide is a criminal offense, but the Supreme Court sets a high threshold for such cases, specifying that these acts must be proven willful and public. Provincial-level film censorship, broadcast licensing procedures, broadcasters’ voluntary codes curbing graphic violence, and laws against hate literature and pornography impose some restrictions on the media.

In January a gunman killed six persons and injured 17 more in a shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec City. The gunman was arrested and charged, although the government did not charge him with terrorism. While public and official reaction to the event was overwhelmingly condemnatory, in July an unidentified individual left a package at the same mosque with a note expressing hate and a defaced Quran.

In July police charged a Mississauga, Ontario, man with one count of willful promotion of hatred for posting abusive videos and materials against Muslims and other groups on his website freedomreport.ca and other social media platforms. The charge related to a series of online postings over a five-month period, rather than a single incident.

In April, Justice Jacques Chamberland opened public hearings in Quebec in an inquiry ordered by the provincial government into reports Quebec law enforcement agencies surveilled eight journalists between 2008 and 2016 as part of internal police investigations into sources of leaked information. Although the police had a warrant from a Quebec court for each case, testimony suggested police might have based warrant applications on unsubstantiated allegations. The electronic monitoring allowed police authorities to track the journalists’ movements and telephone logs.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Approximately 99 percent of households could access broadband services. According to 2016 International Telecommunication Union data, 90 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

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

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement from third countries and facilitated local integration (including naturalization), particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homes.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (in the form of temporary residence permits) to persons who may not qualify as refugees.

Central African Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. In March President Touadera issued a decree appointing the members of the High Council for Communication, an independent body mandated by the constitution. It is tasked with assuring liberty of expression and equal access for the media; it also has regulatory powers.

Press and Media Freedom: All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most important medium of mass communication. There were a number of alternatives to the state-owned radio station, Radio Centrafrique. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows critical of the government, the election process, ex-Seleka, and anti-Balaka militias. International media broadcast within the country.

Bangui’s Maison de la Presse (Media Center), which provides working and meeting space for journalists, was ordered closed after a legal dispute with the family of a former president.

The government monopolized domestic television broadcasting (available only in the capital and for limited hours), and television news coverage generally supported government positions.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 4 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reports the government restricted academic freedom or cultural events.

Many schools remained closed or without adequate resources. The country’s sole university was open.

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

A law prohibiting nonpolitical organizations from uniting for political purposes remained in place.

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

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

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

In-country Movement: Armed groups and bandits made in-country movement extremely dangerous. Government forces, armed groups, and criminals alike frequently used illegal checkpoints to extort funds. Armed groups often targeted Muslims, including truck drivers, for attack.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka attacks on civilians and fighting between armed groups displaced at least 922,000 persons at the height of the conflict in January 2014. As the security situation improved during the last three years, hundreds of thousands of IDPs returned to their homes. During the year there was a significant deterioration of the security situation and a return to levels of violence similar to 2013 and 2014.

The number of citizens classified as IDPs and refugees exceeded 1.1 million, the highest level of displacement since 2013. Almost 600,000 persons were displaced inside the country, while 514,000 took refuge in Cameroon, Chad, and, within the last six months, the northern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to where more than 67,000 fled.

Militia groups continued to target IDPs and threaten individuals and organizations attempting to shelter IDPs, including churches.

Since May new clashes between armed groups caused increased destruction of property and death. According to UNHCR, many newly displaced persons witnessed fatal attacks, robberies, lootings, and kidnappings. Even after reaching safe locations, they often risked assault by armed groups if they ventured outside of camps. Unable to approach aid workers, they barely had access to vital supplies. The worsening situation raised concerns over the delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in need, in a context where 50 percent of the population depended on humanitarian aid to survive. In many affected areas, humanitarian assistance was limited to strictly life-saving interventions, due to limited access and insecurity. The presence of armed groups continued to delay or block planned humanitarian deliveries by air.

Humanitarian organizations remained concerned about evidence that members of armed groups continued to hide out in IDP sites and attempted to carry out recruitment activities. This raised concerns for the safety of humanitarian staff and vulnerable displaced individuals residing in these areas.

The government provided assistance to IDPs and returnees and promoted the safe voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs. The government allowed humanitarian organizations to provide services, although security concerns sometimes prevented organizations from operating in areas previously controlled by the Seleka, and targeted attacks on humanitarian operations impeded their ability to access some populations.

In January the government closed the IDP camp at the M’Poko International Airport. The government distributed cash payments to residents to return to their communities of origin or other resettlement sites.

According to the Association of Women Lawyers of Central Africa (AFJC), sexual and gender-based violence in IDP camps was widespread.

With an improving security situation in the capital, some Muslims returned to Bangui.

There were reports of sexual abuse of children by international and MINUSCA peacekeeping forces during the year (see section 1.c.).

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Subcommission on Eligibility, however, had not held sessions since 2009, which contributed to a growing backlog of asylum applications.

The volatile security situation prevented humanitarian organizations from accessing locations that host refugee populations. As of July there were 9,100 refugees in the country. Many of the 2,000 Congolese refugees likely returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to flee the violence in the southeastern region. The 1,900 Sudanese in Bambari continued to receive assistance. There were unconfirmed reports of additional influxes of South Sudanese, perhaps increasing the number of displaced South Sudanese beyond the 4,000 reported in July. In many areas, refugees depended on protection from MINUSCA or the support of host communities.

Chad

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but the government severely restricted these rights, according to Freedom House. Authorities used threats and legal prosecutions to curb critical reporting.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits “inciting racial, ethnic, or religious hatred,” which is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of one to three million Central African (CFA) francs ($1,766 to $5,300).

Press and Media Freedom: The government subsidized the only daily newspaper and owned a biweekly newspaper. Government and opposition newspapers had limited readership outside the capital due to low literacy rates and lack of distribution in rural areas.

According to Freedom in the World 2016, “broadcast media were controlled by the state, and the High Council of Communication exerted control over most content on the radio,” which remained the most important medium of mass communication. The government-owned Radio Diffusion Nationale Tchadienne had several stations. There were approximately a dozen private stations, which faced high licensing fees and threat of closure for coverage critical of the government, according to Freedom House. The number of community radio stations that operated outside of government control continued to grow, and radio call-in programs broadcast views of callers that included criticism of the government.

The country had three television stations–one owned by the government and two that were privately owned.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities reportedly harassed, threatened, arrested, and assaulted journalists for defamation.

According to NGOs, human rights defenders and journalists were threatened, harassed, and intimidated by either anonymous individuals or those identifying themselves as members of the security services. Between February 22 and 24, Eric Kokinague, a director of the newspaper Tribune Infos, received more than a dozen anonymous threatening calls from different numbers after he published an article heavily critical of President Deby.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines, sometimes by closing media outlets. Some journalists and publishers practiced self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: Despite a 2010 media law that abolished prison sentences for defamation or insult, authorities arrested and detained persons for defamation. The Chadian Convention for the Defense of Human Rights reported that Betoloum Joseph, a journalist and director of Radio Kar UBA of Moundou, was arrested by police on September 13. They accused him of defaming police on a radio show.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not directly restrict or disrupt access to the internet or directly censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications.

Online activist Tadjadine Mahamat Babouri, known as Mahadine, was detained in September 2016 after having posted several videos on Facebook criticizing the government’s mismanagement of public funds. Charged with undermining the constitutional order, threatening territorial integrity and national security, and collaborating with an insurrection movement, at year’s end he was awaiting trial. At least seven unidentified armed men arrested him and took him to an unofficial detention center, where they held him without access to his family or lawyer, and with neither water nor food. According to his lawyer and a relative, he was beaten and subjected to electric shocks before being transferred to the judicial police in October 2016. Due to Mahadine’s deteriorating health condition, he was eventually transferred to the Moussoro prison, and on March 15, his lawyers requested an immediate transfer to N’Djamena so he could receive appropriate medical care. By year’s end the minister of justice had not responded.

The government blocked access to international data roaming, including Blackberry access, allegedly for security reasons; the government claimed criminals and terrorists from Nigeria and Cameroon were using international roaming to communicate with each other while in Chad. The government also claimed the blockages were due to technical problems, a claim met with widespread skepticism.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 5 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government did not respect this right. The government regularly interfered with opposition protests and civil society gatherings, particularly before and after the April 2016 election. The law requires organizers to notify the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration five days in advance of demonstrations, although groups that provided advance notice did not always receive permission to assemble. Following the 2015 Boko Haram attacks, the ministry often denied permission for large gatherings, including social events such as weddings and funerals. During the April 2016 election campaign, the government allowed ruling party supporters to gather and rally but banned such activities for opposition groups.

On May 27, police interrupted Movement for Citizen Awareness’s (MECI) general assembly, which was taking place at the Alal-Mouna Center in N’Djamena. Police surrounded the venue, and the director of police told the organizers and participants that the meeting was banned. MECI members requested an official document banning the event, but none was presented.

On February 25, 71 students at the University of N’Djamena’s main campus of Toukra were arrested during a protest against the minister of higher education, research and innovation, who was visiting the school along with his Senegalese counterpart.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. While an ordinance requires the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration to provide prior authorization before an association, including a labor union, may be formed, there were no reports the ordinance was enforced. The ordinance also allows for the immediate administrative dissolution of an association and permits authorities to monitor association funds.

On January 6, the minister of territorial administration prohibited all MECI activities, stating that MECI was “unnatural” and “takes place without any legal basis.” He accused MECI of being “an accomplice of some adventurers abroad with subversive objectives.” Five days later Dobian Assingar, the MECI spokesman and honorary president of the Chadian League of Human Rights, was summoned by the Judicial Police of N’Djamena, questioned about MECI activities, and released.

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

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, the government imposed limits on these rights.

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports of rape, attempted rape, and sexual and gender-based violence in refugee camps. The perpetrators were either fellow refugees or unknown individuals living near the camps. Authorities only occasionally prosecuted perpetrators of sexual violence. The judicial system did not provide consistent and predictable recourse or legal protection, and traditional legal systems were subject to ethnic variations. To fill the void, UNHCR enlisted the support of a local NGO to support the cases of refugees through the judicial process. The DPHR was unable to provide humanitarian escorts consistently due to lack of resources but was generally effective in providing protection inside refugee camps.

Due to the absence of rebel activity and implementation of education campaigns in camps, there were no reports of recruitment of refugees in refugee camps, including by Central African Republic (CAR) militias.

In-country Movement: Lack of security in the east, primarily due to armed banditry, occasionally hindered the ability of humanitarian organizations to provide services to refugees. In the Lake Chad area, attacks by Boko Haram and concurrent government military operations constrained the ability of humanitarian organizations to provide assistance to IDPs.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

During the year the Lake Chad region experienced additional displacement of more than 4,400 persons. As of November the total number of displaced since 2015 increased to 123,205. The security situation remained fragile but stable and allowed for the return of approximately 51,000 individuals between February and October. Humanitarian access to IDPs improved significantly during the year, and the government actively supported humanitarian operations by international agencies, including legal protection and efforts promoting local integration.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for asylum or refugee status. The government, however, has established a system for the protection of refugees.

In cooperation with UNHCR, the government launched a project to strengthen the civil registration system for the issuance of civil status certificates (birth, marriage, and death certificates) to 50,000 refugees, IDPs, Chadian returnees from the CAR, and persons living around camps and settlements under UNHCR’s mandate.

Access to Basic Services: Although local communities hosted tens of thousands of newly arrived refugees, antirefugee sentiment existed due to competition for local resources, such as wood, water, and grazing land. Refugees also received goods and services not available to the local population, and refugee children at times had better access to education and health services than those in the surrounding local populations. Many humanitarian organizations included host communities in their programming to mitigate this tension.

Durable Solutions: The government pledged to extend citizenship to tens of thousands of returnees, most of whom had resided in the CAR since birth, although only 3 percent of Chadian returnees from the CAR held Chadian nationality documents by year’s end. The government allowed referral for resettlement in foreign countries of refugees from the CAR and Sudan.

Chile

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 66 percent of the population had access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, including access to education and health care. The country recognized approximately 2,000 refugees, including 60 Syrians. On May 25, the government launched the project Chile Reconoce, designed to extend Chilean citizenship to children of refugees and immigrants born in Chile. UNHCR reported 100 children who were at risk of statelessness were able to confirm their Chilean nationality as a result of the project.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau)

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution states citizens “enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration,” although authorities generally limited and did not respect these rights, especially when they conflicted with CCP interests. Authorities continued tight control of print, broadcast, electronic, and social media and regularly used them to propagate government views and CCP ideology. Authorities censored and manipulated the press and the internet, particularly around sensitive anniversaries.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens could discuss many political topics privately and in small groups without official punishment. The government, however, routinely took harsh action against citizens who questioned the legitimacy of the CCP. Some independent think tanks, study groups, and seminars reported pressure to cancel sessions on sensitive topics. Those who made politically sensitive comments in public speeches, academic discussions, or in remarks to media, or posted sensitive comments online, remained subject to punitive measures.

In January the government abruptly shut down the website and social media accounts of the Beijing-based think tank Unirule. Its members, a group of prominent economics experts known for outspoken views on government economic policy, responded with a letter protesting the “obvious aim of silencing Unirule totally” and calling for greater government tolerance of NGOs. Government censors promptly removed the letter from the internet.

On March 31, Foshan Intermediate Court sentenced Su Changlan for subversion of state power for using the internet and social media to post online messages in support of Hong Kong’s 2014 prodemocracy Occupy Central Movement. The court found her guilty of incitement to subvert state power and sentenced her to three years’ imprisonment. Su had campaigned for the land rights of local farming communities. As Su’s sentence included time served, she was released in October (see section 1.c.).

On May 26, He Weifang, a law professor at the elite Peking University and the lawyer for Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, announced that government pressure compelled him to close his Weibo microblog and his accounts on the private messaging system “Weixin” (aka WeChat). Over the past decade, he had developed an online following of millions and was known for criticizing the country’s lack of freedom of speech and judicial independence.

In September, Guangzhou authorities detained Peng Heping because he helped publish a poetry anthology in honor of the late political prisoner and Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo. Peng was charged with “illegal business activity.”

In a sign of the level of sensitivity around public discourse, censors blocked several versions of the Winnie the Pooh cartoon on social media because internet users (“netizens”) used the symbol to represent President Xi Jinping. The government similarly blocked the use of a popular but offensive nickname for North Korean President Kim Jong Un. Internet searches for this name returned the message, “according to the relevant laws, regulations, and policies, the search results have not been displayed.” Authorities arrested and tried a man in Jilin for “incitement to subvert state power” for posting selfies to his social media accounts wearing a T-shirt referring to President Xi as “Xitler.” In a similar case Guangdong authorities arrested a man for reposting a negative comment about Xi Jinping on the messaging app WhatsApp.

The legislature passed a law in November criminalizing disrespect for the national anthem in public, punishable by up to three years in prison and loss of political rights. The new law mirrors existing laws that punish public desecration of the flag with imprisonment.

Press and Media Freedom: The CCP and government continued to maintain ultimate authority over all published, online, and broadcast material. Officially, only state-run media outlets have government approval to cover CCP leaders or other topics deemed “sensitive.” While it did not dictate all content to be published or broadcast, the CCP and the government had unchecked authority to mandate if, when, and how particular issues were reported or to order that they not be reported at all. In a widely reported 2016 visit to the country’s main media outlets, President Xi told reporters that they were the “publicity front” of the government and the Party and that they must “promote the Party’s will” and “protect the Party’s authority.”

The government continued to strictly monitor the press and media, including film and television, via its broadcast and press regulatory body, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT). The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) also closely regulated online news media. All books and magazines continued to require state-issued publication numbers, which were expensive and often difficult to obtain. As in the past, nearly all print and broadcast media as well as book publishers were affiliated with the CCP or government. There were a small number of print publications with some private ownership interest but no privately owned television or radio stations. The CCP directed the domestic media to refrain from reporting on certain subjects, and traditional broadcast programming required government approval.

Journalists operated in an environment tightly controlled by the government. While the country’s increasingly internet-literate population demanded interesting stories told with the latest technologies, government authorities asserted control over those new technologies (such as livestreaming) and clamped down on new digital outlets and social media platforms.

Because the Communist Party does not consider internet news companies “official” media, they are subject to debilitating regulations and barred from reporting on potentially “sensitive” stories. According to the most recent All China Journalist Association report from 2016 on the nation’s news media, there were 232,925 officially credentialed reporters working in the country. Only 1,158 worked for news websites, with the majority working at state-run outlets such as xinhuanet.com and Chinadaily.com. This did not mean that online outlets did not report on important issues–many used creative means to share content–but they limited their tactics and topics since they were acting outside official approval.

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

Family members of journalists based overseas also faced harassment, and in some cases detention, as retaliation for the reporting of their relatives abroad. A journalist could face demotion or job loss for publishing views that challenged the government. In many cases potential sources refused to meet with journalists due to actual or feared government pressure. In particular, academics–a traditional source of information–were increasingly unwilling to meet with journalists.

Uighur webmaster Nijat Azat continued to serve a sentence for “endangering state security.” Fellow Uighur webmaster Dilshat Perhat was scheduled to be released, but there was no information on his case at year’s end. During the year additional journalists working in traditional and new media were also imprisoned.

In June police in Sichuan Province arrested and charged citizen journalist Yang Xiuqiong with “illegally providing state secrets overseas” for her work on the banned citizen rights website 64 Tianwang. Other site contributors, including its founder, Huang Qi, were arrested in 2016 and remained in jail. On July 4, a court in Mianyang, Sichuan, rejected 64 Tianwang contributor Wang Shurong’s appeal of a six-year sentence for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” Lian Huanli, also a volunteer for the website, had been missing since May, according to media reports.

On August 3, a court in Dali, Yunnan, sentenced citizen journalist Lu Yuyu to four years’ imprisonment for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.” Authorities arrested Lu and his partner, Li Tingyu, in June 2016 after they spent several years compiling daily lists of “mass incidents”–the official term for protests, demonstrations, and riots–and disseminated their findings via social media. Public security officials reportedly beat Lu, who later went on a hunger strike to protest his treatment and lack of access to his attorney. The government tried Li in a secret trial, then released her in April without announcing a formal verdict.

A pair of Voice of America (VOA) reporters were assaulted and detained for four hours under false pretenses while trying to cover the trial of jailed dissident blogger Wu Gan in Tianjin on August 14. As they approached the courthouse, they were accosted by 10 plainclothes individuals, physically detained and had their laptops and cameras confiscated. The police took them to jail and accused them of beating one of the persons who had detained them. They were released with their personal effects four hours later–after their photographs were deleted.

Foreign journalists based in the country continued to face a challenging environment for reporting. According to information collected in December by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC), the vast majority of respondents did not believe reporting conditions in the country met international standards. More than one-third of journalists believed that conditions had deteriorated compared with the previous year, an acceleration since 2016, when 25 percent of journalists believed conditions had deteriorated year over year. Similarly, the percentage of journalists reporting government officials had subjected them to interference, harassment, or violence while reporting increased from 57 percent to approximately two-thirds.

Restrictions on foreign journalists by central and local CCP propaganda departments remained strict, especially during sensitive times and anniversaries. Foreign press outlets reported that local employees of foreign news agencies were also subjected to official harassment and intimidation and that this remained a major concern for foreign outlets. Almost one-third of FCCC members who responded to FCCC inquiries reported authorities subjected their Chinese colleagues to pressure or violence. In addition FCCC members reported physical and electronic surveillance of their staff and premises.

While traveling in Hunan Province in April to report on a story of a petitioner who was attempting to travel to Beijing to lodge a protest, BBC correspondent John Sudworth and his team were physically assaulted by a group of men who refused to identify themselves; the journalists’ camera equipment was also broken. Later, in the presence of uniformed police officers and government officials, the same men forced the BBC team to sign a written confession and apology, under threat of further violence.

On August 23, plainclothes officers detained Nathan VanderKlippe, a Globe and Mail reporter, while he reported in Xinjiang and held him for several hours. The police temporarily seized his computer and examined the photographs on his camera’s memory card. After releasing him, they then followed him 120 miles to his hotel.

In November authorities in Xinjiang detained and interrogated two foreign journalists, holding them overnight and demanding the journalists turn over pictures and documents. They finally released the journalists in the morning and then followed them on the train to their next destination, where the local police and foreign affairs office again harassed them and blocked them from all hotels. Authorities spent the night keeping them awake in the lobby of a hotel, as they were “not allowed to sleep here.”

On December 14, security guards in Beijing beat two South Korean journalists attempting to cover the visit of South Korean president Moon Jae-in; one of the journalists was hospitalized.

