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Egypt

Executive Summary

According to its constitution, Egypt is a republic governed by an elected president and unicameral legislature. Presidential elections were held in March. Prior to the presidential elections, challengers to the incumbent president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pulled out, citing personal decisions, political pressure, legal troubles, unfair competition, and in some cases they were arrested for alleged violations of candidacy prohibitions for military personnel. Domestic and international organizations expressed concern that government limitations on association, assembly, and expression severely constrained broad participation in the political process. Domestic and international observers concluded that government authorities professionally administered parliamentary elections in 2015 in accordance with the country’s laws, while also expressing concern about restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and expression and their negative effect on the political climate surrounding the elections.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Since President Sisi requested parliament to approve a state of emergency (SOE) after the April 2017 terrorist attack on Coptic churches, he has requested and parliament has ratified SOEs with one- or two-day gaps between every two SOE periods to meet the legal requirement that SOEs may only be renewed once.

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government or its agents and terrorist groups; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; undue restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including government control over registration and financing of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); restrictions on political participation; use of the law to arbitrarily arrest and prosecute lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; violence targeting LGBTI persons and members of other minority groups, and use of forced or compulsory child labor.

The government inconsistently punished or prosecuted officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government. In most cases the government did not comprehensively investigate allegations of human rights abuses, including most incidents of violence by security forces, contributing to an environment of impunity.

Attacks by terrorist organizations caused arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life. Terrorist groups conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets throughout the country, including places of worship. Authorities investigated terrorist attacks and prosecuted alleged perpetrators.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including incidents that occurred while making arrests or holding persons in custody or during disputes with civilians. There were also reports of civilians killed during military operations in Sinai. Impunity was a problem.

There were instances of persons tortured to death and other allegations of killings in prisons and detention centers. The government charged, prosecuted, and convicted perpetrators in some cases.

Authorities charged two police officers with the death of Mohamed Abdel Hakim Mahmoud (aka Afroto) due to what government investigators described as beatings following his arrest on January 5. Following news of his death, local residents protested outside the police station, resulting in the arrest of 102 protesters. In February the court released at least 79 protesters on bail. On November 28, the Mokattam state security misdemeanor court sentenced 99 defendants to one year in prison. On November 11, a Cairo criminal court sentenced an assistant detective from the Mokattam police station to three years in prison and a police officer to six months in connection with Afroto’s death. According to press reports, the police officer convicted will not serve time in prison because he had already spent 10 months in remand detention, while the assistant detective will still serve three years in prison, excluding the time already served in remand. The verdict remained subject to appeal.

As of year’s end, an investigative team led by the Prosecutor General’s Office had not released conclusions of its investigation into the killing of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni, who was found dead in 2016 with what forensics officials said were signs of torture. According to press reports, Italian prosecutors asked in December to investigate a number of Egyptian secret service agents suspected to be involved in Regeni’s death. Egyptian authorities denied this request. In November the Italian minister of foreign affairs summoned the Egyptian ambassador to Italy to prompt him to urge Egyptian authorities to act quickly to honor the commitment made at top political levels to hold accountable those responsible for Regeni’s killing.

There were reports of suspects killed in unclear circumstances during or after arrest. On March 27, according to press reports, Abdel Halim Mohamed El-Nahas died following a five-hour interrogation in Tora Prison. According to his cellmates’ statements to a local rights organization, he returned from the interrogation having lost his ability to speak or move and quickly died.

There were reports of groups of suspected terrorists and other suspected criminals killed during security raids conducted by security forces. The Interior Ministry said police officers fired at suspects only when suspects fired first. Rights groups argued these shootings might have amounted to extrajudicial killings. In some cases human rights organizations and media reported there was evidence that police detained suspects before killing them. In June authorities killed 10 persons and arrested two in raids across the country. Authorities said those killed were members of the Arm of Egypt Movement (HASM), who were involved in a March 24 attack on Alexandria’s security chief that killed two soldiers. On March 25, authorities killed six persons in operations related to the same attack, according to an official statement.

There were reports the Egyptian navy shot and killed fishermen from Gaza near the Egypt-Gaza maritime boundary. For example, on November 8, Gazan Mostafa Abu Audeh was allegedly shot and killed by Egyptian naval forces while he was fishing just off the coast of the Palestinian city of Rafah. According to press reports, the Egyptian military denied the reports. On February 8, the Court of Cassation upheld the 2015 appeals court verdict in the case of four police officers charged in the 2013 deaths of 37 Muslim Brotherhood (MB) detainees while transferring them to Abu Zaabal Prison near Cairo. Following a successful 2014 appeal of their convictions, in 2015 the appeals court reduced one officer’s sentence from 10 to five years, while maintaining the one-year suspended prison sentences for the three other officers.