Foreign Ministry officials once again subjected a majority of journalists to special interviews as part of their annual visa renewal process. During these interviews the officials pressured journalists to report less on human rights issues, referencing reporting “red lines” that journalists should not cross, and in some cases threatened them with nonrenewal of visas. Many foreign media organizations continued to have trouble expanding or even maintaining their operations in the country due to the difficulty of receiving visas. Western media companies were increasingly unwilling to publicize such issues due to fear of stirring up further backlash by the government.

On October 25, authorities blocked journalists from the New York Times, the Economist, the BBC, and the Guardian from entering a press event where the Communist Party revealed its new Politburo members. Authorities allowed other foreign journalists to attend but excluded these journalists, ostensibly because of past reporting.

Authorities continued to enforce tight restrictions on citizens employed by foreign news organizations. The code of conduct for citizen employees of foreign media organizations threatens dismissal and loss of accreditation for those citizen employees who engage in independent reporting. It instructs them to provide their employers information that projects “a good image of the country.” Several FCCC members reported that security officials summoned local assistants for meetings that the assistants found extremely intimidating.

Media outlets that reported on commercial issues enjoyed comparatively fewer restrictions, but the system of postpublication review by propaganda officials encouraged self-censorship by editors seeking to avoid the losses associated with penalties for inadvertently printing unauthorized content.

Chinese-language media outlets outside the country reported intimidation and financial threats from the government. For example, the owner of the Vision China Times in Australia said that Chinese officials repeatedly threatened Chinese companies that advertised in his newspaper. In one case Ministry of State Security officials stopped by the company every day for two weeks. Other Chinese-language outlets signed deals with the Chinese News Service, which is the second-largest state-owned news agency in China.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The State Council’s Regulations on the Administration of Publishing grant broad authority to the government at all levels to restrict publications based on content, including mandating if, when, and how particular issues are reported. While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs daily press briefing was generally open, and the State Council Information Office organized some briefings by other government agencies, journalists did not have free access to other media events. The Ministry of Defense continued allowing select foreign media outlets to attend occasional press briefings.

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

The CCP Central Propaganda Department ordered media outlets to adhere strictly to the information provided by authoritative official departments when reporting on officials suspected of involvement in graft or bribery. Throughout the year the Central Propaganda Department issued similar instructions regarding various prominent events. Directives often warned against reporting on issues related to party and official reputation, health and safety, and foreign affairs. For example, after a North Korean nuclear test, the Propaganda Department directed media companies to disable the comments function on all social media platforms, ordered media outlets to downplay the news, and decreed they follow Xinhua’s lead in reporting. The orders included instructions for media outlets not to investigate or report on their own. The CAC and SAPPRFT strengthened regulations over the content that online publications are allowed to distribute, reiterating long-standing rules that only state-licensed news media may conduct original reporting.

In the first half of the year, provincial authorities inspected Hunan TV, one of the country’s most watched channels, and warned the network it focused too much on entertainment and failed to comply with the CPC’s requirement that media outlets bear the flag of the Communist Party.

In September the SAPPRFT issued more than a dozen new guidelines on television content. The general thrust of these guidelines was to prohibit negative reporting about government policies or officials. Additionally, the SAPPRFT planned to ramp up production of “a large number of television dramas that sing the praises of the party, the motherland, the people, as well as its heroes.”

The FCCC reported it was still largely impossible for foreign journalists to report from the TAR, other Tibetan areas, or Xinjiang without experiencing serious interference. Those who took part in government-sponsored trips to the TAR and other Tibetan areas expressed dissatisfaction with the access provided. Of those who tried to report from the Tibetan area, more than 75 percent reported problems in both Tibet, which is officially restricted, and Xinjiang, which ostensibly does not have the same restrictions on reporting. Foreign reporters also experienced restricted access and interference when trying to report in other sensitive areas, including the North Korean border, at places of historical significance to the founding of the Communist party, sites of recent natural disasters, and areas–including in Beijing–experiencing social unrest.

Authorities continued to block electronic distribution of the VOA and Radio Free Asia. Despite attempts to block access, the VOA and Radio Free Asia had significant audiences, including human rights advocates, ordinary citizens, English language teachers and students, and government officials.

Overseas television newscasts, largely restricted to hotels and foreign residence compounds, were subject to censorship. Individual issues of foreign newspapers and magazines occasionally were banned when they contained articles deemed too sensitive. Articles on sensitive topics were removed from international magazines. Television newscasts were blacked out during segments on sensitive subjects.

Politically sensitive coverage in Chinese, and to a lesser extent in English, was censored more than coverage in other languages. The government prohibited some foreign and domestic films deemed too sensitive or selectively censored parts of films before they were released. Under government regulations, authorities must authorize each foreign film released in the country, with the total number of films not to exceed 38.

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

In March the government issued a ban on the sale of foreign publications without an import permit. The new rules affect the popular online shopping platform Taobao, which is banned from offering “overseas publications,” including books, movies, and games, that do not already have government approval. The ban also applies to services related to publications. According to a statement on the company’s website, “Taobao has embargoed sales of foreign publications.”

A Zhejiang court in February convicted a pair of booksellers for selling banned books. Dai Xuelin, a Beijing-based social media editor at the Guangxi Normal University Press, and his business partner Zhang Xiaoxiong were sentenced to five years and three and one-half years, respectively, in prison for running an “illegal business operation” because they resold books published in Hong Kong that were not authorized for sale in the mainland.

Following the death in July of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, the government censored a broad array of related words and images across public media and on social media platforms. Besides his name and image, phrases such as “rest in peace,” “grey,” quotes from his writings, images of candles, and even candle emojis were blocked online and from private messages sent on social media. Attempts to access censored search results resulted in a message saying the result could not be displayed “according to relevant laws, regulations, and policies.”

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government tightly controlled and highly censored domestic internet usage. According to an official report released in July by the China Internet Network Information Center, the country had 751 million internet users, accounting for 54.3 percent of its total population. The report noted 19.92 million new internet users in the first half of the year, with approximately 201 million going online from rural areas. Major media companies estimated that 625 million persons, mainly urban residents, obtained their news from social and online media sources.

Although the internet was widely available, it was heavily censored. The government continued to employ tens of thousands of individuals at the national, provincial, and local levels to monitor electronic communications and online content. The government also reportedly paid personnel to promote official views on various websites and social media and to combat those who posted alternative views. Internet companies also employed thousands of censors to carry out CCP and government directives on censorship.

During the year the government issued a number of new regulations to tighten its control over online speech and content. The regulations increased government oversight over internet livestreaming, bulletin board services, instant messaging applications, group chats, and other online services. The government also finalized draft regulations that strengthened government control over internet news information services; it had not yet finalized draft regulations issued for public comment during 2016 that would further strengthen government oversight over online publishing.

The Cybersecurity Law, which took effect in June, allows the government to “monitor, defend, and handle cybersecurity risks and threats originating from within the country or overseas sources.” Article 12 of the law criminalizes using the internet to “creat[e] or disseminat[e] false information to disrupt the economic or social order.” The law also codifies the authority of security agencies to cut communication networks across an entire geographic region during “major security incidents,” although they had previously exercised this authority prior to the law’s passage.

The CAC finalized regulations on Internet News Information Services that require websites, mobile apps, forums, blogs, instant communications services, and search engines to ensure that news coverage of a political, economic, diplomatic, or commentary nature conforms to official views of “facts.” These regulations extended longstanding traditional media controls to new media–including online and social media–to ensure these sources also adhere to the Communist Party directive.

In June the Beijing Cyberspace Administration forced companies to close celebrity gossip social media accounts, citing new rules designed to create an “uplifting mainstream media environment.” Included in the closing was “China’s Number One Paparazzi” Zhou Wei, who had more than seven million followers on his Weibo microblog account. References to homosexuality and the scientifically accurate words for genitalia were also banned. Writers who cover lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex; gender; and youth health issues expressed concern over how to proceed without being shut down.

New CAC regulations on livestreaming came into effect on July 15. All live-streaming platforms, commercial websites, web portals, and apps were required to register with CAC. Licensed central media and affiliations are not required to register. Throughout the year the government published details of its crackdown on live-streaming content, detailing its efforts to shut down dozens of offending live-streaming accounts.

The SAPPRFT set out further limits in September on posting audio and visual material to social media. The new rules require a special permit for transmission of audiovisual materials on blogging platforms such as Weibo and instant messaging platforms such as WeChat. Platform managers were made directly responsible for ensuring user-posted content complies with their permit’s scope. This includes television shows, movies, news programs, and documentaries, which many netizens consumed exclusively through social media channels. The rules prohibit the uploading of any amateur content that would fall under the definition of news programming.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued two directives during the year restricting the use of unauthorized virtual private network (VPN) services as part of the government’s longstanding crackdown on online speech and content. The ministry’s move was targeted at individual rather than enterprise VPN users. Ministry officials acknowledged during a July 25 press conference the need for major corporations and other users to retain access to authorized VPN services. Nonetheless, many smaller businesses, academics, and others expressed concern over the integrity of communications transmitted using authorized VPN services. The directive reflected a more aggressive stance towards unauthorized VPN use.

The new rules and regulations issued during the year–combined with the massive online presence of citizens who must live under these restrictions–severely restricted internet freedom. The regulatory tightening imposed by security services and propaganda officials resulted in an internet management model that permits some internet traffic for commercial gain while severely curtailing political opinion.

GreatFire.org, a website run by activists tracking online censorship in the country, reported that thousands of domains, web links, social media searches, and internet protocol addresses that it monitored in the country remained blocked. In addition to social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the government continued to block almost all access to Google websites, including its email service, photograph program, map service, calendar application, and YouTube. Other blocked websites included Pinterest, SnapChat, Picasa, WordPress, and Periscope, among many others. While countless news and social media sites remained blocked, a large percentage of censored websites were gambling or pornographic websites.

Government censors continued to block websites or online content related to topics deemed sensitive, such as Taiwan, the Dalai Lama, Tibet, the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, and all content related to the Panama Papers. Many other websites for international media outlets, such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg, remained perennially blocked, in addition to human rights websites, such as those of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In addition, in July the last two major Chinese-language news websites originating outside the country were blocked–Financial Times Chineseand Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao. With their departure, all Chinese-language newspaper websites available on the mainland fell under the control of the Communist Party.

Authorities continued to jail numerous internet writers for their peaceful expression of political views. In August blogger and activist Wu Gan, known by his pen name “Super Vulgar Butcher,” was tried in a Tianjin court for “subversion of state power.” Wu spent two years in pretrial detention without access to the lawyers his family hired, and there was evidence he was tortured during that incarceration. His father was also detained for part of that time but later released without charge. Prior to his trial, Wu released a video statement denying any wrongdoing and calling his trial a “farce.” His trial was held in secret, and afterward the court released a statement stating that Wu “recognized that his behavior violated criminal law.” On December 26, the court sentenced Wu to eight years in prison followed by five years’ deprivation of political rights. Following the verdict, Wu released a statement restating he was tortured and identifying the perpetrators of this mistreatment. Family and friends believed his long detention and his lengthy sentence were due to his refusal to confess to any crimes and retract his accusations of torture.

In addition there continued to be reports of cyberattacks against foreign websites, journalists, and media organizations carrying information that the government restricted internet users in the country from accessing. As in the past, the government selectively blocked access to sites operated by foreign governments, including the websites or social media platforms of health organizations, educational institutions, NGOs, social networking sites, and search engines.

While such censorship was effective in keeping casual users away from websites hosting sensitive content, many users circumvented online censorship by using various technologies. Information on proxy servers outside the country and software for defeating official censorship were available. In July, Apple Inc. removed VPN services from its app store in the country. Encrypted communication apps such as Telegram and WhatsApp were regularly disrupted, especially during “sensitive” times of the year, such as during the period prior to the 19th Party Congress.

Government officials were increasingly willing to prosecute individuals for using VPN software. In Guangzhou a Dongguan court sentenced a local citizen to nine months’ imprisonment and fined him 5,000 yuan ($758) as punishment for selling VPN software.

The State Secrets Law obliges internet companies to cooperate fully with investigations of suspected leaks of state secrets, stop the transmission of such information once discovered, and report the crime to authorities. This is defined broadly and without clear limits. Furthermore, the companies must comply with authorities’ orders to delete such information from their websites; failure to do so is punishable by relevant departments, such as police and the Ministry of Public Security.

Following President Xi’s calls for establishing an alternative form of global internet governance at CAC’s December 2015 World Internet Conference, the government continued its international diplomatic efforts towards the establishment of a new, government-led multilateral system to replace the existing multistakeholder system that currently includes a variety of international stakeholders, including representatives from business and civil society. The CAC and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs both released major cyberpolicy strategies during the year that called for adoption of the multilateral approach, and the government encouraged members of both the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) to support its internet governance agenda during summit events that it hosted. The government’s 2017 World Internet Conference, held December 3-5, again included calls for countries to adopt an “internet sovereignty” model that would increase government censorship power.

The government continued to introduce new measures implementing a “Social Credit System,” which is intended to collect vast amounts of data to create credit scores for individuals and companies in an effort to address deficiencies in “social trust,” strengthen access to financial credit instruments, and reduce public corruption. Unlike Western financial credit-rating systems, the government’s Social Credit System is designed also to collect information on academic records, traffic violations, social media presence, quality of friendships, adherence to birth control regulations, employment performance, consumption habits, and other topics. This system is also intended to result in increased self-censorship, as netizens would be liable for their statements, relationships, and even for information others shared on social media groups. Netizens’ credit scores decline when they express impermissible ideas, spread banned content, or associate with anyone who does so, and a decline in score means a loss of access to information-sharing applications and websites. An individual’s “social credit score,” among other things, quantifies a person’s loyalty to the government by monitoring citizens’ online activity and relationships. Points are awarded and deducted based on the “loyalty” of sites visited, as well as the “loyalty” of other netizens a person interacts with.

In September the government announced new regulations that place responsibility on the organizers of chat groups on messaging apps for ensuring that impermissible content is not shared on the group chat. Under these new rules, the creator of a WeChat group, for example, could be held liable for failing to report impermissible content shared by anyone in the chat group. According to an announcement by the CAC, the companies that provide chat platforms are responsible for tracking and assigning “social credit ratings.” Users with low social credit scores lose the privilege of creating groups, and even the ability to use the platforms, a significant loss now that a majority of young persons use messaging platforms for not only social but also many economic interactions.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government continued restrictions on academic and artistic freedom and on political and social discourse at colleges, universities, and research institutes. Restrictive SAPPRFT and Central Propaganda Department regulations and decisions constrained the flow of ideas and persons.

The government and the CCP Organization Department continued to control appointments to most leadership positions at universities, including department heads. While CCP membership was not always a requirement to obtain a tenured faculty position, scholars without CCP affiliation often had fewer chances for promotion. Academic subject areas deemed politically sensitive (e.g., civil rights, elite cronyism, civil society, etc.) continued to be off-limits. Some academics self-censored their publications, faced pressure to reach predetermined research results, or were unable to hold conferences with international participants during politically sensitive periods. Foreign academics claimed the government used visa denials, along with blocking access to archives, fieldwork, or interviews, to pressure them to self-censor their work. The use of foreign textbooks in classrooms remained restricted, and domestically produced textbooks continued to be under the editorial control of the CCP.

The CCP requires undergraduate students, regardless of academic major, to complete political ideology coursework on subjects such as Marxism, Maoism, and Deng Xiaoping thought. The government declared 2017 to be the “Year of Education Quality on University Ideological and Political Lessons,” and 29 prominent universities were inspected to assess their promotion of Marxist theory and socialist core values. State media reported the government dispatched more than 200 “experts” to at least 2,500 college and university classes nationwide to inspect and attend ideological and political classes. A Financial Times report in June suggested these inspections focused on universities with Western ties.

The government also placed new regulations on private K-12 schools. A Wall Street Journal article stated such changes were motivated by the central government’s desire to have more influence in education by requiring a CCP presence in these schools. As of July international students were also required to take political theory classes.

In June, Education Minister Chen Baosheng stressed that higher education institutions needed to better promote Marxist theory and “socialist core values.” Two Chinese professors were fired for criticizing Mao Zedong in online posts in January and June.

In December 2016 Xi Jinping chaired the National Ideology and Political Work Conference for Higher Education and called for turning the academy into a “stronghold that adheres to party leadership.” Xi stressed that “China’s colleges and universities are institutions of higher learning under the Party’s leadership; they are colleges and universities with Chinese socialist characteristics.” Xi further asserted that strengthening the role of Marxism in the curriculum was needed to “guide the teachers and students to become staunch believers in the socialist value system.” Xi specifically called on professors to become “staunch supporters of the Party’s rule.”

Authorities on some occasions blocked entry into the country of individuals deemed politically sensitive and, in some cases, refused to issue passports to citizens selected for international exchange programs who were considered “politically unreliable,” singling out Tibetans, Uighurs, and individuals from other minority nationality areas. A number of other foreign government-sponsored exchange selectees who already had passports, including some academics, encountered difficulties gaining approval to travel to participate in their programs. Academics reported having to request permission to travel overseas and, in some cases, said they were limited in the number of foreign trips they could take per year.

Academic censorship was on the rise during the year, and the CCP’s reach increasingly extended beyond the country’s physical borders. In a case that made international headlines, in August the Cambridge University Press excluded 300 articles and book reviews from the online version of its prestigious China Quarterly periodical available in the country. It was responding to a demand by the General Administration of Press and Publication, which threatened to shut down the website if the articles were not removed. The articles touched on a broad set of themes, including Taiwan relations, the Cultural Revolution, the crackdown on prodemocracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, and government policies towards ethnic minorities. After widespread criticism, Cambridge University Press reversed its decision and reposted the articles. According to the Financial Times, this case led academics to fear that universities would be forced to make concessions or lose access to the country’s lucrative market.

In September a foreign researcher announced that government authorities were systematically erasing historical records as part of their process of digitization. While working through the digitization of historical documents, they deleted Chinese journal articles from the 1950s that contradict explanations of party history promoted by President Xi. These databases are a primary source for academic research by domestic and foreign academics.

The CCP actively promotes censorship of Chinese students outside the country. A New York Times opinion article asserted that Chinese students on Australian campuses tended to self-censor and monitor each other, threatening free and open debate on campus. A Chinese commencement speaker at the University of Maryland who criticized China and Chinese authorities was excoriated in Chinese social media, and the student later apologized for her comments. The New York Times stated that the 150 chapters of the Chinese Student and Scholar Associations “…have worked in tandem with Beijing to promote a pro-Chinese agenda and tamp down anti-Chinese speech on Western campuses.” A Time article reported Taiwan universities signed agreements with mainland Chinese counterparts promising to avoid teaching sensitive content to secure lucrative fee-paying students from China. The government stated it would no longer fund scholars going to the University of California San Diego after a commencement speech there by the Dalai Lama.

Many intellectuals and scholars exercised self-censorship, anticipating that books or papers on political topics would be deemed too sensitive to be published. Censorship and self-censorship of artistic works was also common, particularly artworks deemed to involve politically sensitive subjects. Authorities frequently denied Western musicians permission to put on concerts in China. In July the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture prohibited Justin Bieber from performing in order to “maintain order in the Chinese market and purify the Chinese performance environment.” The government continued to forbid public performances of Handel’s Messiah, according to an August report by the Economist. Authorities also scrutinized the content of cultural events and applied pressure to encourage self-censorship of discussions.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government severely restricted this right. The law stipulates that such activities may not challenge “party leadership” or infringe upon the “interests of the state.” Protests against the political system or national leaders were prohibited. Authorities denied permits and quickly suppressed demonstrations involving expression of dissenting political views.

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

Several significant demonstrations took place in Beijing in late 2016 and during the year. In January approximately 500 People’s Liberation Army veterans protested over unpaid benefits. The crowd, while sizable, was considerably smaller than the thousands of veterans who took to the streets in October 2016 outside the headquarters of the Central Military Commission. In June approximately 100 protesters clashed with Beijing police in the city’s Changping District. The protesters were parents who objected to the city’s plans to assign their children to a new, less affluent school. Police detained at least three protesters. In July police in Beijing closed city streets to shut down a protest over the government’s targeting of a company called Shanxinhui. The government had shut down the company over allegations it was a thinly disguised pyramid scheme, but protesters claimed it was a social organization that served the poor.

In February more than 100 petitioners from Raoping County in Guangdong Province protested in front of the nearby Chaozhou Municipal Government headquarters. Local officials had sold villagers’ farmland to a battery disassembling and disposal mill, which resulted in severe environmental damage, including pollution of the villagers’ major drinking-water source, the nearby Huang-Gang-He River. Police violently dismissed the peaceful demonstration in the evening, detaining 12 villagers.

In March police in Henan Province used tear gas and fired pepper spray at thousands of protesters who gathered to demonstrate against forced evictions in a suburb of Henan’s Shangqiu City. Radio Free Asia reported that several persons, including some elderly residents, were severely injured in encounter.

In April police formally charged four demonstrators–Chen Ruifeng, Mai Pinglin, Mai Yingqiang, and Wang Er–on suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order and to disrupt traffic.”

In May prominent Guangdong human rights activist Li Biyun and dozens of villagers from Rongli village took to the streets with banners and firecrackers to celebrate the arrest of former Jiangmen Municipal Party secretary and mayor Liu Weigen, who was under investigation for bribery. Li led the march, followed by villagers holding red banners that read, “Support Xi’s anticorruption campaign.” Police and security forces filmed the demonstrations but took no action.

Rights lawyers and activists who advocated for nonviolent civil disobedience were detained, arrested, and in some cases sentenced to prison terms. Lawyer Tang Jingling continued to serve his five-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” for promoting his ideas of nonviolent civil disobedience. Yuan Xinting, also sentenced in the same case in January 2016, remained in prison. Their associate, Wang Qingying, was released from prison in November 2016. He reported being tortured while in detention.

Concerts, sports events, exercise classes, or other meetings of more than 200 persons require approval from public security authorities. Large numbers of public gatherings in Beijing and elsewhere were canceled at the last minute or denied government permits, ostensibly under the guise of ensuring public safety.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

The regulatory system for NGOs was highly restrictive, but specific requirements varied depending on whether an organization was foreign or domestic. Domestic NGOs were governed by the Charity Law, which went into effect in September 2016, and a host of related regulations. Domestic NGOs could register in one of three categories: a social group, a social organization, or a foundation. All domestic NGOs are required to register under the Ministry of Civil Affairs and find an officially sanctioned sponsor to serve as their “professional supervisory unit.” Finding a sponsor was often challenging, since the sponsor could be held civilly or criminally responsible for the NGO’s activities. All organizations are also required to report their sources of funding, including foreign funding. Domestic NGOs continued to adjust to this new regulatory framework.

In August 2016 the CCP Central Committee issued a directive mandating the establishment of CCP cells within all domestic NGOs by 2020. According to authorities, these CCP organizations operating inside domestic NGOs would “strengthen guidance” of NGOs in areas such as “decision making for important projects, important professional activities, major expenditures and funds, acceptance of large donations, and activities involving foreigners.” The directive also mandates that authorities conduct annual “spot checks” to ensure compliance on “ideological political work, party building, financial and personnel management, study sessions, foreign exchange, acceptance of foreign donations and assistance, and conducting activities according to their charter.”

On January 1, the Law on the Management of Foreign NGOs’ Activities with Mainland China (Foreign NGO Management Law) came into effect. The law requires foreign NGOs to register with the Ministry of Public Security and to find a state-sanctioned sponsor for their operations. NGOs that fail to comply face possible civil or criminal penalties. The law provides no appeal process for NGOs denied registration, and it stipulates that NGOs found to have violated certain provisions could be placed on a “blacklist” and barred from operating in the country.

In the first year of the Foreign NGO Management Law’s implementation, some international NGOs reported that it became more difficult to work with local partners, including universities, government agencies, and other domestic NGOs, as the law codified the CCP’s perception that foreign NGOs were a “national security” threat. Finding an official sponsor was difficult for most foreign NGOs, as sponsors could be held responsible for the NGO’s conduct and had to undertake burdensome reporting requirements. Even after the Ministry of Public Security published a list of sponsors in December 2016, NGOs reported that most government agencies had no unit responsible for sponsoring foreign NGOs. Potential Professional Supervisory Units reported they had little understanding of how to implement the law and what would be expected of them by authorities. The vague definition of an NGO, as well as of what activities constituted “political” and therefore illegal activities, also left many business organizations and alumni associations uncertain whether they fell under the purview of the law. The lack of clear communication from the government, coupled with harassment by security authorities, caused some foreign NGOs to suspend or cease operations in the country. As of September approximately 185 of the MPS-estimated 7,000 previously operational foreign NGOs had registered under the Foreign NGO Management Law, with most focusing on trade and commerce activities.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, by June there were more than 670,000 legally registered social organizations, public institutions, and foundations. Many experts believed the actual number of domestic NGOs to be much higher. Domestic NGOs reported that foreign funding continued to drop, as many domestic NGOs sought to avoid such funding due to fear of being labeled as “subversive” in the face of growing restrictions imposed by new laws. NGOs existed under a variety of formal and informal guises, including national mass organizations created and funded by the CCP that are organizationally prohibited from exercising any independence, known as government-operated NGOs or GONGOs.

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

Although all registered organizations came under some degree of government control, some NGOs, primarily service-oriented GONGOs, were able to operate with less day-to-day scrutiny. Authorities supported the growth of some NGOs that focused on social problems, such as poverty alleviation and disaster relief. Law and regulations explicitly prohibited organizations from conducting political or religious activities, and organizations that refused to comply faced criminal penalties.

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

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

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

While seriously restricting its scope of operations, the government occasionally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which maintained an office in Beijing, to provide protection and assistance to select categories of refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

The government increasingly silenced activists by denying them permission to travel, both internationally and domestically, or keeping them under unofficial house arrest.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports that North Korean agents operated clandestinely within the country to repatriate North Korean citizens forcibly. According to press reports, some North Koreans detained by government authorities faced repatriation unless they could pay bribes to secure their release.

In-country Movement: Authorities continued to maintain tight restrictions on freedom of movement, particularly to curtail the movement of individuals deemed politically sensitive before key anniversaries, visits by foreign dignitaries, or major political events, as well as to forestall demonstrations. Freedom of movement for Tibetans continued to be very limited in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Public security officers maintained checkpoints in most counties and on roads leading into many towns as well as within major cities, such as Lhasa. Restrictions were not applied to Han Chinese migrants or tourists in Tibetan areas. Uighurs in the XUAR also faced restrictions on movement within the XUAR itself. Although the use of “domestic passports” that called for local official approval before traveling to another area was discontinued in 2016, identification checks remained in place when entering cities and on public roads. Such restrictions were not applied to Han Chinese in these areas.

Although the government maintained restrictions on the freedom to change one’s workplace or residence, the national household registration system (hukou) continued to change, and the ability of most citizens to move within the country to work and live continued to expand. While many rural residents migrated to the cities, where the per capita disposable income was approximately three times the rural per capita income, they often could not change their official residence or workplace within the country. Most cities had annual quotas for the number of new temporary residence permits they could issue, and all workers, including university graduates, had to compete for a limited number of such permits. It was particularly difficult for rural residents to obtain household registration in more economically developed urban areas.

The household registration system added to the difficulties faced by rural residents, even after they relocated to urban areas and found employment. According to the Statistical Communique of the People’s Republic of China on 2015 National Economic and Social Development published by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, 294 million persons lived outside the jurisdiction of their household registration. Of that number, 247 million individuals worked outside their home district. Many migrant workers and their families faced numerous obstacles with regard to working conditions and labor rights. Many were unable to access public services, such as public education for their children or social insurance, in the cities where they lived and worked because they were not legally registered urban residents.

In 2015 the government announced that all citizens were entitled to a household registration (also known as a hukou), including children born to a single parent or children born in violation of the one-child policy. On March 24, the Ministry of Public Security announced it had issued 14 million hukous to regularize the status of undocumented women and children.

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

Foreign Travel: The government permitted legal emigration and foreign travel for most citizens. Government employees and retirees, especially from the military, continued to face foreign travel restrictions. The government expanded the use of exit controls for departing passengers at airports and other border crossings to deny foreign travel to some dissidents and persons employed in government posts. Throughout the year many lawyers, artists, authors, and other activists were at times prevented from exiting the country. Authorities also blocked the travel of some family members of rights activists and of suspected corrupt officials and businesspersons, including foreign family members.

Border officials and police cited threats to “national security” as the reason for refusing permission to leave the country. Authorities stopped most such persons at the airport at the time of their attempted travel.

Most citizens could obtain passports, although individuals the government deemed potential political threats, including religious leaders, political dissidents, petitioners, and ethnic minorities, routinely reported being refused passports or otherwise prevented from traveling overseas. Wu Rongrong, a women’s rights activist who gained global prominence in 2015 after being detained for trying to pass out stickers with antisexual harassment slogans, was denied a travel permit because of “unresolved legal cases” against her, and she was told the travel ban was for 10 years. After she posted about the situation on social media, which garnered international attention, the travel ban was suddenly lifted.

Uighurs, particularly those residing in the XUAR, reported great difficulty in getting passport applications approved at the local level. They were frequently denied passports to travel abroad, particularly to Saudi Arabia for the Haj, to other Muslim countries, or to Western countries for academic purposes. Since 2016 authorities ordered residents of the XUAR to turn in their passports or told residents no new passports were available. The passport recall, however, was not limited to Uighur areas. Family members of Uighur activists living overseas were also denied visas to enter the country. During the year the government also made a concerted effort to compel Uighurs studying abroad to return to China. Upon return, some of them were detained or disappeared.

In the TAR and Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan, and Sichuan Provinces, Tibetans, especially Buddhist monks and nuns, experienced great difficulty acquiring passports. The unwillingness of government authorities in Tibetan areas to issue or renew passports for Tibetans created, in effect, a ban on foreign travel for a large segment of the Tibetan population. Han Chinese residents of Tibetan areas did not experience the same difficulties.

The government continued to try to prevent many Tibetans and Uighurs from leaving the country and detained many who were apprehended while attempting to leave (see Tibet Annex). Some family members of rights activists who tried to emigrate were unable to do so.

Exile: The law neither provides for a citizen’s right to repatriate nor addresses exile. The government continued to refuse re-entry to numerous citizens considered dissidents, Falun Gong activists, or “troublemakers.” Although authorities allowed some dissidents living abroad to return, dissidents released on medical parole and allowed to leave the country often were effectively exiled.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government did not provide protection against the expulsion or forcible return of vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, especially North Korean refugees. The government continued to consider North Koreans as “illegal economic migrants” rather than refugees or asylum seekers and forcibly returned many of them to North Korea. The government continued to deny UNHCR permission to operate outside of Beijing.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented the government detained 41 North Koreans in July and August alone, compared with 51 documented detentions of North Korean refugees from June 2016 to July 2017. In the same report, HRW estimated that among these 92 North Korean refugees, family members reported that at least 46 were refouled.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of refugee or asylee status. The government did not have a system for providing protection to refugees but allowed UNHCR to assist the relatively small number of non-North Korean and non-Burmese refugees. The government did not officially recognize these individuals as refugees; they remained in the country as illegal immigrants unable to work, with no access to education, and subject to deportation at any time.

Authorities continued to repatriate North Korean refugees forcibly, including trafficking victims, generally treating them as illegal economic migrants. The government detained and deported such refugees to North Korea, where they faced severe punishment or death, including in North Korean forced-labor camps. The government did not provide North Korean trafficking victims with legal alternatives to repatriation.

The government continued to prevent UNHCR from having access to North Korean or Burmese refugees. Authorities sometimes detained and prosecuted citizens who assisted North Korean refugees, as well as those who facilitated illegal border crossings.

In some instances the government pressured other countries to return asylum seekers or UNHCR-recognized refugees forcibly. In July, Egypt detained more than 100 Uighurs, and forcibly returned a portion to China, including some who were seeking asylum.

Access to Basic Services: North Korean asylum seekers and North Koreans in the country seeking economic opportunities generally did not have access to health care, public education, or other social services due to lack of legal status. International media reported that as many as 30,000 children born to North Korean women in China, most of whom were married to Chinese spouses, were denied access to public services, including education and health care, despite provisions in the law that provide citizenship to children with at least one PRC citizen parent.

Durable Solutions: The government largely cooperated with UNHCR when dealing with the resettlement in China of Han Chinese or ethnic minorities from Vietnam and Laos living in the country since the Vietnam War era. The government and UNHCR continued discussions concerning the granting of citizenship to these long-term residents and their children, many of whom were born in China. The government worked with UNHCR in granting exit permission for a small number of non-Burmese and non-North Korean refugees to resettle in third countries.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Hong Kong

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and an unfettered internet combined to permit freedom of expression, including for the press, on most matters. During the year, however, SAR and central government actions and statements raised the perceived risks associated with expressing dissenting political views.

Freedom of Expression: There were some legal restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government publicly without reprisal. A new national law passed by the central government in September criminalizes any action mocking the Chinese national anthem and requires persons attending public events to stand at attention and sing the anthem in a solemn manner when it is played. The central government’s National People’s Congress voted to add the law to the Basic Law’s Annex III, which obliges the SAR government to adopt local legislation. SAR officials said the law would be implemented after the LegCo passes local implementing legislation. In September a court found LegCo member Cheng Chung Tai guilty of desecrating both the national and Hong Kong SAR flags after he turned several Chinese and Hong Kong SAR flags upside down on the desks of other LegCo members. The court ordered Cheng to pay a fine of 5,000 Hong Kong dollars (HK$) ($640).

The SAR and central government called for restrictions on discussion of Hong Kong independence. Before Chinese president Xi Jinping’s July visit to the SAR, police told the proindependence Hong Kong National Party it would not be permitted to hold any public event, according to a Hong Kong Free Press article. In September students at several universities in the SAR hung banners in support of Hong Kong independence. In response Mathew Cheung, the SAR’s chief secretary for administration (the second-most senior executive official), stated “there is no room for discussion” of Hong Kong independence. A mainland government-controlled media outlet called on SAR authorities to take legal action to forbid persons from advocating for independence. On September 19, at a rally calling for the dismissal of Benny Tai, a coorganizer of the large-scale 2014 “Occupy” protests from Hong Kong University, LegCo member Junius Ho supported another protester’s call to “kill” independence advocates by saying “with no mercy” into his microphone.

Observers feared that requirements for electoral candidacy and for taking the oath of office limited free speech in the political arena. In July 2016 the Electoral Affairs Commission instituted a new requirement that all LegCo candidates sign a pledge stating that the SAR is an “inalienable part” of China in order to run for office.

The NPCSC’s November 2016 interpretation of Basic Law Article 104 barred legislators-elect from taking office if they refused to take the oath, altered the wording of the oath, or failed to demonstrate sufficient “sincerity” or “solemnity” when taking the oath. As of year’s end, the government had used the NPCSC’s interpretation to disqualify six legislators for making oaths that did not conform to the NPCSC’s interpretation. On August 25, the Court of Final Appeal dismissed the appeal bids of two of the six lawmakers. Two additional lawmakers appealed their cases on September 11; their appeals were pending at year’s end. The final two lawmakers declined to appeal their disqualification.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views; however, some journalists expressed concerns about increasing self-censorship.

Violence and Harassment: In February the home of a senior staff member at Sing Pao Daily News was splashed with red paint after staff members spotted suspicious persons following the newspaper’s managers, according to the Hong Kong Journalists Association’s annual report.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Reports of media self-censorship continued during the year. Many media outlets were owned by companies with business interests on the mainland, which led to claims they were vulnerable to self-censorship, with editors deferring to perceived concerns of publishers regarding their business interests. Mainland interests reportedly owned most bookstores in the SAR and restricted the sale of politically sensitive books.

Libel/Slander Laws: In March then chief executive C. Y. Leung sued LegCo member Kenneth Leung for defamation over remarks Kenneth Leung made about a HK$50 million ($6.4 million) payment the former chief executive received from an Australian engineering firm.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: In September the SAR lifted its ban on online-only media attending government press conferences.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The SAR government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, although activists claimed central government authorities closely monitored their email and internet use. The internet was widely available and used extensively.

There were reports of politically motivated cyberattacks against private persons and organizations. In September hackers replaced the regular content on the prodemocracy political party Demosisto’s website with promainland government messages and images mocking Demosisto’s secretary general, Joshua Wong.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Some suggested Hong Kong-based academics and cultural figures practiced self-censorship to preserve opportunities in the mainland.

In 2016 Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Museum closed after two years of operation. The museum had been the only museum in the country commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. According to CNN and Time, the Hong Kong Alliance, a prodemocracy group that operated the museum, stated the closure was due to pressure from the owners’ committee of the building, which made it difficult for the museum to operate by restricting visitor numbers, filing a lawsuit disputing the usage of the space as a museum, and forcing visitors to provide their names and personal information–a requirement that discouraged visitors from the mainland. The museum operators also cited high rent and other fundraising challenges but kept the museum’s exhibits and said they hoped to move to a new and bigger location in the future. They temporarily reopened the museum from April to June but still did not have a new permanent location.

Hong Kong-based international NGOs expressed concern about pro-Beijing media outlets’ sustained criticism of their activities, which the newspapers characterized as interference by “foreign forces.” NGO staff members reported that these efforts to discredit their work in the SAR made it difficult for the groups to continue their existing partnerships with academic institutions and their public outreach. NGOs also expressed concern about the mainland’s Foreign NGO Management Law, which went into effect on January 1, noting the law imposed onerous restrictions on their ability to operate and implement social services delivery, advocacy work, and aid services in the mainland. The law specifically defines Hong Kong-based organizations as covered by the law’s requirements.

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but government actions, including prosecutions of activists, increased the perceived risks associated with participating in political protest.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Police routinely issued the required “letter of no objection” for public meetings and demonstrations–including those critical of the SAR and central governments–and most protests occurred without serious incident.

On June 4, tens of thousands of persons peacefully gathered without incident in Victoria Park to commemorate the 28th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The annual vigil and a smaller annual event in Macau were reportedly the only sanctioned events in China to commemorate the Tiananmen Square anniversary. Figures varied for participation in the annual July 1 prodemocracy demonstration, held on the anniversary of the 1997 transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong to China. Police estimated 14,500 protesters; an independent polling organization estimated 27,000, and organizers claimed 60,000. Police did not interfere with the legally permitted rally.

Several government prosecutions of protesters and attempts to seek harsher penalties against protesters raised the perceived cost of protesting government policies, which could have a chilling effect on political protest in the SAR. For example, in 2016 authorities found prodemocracy activists Joshua Wong and Alex Chow guilty of participating in an illegal assembly. The charge arose after they led a group of persons over a fence into a closed SAR government complex where protests had traditionally been held at the start of the 2014 Occupy protests. In connection with the same event, prodemocracy activist Nathan Law was found guilty of inciting others to participate in an illegal assembly. Wong and Law were originally sentenced to perform 80 and 120 hours of community service, respectively, while Chow was given a suspended sentence of three weeks’ imprisonment. The government filed a timely appeal of the sentences, and Wong and Law completed their community service sentences while the appeal was pending.

On August 17, the Court of Appeal overturned the lower court’s sentences and ordered Wong, Law, and Chow to serve six, eight, and seven months in prison, respectively. The Court of Appeal argued the lower court’s sentences were inadequate and stiffer sentences were required to deter such acts in the future, which the court characterized as violent. Wong and Law were imprisoned from August through October, when they were released on bail, pending the outcome of their appeal. Chow was imprisoned in August and released on bail in November, also pending the outcome of his appeal. On August 20, tens of thousands of persons protested the prison sentences, which would bar the three from running in local elections for five years, according to SAR law. Some commentators claimed the SAR government sought stiffer penalties against the trio in order to stifle dissent and prevent the three defendants from running for office. Two UN special rapporteurs and prominent international lawyers expressed public concern the prison sentences were inconsistent with freedoms of expression and assembly. The SAR government denied any political motivation for seeking stiffer penalties against the trio and argued the cases were handled in accordance with the law. Wong, Law, and Chow appealed their sentences.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

SAR law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. Nonetheless, officials did not approve prodemocracy political party Demosisto’s application to register as a legal entity, even though the application had been pending for more than one year. The mainland Foreign NGO Management Law, which came into effect on January 1 and also applies to NGOs based in the SAR, imposes onerous restrictions on NGOs’ ability to operate in the mainland.

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

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

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

There continued to be claims the Immigration Department refused entry to a small number of persons traveling to the SAR for political reasons. In June, shortly before Chinese president Xi Jinping’s visit to the SAR, two Macau-based prodemocracy activists reported they were denied entry. In October Benedict Rogers, deputy chairman of the British Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission, was refused entry to the SAR. The Immigration Department, as a matter of policy, declined to comment on individual cases. Activists and other observers contended that the refusals, usually of persons holding views critical of the central government, were made at the behest of mainland authorities.

Foreign Travel: Most residents easily obtained travel documents from the SAR government, although central government authorities in the past have not permitted some human rights activists, student protesters, and prodemocracy legislators to visit the mainland. Some students who participated in the 2014 protest movement previously alleged the central government’s security agencies surveilled the protests and blacklisted them.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Under the “one country, two systems” framework, the SAR continued to administer its own immigration and entry policies and make determinations regarding “nonrefoulement” claims independently. The government’s Unified Screening Mechanism (USM) consolidated the processing of claims based on risk of return to persecution, torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. From 2009 to the end of December, 110 of the more than 15,000 nonrefoulement claims adjudicated were substantiated, according to government statistics. Also according to government statistics, at year’s end there were 5,899 nonrefoulement claims pending adjudication.

Persons wishing to file a nonrefoulement claim cannot do so while they have legally entered the SAR and must instead wait until they overstay the terms of their entry before they can file such a claim, which typically results in a period of detention followed by release on recognizance. Persons whose claims are pending are required to appear periodically before the Immigration Department.

Applicants and activists continued to complain about the slow processing of claims, which can take several years, a shortage of government-provided interpretation services, and limited government subsidies available to applicants. Activists and refugee rights groups also expressed concerns about the very low rate of approved claims, suggesting the government’s threshold for approving claims was far higher than other developed jurisdictions.

Access to Asylum: The SAR is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or its 1967 protocol. Under the “one country, two systems” framework, these international agreements are not extended to Hong Kong even though the central government is a signatory. Persons whose nonrefoulement claims are substantiated through the USM do not obtain a status that allows them to permanently live and work in the SAR. Instead, they are referred to UNHCR for possible recognition as refugees and resettlement to a third country. Some nonrefoulement claimants had waited in the SAR for resettlement for years.

Employment: The government defines nonrefoulement claimants as illegal immigrants or “overstayers” in the SAR, and as such they have no legal right to work in the SAR while claims are under review.

Access to Basic Services: Persons with nonrefoulement claims under the USM were eligible to receive publicly funded legal assistance, including translation services, as well as small living subsidies. The children of nonrefoulement claimants could usually attend SAR public schools.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Macau

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government occasionally sought to restrict these rights.

In August police arrested two persons for allegedly spreading false information about the government’s response to a typhoon. In December the government said it had begun drafting legislation to implement a national law passed in September that criminalizes any action mocking the Chinese national anthem and requires persons attending public events to stand at attention and sing the anthem in a solemn manner when the anthem is played.

The SAR Penal Code states that anyone who initiates or organizes, or develops propaganda that incites or encourages, discrimination, hatred, or racial violence, is liable to imprisonment for one to eight years. The law also states that anyone who, in a public meeting or in writing intended for dissemination by any means or media, causes acts of violence against a person, or group of persons on the grounds of their race, color, or ethnic origin, or defames, or insults a person, or group of persons on those grounds with the intention of inciting or encouraging racial discrimination, is liable to imprisonment for between six months and five years.

Press and Media Freedom: Local media expressed a wide range of views but the government took steps to restrict unfavorable news coverage.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The media practiced self-censorship, in part because the government heavily subsidized major newspapers that tended to follow closely the PRC government’s policy on sensitive political issues. On August 29, the Macau Journalists Association stated at least five editors of local media outlets received messages from their senior executives instructing them to report more on positive news after a typhoon, and less on the government’s accountability for problems, especially the accountability of the highest officials. On August 28, the Macau Portuguese and English Press Association released a statement protesting the Macau Electoral Affairs Commission’s order to a local newspaper to remove an interview with a Legislative Assembly candidate from its website.

National Security: On August 26, SAR police denied entry to four journalists from Hong Kong who traveled to the SAR to report from the city after a typhoon. Immigration authorities asked the four journalists to sign a notice stating they “posed a risk to the stability of internal security,” according to a media report. In September the International Federation of Journalists condemned the SAR’s decision to deny entry to 15 Hong Kong-based journalists, some of whom intended to report on the SAR’s Legislative Assembly election.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. Activists critical of the government reported the government monitored their telephone conversations and internet usage.

According to the Statistics and Census Service, approximately 59 percent of the population subscribed to the internet. This did not take into account multiple internet users for one subscription, nor did it include those who accessed the internet through mobile devices.

The law criminalizes a range of cybercrimes and empowers police, with a court warrant, to order internet service providers to retain and provide authorities with a range of data. Police may seize electronic evidence without a warrant under exigent circumstances, but the police must obtain judicial validation of their actions within 72 hours or destroy the evidence.

Activists previously reported the government installed enterprise-grade software capable of censoring, decrypting, and scanning secured transmissions on its free Wi-Fi service without notifying users.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Academics reported self-censorship and also reported they were deterred from studying or speaking on controversial topics concerning China. Scholars also previously reported they were warned not to speak at politically sensitive events or on behalf of certain political organizations. University professors reported the SAR’s universities lacked a tenure system, which left professors vulnerable to dismissal for political reasons.

In February an art gallery cancelled a scheduled performance by an ethnically Tibetan artist after it received pressure to do so from government officials, according to media reports.

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the government often respected these rights, despite some efforts to discourage participation in peaceful demonstrations.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law requires prior notification, but not approval, of demonstrations involving public roads, public places, or places open to the public. Police may redirect demonstration marching routes, but organizers have the right to challenge such decisions in court.

Activists alleged authorities were making a concerted effort to use both intimidation and criminal proceedings against participants in peaceful demonstrations to discourage their involvement. For example, the Legislative Assembly, in a secret ballot, voted to suspend Sulu Sou from the Legislative Assembly after prosecutors charged him with “aggravated disobedience” to police authorities during a peaceful protest against the Chief Executive. Activists reported police routinely attempted to intimidate demonstrators by ostentatiously taking videos of them and advising bystanders not to participate in protests.

In June approximately 200 persons participated in a vigil at Senado Square to mark the 28th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. No authorization is required to form an association, and the only restrictions on forming an organization are that it not promote racial discrimination, violence, crime, or disruption of public order, or be military or paramilitary in nature.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The Immigration Department cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

The Internal Security Law grants police authority to deport or deny entry to nonresidents whom they regard under the law as unwelcome, a threat to internal security and stability, or possibly implicated in transnational crimes. During the year the government banned several Hong Kong politicians and activists from entering the SAR on the grounds they posed a threat to internal security, according to media reports.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Persons granted refugee status ultimately enjoy the same rights as other SAR residents.

Pending final decisions on their asylum claims, the government registered asylum seekers and provided protection against their expulsion or return to their countries of origin. Persons with pending applications were eligible to receive government support, including basic needs such as housing, medical care, and education for children, but were not allowed to work until their refugee status was recognized.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Tibet

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Freedom of Expression: Tibetans who spoke to foreigners or foreign reporters, attempted to provide information to persons outside the country, or communicated information regarding protests or other expressions of discontent through cell phones, email, or the internet were subject to harassment or detention under “crimes of undermining social stability and inciting separatism.” During the year authorities in the TAR and other Tibetan areas sought to strengthen control over electronic media and to punish individuals for the ill-defined crime of “creating and spreading of rumors.”

Tashi Wangchuk continued to be held without trial after being charged in 2016 with “inciting separatism.” If found guilty, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Press and Media Freedom: Foreign journalists may visit the TAR only after obtaining a special travel permit from the government, and this permission was rarely granted. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China’s annual report stated reporting from “Tibet proper remains off-limits to foreign journalists.” This same report noted many foreign journalists were also told that reporting in Tibetan areas outside the TAR was “restricted or prohibited.”

Authorities tightly controlled journalists who worked for the domestic press and could hire and fire them based on assessments of their political reliability. In May the TAR Press, Television, and Radio Bureau announced job vacancies with one of the listed job requirements to “resolutely implement the Party’s line, principles, policies, and political stance, fight against separatism, and safeguard the motherland’s unity and ethnic unity.” CCP propaganda authorities remained in charge of local journalist accreditation in the TAR and required journalists working in the TAR to display “loyalty to the Party and motherland.” The deputy head of the TAR Propaganda Department simultaneously holds a prominent position in the TAR Journalist Association, a state-controlled professional association to which local journalists must belong.

Violence and Harassment: Chinese authorities arrested and sentenced many Tibetan writers, intellectuals, and singers for “inciting separatism.” Numerous prominent Tibetan political writers, namely Jangtse Dokho, Kelsang Jinpa, Buddha, Tashi Rabten, Arik Dolma Kyab, and Gangkye Drupa Kyab, reported that security officers closely monitored them following their release from prison between 2013 and 2016. In addition, they were banned from publishing and were no longer able to receive public services and benefits such as public-service jobs, bank loans, passports, and membership in formal organizations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Domestic journalists were not allowed to report on repression in Tibetan areas. Authorities promptly censored the postings of bloggers who did so, and the authors sometimes faced punishment.

Since the establishment of the CCP’s Central Leading Small Group for Internet Security and Informatization in 2014, the TAR Party Committee Information Office has further tightened the control of a full range of social media platforms. According to multiple contacts, security officials often cancelled WeChat accounts carrying “sensitive information,” such as discussions about Tibetan language education, and interrogated the account owners. Many sources also reported it was almost impossible to register websites promoting Tibetan culture and language in the TAR.

The Chinese government continued to jam radio broadcasts of Voice of America and RFA’s Tibetan and Chinese-language services in some Tibetan areas as well as the Voice of Tibet, an independent radio station based in Norway.

According to multiple sources, authorities in Qinghai and Sichuan provinces confiscated or destroyed “illegal” satellite dishes in many Tibetan areas. In addition to maintaining strict censorship of print and online content in Tibetan areas, Chinese authorities sought to censor the expression of views or distribution of information related to Tibet in countries and regions outside of mainland China. In March Tashi Norbu, a Tibetan painter based in the Netherlands and whose work featured the Dalai Lama and previously was shown in an exhibit in Dharamsala, India, was forced to cancel a scheduled live-painting performance in Macau after authorities in Beijing threatened to arrest and deport him if he tried to enter a Chinese-administered region. According to Norbu, a gallery official told him a high-level Chinese military official stated that Norbu was blacklisted and forbidden entry into Macau. Norbu was advised to leave Hong Kong for his own safety.

INTERNET FREEDOM

As in the past year, authorities curtailed cell phone and internet service in the TAR and other Tibetan areas, sometimes for weeks or even months at a time, during periods of unrest and political sensitivity, such as the March anniversaries of the 1959 and 2008 protests, “Serf Emancipation Day,” and around the Dalai Lama’s birthday in July. In addition, local observers reported authorities disrupted internet service in areas where self-immolations occurred. They also claimed authorities threatened community members with sentences of up to 15 years for those who shared images, videos, and information of the self-immolations outside Tibetan areas. When internet service was restored, authorities closely monitored its usage. There were widespread reports of authorities searching cell phones they suspected of containing suspicious content. Many individuals in the TAR and other Tibetan areas reported receiving official warnings and being briefly detained and interrogated after using their cell phones to exchange what the government deemed to be sensitive information. In July the TAR Internet and Information Office received approval from the Chinese National Social Science Foundation to complete a key research project known as “Countermeasures to Internet-based Reactionary Infiltration by the Dalai Lama Clique.”

In 2016 the National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed a cybersecurity law that further strengthened the legal mechanisms available to security agencies to surveil and control content online. Some observers noted that provisions of the law, such as Article 12, disproportionally affected Tibetans and other ethnic minorities. Article 12 criminalizes using the internet to commit a wide range of ill-defined crimes of a political nature, such as “harming national security,” “damaging national unity,” “propagating extremism,” “inciting ethnic hatred,” “disturbing social order,” and “harming the public interest.” The law also codifies the practice of large-scale internet network shutdowns in response to “major [public] security incidents,” which public security authorities in Tibetan areas have done for years without a clear basis in law. On March 8, the TAR reported that the newly established TAR branch of China’s National Cyberspace Administration has been actively engaging in a “Tibet-related cyberspace battle” both inside and outside of China.

Throughout the year authorities blocked users in China from accessing foreign-based, Tibet-related websites critical of official government policy in Tibetan areas. Well-organized computer hacking attacks originating from China harassed Tibet activists and organizations outside China.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

As in recent years, authorities in many Tibetan areas required professors and students at institutions of higher education to attend regular political education sessions, particularly during politically sensitive months, in an effort to prevent “separatist” political and religious activities on campus. Authorities frequently encouraged Tibetan academics to participate in government propaganda efforts, such as making public speeches supporting government policies. Academics who refused to cooperate with such efforts faced diminished prospects for promotion and research grants.

Academics in the PRC who publicly criticized CCP policies on Tibetan affairs faced official reprisal. The government controlled curricula, texts, and other course materials as well as the publication of historically or politically sensitive academic books. Authorities frequently denied Tibetan academics permission to travel overseas for conferences and academic or cultural exchanges. Authorities in Tibetan areas regularly banned the sale and distribution of music they deemed to have sensitive political content.

In May senior officials of the state-run TAR Academy of Social Science encouraged scholars to maintain “a correct political and academic direction” and held a conference to “improve scholars’ political ideology” and “fight against separatists” under the guidance of Xi Jinping.

Policies promoting planned urban economic growth, rapid infrastructure development, the influx of non-Tibetans to traditionally Tibetan areas, expansion of the domestic tourism industry, forced resettlement and the urbanization of nomads and farmers, and the weakening of Tibetan-language education in public schools and religious education in monasteries continued to disrupt traditional living patterns and customs and accelerate forced assimilation.

Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese are official languages in the TAR, and both languages appeared on some, but not all, public and commercial signs. Inside official buildings and businesses, including banks, post offices, and hospitals, signage in Tibetan was frequently lacking, and in many instances forms and documents were available only in Mandarin. Mandarin was used for most official communications and was the predominant language of instruction in public schools in many Tibetan areas. Private printing businesses in Chengdu needed special government approval to print in the Tibetan language, but it was often difficult to obtain approval.

A small number of public primary schools in the TAR continued to teach mathematics in the Tibetan language, but since June 2016, observers reported that TAR officials have replaced Tibetan language mathematics textbooks in all middle and high schools with Mandarin versions. Observers also reported that WeChat users in the TAR discussing the issue were subsequently visited by public security officers and punished for spreading rumors.

According to sources, there were previously 20 Tibetan language schools or workshops for local children operated by Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Sichuan Province’s Kardze TAP. After the 2015 release of the Kardze TAP Relocation Regulation for Minors in Monasteries, authorities forced 16 of these schools to close and relocated their students to government-run schools.

The Kardze TAP has the highest illiteracy rate (above 30 percent) in Sichuan Province, compared with a national rate of 4 to 5 percent. Despite the illiteracy problem, in 2016 the central government ordered the destruction of much of Larung Gar, the largest Tibetan Buddhist education center and a focal point for promoting both Tibetan and Chinese literacy. The central government reportedly also ordered the destruction of Yachen Gar, another Tibetan Buddhist education center in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Prefecture, where both Tibetan and Chinese are taught.

China’s Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law states, “schools (classes and grades) and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the media of instruction.” Despite guarantees of cultural and linguistic rights, many primary, middle, high school, and college students had limited access to officially approved Tibetan language instruction and textbooks, particularly in the areas of modern education.

China’s most prestigious universities provided no instruction in Tibetan or other ethnic minority languages, although classes teaching the Tibetan language were available at a small number of universities. “Nationalities” universities, established to serve ethnic minority students and ethnic Chinese students interested in ethnic minority subjects, offered Tibetan language instruction only in courses focused on the study of the Tibetan language or culture. Mandarin was used in courses for jobs that required technical skills and qualifications.

Even in areas officially designated as “autonomous,” Tibetans generally lacked the right to organize and play a meaningful role in the protection of their cultural heritage and unique natural environment. Tibetans often faced intimidation and arrest if they protested policies or practices they found objectionable. In 2015 authorities in Rebkong County in the Tibetan Region of Amdo, now administered under Qinghai Province, circulated a list of unlawful activities. The list included “illegal associations formed in the name of the Tibetan language, the environment, and education.” As was the case in the previous year, sources in the area reported this list remained in force and that no new associations had been formed since the list was published.

In July local contacts reported that many monasteries and rural villages in Tibetan areas in Sichuan and Qinghai Provinces received official warnings not to organize gatherings, including the celebration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday. According to these contacts, many Tibetan students at various nationality universities were instructed not to organize gatherings and parties in March (Tibet Uprising Day) and July (His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday).

At the Sixth Tibet Work Forum in 2015, the CCP ordered a large-scale campaign to expel students and demolish living quarters at Larung Gar, the world’s largest center for the study of Tibetan Buddhism. The expulsion and demolition campaign commenced in 2016. According to local contacts, authorities reduced the resident population to 5,000 and demolished more than 3,000 residences by August. Before the campaign began, the population at Larung Gar was estimated to be as large as 30,000. Since July 2016, authorities have banned foreign tourists from visiting the area. In August the government appointed a prefecture police chief to serve as president of Larung Gar.

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

Chinese law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; however, the government severely restricted travel and freedom of movement for Tibetans, particularly Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns.

In-country Movement: Freedom of movement for all Tibetans, but particularly for monks and nuns, remained severely restricted throughout the TAR as well as in other Tibetan areas. The PAP and local public security bureaus set up roadblocks and checkpoints on major roads, in cities, and on the outskirts of cities and monasteries, particularly around sensitive dates. Tibetans traveling in monastic attire were subject to extra scrutiny by police at roadside checkpoints and at airports.

Authorities sometimes banned Tibetans, particularly monks and nuns, from going outside the TAR and from traveling to the TAR without first obtaining special permission from multiple government offices. Many Tibetans reported encountering difficulties in obtaining the required permissions. This not only made it difficult for Tibetans to make pilgrimages to sacred religious sites in the TAR, but it also obstructed land-based travel to India through Nepal. Tibetans from outside the TAR who traveled to Lhasa also reported that authorities there required them to surrender their national identification cards and notify authorities of their plans in detail on a daily basis. These requirements were not applied to ethnic Chinese visitors to the TAR.

Even outside the TAR, many Tibetan monks and nuns reported it remained difficult to travel beyond their home monasteries for religious and traditional Tibetan education, with officials frequently denying permission for visiting monks to stay at a monastery for religious education. Implementation of this restriction was especially rigorous in the TAR, and it undermined the traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice of seeking advanced teachings from a select number of senior teachers based at major monasteries scattered across the Tibetan Plateau.

Foreign Travel: Many Tibetans continued to report difficulties in obtaining new or renewing existing passports. Sources reported that Tibetans and other minorities had to provide far more extensive documentation than other Chinese citizens when applying for a Chinese passport. For Tibetans, the passport application process could take years and frequently ended in rejection. Some Tibetans reported they were able to obtain passports only after paying substantial bribes. Tibetans continued to encounter significant obstacles in traveling to India for religious, educational, and other purposes.

In 2016 Chinese officials in the Tibetan Regions of Kham and Amdo under the administration of Qinghai, Sichuan, and Gansu Provinces visited the homes of Tibetan passport holders and confiscated their documents. Officials claimed they collected the passports in order to affix new seals on them, but Tibetans suspected the timing was intended to make it impossible for them to attend an important religious ceremony known as the Kalachakra, which the Dalai Lama conducted in India in January. Additional reports in 2016 indicated that travel agencies in China were told by local authorities to cancel trips to India and Nepal during this same period. The apparent travel ban also reportedly extended to ethnic Chinese travelers. Tibetans who had traveled to Nepal and planned to continue to India reported that Chinese officials visited their homes in Tibet and threatened their relatives if they did not return immediately. Sources reported that explicit punishments included placing family members on a blacklist, which could lead to the loss of a government job or difficulty in finding employment; expulsion of children from the public education system; and revocation of national identification cards, thereby preventing access to other social services, such as health care and government aid. As a result of these measures, approximately 7,000 Tibetans who were already in India legally for the 2017 Kalachakra missed the event as they had to return to the PRC or face severe repercussions. In September news reports speculated that in preparation for the 19th Party Congress meeting the government barred foreigners from entering Tibet borders between October 18 and October 28, and foreigners already travelling in the area were required to leave during those dates.

Tight border controls sharply limited the number of persons crossing the border into Nepal and India. From January to October, 41 Tibetan refugees transited Nepal through the Tibetan Reception Center, run by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kathmandu, en route to permanent settlement in India. This was fewer than in previous years, with 120 refugees able to register at the center in 2016, 89 in 2015, and 80 in 2014.

The government restricted the movement of Tibetans in the period before and during sensitive anniversaries and events and increased controls over border areas at these times. In January there were reports that travel agents in Chengdu, Xining, and Kunming were forbidden to sell package overseas tours to Tibetans for the months of March and July, the periods around Tibet Uprising Day (March 10) and the Dalai Lama’s birthday (July 6).

The government regulated travel by foreigners to the TAR, a restriction not applied to any other provincial-level entity in the PRC. In accordance with a 1989 regulation, foreign visitors had to obtain an official confirmation letter issued by the TAR government before entering the TAR. Most tourists obtained such letters by booking tours through officially registered travel agencies. In the TAR, a government-designated tour guide had to accompany foreign tourists at all times. It was rare for foreigners to obtain permission to enter the TAR by road. In what has become an annual practice, authorities banned many foreign tourists from the TAR in the period before and during the March anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. Foreign tourists sometimes also faced restrictions traveling to Tibetan areas outside the TAR.

Foreign officials were able to travel to the TAR only with the permission of the TAR Foreign Affairs Office and only on closely chaperoned trips arranged by that office. With the exception of a few highly controlled trips, authorities repeatedly denied requests for international journalists to visit the TAR and other Tibetan areas (see section on Freedom of Expression).

Colombia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Violence and harassment, as well as the criminalization of libel, inhibited freedom of the press, and the government frequently influenced the press, in part through its large advertising budgets. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: According to the domestic NGO Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), through December 11, there were 302 incidents of violence and harassment against journalists, including the killing of one journalist, although FLIP noted many other incidents might have gone unreported in the most dangerous areas of the country. During the same period, FLIP reported 128 threats, some aimed simultaneously at more than one journalist. FLIP also reported six journalists were illegally detained, 43 journalists were physically attacked, and 14 were stigmatized or harassed due to their work. According to FLIP, the justice sector brought to trial eight persons involved in four cases of violence against journalists, although investigations continued.

As of July the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office was investigating 46 active cases of crimes against journalists. Eight cases were in the trial stage, and one person was convicted for such crimes.

On September 8, in the case of journalist Flor Alba Nunez Vargas, Juan Camilo Ortiz was sentenced to 47 years in prison, while Ortiz’s alleged accomplice, Jaumeth Albeiro Florez, known by the alias “Chori,” remained at large. The intellectual authors of the crime were unknown.

As of June 30, the National Protection Unit (NPU) provided protection services to 15 journalists. The NPU’s Protocol for Attention to Cases of Journalists and/or Social Communicators, issued in September 2016, aimed to provide more robust risk studies and meet the particular needs of this group. Some NGOs raised concerns about perceived shortcomings in the NPU, such as delays in protection being granted and in the appropriateness of measures to specific threats.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: FLIP alleged that some journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of being sued under libel laws or of being physically attacked, mostly by nongovernment actors. FLIP argued that the high degree of impunity for those who committed aggressions against journalists was also a factor.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law slander and libel are crimes. There is no specific law against slandering public officials, and the government did not use prosecution to prevent media from criticizing government policies or public officials. Political candidates, businesspersons, and others, however, publicly threatened to sue journalists for expressing their opinions, alleging defamation or libel. FLIP reported no new cases were filed against journalists for libel or slander as of August 18, although 27 prosecutions of journalists for libel or slander continued from 2013.

Nongovernmental Impact: Members of illegal armed groups sought to inhibit freedom of expression by intimidating, threatening, kidnapping, and killing journalists. National and international NGOs reported local media representatives regularly practiced self-censorship because of threats of violence from these groups.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Due to the general climate of violence and impunity, self-censorship occurred both online and offline, particularly within communities at risk in rural areas.

The 2016 investigation continued into past abuses by the Army Intelligence Unit known as “Andromeda” (see section 1.f.).

The International Telecommunication Union estimated 58 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Some NGOs alleged that riot police used excessive force to break up demonstrations. During a three-week strike in Buenaventura that began May 16 and concluded with the signing of an accord with the government on June 6, local social and human rights organizations accused the armed forces and National Police Anti-Riot Squad of using excessive force and alleged that at least 1,300 demonstrators were injured.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Freedom of association was limited by threats and acts of violence committed by illegal armed groups against NGOs, indigenous groups, and labor unions.

Although the government does not prohibit membership in most political organizations, membership in organizations that engaged in rebellion against the government, espoused violence, or carried out acts of violence, such as FARC dissidents, the ELN, and other illegal armed groups, was against the law.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, although there were exceptions. Military operations and armed conflict in certain rural areas restricted freedom of movement.

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

In-country Movement: There were no government restrictions on movement within the country. Organized criminal gangs, ELN guerrillas, and other illegal armed groups continued to establish illegal checkpoints on rural roads.

International organizations also reported that illegal armed groups confined rural communities through roadblocks, curfews, car bombs at egress routes, and IEDs in areas where narcotics cultivation and trafficking persisted. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), between January and October, more than 105,000 persons faced mobility restrictions that limited their access to essential goods and services due to armed incidents and geographical factors. This reflected a 54 percent increase compared with 2016. Additionally, OCHA identified 25 events where humanitarian actors faced restrictions in access to communities by armed groups.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The armed conflict, especially in remote areas, was the major cause of internal displacement. The government, international organizations, and civil society identified various factors driving displacement, including threats, extortion, and physical, psychological, and sexual violence by illegal armed groups against civilian populations, particularly women and girls. Competition and armed confrontation between and within illegal armed groups for resources and territorial control and confrontations between security forces, guerrillas, and organized criminal gangs, in addition to forced recruitment of children or threats of forced recruitment, were also drivers of displacement. Some NGOs asserted that counternarcotics efforts, illegal mining, and large-scale commercial ventures in rural areas also contributed to displacement.

The NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) reported 12,346 persons displaced from January through July 31. The NGO indicated the departments with the highest numbers of IDPs from mass displacements in the year were Choco (22 displacements), Antioquia (12 displacements), Norte de Santander (10 displacements), and Narino (11 displacements). CODHES also reported six land-rights leaders were killed and five land-rights claimants were killed from January 1 through July 30.

As of July the NPU was providing protection services to 344 land-restitution leaders.

As of November 1, the government reported the Victims’ Unit listed 8,250,270 displaced in the Single Victims Registry, with registrants dating back to 1985. Victims’ Unit statistics showed new displacements occurred primarily in areas where narcotics cultivation and trafficking persisted, especially where guerrilla groups and organized criminal gangs were present.

The Victims’ Unit maintained the Single Victims Registry as mandated by law. Despite improvements in the government registration system, IDPs experienced delays in receiving responses to their displacement claims because of a large backlog of claims built up during several months. Government policy provides for an appeals process in the case of refusals.

The ELN and organized criminal gangs continued to use force, intimidation, and disinformation to discourage IDPs from registering with the government. Guerrilla agents sometimes forced local leaders and community members to demonstrate against government efforts to eradicate illicit crops and forced communities to displace as a form of coerced protest against eradication. International organizations and civil society expressed concern over urban displacement caused by violence stemming from territorial disputes between criminal gangs, some of which had links to larger criminal and narcotics trafficking groups.

The Victims’ Unit cited extortion, recruitment by illegal armed groups, homicides, and physical and sexual violence as the primary causes of intra-urban displacement. UNHCR reported that in some departments displacement disproportionately affected indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups.

The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia estimated the number of displaced indigenous persons to be much higher than indicated by government reports, since many indigenous persons did not have adequate access to registration locations due to geographic remoteness, language barriers, or unfamiliarity with the national registration system.

The NGO AFRODES stated that threats and violence against Afro-Colombian leaders and communities continued to cause high levels of forced displacement, especially in the Pacific Coast region. AFRODES and other local NGOs repeatedly expressed concern that large-scale economic projects, such as agriculture and mining, contributed to displacement in their communities.

Fifty-two government agencies are responsible by law for assisting registered IDPs. International organizations and NGOs maintained that the quality of programs providing emergency assistance, shelter, and income generation needed strengthening. Emergency response capacity at the local level was weak, and IDPs continued to experience prolonged periods of vulnerability while waiting for assistance.

A specialized unit of the Attorney General’s Office–established through an agreement with the government’s former social agency, Social Action (which the DPS replaced), the Attorney General’s Office, and the CNP–investigated cases of forced displacement and disappearances.

Dozens of international organizations, international NGOs, and domestic nonprofit groups, including UNHCR, International Organization for Migration, World Food Program, ICRC, and Colombian Red Cross, coordinated with the government to provide emergency relief and long-term assistance to displaced populations.

The Victim’s Unit was unable to provide humanitarian assistance for recent displacements until August due to contracting delays. International organizations and NGOs remained concerned about the slow and insufficient institutional response to displacement. As a result, NGOs took responsibility for providing humanitarian assistance to recently displaced individuals. International organizations and civil society reported that a continuing lack of local capacity to accept registrations in high-displacement areas often delayed by several weeks or months assistance to persons displaced individually or in smaller groups. Humanitarian organizations attributed the delays to a variety of factors, including the lack of personnel, funding, declaration forms, and training. Insecurity in communities affected by the conflict, including areas in the departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Choco, and Narino, sometimes delayed national and international aid organizations from reaching newly displaced populations.

Despite several government initiatives to enhance IDP access to services and awareness of their rights, in many parts of the country, municipalities did not have the resources or capacity to respond to new displacements and provide humanitarian assistance to IDPs. Many IDPs continued to live in poverty in unhygienic conditions and with limited access to health care, education, and employment.

Displaced persons also sought protection across international borders. UNHCR stated that Colombia was the country of origin for 360,000 refugees and persons in a refugee-like situation, the majority in Ecuador, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Panama. UNHCR estimated that between 400 and 500 Colombians crossed into Ecuador every month. The governments of Colombia and Ecuador continued to meet throughout the year regarding the situation of Colombian refugees in Ecuador, and the Colombian government offered a program to assist Colombian refugees in Ecuador who returned to Colombia.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. According to the government, it had approved 50 applications for refugee status since 2009. Between January 1 and October 2, the government reported it received 400 new applications for refugee status, none of which was approved during the year. Venezuelans represented 85 to 90 percent of applications during the year. Authorities stated that the asylum process took at least one year, during which solicitants were given a permit to stay in the country but were not allowed to work.

Responding to increased migration flows, the government introduced in February registration for border mobility cards that allow Venezuelans the right to enter Colombia temporarily for family or business purposes. The cards do not afford bearers the right to travel beyond border areas, to work, or to reside in Colombia. As of October 31, more than 1.2 million border cards had been issued to Venezuelans. In addition, the government established a “Special Residency Permit” (PEP) to allow Venezuelans who had legally entered Colombia before July 28 to regularize their status and receive work authorization. As of October 31, the last day to register for the PEP, approximately 79,000 PEPs had been issued.

The government reported a continuing rise in the smuggling of migrants from outside the region through Colombia en route to the United States and Canada. According to INTERPOL, as many as 34,000 migrants were detected in the country during the year. INTERPOL and migration officials reported most of the undocumented migrants were Haitians (20,366) and Cubans (8,167), followed by Africans and Asians, and that most entered through Ecuador, Venezuela, and Brazil. While the government generally provided access to the asylum process for persons who requested international protection, many abandoned their applications and continued on the migration route.

Comoros

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech including for the press, but there were some limitations on press freedom.

Press and Media Freedom: The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect these rights. Some journalists on all three islands practiced self-censorship.

In December 2016 Abdallah Abdou Hassan, owner of private radio station La Baraka FM in the Itsandra region, was arrested and found guilty of defamation after the prosecutor of the republic charged him with insulting the country’s judicial and other authorities. The Court of First Instance convicted him of defamation and sentenced him to nine months’ imprisonment and a fine of 75,000 Comorian francs ($167). The court suspended the sentence. On February 15, the Court of Appeals reversed the verdict. Nevertheless, the prefect of Itsandra region issued an order prohibiting the radio station from broadcasting, and police confiscated all its equipment, forcing the station to shut down.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 8 percent of individuals used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

In May, after four weeks of public school strikes, the teachers’ union called for a peaceful march to express its dissatisfaction with authorities for refusing to respond to their demands. The prefect of Moroni refused to authorize the march. Police dispersed the teachers when they gathered to begin the march. On December 9 and 10, the government banned opposition parties from meeting in Anjouan without explanation.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement and foreign travel, and the government generally respected these rights. No specific constitutional or legal provisions deal with emigration and repatriation.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there were no registered refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, or other persons of concern in the country.

Costa Rica

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private communications without appropriate legal authority. The International Telecommunication Union reported that in 2016, 66 percent of individuals used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. The law requires authorities to process the claims within three months of receipt, but decisions took an average of 10 months.

The number of persons seeking asylum increased significantly in recent years. The refugee unit received 3,156 asylum applications from January to June, mainly from Venezuela, El Salvador, and Colombia, compared with 4,470 in all of 2016.

The Appeals Tribunal, which adjudicates all migration appeals, as of July had a backlog of 1,056 asylum cases. UNHCR provided support to the Refugee Unit and the Appeals Tribunal to hire additional legal and administrative personnel to assist with reduction of the backlog.

Employment: Refugee regulations provide asylum seekers an opportunity to obtain work permits if they have to wait beyond the three months the law allows for a decision on their asylum claim. Few asylum seekers took advantage of this right, largely because they were unaware of their eligibility. The refugee unit failed to educate employers effectively about this right.

Access to Basic Services: By law asylum seekers and refugees have access to public services and social welfare programs, but access was often hampered by lack of knowledge about their status in the country and feelings of xenophobia among some service providers. For example, asylum seekers without employers (who constituted the majority of asylum seekers) faced restrictions when enrolling voluntarily as independent workers in the public health system.

Asylum seekers received provisional refugee status documents legalizing their status after appearing for an interview with the General Directorate of Immigration, for which the estimated wait time was approximately two months. Provisional refugee ID cards do not resemble other Costa Rican identity documents, so while government authorities generally accepted them, many Costa Rican citizens did not. Upon receiving refugee status, which typically took another nine months, refugees could obtain an identity document similar to those used by nationals at a cost of 37,400 colones ($66), renewable every two years.

Durable Solutions: During the year the government continued to implement a “Protection Transfer Arrangement” in coordination with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration for refugee resettlement in third countries. The government was committed to local integration of refugees both legally and socially and to facilitating their naturalization process.

Temporary Protection: There were no programs for temporary protection beyond refugee status. Due to low recognition rates (approximately 13 percent of applicants received asylum during the first six months of the year), UNHCR had to consider a number of rejected asylum seekers as persons in need of international protection. UNHCR provided support and access to integration programs to individuals still pursuing adjudication and appeals. The individuals requesting refugee status were mainly from Venezuela, El Salvador, and Colombia; the majority were male adults and extended families.

STATELESS PERSONS

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs cooperated with UNHCR efforts on statelessness with indigenous populations and reported no cases of the recognition of a person’s status as stateless during the first six months of the year. There were no reports of stateless persons who were also refugees. There continued to be problems of statelessness of indigenous children and children of seasonal workers in the border areas with Panama and Nicaragua derived from the difficulties linked to birth registrations. Members of the Ngobe-Bugle indigenous group from Panama often worked on Costa Rican farms and occasionally gave birth there. In these cases parents did not register Ngobe-Bugle children as Costa Rican citizens at birth because they did not think it necessary, although the children lacked registration in Panama as well. Approximately 1,200 children were affected. Government authorities worked together with UNHCR on a program of birth registration and provision of identification documents to stateless persons known as “Chiriticos.” Mobile teams went to remote coffee-growing areas for case identification and registration. UNHCR and the National Civil Registry started a project along the northern border for individuals of Nicaraguan origin to facilitate procedures for late birth registration.

Côte d’Ivoire

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

In March a local politician of Lebanese origin, “Sam l’African,” was arrested after proclaiming at a political rally that he was just as Ivoirian as President Ouattara. He was sentenced to six months in Abidjan’s main central prison for insult and slander towards “people belonging to an ethnic group,” then fined and sentenced to another five years and revocation of his civic rights for fraud.

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

In February six journalists were detained for allegedly threatening state security, inciting rebellion, and spreading false information on the January mutiny by security forces. They were released after being held in a military barracks in Abidjan for two days. Media organizations and journalists from both progovernment and opposition newspapers denounced the arrest.

In May the government proposed a new media law that included controversial articles that sought to criminalize press offenses and provided for imprisonment of journalists and citizens who, through the press, “incite xenophobia, rebellion, or breaches national security” (Article 90). The law sparked protests from media organizations and civil society, and it was temporarily withdrawn. In December, without any notice, the National Assembly put the media law on the agenda of a plenary session. The last-minute timing of the vote immediately before the Christmas holiday was seen as intentional and did not allow sufficient time for media and civil society organizations to mobilize and react. Nevertheless, the parliamentary group Vox Populi was prepared for the session and was able to propose several amendments to the law, including the full removal of Article 90. With the amendments, the media law passed unanimously.

The High Audiovisual Communications Authority oversees the regulation and operation of radio and television stations. There were numerous independent radio stations. The law prohibits transmission of political commentary by private radio stations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government influenced news coverage and program content on television channels and public and private radio stations.

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 26.5 percent of the population used the internet in 2016. With a mobile phone penetration rate of virtually 100 percent, however, internet access by mobile device was likely much higher.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted the freedom of peaceful assembly.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

In September students protesting an alleged increase in school fees due to hidden costs, after a call from the Students’ Union of Cote d’Ivoire, clashed with police, and 43 students were arrested and detained. Authorities released them in mid-October, following three weeks in Abidjan’s main prison, whereupon several complained of having contracted illnesses due to the prison’s conditions.

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

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

In-country Movement: There were impediments to internal travel. Security forces and unidentified groups erected and operated roadblocks, primarily along secondary roads outside of Abidjan. Although some roadblocks served legitimate security purposes, racketeering and extortion were common. FACI occupied some checkpoints at border crossings, but fewer than in previous years. Discrimination against perceived foreigners and descendants of Burkinabe migrants, including difficulty obtaining nationality and identity documentation, remained a challenge to free movement of stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness in the country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Most IDPs were in the western and northeastern regions and in Abidjan and surrounding suburbs; no estimates of the total number of IDPs were available. Most IDPs were displaced due to the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis and evictions from illegally occupied protected forests in 2016. The 51,000 persons evicted in 2016 from Mont Peko National Park, where they had been living and farming illegally, continued to face challenges of housing and food security in the surrounding areas where they had largely integrated into local communities. These were largely economic migrants, likely including many stateless persons. There were no reports that the government evicted residents of Abidjan from flood-prone areas or removed structures built on illegally occupied land.

In 2014 the government adopted the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention). The convention commits the government to protect the rights and well-being of persons displaced by conflict, violence, disasters, or human rights abuses and provides a framework of durable solutions for IDPs. The government respected the principle of voluntary return but provided limited assistance to IDPs; the United Nations and international and local NGOs worked to fill the gaps. While many of those displaced returned to their areas of origin, difficult conditions, including lack of access to land, shelter, and security, prevented others’ return. Host communities had few resources to receive and assist IDPs, who often resorted to living in informal urban settlements. In October the government announced a 650 million CFA francs ($1.19 million) assistance package for those driven from their lands after ethnic-fueled disputes.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The constitution and law provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR, the country hosted 1,470 refugees at the end of August, most of whom were Liberian refugees who opted for local integration following the 2012 invocation of the cessation clause, which ended refugee status for Liberians.

Durable Solutions: Refugee documents allowed refugees to move freely in the country, with refugees under the age of 14 included on their parents’ documents. Refugees also had access to naturalization, although UNHCR reported many refugees had been in the naturalization process for more than five years.

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

STATELESS PERSONS

Statelessness in the country remained extensive. Administrative hurdles, difficulty verifying nationality, and discrimination resulted in an estimated 700,000 persons who were stateless or at risk of statelessness. Lack of documentation has extended down through generations of long-term migrants, and the failure to keep government records of migrants caused hurdles in obtaining documentation. Children of migrants born in the country were never registered by the government. With birth registration as a requirement for citizenship, they were thus rendered stateless. UNHCR estimated 300,000 abandoned children, known as foundlings, who because they could not prove their citizenship through parents, were effectively stateless and thus deprived of the opportunity to attend high school, get a formal job, open a bank account, own land, travel freely, or vote. Stateless persons faced numerous significant additional challenges, such as access to health services, ability to wed legally, receive inheritance, enjoy political rights, as well as being exposed to exploitation and arbitrary detention. Social stigma and general harassment can also accompany statelessness.

Only 7,000 persons received Ivoirian nationality through a naturalization program that ended in January 2016, and a decision on an additional 123,810 cases was pending.

Croatia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: The criminal code sanctions individuals who act “with the goal of spreading racial, religious, sexual, national, ethnic hatred or hatred based on the color of skin or sexual orientation or other characteristics.” The law provides for six months to five years imprisonment for conviction of such “hate speech.” Conviction of internet hate speech is punishable by six months to three years imprisonment.

In December two members of parliament reported receiving death threats after they criticized a moment of silence in the parliament that honored convicted war criminals in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) case of Prlic et al.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Restrictions on material deemed hate speech applied to print and broadcast media. While many private newspapers and magazines were published without government interference, observers cited lack of transparency in media ownership as a challenge to media and government accountability. In several cases information regarding the actual ownership of local media outlets was not publicly available. On July 14, the Parliamentary Information, IT, and Media Committee relieved four of the five members of Croatian Radio Television’s (HRT) Supervisory Board, after the board reported on numerous alleged irregularities and possible illegalities in the HRT’s management. The HRT branch of the Croatian Journalists Association (CJA) warned that removal of these board members would endanger the independence of one of HRT’s most important bodies and threaten HRT’s transformation into a responsible and credible public service.

Violence and Harassment: In January state prosecutors in Zlatar indicted Ivan Goluban for hate crimes and threats against Sasa Lekovic, president of the CJA. Police had arrested Goluban in November 2016 for threatening Lekovic.

In February the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) supported the CJA in denouncing an attack against freedom of speech and the rights of ethnic minorities by the NGO In the Name of the Family. On February 13, In the Name of the Family in a press conference called for a ban on state funding for Serb National Council weekly magazine Novosti and for criminal prosecution of Novosti journalists, editors, and publishers for “insulting the Republic of Croatia and spreading hatred and intolerance towards the majority of Croatian people.” The CJA and the EFJ called upon political leaders to condemn the attack.

On September 13, the CJA condemned a September 12 public burning of copies of Novosti by members of the far-right Autonomous Croatian Party of Rights (A-HSP) in front of the Serbian National Council headquarters, demanding the state cease cofinancing of Novosti. The CJA demanded Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic clearly condemn threats to Novosti and other journalists. On September 14, Prime Minister Plenkovic condemned the incident during a government session.

On May 12, the CJA condemned an attack against Mladen Mirkovic, a journalist at the Pozega-based web portal 034portal.hr, by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) mayor of Pozega, Vedran Neferovic. The CJA called upon police to investigate reports that Neferovic physically attacked Mirkovic and threatened to kill him and other journalists at the portal. Prime Minister Plenkovic condemned the attack and barred Neferovic from running in local elections as a member of the HDZ.

On October 16, the International Federation of Journalists and EFJ joined their affiliate, the CJA, in condemning the physical attack of Index.hr journalist Drago Miljus by members of the Split Police Department. Miljus was covering a crime scene when police beat him and threw his cell phone into the ocean. Following the incident the Split Police Department opened an investigation into the incident.

On December 10, Natasa Bozic Zaric, a journalist for N1 TV, reported receiving death threats after a televised discussion about the Prlictrial at the ICTY, during which Zaric asked a guest if military medals for Croatian generals convicted of war crimes should be revoked. Zaric reported the incident to police, but there were no arrests or charges brought as of year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: A number of journalists continued to report that publishers, media owners, and journalists frequently practiced self-censorship to avoid reporting negatively on advertisers or those politically linked to key advertisers. There were reports of self-censorship by journalists who feared losing their job for reporting on certain topics.

In February the CJA reported the Office of the President refused to answer questions submitted under the freedom of information law by journalists at Index.hr, claiming that the number of questions in the inquiry was excessive. In the same report, the CJA noted that the government did not hold regular press conferences and only half of all ministers had appointed a spokesperson.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to Eurostat, 74 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: NGOs reported several cases of police abuse of refugees at border areas. Border police officials denied these reports.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The Ministry of the Interior, in cooperation with the Red Cross and other NGOs, including the Jesuit Refugee Service, Association of Baptist Churches, Croatian Law Center, Center for Peace Studies, and Rehab Center for Stress and Trauma, continued to provide applicants for international protection with legal counseling as well as psychological and humanitarian support.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or subsidiary protection, and the government has established a system for providing protection to asylum seekers. During the year 170 individuals were returned to the country from other EU member states under the Dublin III Regulation. Under the EU’s relocation scheme, 77 Syrian, Yemeni, and Eritrean asylum seekers arrived in the country from Greece and Italy. There were reports that border officials did not allow access to the asylum system for refugees arriving from Serbia or Bosnia and Herzegovina, although government officials denied these reports.

On December 19, the family of a six-year-old Afghan refugee girl filed a criminal complaint against the border police after the girl was killed by a train in Serbia near the Croatian border on November 21. According to the girl’s mother, border police refused her request for asylum after she and her family entered Croatia, directing them back into Serbia along the train tracks, where the girl was later killed. The border police refuted this account, stating they encountered the family only after the girl was killed inside Serbia.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government maintained a list of safe countries of origin, which included neighboring countries as well as Albania, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Turkey.

Durable Solutions: The government committed to receive 1,583 refugees and asylum seekers (1,433 under the EU relocation scheme and 150 under the EU resettlement scheme). In November the country received 40 Syrian refugees from Turkey, the first of 150 Syrian refugees the country committed to receive under the EU resettlement scheme.

On November 19, the government began refurbishment of the main refugee housing center in Zagreb, Hotel Porin, during which time it temporarily relocated asylum seekers from Porin to the Remetinec and Laniste neighborhoods. Some residents in those neighborhoods initiated a petition protesting the move. The Croatian NGO Are You Syrious, which assists refugees and migrants, publicly supported the temporary move; the following day an unidentified person threw a concrete block at a van belonging to the NGO.

The government continued to participate in a five-year joint regional housing program with the governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia to provide durable integration or return housing solutions (local integration or voluntary return) for 73,592 refugees in the region from the 1990s conflicts associated with the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. Many of these potential returnees awaiting durable housing solutions were particularly vulnerable, often elderly or unemployed.

Temporary Protection: In July the government granted subsidiary protection to 11 persons who did not qualify as refugees.

STATELESS PERSONS

In June UNHCR estimated 2,873 persons were stateless or at risk of statelessness. Many of these persons were Roma from other parts of the former Yugoslavia who had difficulty providing documents needed to determine citizenship in order to apply for legal residency. The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for granting stateless individuals residency in the country and eventual citizenship.

Cuba

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

Government workers reported being fired, demoted, or censured for expressing dissenting opinions or affiliating with independent organizations. Several university professors, researchers, and students reported they were forced from their positions, demoted, or expelled for expressing ideas or opinions outside of government-accepted norms. In April the University of Marta Abreu in Las Villas expelled first-year journalism student Karla Maria Perez for “counterrevolutionary projections, actions, membership in organizations, and online publishing.” The university’s government-affiliated student group, the Federation of University Students, supported this decision in an open letter, stating that Perez was a “known member of an illegal and counterrevolutionary organization that is against the principles, objectives, and values of the Cuban revolution,” and quoted Fidel Castro’s famous dictum, “Within the revolution, everything; against the revolution, nothing.”

During the year some religious groups reported greater latitude to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings, although most members of the clergy continued to exercise self-censorship. Religious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and the country’s leadership without reprisals. The Catholic Church operated a cultural and educational center in Havana that hosted debates featuring participants expressing different opinions about the country’s future. Reverends Mario Travieso and Alain Toledano, both affiliated with the Apostolic Movement, reported frequent police harassment, including surveillance, threats, intimidation, and arbitrary fines. Both Travieso and Toledano claimed that the government was harassing them because of their outspoken criticism of certain government policies during their sermons.

Press and Media Freedom: The government directly owned all print and broadcast media outlets and all widely available sources of information. News and information programming was generally uniform across all outlets, with the exception of broadcasts of Venezuelan government news programming. The government also controlled nearly all publications and printing presses. The party censored public screenings and performances. The government also limited the importation of printed materials. Foreign correspondents in the country had limited access to and often were denied interviews with government officials. They also struggled to gather facts and reliable data for stories. Despite meeting government vetting requirements, official journalists who reported on sensitive subjects did so at personal risk, and the government barred official journalists from working for unofficial media outlets in addition to their official duties.

Violence and Harassment: The government does not recognize independent journalism, and independent journalists sometimes faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse. Most detentions involved independent journalists who filmed arrests and harassment of Todos Marchamos activists or otherwise attempted to cover politically sensitive topics. Two journalists were detained, had their equipment confiscated, and were harassed for covering the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Some independent journalists reported interrogations by state security agents for publishing articles critical of government institutions.

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

The government sometimes barred independent libraries from receiving materials from abroad and seized materials donated by foreign governments, religious organizations, and individuals. Government officials also confiscated or destroyed cameras and cell phones of individuals to prevent them from distributing photographs and videos deemed objectionable, such as those taken during arrests and detentions. Activists reported interrogations and confiscations at the airport when arriving from the United States. On April 6, airport authorities detained Eliecer Avila, leader of the human rights organization Somos+, for six hours upon his return from a human rights conference in Colombia. Authorities reportedly confiscated Avila’s laptop computer, training materials, memory drives, and other personal belongings.

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted access to the internet, and there were credible reports that the government monitored without appropriate legal authority citizens’ and foreigners’ use of email, social media, internet chat rooms, and browsing. The government controlled all internet access, except for limited facilities provided by a few diplomatic missions and a small but increasing number of underground networks.

While the International Telecommunication Union reported that 39 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016, that number included many whose access was limited to a national intranet that offered only government-run email and government-generated websites, at a fraction of the price of open internet. Other international groups reported lower internet penetration, stating approximately 15 percent of the population had access to open internet.

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

During the year the government increased the number of Wi-Fi hot spots to more than 500 countrywide and lowered the cost to one convertible peso (CUC) ($1) per hour, still beyond the means of some citizens, whose average official income was approximately 29 CUC ($29) per month. The cost of access to the national intranet was 10 cents per hour. Authorities reviewed the browsing history of users, reviewed and censored email, and blocked access to at least 41 websites considered objectionable. In addition to internet access at public Wi-Fi hot spots, citizens and foreigners could buy internet access cards and use hotel business centers. Access usually cost between five and 10 CUC ($5 to $10) an hour, a rate well beyond the means of most citizens.

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Outspoken artists and academics faced some harassment and criticism orchestrated by the government.

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

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

Independent activists faced greater obstacles, and state security forces often suppressed attempts to assemble, even for gatherings in private dwellings and in small numbers.

On August 19, more than 100 state security agents reportedly used force to break up a family-themed event organized by the political and human rights organization UNPACU. According to UNPACU president Jose Daniel Ferrer, approximately 50 activists, family members, and neighbors had gathered for a picnic on the banks of a river before authorities arrived and used violence and intimidation, including against minors, women, and elderly attendees, to disperse the gathering. Authorities reportedly severely beat five UNPACU members, with some suffering broken noses and at least one requiring stitches.

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

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Under the terms of the 1994-95 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords, the government agreed not to prosecute or retaliate against migrants returned from international or U.S. waters, or from the Guantanamo U.S. Naval Station, after attempting to emigrate illegally if they had not committed a separate criminal offense. The government prevented independent trips to monitor repatriated Cubans outside of Havana. Some would-be migrants alleged harassment and discrimination, such as fines, expulsion from school, and job loss.

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

The law permits authorities to bar an individual from a certain area within the country, or to restrict an individual to a certain area, for a maximum of 10 years. Under this provision, authorities may internally exile any person whose presence in a given location is determined to be “socially dangerous.” Dissidents frequently reported that authorities prevented them from leaving their home provinces or detained and returned them to their homes even though they had no written or formal restrictions placed against them.

Foreign Travel: The government continued to require several classes of citizens to obtain permission for emigrant travel, including highly specialized medical personnel; military or security personnel; many government officials, including academics; and many former political prisoners and human rights activists. It also used arbitrary or spurious reasons to deny permission for human rights activists to leave the island to participate in workshops, events, or training programs. For example, the CCDHRN reported that authorities denied at least 12 human rights defenders permission to leave during August alone.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

Cyprus

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes incitement to hatred and violence based on race, color, religion, genealogical origin, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 10,000 euros ($12,000), or both. In 2015 police examined 11 complaints of verbal assault and/or hate speech based on ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, and color. Authorities opened criminal prosecutions in five cases that are currently pending trial.

Press and Media Freedom: The law penalizes the use of geographical names and toponyms in the country other than those included in the gazetteer the government presented at the 1987 Fifth UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names. According to the law, anyone who publishes, imports, distributes, or sells maps, books, or any other documents in print or digital form that contain geographical names and toponyms on the island of Cyprus other than those permitted, commits an offense punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of up to 50,000 euros ($60,000), or both.

In May and June, the Radio and Television Authority issued decisions fining two television stations and a radio station for airing interviews and programs deemed to tarnish the reputation of high-level government and church officials in the country.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

The law criminalizes the use of computer systems to incite and promote racism, xenophobia, prejudice, racial discrimination, hate speech, and violence. Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 35,000 euros ($42,000), or both. The use of computer systems to commit offenses related to child pornography is criminalized and is punishable with up to 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 42,500 euros ($51,000).

According to statistics compiled by Eurostat in April, approximately 78 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

On April 17, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs prevented 13 child members of a dance troupe from Serbia and their adult chaperones from traveling to the area under Turkish Cypriot administration to participate in a cultural event at the invitation of the “TRNC.” The ministry denied reports it had detained and deported the group and stated the group voluntarily chose to depart Cyprus after officials advised them that their participation in the event would violate UN resolutions, and that no consular assistance would be available while in the north. The Greek Cypriot media reported that the Serbian Foreign Ministry claimed on April 19, that the children had been detained and barred from leaving the airport before eventually being allowed to enter the Republic of Cyprus and returning to Serbia the next day.

The law and constitution provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement within government-controlled areas, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: NGOs reported that some rejected asylum seekers under detention submitted complaints of psychological and verbal abuse by police officers at the Mennoyia Detention Center. Foreign nationals sentenced to a few months’ imprisonment for entering the country illegally were generally deported as soon as their travel documents were ready.

According to local NGOs, authorities routinely detained irregular migrants and certain categories of rejected asylum seekers in prison-like conditions for extended periods while awaiting deportation. Detainees reportedly included unaccompanied minors.

While the government’s policy was not to hold such persons in detention for long periods and to release them and provide them residency permits if they were not deported within 18 months, there were reports that irregular migrants and asylum seekers were held beyond 18 months or, if released, were rearrested and incarcerated on different grounds. In a March 2016 report following his 2015 visit, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights expressed concern over the wide use of migrant detention, often for excessively long periods, and the practice of rearresting and redetaining migrants. The commissioner urged the government to end the detention of migrants, especially of asylum seekers and migrants deprived of liberty when there was no reasonable prospect of their deportation.

Unlike in previous years, the ombudsman reported that long-term detentions continued to occur in some rare occasions although her office, which handles these cases, did not receive any complaints concerning detainees held for considerable time based on deportation orders during the year. The ombudsman had repeatedly called on the government not to detain foreigners for deportation when there was no prospect of deportation because they did not have travel documents.

An NGO reported that in some isolated cases, undocumented foreigners arrested for illegal stays in the country remained in long-term detention.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, including migrants.

In-country Movement: The government did not restrict Greek Cypriots from traveling to the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, but it advised them against spending the night at Greek Cypriot properties occupied by Turkish Cypriots or Turks, gambling in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, or buying or developing property there. NGOs reported that the government prohibits recognized non-Cypriot refugees with temporary residence status and asylum seekers from crossing to the area administered by the Turkish Cypriots, asserting it could not assure their safety in an area not under its control.

In August a local newspaper alleged the government had engaged in racial discrimination by refusing to grant a passport to the child of a Greek Cypriot mother and a Turkish father, even though the child was born and living in Cyprus. The paper reported that the parents applied for their child’s passport more than three months previously, but their request had not been processed, claiming this was due to the father’s nationality. The Republic of Cyprus’ Commissioner for the Rights of the Child requested a quick resolution to this application.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The government considers Greek Cypriots displaced as a result of the 1974 division of the island to be refugees, although they fell under the UN definition of IDPs. As of October there were 229,840 such individuals and their descendants. UNHCR did not provide assistance to IDPs and officially considered the IDP population to be zero. Depending on their income, IDPs were eligible for financial assistance from the government. They were resettled, had access to humanitarian organizations, and were not subject to attack, targeting, or mandatory return under dangerous conditions. Until July, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots were engaged in ongoing UN-facilitated peace talks, including discussions to resolve the issue of their lost property.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The ombudsman reported that authorities discontinued the practice of deporting asylum seekers while their application appealing the rejection of their asylum application was pending. In 2016 the ombudsman warned authorities in writing that deportation in those cases could amount to an infringement on the principle of nonrefoulement. An NGO reported that authorities instead pressured asylum seekers arrested for immigration offenses to withdraw their appeal in exchange for being sent to a safe third country willing to receive them.

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

The ombudsman reported delays in the examination of asylum applications and delays in the examination of appeals against rejections of asylum applications.

In a March 2016 report based on a visit to the country’s only reception center for asylum seekers in Kofinou, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights deplored a 2014 law restricting the right of refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection to family reunification. The commissioner noted the termination of the practice of detaining Syrian asylum seekers and the reduction of the capacity of the Mennoyia Detention Center by half, but expressed concern over the growing number of rejected asylum seekers and other migrants who were detained for long periods of time while awaiting deportation.

The NGO KISA visited the Mennoyia Detention Center several times during the year and reconfirmed the ombudsman’s findings that detention facilities for rejected asylum seekers did not respect their fundamental rights. KISA reported that conditions at the center had improved but found the change did not entirely end the inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees.

The government provides subsidiary protection status for citizens or residents of Syria who entered the country legally or illegally. All persons seeking such status were required to provide a Syrian passport or other identification.

Employment: Authorities allowed asylum seekers whose cases were awaiting adjudication to work after residing six months in the country but limited them to the areas permitted by law. The law restricts the areas of employment for asylum seekers to fisheries, the production of animal feed, waste management, gas stations and car washes, freight handling in the wholesale trade, building and outdoor cleaning, distribution of advertising and informational materials, and food delivery.

There were reports of racism by Labor Department officers who met with valid residency applicants seeking a contract of employment. From January to October, the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance approved 36 labor contracts for asylum seekers, of which seven were in agriculture, 12 in car wash services, six in distribution of advertising and informational material, nine in outdoor cleaning, and two for labor work in recycling facilities.

Local NGOs complained about the remoteness of the government’s reception center for asylum seekers at Kofinou, located approximately 40 kilometers (24.8 miles) from Nicosia, the lack of language or job training, and the shortage of job opportunities other than as day laborers at nearby farms.

Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers who refused an available job could be denied state benefits. To obtain welfare benefits, asylum seekers also needed a valid address, which was not possible for those who were homeless. NGOs and asylum seekers reported delays and inconsistencies in the delivery of benefits to eligible asylum seekers.

In its observations released on May 12, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed concern over the limited reception facilities and insufficient access to services for the large number of asylum seekers at the Kofinou center; the limited range of employment opportunities for asylum seekers; the negative impact on the ability of asylum seekers to access benefits or assistance if categorized as “willfully unemployed,” and the insufficiency of social assistance benefits paid to asylum seekers.

The ombudsman reported improvement but only on a case-by-case basis following her July 2016 report highlighting the problem of retroactive welfare benefits owed to asylum seekers. The ombudsman also reported that the system of providing welfare support to asylum seekers via coupons was problematic in that the special needs of vulnerable groups among asylum seekers were not taken into account or accommodated appropriately. The coupons could be redeemed only in specific shops that may lack some supplies and were usually more expensive than other grocery stores.

An NGO reported that the procedure to enable access of asylum seekers to state medical care was cumbersome and time consuming.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection, called subsidiary protection, to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Authorities granted subsidiary protection to 767 persons in the first eight months the year.

Czech Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. The law provides for some limitations to this freedom, including in cases of hate speech, Holocaust denial, and denial of communist-era crimes.

Freedom of Expression: The law mandates prison sentences of six months to three years for persons who deny communist-era crimes or the Holocaust. The law prohibits speech that incites hatred based on race, religion, class, nationality, or other group affiliation and provides for prison sentences of up to three years for violations.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without government restriction but there was a reported instance of a private media outlet restricting its reporters.

In January the National Council for Radio and Television Broadcasts (RRTV) cautioned public broadcaster Czech TV for violating the broadcasting law by presenting an unbalanced and biased report, American Election Night, in November 2016.

The law providing limits on denial of communist-era crimes and the Holocaust and on hate speech applies to the print and broadcast media as well as online newspapers and journals.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to data from the Czech Statistical Office, more than 75 percent of households used high-speed internet during the year.

Authorities were increasingly willing to prosecute hate speech on the internet, although extremists often stymied their efforts by placing their pages on foreign servers beyond the reach of authorities. One such website, run by Slovak white supremacists, listed the names and addresses of many Czech lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons as well as Romani activists and advocates. In some cases, the supremacists hacked webpages, such as that of the Czech Helsinki Committee, and called for violence against individuals, such as the director of a major Romani NGO. In 2016 the courts fined several websites for publishing or allowing hate speech in internet discussions. Violations of the law on hate speech on the internet are punishable by up to three years in prison.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of peaceful assembly and association. While the government generally respected these rights, there were complaints it unduly restricted freedom of peaceful assembly on one occasion.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government may legally restrict or prohibit gatherings, including marches, demonstrations, and concerts, if they promote hatred or intolerance, advocate suppressing individual rights, or jeopardize the safety of the participants.

In May 2016 the Municipal Court in Prague received a complaint by citizens who wanted to stage a protest demonstration against the violation of human rights in China during the visit of the president of China to Prague in March. Although protesters announced the demonstration to authorities as required by law, police banned it upon the decision of the Prague municipality, allegedly for security reasons. The complainants claimed that the constitutional right to assembly could not be restricted by a decree, but only under the law on assembly. In March, the Municipal Court in Prague rejected the complaint, justifying the police ban as necessary to provide safety to persons in the square.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law requires organizations, associations, foundations, and political parties to register with the Ministry of Interior. The courts may dissolve or ban, and the Ministry of Interior may refuse to register, groups that incite hatred based on race, religion, class, nationality, or other affiliation or that use prohibited symbols.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Acts of physical intimidation, vandalism, and inflammatory antimigrant rhetoric related to the European refugee and migrant crisis remained a serious concern. NGOs focusing on migration issues reported an increase in telephone and email threats, including death threats (see section 6, Other Societal Violence and Discrimination).

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

According to Ministry of Interior statistics for the first half of the year, in 98.5 percent of all cases the length of asylum procedures met the requirements of the Law on Asylum that entered into force on January 1. In the remaining 1.5 percent of cases, applicants for asylum received information about the new deadline for completing the asylum process in compliance with the law. Under the new law, the Ministry of Interior should grant asylum within six months of the date the application if the applicant has submitted all required documents.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country generally adheres to the Dublin III regulation, which calls for authorities to return asylum seekers to the first EU country they entered. The Ministry of Interior accepted asylum applications from persons arriving from or through countries deemed to be safe, as defined by law. Authorities usually denied such applications but reviewed all cases individually.

Freedom of Movement: As a result of implementation of a voluntary returns system, the length of detention of migrants and rejected asylum seekers in detention was shortened. Under the law, migrants facing deportation or waiting for voluntary repatriation can be detained for a maximum of 180 days. The average overall detention period was approximately 60 days. If there were children accompanying the adults, the deportation procedure could last no more than 90 days with no possibility of further extension. Vulnerable persons, including families, cannot be detained if they apply for international protection.

According to a Ministry of Interior report in September, there were 115 migrants detained in one facility in the country. According to the same report, during the year there were two families, each with one child, in a detention facility specifically designed for vulnerable groups of persons, individual women, and families with children. According to the Ministry of Interior there were no displaced children in the country during the year. The ombudsperson and NGOs reported significant improvement in conditions in detention facilities.

Durable Solutions: A national resettlement and integration program managed by the government in close cooperation with UNHCR continued. Under the State Integration Plan approved by the government in 2015, beneficiaries of international protection are entitled to temporary accommodation, social services, Czech language training, and assistance with finding employment and permanent housing. Children are entitled to school education.

Following EU approval of a mechanism to relocate migrants and asylum seekers, the country relocated 12 Syrians from Greece in 2015. In addition, under an agreement between the EU and Turkey, the government originally agreed to resettle 1,301 persons from Turkey and 400 refugees from other countries, mainly from the Middle East. According to the Ministry of Interior, however, the government decided to suspend this resettlement due to security concerns.

The Ministry of Interior effectively used the system of voluntary returns. As of January 2017, the ministry realized 310 voluntary returns.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (called “subsidiary protection” in the EU) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, assisting approximately 300 persons during the year. Under EU guidelines, individuals granted subsidiary protection are eligible for temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, equal access to health care and housing, and school education for children.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR statistics, there were 1,502 persons in the country who fell under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate at the end of 2015. The Ministry of Interior reported 21 stateless persons who applied for international protection in 2016. The country did not grant refugee status to stateless persons but provided subsidiary protection in 16 cases in 2016. Under certain circumstances, stateless persons can obtain citizenship.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government prohibited the exercise of these rights.

Freedom of Expression: There were numerous instances of persons interrogated or arrested for saying something construed as negative towards the government.

The constitution provides for the right to petition, but the government did not respect this right. For example, when individuals submitted anonymous petitions or complaints about state administration, the Ministries of People’s Security and State Security sought to identify the authors and subject them to investigation and punishment.

Press and Media Freedom: The government sought to control virtually all information; independent media does not exist. The government tightly controlled print media, broadcast media, book publishing, and online media through the Propaganda and Agitation Department. Within the department, the Publication and Broadcasting Department controls all media content, including content used on television, in newspapers, and on the radio. The government carefully managed visits by foreigners, especially journalists. More than 100 foreign journalists visited the DPRK in April to report on celebrations for Kim Il Sung’s birthday, but the government strictly limited their access.

Violence and Harassment: Domestic journalists had no freedom to investigate stories or report freely. During visits by foreign leaders, authorities permitted groups of foreign journalists to accompany official delegations and file reports. In all cases, the state strictly monitored journalists. Government officials generally prevented journalists from talking to officials or to persons on the street.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Strict enforcement of domestic media censorship continued, with no toleration for deviation from the official government line. The government prohibited listening to foreign media broadcasts except by the political elite, and violators were subjected to severe punishment. Radios and television sets, unless altered, are set to receive only domestic programming; officials similarly altered radios obtained from abroad. Elite citizens and facilities for foreigners, such as hotels, had access to international television broadcasts via satellite. The government continued attempts to jam all foreign radio broadcasts. Officials imprisoned and punished citizens for listening to foreign radio or watching foreign television broadcasts and, in some cases, for simply owning radio or television sets able to receive nongovernment broadcasts.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Internet access for citizens was limited to high-ranking officials and other designated elites, including selected university students. The Korea Computer Center, which acts as the North Korean gatekeeper to the internet, granted access only to information it deemed acceptable, and employees constantly monitored users’ screens. A tightly controlled and regulated “intranet” was reportedly available to a slightly larger group of users, including an elite grade school; selected research institutions, universities, and factories; and a few individuals. The NGO Reporters Without Borders reported some email access existed through this internal network. Government employees sometimes had closely monitored access to the internet and had limited, closely monitored access to email accounts. While the North Korean cell phone network is 3G-capable, most users’ data access is limited to a few state sanctioned functions through North Korea’s intranet such as reading the government newspaper.

In April 2016 the government formally announced it would block foreigners from visiting Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and South Korean websites. Nevertheless, some foreign journalists utilized social media from Pyongyang in February and April 2017.

South Korean media reports indicated an increase in cyber hacking by North Korea during the year. Specifically, international press reported that a January hacking attempt targeted defectors and advocates for North Korean human rights.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and controlled artistic works. Curriculum was highly controlled by the state. The government severely restricted academic travel. The primary function of plays, movies, operas, children’s performances, and books was to buttress the cult of personality surrounding the Kim family and support the regime.

The state carried out systematic indoctrination through the mass media, schools, and worker and neighborhood associations. Indoctrination continued to involve mass marches, rallies, and staged performances, sometimes including hundreds of thousands of persons.

The government continued its attempt to limit foreign influence on its citizens. Listening to foreign radio and watching foreign films are illegal. Individuals accused of viewing or possessing foreign films were reportedly subjected to imprisonment and possibly execution. According to the 2016 KINU white paper, a 2015 survey revealed that defectors witnessed proclamations posted indicating that that those caught watching South Korean movies or listening to South Korean music would be sentenced to death, in accordance with instructions announced by the regime in 2013. According to the 2017 KINU white paper, the number of people executed for watching or distributing South Korean video content increased during the last few years.

Based on defector interviews conducted in 2015, InterMedia estimated as many as 29 percent of defectors listened to foreign radio broadcasts while inside North Korea and that approximately 92 percent of defectors interviewed had seen foreign DVDs in North Korea.

The government intensified its focus on preventing the import of South Korean popular culture, especially television dramas. According to media and NGO reports, in enforcing restrictions on foreign films, authorities authorized police to search homes for contraband DVDs. According to InterMedia, the government added a software-based censorship program known as the “signature system” to all domestic mobile phones. This system makes it impossible to view foreign media on the phones. Mobile phones are randomly inspected physically for illegal media, and a history of all activity on the device is available for export upon inspection through monitoring software called “TraceViewer.” Daily NKreported that Kim Jong Un created a special police unit to restrict and control the flow of outside information into the country.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government did not respect this provision and continued to prohibit public meetings not previously authorized and not under government control.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government failed to respect this provision. There were no known organizations other than those created by the government. Professional associations existed primarily to facilitate government monitoring and control over organization members.

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

The law provides for the “freedom to reside in or travel to any place”; however, the government did not respect this right. The government continued to control internal travel carefully. The government did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, forcibly returned refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons.

In-country Movement: The government continued to restrict freedom of movement for those lawfully within the state. Only members of a very small elite class and those with access to remittances from overseas reportedly had access to personal vehicles. A lack of infrastructure hampered movement, as did security checkpoints on main roads at entry and exit points from every town.

The government strictly controlled permission to reside in, or even to enter, Pyongyang, where food availability, housing, health, and general living conditions were much better than in the rest of the country. Foreign officials visiting the country observed checkpoints on the highway leading into Pyongyang.

Foreign Travel: The government also restricted foreign travel. The government limited issuance of exit visas for foreign travel to officials and trusted businesspersons, artists, athletes, academics, and workers. Short-term exit papers were available on a very limited basis for some residents to visit with relatives, undertake short-term work opportunities, or to engage in small-scale trade.

Exile: The government reportedly forced the internal exile of some citizens. In the past, it forcibly resettled tens of thousands of persons from Pyongyang to the countryside. Sometimes this occurred as punishment for offenses and included those judged to be politically unreliable based on the social status of their family members.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government did not allow emigration, and reports stated that it increased its severe, tight security on the border, dramatically limiting the flow of persons crossing into China without required permits. NGOs reported strict patrols and surveillance of residents of border areas and a crackdown on border guards who may have been aiding border crossers in return for bribes.

In September 2016 international press reported China constructed a new facility to detain North Koreans without proper documentation. News reports in 2015 stated the DPRK had erected additional barbed-wire fencing on its side of the Tumen River.

The government maintained orders to shoot to kill those attempting to leave without official permission. NGOs reported that Kim Jong Un called for stricter punishments for those suspected of illegal border crossing. The law criminalizes defection and attempted defection. Individuals, including children, who cross the border with the purpose of defecting or seeking asylum in a third country are subject to a minimum of five years of “labor correction.” In “serious” cases, the state subjects asylum seekers to indefinite terms of imprisonment and forced labor, confiscation of property, or death. Many would-be refugees returned involuntarily from foreign states received imprisonment under harsh conditions. Some sources indicated authorities reserved particularly harsh treatment for those who had extensive contact with foreigners, including those with family members resettled in South Korea.

According to the 2017 KINU white paper, a defector reported that a 16-year-old victim of human trafficking in China was forcibly returned in 2014 and subsequently died due to malnourishment during a MSS investigation.

Past reports from refugees noted the government differentiated between persons who crossed the border in search of food (who might be sentenced only to a few months of forced labor or in some cases merely issued a warning) and persons who crossed repeatedly for “political” purposes (who were sometimes sentenced to harsh punishment, including death). This included persons who had alleged contact with religious organizations based on the Chinese border. The law stipulates a sentence of up to two years of “labor correction” for the crime of illegally crossing the border.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection for refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum. The government had no known policy or provision for refugees or asylees and did not participate in international refugee fora.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press. The press frequently and openly criticized public officials and public policy decisions. Individuals generally could criticize the government, its officials, and other citizens in private without being subject to official reprisals. Public criticism, however, of government officials, the president, or government policies regarding elections, democracy, and corruption sometimes resulted in intimidation, threats, and arrest. The government also prevented journalists from filming or covering some protests and refused to renew or grant visas for several foreign media correspondents.

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

On July 31, authorities arrested human rights lawyer Timothee Mbuya and six other civil society activists and media as they were preparing a march to deliver a letter to the local office of the electoral body demanding an electoral calendar. While two of the detained were released without charges, Mbuya was sentenced to 12 months in prison on November 20 for provocation and incitation of disobedience for organizing the march and the four others were sentenced to eight months in prison.

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

The government required newspapers to pay a one-time license fee of 250,000 Congolese francs ($156) and complete several administrative requirements before publishing. Broadcast media were also subject to a Directorate for Administrative and Land Revenue advertisement tax. Many journalists lacked professional training, received little or no set salary, could not access government information, and exercised self-censorship due to concerns about harassment, intimidation, or arrest.

In November the local NGO Journalists in Danger (JED) reported 121 cases of attacks against the media from November 2016 to October and attributed more than half of these to government security forces. JED also named several government officials responsible for violation press freedoms. Topping the list was Communications Minister Lambert Mende for jamming the signals of Radio France Internationale (RFI) and UN-supported Radio Okapi. JED reported 37 cases of arbitrary arrest of journalists in comparison to 20 cases during the prior year.

From December 2016 to January 23, the government closed CCTV and Radio Liberte Kinshasa, both owned by Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the opposition Congolese Liberation Movement party. Authorities maintained they were closed for failing to pay back taxes and licensing fees, although they were allowed back on the air in January.

In South Kivu, armed men attacked Radio Tuungane de Minembwe on May 21 and SSR attacked Radio Mutanga FM in Shabunda on June 12. In North Kivu a Mai Mai RMG destroyed Radio Moto in Butembo on October 7. On June 11, Radio Francophone des Grands Lacs was attacked in Kalemi in Tanganyika Province. Journalists Fidel Nsikundi and Heri Makyambi from Libunda Community Radio were arrested in South Kivu on July 29 and accused of supporting a RMG. The two journalists were reporting on local Mai Mai militia activities when they were arrested. On December 4, JED denounced their continued detention. On December 6-7, security forces allegedly ransacked Radiotelevision Kindu Maniema (TKM). Speaking to Radio Okapi, the owner of the TKM accused Interior Minister and Vice Prime Minister Ramazani Shadari of ordering security forces to attack the radio station after a listener during a call-in show accused Shadari and the provincial governor of accepting bribes.

On August 11, the government allowed RFI to resume broadcasting after the company signed an agreement with national broadcaster Radio Television Nationale Congolaise (RTNC). The government had blocked RFI’s signal since November 2016.

Violence and Harassment: Local journalists were vulnerable to intimidation and violence by the SSF. For example, JED reported that three journalists claimed to have been physically beaten by police colonel Van Kasongo in Goma on April 12 while they were covering a peaceful demonstration by civil society group LUCHA (Struggle for Change). According to JED, at least 13 journalists were arrested, intimidated, and some physically attacked while covering peaceful civil society demonstrations throughout the country on July 31. Several journalists reportedly had their equipment confiscated and/or images erased upon their release. For example, in Bukavu, two journalists from Canal Futur alleged they were violently arrested, driven to an unknown location, and released after police forced them to erase all images they had recorded. According to JED one independent journalist, Jean Pierre Tshibitshabu, was arrested covering the July 31 demonstrations in Lubumbashi and was sentenced to eight months in prison on September 29.

On November 2, JED reported 121 documented press freedom violations since the beginning of the year, up from 87 during the same period in 2016. These violations included 49 journalists detained or arrested, 32 cases of journalists threatened or attacked, and 37 instances of authorities preventing the free flow of information. Other incidents included efforts to subject journalists to administrative, judicial, or economic pressure. At year’s end the government had not sanctioned or charged any perpetrator of press freedom violations.

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

Media representatives reported they were pressured by the government not to cover events organized by the opposition or news concerning opposition leaders. In November 2016 the government blocked the signals of RFI and UN-supported Radio Okapi. Radio Okapi’s signal was reestablished after a week. On August 11, the government allowed RFI to resume broadcasting after the company signed an agreement with national broadcasting station RTNC.

In a July 12 decree, Communications Minister Lambert Mende announced the government would require prior authorization for any foreign media personnel wishing to travel from one province to another, which he claimed was for security reasons. The media watchdog JED deemed the decree a tactic to censor media and restrict their working space to prevent their covering sensitive topics.

Several international journalists who were based in the country were forced to leave during the year after they were unable to renew their visas.

Libel/Slander Laws: The national and provincial governments used criminal defamation laws to intimidate and punish critics. For example, in 2016 the Ministry of Justice revived a defamation case against Vital Kamerhe, leader of the opposition party Union for the Congolese Nation, for his statements concerning electoral fraud in the 2011 elections, despite the settlement made out of court in 2012. If convicted, Kamerhe could face up to one year in prison and a fine, and could be barred from running for certain public offices. On January 6, journalist Serge Kabongo was arrested for writing an article on alleged financial mismanagement by the director of the National Insurance Agency. The director claimed that Kabongo was not a journalist and could not substantiate the allegations. Kabongo was among the estimated 4,000 prisoners who escaped from Kinshasa’s Makala prison on May 17. In November the director told JED that the charges had been dropped.

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

Some private entrepreneurs made moderately priced internet access available through internet cafes in large cities throughout the country. Data-enabled mobile telephones were an increasingly popular way to access the internet. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 6.2 percent of individuals in the country used the internet in 2016.

On August 7, the telecommunications regulatory authority (ARPTC) hindered communications via social media networks, ostensibly “to prevent the exchange of abusive images” in advance of protests planned for August 8-9. In a written directive to all mobile data providers, the ARPTC asked that companies take “technical preventive measures” to “reduce to the absolute minimum the transmission of images” via a number of social networks. The communique said the companies would receive instructions to “return to normal as soon as possible” without specifying an end date. Internet speed was limited for four days from August 7-11, during which time persons could access social media applications but could not download images. On December 30, Posts and Telecommunications Minister Emery Okundi Ndjovu directed internet providers and cell phone companies to “suspend” short message service (SMS) and internet service throughout the country as of 6:00 pm on December 30 “for reasons of State security.” Internet and SMS service remained cut during protests led by the Roman Catholic Church on December 31, and had not been re-established by year’s end.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government frequently restricted this right and prevented those critical of the government from exercising their right to peaceful assembly. The law requires organizers of public events to notify local authorities in advance of the event. The government maintained that public events required advance permission and regularly declined to authorize public meetings or protests organized by opposition parties or civil society groups critical of the government. The government did, however, authorize protests and assemblies organized by progovernment groups and political parties. During the year the SSF beat, detained, or arrested persons participating in protests, marches, and meetings. The SSF also used tear gas, rubber bullets, and at times live ammunition, resulting in numerous civilian deaths and injuries.

According to MONUSCO there were 596 violations of democratic space from January through August. These included restrictions on freedom of assembly, the right to liberty and security of person, and of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. At least 81 demonstrations organized by opposition political parties and/or civil society were either prohibited or repressed by authorities from January to June. During the same period, at least 70 demonstrations, including 31 organized by the ruling party coalition, were held without incident.

On June 17, police arrested four performance artists in Goma for protesting civilian massacres in Kasai and Beni. The police transferred the four to the public prosecutor’s office on charges of rebellion. The four were provisionally released on June 28 after paying 79,000 Congolese francs ($49) bail each.

The government interfered with activities held by a coalition of 12 human rights NGOs known as the Collective Action of Civil Society, including a June 30 public conference. Government officials reportedly threatened the owner of the event’s venue and arrested approximately 100 persons who arrived for the event. All were released in the following days. Meanwhile, police provided security for a separate June 30 event held by the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD).

On July 31, civil society organizations attempted to hold peaceful demonstrations in at least nine cities across the country to call on the government to publish an electoral calendar. The SSF shut down the protests, sometimes violently, and arrested at least 131 demonstrators. Five of these were sentenced in Lubumbashi to prison terms ranging from eight to 12 months for disturbing the peace, provocation, and inciting disobedience. On August 1, MONUSCO’s special representative of the secretary general issued a statement condemning the government’s repression of peaceful protests on July 31, stating he was “concerned by the restrictions imposed on peaceful assembly and arrests of those who seek to express their political views, as well as by the targeting of journalists and the confiscation of their materials,” and called on authorities to “fully uphold the fundamental rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Congolese Constitution.”

On August 31, Kinshasa governor Andre Kimbuta informed the opposition Rassemblement coalition that it could not hold a planned September 3 rally. Governor Kimbuta claimed that a dissident, progovernment wing of the Rassemblement led by Joseph Olenghankoy had already informed the Governor’s Office of its plan to hold a rally of its own at the same place and the same time. In his letter to the Rassemblement, Kimbuta recalled that since September 2016 security forces had “advised” that political protest should occur only in closed spaces and that allowing the Rassemblement to hold a public rally at the same time as Olenghankoy, and in a public space directly in front of Olenghankoy’s New Forces for Union and Solidarity microparty, would be “provocative.”

On September 25, authorities arrested 27 citizens, many of whom were members of civil society group LUCHA, for demonstrating in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs against a new policy to invalidate all semibiometric passports and replace them with biometric passports. They were released later the same day. On September 30, government security forces arrested 33 LUCHA members in Goma and 16 civil society members in Kisangani for protesting the government’s failure to hold elections in 2017. The civil society activists in Kisangani were released later that same day, and the Goma activists were released on October 3.

On October 22-24, in Lubumbashi, the SSF prevented opposition Rassemblement president and UDPS party leader Felix Tshisekedi from meeting with other Rassemblement members or holding a public rally. On October 19, in advance of Tshisekedi’s arrival, Lubumbashi Mayor Jean Oscar Sanguza Mutunda issued a directive stating that “for the umpteenth time” no public meetings may occur without authorization. On October 22, the SSF stormed the UDPS party office in Lubumbashi and reportedly arrested 32 party members for planning to hold an unauthorized public meeting. All 32 were released on October 23 after the public prosecutor reportedly declined to press charges. More persons were arrested and tear-gassed on October 23 while trying to welcome Tshisekedi at the Lubumbashi airport and another opposition leader, Gabriel Kyungu, was blocked from reaching the airport. On October 24, police confined Tshisekedi to his Lubumbashi hotel; on October 25, the public prosecutor summoned the hotel’s owner for questioning. When Tshisekedi tried to leave his hotel, first by car and then on foot, police in riot gear barricaded the road and used tear gas.

Kinshasa Governor Kimbuta disallowed opposition and civil society protests on November 15 and November 30. On November 14, Kinshasa police commander Sylvano Kasongo told local media that Governor Kimbuta had ordered police to “disperse without mercy” gatherings of five persons or more. In Goma, North Kivu, police inspector Placid Nyembo told local media that protests would be “suppressed without hesitation.” On November 23, the mayor of Kananga banned all public demonstrations “until further notice.” After the opposition Rassemblement coalition scheduled another protest for November 28, the deputy secretary general of the ruling Presidential Majority (MP) coalition and Minister of Urban Affairs Joseph Kokonyangi sent Governor Kimbuta a letter declaring the MP’s plan to hold a march of its own in support of the new electoral calendar on November 28. Almost simultaneously, the founder of a progovernment group called the Front for a Referendum informed Governor Kimbuta of its plan to hold a progovernment march on November 28. When the Rassemblement shifted its protest to November 30, the youth wing of Communications Minister Lambert Mende’s Convention of Unified Congolese party and two more MP-affiliated groups called Cafe Kinois and the National Union of Nationalists also scheduled protests for November 30. Citing the conflicting routes and overlapping requests, the Governor’s Office refused to authorize any of the protests.

Opposition and civil society groups attempted to march anyway on November 15, November 28, and November 30. The SSF arrested as many as 74 persons across the country for planning or participating in November 15 protests. Among those arrested and later released was Binja Yalala, a 15-year-old girl on the island of Idjwi in Lake Kivu. Police in Goma arrested 22 members of LUCHA on November 28. According to MONUSCO, the SSF arbitrarily arrested 213 persons during protests on November 30. Most of these were subsequently released. According to MONUSCO, one protester was killed on November 30.

On December 29, Kinshasa Governor Kimbuta claimed he could not authorize a peaceful December 31 protest organized by the Catholic Church because he would need 240,000 police officers to provide security throughout Kinshasa. Police arrested 11 civil society activists in Kananga on December 29 and arrested five others, including civil society activist Carbone Beni, in Kinshasa on December 30. On December 31, despite Governor Kimbuta’s claim to lack the police needed to secure the protests, the SSF appeared in force, using batons, rubber bullets, tear gas, and live ammunition to disperse protesters. In some cases the SSF fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunitions into church compounds. At least six persons were killed. The United Nations and civil society organizations accused the government of obscuring the actual number of persons killed and injured by preventing the United Nations and civil society groups from accessing morgues, hospitals, and detention facilities. The injured included a woman who was shot in the head by a live bullet inside a church compound and a priest who was hit in the head by a rubber bullet as he pulled her to safety. At least 180 were arrested and at least 92 were injured. The Apostolic Nunciature reported that six of its priests were arrested on December 31 and that the SSF encircled 134 of its parishes. Video showed police beating peaceful and in some cases sedentary protesters in Beni and Kasindi.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

During an interactive dialogue with civil society in Kinshasa in March 2016, the minister of justice and human rights stated that only 63 of more than 21,000 NGOs in the country were formally registered. Many NGOs reported that, even when carefully following the registration process, it often took years to receive legal certification. Many interpreted registration difficulties as intentional government obstacles for impeding NGO activity. On October 17, Rural Development Minister Justin Bitakwira, acting as the human rights minister, called for the dissolution of local NGOs that had opposed the government’s candidacy to the UN Human Rights Council.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government sometimes restricted these rights.

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

In September 2016 the country sent one of several delegations from African nations, UNHCR, and the African Union that, after seven years of negotiations, reached an agreement on steps to end the protracted Rwandan refugee situation by the end of 2017. More than 5,700 Rwandans voluntarily repatriated from the country between January and July. As of July 31, UNHCR estimated there were 245,052 Rwandan refugees in the country.

In July, UNJHRO reported that the leader of the opposition party National Union of Federalists of Congo, Gabriel Kyungu, and members of his family and party were victims of threats and harassment by FARDC and national police. The SSF deployed several times throughout the year to blockade Kyungu in his home in Lubumbashi and prevent political gatherings from taking place at his residence.

In November human rights lawyer George Kapiamba told local media that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had refused to issue him a new fully biometric passport. Kapiamba alleged that his name figured on a list of individuals blacklisted by the ANR from obtaining new passports. Also in November the Directorate General of Migration confiscated the passport of opposition UDPS party secretary general Jean Marc Kabund Kabund at Kinshasa’s airport and prevented him from leaving the country. Both cases remained unresolved at year’s end.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Continuing conflict in North and South Kivu provinces harmed refugees and IDPs in the region, with attacks often resulting in deaths and further displacement. The armed conflict sometimes exacerbated ethnic tensions and clashes between communities and displaced groups. On September 15, the SSF fired on Burundian refugees and asylum seekers in the town of Kamanyola in the East, resulting in the deaths of 38 civilians and one FARDC soldier. As many as 135 persons were injured. The Burundians were reportedly protesting the deportation of four members of their community when the SSF opened fire.

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

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

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

Foreign Travel: Because of inadequate administrative systems, passport issuance was irregular. On September 15, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that only full-biometric DRC passports would be valid after October 16 and that citizens holding nonbiometric or semibiometric passports would need to apply for new passports. The Foreign Ministry stated the government would confiscate passports from citizens returning from abroad after November 15 with nonbiometric or semibiometric passports. The Foreign Ministry subsequently delayed this deadline to January 2018 and stated that passports with valid visas would not be confiscated. In April the media reported that, for every $185 biometric passport, $60 went directly to a company owned by an alleged relative of the president, Marie Makoyo Wangoi. Officials accepted bribes to expedite passport issuance, and there were reports the price of new fully biometric passports varied widely. There were also credible reports that the government refused to issue new passports to civil society activists and opposition members critical of the government.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Due to the conflict in the East and heightened conflict in areas of the Kasai region and former Katanga province, by November there were an estimated 4.1 million IDPs throughout the country. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there were by November approximately 1.1 million IDPs in North Kivu, 763,000 in the Kasai region, 654,000 in Tanganyika, 598,000 in South Kivu, 343,000 in Ituri, and 276,000 in Maniema. The government was unable to protect or assist IDPs adequately but generally allowed domestic and international humanitarian organizations to do so. UNHCR and other international humanitarian organizations worked to close IDP sites where the security situation was relatively stable. UNHCR closed 12 camps where local integration and relocation or return was possible. These were Bulengo, Mugunga 3, Lushebere, Bonde, Burora, Nyabiondo, Kalembe Remblais, Mushababwe, Muhanga, Lusogha, Luve, and Katsiru camps.

Conflict and insecurity, as well as poor infrastructure, adversely affected humanitarian efforts and led to new IDP camps. Late November fighting in the Bweru area of North Kivu led to temporary displacements from Mpati, Kivuye, Bweru, Kabukombo, Ngoriba, and Nyange to Kirumbu, Kalengera, and other nearby villages. There were credible reports that local authorities impeded humanitarian access to IDP camps in Tanganyika Province. In addition at least six IDP sites in Kalemie Territory were destroyed by fire. The cause of these fires was undetermined.

Population displacements continued throughout the year, particularly in the east. Many areas continued to experience insecurity, such as North Kivu’s Beni Territory, Ituri Province, and South Kivu’s Fizi Territory. Intercommunal violence and fighting among armed groups in the east resulted in continued population displacement and increased humanitarian needs for IDPs and host communities.

Due to the remote location of the Kasai region, humanitarian access was difficult, and IDPs lived in poor conditions without adequate shelter or protection. Women and girls were particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. More than 30,000 citizens from Kasai fled as refugees to Angola beginning in April.

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

In the Kasai provinces, UNHCR reported IDPs started to return to their homes, but continued insecurity, abuses by the SSF and RMGs, as well as thorough destruction of homes impeded returns. UNHCR considered most of the 710,000 returnees from January to November to be living in extremely precarious conditions. From January until November, approximately one million IDPs returned to their areas of origin, according to UNHCR. This included 491,000 returnees in Kasai-Central, 270,000 in North Kivu, 154,000 in Tanganyika, 121,000 each in Lomami and South Kivu, and 45,000 each in Maniema and Ituri.

Conditions in IDP camps in Kalemie territory and Twa-Bantu interethnic conflict complicated the returns in Tanganyika Province, resulting in 584,000 IDPs. Six unexplained fires burned more than 5,000 huts in IDP camps in the province, and the United Nations reported that more than 13,000 IDPs were either relocated to more remote camps or returned to their villages under questionable conditions.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

As of August 22, UNHCR reported 671,000 refugees in the country from seven adjacent countries, of which approximately 245,000 were from Rwanda.

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

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

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

The country has not invoked the cessation clause effective in 2013 for Rwandan refugees who fled Rwanda before the end of 1998. In September 2016 the government joined other refugee-hosting countries and UNHCR to commit to facilitating repatriation of Rwandans from countries of asylum through December 31. To implement the tripartite agreement from 2014, the National Commission on Refugees (CNR) and UNHCR began in 2016 the process of biometrically registering Rwandan refugees. The FDLR impeded the process in North Kivu, where most of the refugees were located. UNHCR and the CNR suspended biometric registration following FDLR attacks on UNCHR-supported registration teams in February and April 2016, during which the teams lost all of their data. An effort during the year registered 42,000 Rwandan refugees in South Kivu. UNHCR continued to support voluntary repatriation and between January and April it assisted in repatriating 1,347 Rwandan refugees.

On September 15, the SSF shot and killed 36 Burundians refugees and asylum seekers in Kamanyola outside of Bukavu in eastern DRC.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to an undetermined number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees (see section 1.g.).

Denmark

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits any public speech or the dissemination of statements or other pronouncements that threaten, deride, or degrade a group because of gender, race, skin color, national or ethnic background, religion, or sexual orientation. Authorities may fine or imprison offenders for up to two years.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Libel/Slander Laws: On June 2, parliament repealed the antiblasphemy law. Immediately after the law was repealed, the prosecution service dropped all charges against a 42-year-old man in Jutland who in 2015 posted on social media a video of himself burning a copy of the Quran.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content.

In May the Danish Intelligence Oversight Board (TET), which routinely audits the country’s three intelligence services, reported that in 22 percent of sampled cases, the Police Intelligence Service (PET, a division within the National Police) had without appropriate legal authority collected and retained data on citizens and residents that exceeded PET’s legal mandate or investigative needs. TET’s separate audit of data collection practices of the Danish Defense Intelligence Service (DDIS, a military command within the Ministry of Defense) showed that in 12 percent of sampled cases, the DDIS had examined stored data on citizens or residents without the legally mandated judicial warrant. In July the director of the DDIS addressed the results in an interview with the press, stating that the DDIS audit results were more an indication of “mistakes” than of unlawful intent.

According to 2016 statistics compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, 97 percent of the population in Denmark were internet users, compared with 95 percent in the Faroe Islands and 69 percent in Greenland.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

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

The government did not participate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the program to resettle refugees.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In contrast to 2016, there were no reports of overcrowding at asylum centers or other abuses of asylum seekers.

In June trial proceedings began against two guards from the Tullebolle asylum center, run by the municipality of Langeland, who were charged with sexual assault on four unaccompanied minor asylum seekers in 2015-16. During the year the Langeland Municipality lost permission to operate asylum centers.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country employs the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who attempt to enter the country through a “safe country of transit” or are registered in another Dublin regulation state. The government considers Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, Moldova, Russia, Canada, the United States, Mongolia, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand to be safe countries of origin.

Freedom of Movement: Once an asylum seeker receives refugee status and a resident permit, responsibility for the care of the refugee (including housing and education) transfers to a municipality based on a national quota system. The refugee is required to reside in the municipality of assignment for at least three years or forgo all benefits if they move without authorization.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to 595 persons from January 1 through August 31.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR statistics, 7,610 stateless persons lived in the country as of December 2016. Stateless persons born outside the country to noncitizens, including refugees, are not eligible to acquire citizenship but may acquire residency permits. Certain persons born in the country to noncitizens may acquire citizenship by virtue of UN conventions to which the state is party. This is not an automatic process, and in most cases such individuals must apply for citizenship before their 21st birthday.

Djibouti

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

In separate instances in June and July, SDS personnel reportedly arrested Chehem Abdoulkader Chehem (Renard), Omar Mahamoud (Zohra), and Mahmoud Ali for posting their plays criticizing the government on Facebook. Authorities dismissed their cases on August 8.

Press and Media Freedom: There were no privately owned or independent newspapers in the country. Printing facilities for mass media were government owned, which created obstacles for those wishing to publish criticism of the government. The principal newspaper, La Nation, maintained a monopoly on domestic news. In late October the managing director and several journalists of La Nation were fired for republishing an article that included a quotation critical of President Guelleh.

Opposition political groups and civil society activists circulated newsletters and other materials that criticized the government via email and social media sites.

On March 19, SDS personnel reportedly arrested Djiboutian Human Rights League President Omar Ali Ewado, detaining him for one week for republishing an international press release condemning the Turkish president’s mass firing of teachers. Authorities dismissed his case but seized his laptop.

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

Twenty-five years ago the Ministry of Communication created the Communication Commission to distribute licenses to nongovernmental entities wishing to operate media outlets. In 2012 the ministry accepted its first application for licensing, but the application remained pending at year’s end. In 2015 Maydaneh Abdallah Okieh–a journalist with radio station La Voix de Djibouti–submitted a request to the Ministry of Communication for approval to operate a radio station. He subsequently received a letter stating the ministry’s commission had not been fully established and could not grant rights to operate a radio station. On January 11, the minister of communication held a ceremony to formalize the commission. The commission did not report approving any new media outlets.

Violence and Harassment: The government arrested and harassed journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media law and the government’s harassment and detention of journalists resulted in widespread self-censorship. Some opposition members used pseudonyms to publish articles.

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

Djibouti Telecom, the state-owned internet provider, reportedly continued to block access to websites of the Association for Respect for Human Rights in Djibouti and La Voix de Djibouti, which often criticized the government. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 13 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were government restrictions on academic and cultural events. For example, the government restricted research in the country’s North for security reasons.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government restricted this right. The Ministry of Interior requires permits for peaceful assemblies. The ministry allowed opposition groups to host events and rallies. Security authorities occasionally restricted this right.

For example, on September 12, security personnel reportedly stopped the MRD’s 25th anniversary celebration, launching tear gas into the crowd after MRD members allegedly threw rocks at them. In ending the celebration, security personnel reportedly injured several MRD members, including National Assembly member Doualeh Egueh Ofleh. In addition security personnel allegedly confiscated more than 60,000 Djiboutian francs (DJF) ($339), three projectors, a telephone, and other equipment.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

The government collaborated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in expanding protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

On January 5, President Guelleh signed and promulgated a comprehensive refugee law, providing for refugees’ rights to health, education, and work.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government maintained an increased police presence at the Ali Addeh refugee camp following the 2014 attack on La Chaumiere restaurant. Separately, gendarmes maintained a presence at the Markazi refugee camp. With the passage of a refugee law, authorities expanded legal protections for refugees.

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

The government detained and deported large numbers of irregular migrants, primarily from Ethiopia. The government sometimes gave individual irregular migrants the opportunity to claim asylum status, after which the National Eligibility Commission (NEC) was supposed to determine their status. The commission did not meet during the year. More than 8,500 asylum seekers awaited decisions on their asylum claims.

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

Foreign Travel: Citizens and opposition members reported immigration officials prevented them from boarding international flights.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government did not routinely grant refugee or asylum status to groups other than southern Somalis and–beginning in 2015–Yemenis. A backlog in asylum status determinations put individuals waiting for their screening at risk of expulsion to countries where they might be threatened. After the 2014 attack on La Chaumiere Restaurant by suicide bombers from Somalia, authorities closed the border with Somalia to refugees and stopped new registration and refugee status determination processes. Although the border remained officially closed during 2015, UNHCR reported the government allowed new arrivals into the country. The government also resumed the refugee status determination process in 2015, hosting several sessions of the NEC each month thereafter.

With the government focusing on communal and regional elections and working on implementing decrees for the new refugee law, the NEC did not meet during the year.

The government also began a partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) during the year to vet migrants for indicators of trafficking.

In late October the minister of health signed a convention with the IOM to incorporate migrants into the national health system.

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

According to UNHCR the country hosted more than 27,750 refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from south and central Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. In two refugee camps in the southern region of Ali Sabieh, the country hosted more than 20,500 refugees and asylum seekers. An additional estimated 4,800 refugees from Ethiopia, Yemen, Somalia, and other countries lived in urban areas, primarily in Djibouti City. Due to Ethiopia’s instability in late 2016, Djibouti permitted more than 7,000 Ethiopians, particularly those from the Oromia, to register as asylum seekers.

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

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

Due to the unresolved conflict begun in 2008 between Djibouti and Eritrea and Eritrea’s mandatory national service program, which includes military service, the government considered Eritrean detainees as deserters from the Eritrean military rather than refugees.

During the year the government continued to facilitate resettlement of 266 Eritreans from who had been placed in the Ali Addeh refugee camp.

Employment: Scarce resources and employment opportunities limited local integration of refugees. Under the new refugee law, documented refugees are allowed to work without a work permit in contrast to previous years, and many (especially women) did so in jobs such as house cleaning, babysitting, or construction. The law provides little recourse to challenge working conditions or seek fair payment for labor.

Access to Basic Services: The Ali Addeh camp was overcrowded, and basic services such as potable water were inadequate. The Holl-Holl camp was not overcrowded and had better access to potable water than the Ali Addeh camp. The government continued to issue birth certificates to children born in the Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl refugee camps.

The Markazi camp provided Yemeni refugees with basic services such as water, food, shelter, and medical services. The government issued birth certificates to children born in the Markazi refugee camp. ONARS and UNHCR also began issuing identification cards to Yemeni refugees.

For the first time, for the 2017-18 academic year, the government provided a new Ministry of Education-accredited English curriculum for first grade refugee youth. Previously UNHCR provided refugees in the Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl refugee camps with a Kenya-adapted curriculum taught in English and French that was not recognized by Kenyan and Djiboutian authorities. On August 28, the minister of education and a UNHCR representative signed a memorandum of understanding on refugee education.

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

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

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to a limited number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Authorities often jailed irregular migrants identified as economic migrants attempting to transit the country to enter Yemen and returned them to their countries of origin. The government worked with the IOM to provide adequate health services to these migrants while they awaited deportation. The IOM and the minister of health signed a convention in late October to have three doctors and three nurses stationed across the country to support migrants and citizens. The Coast Guard also ag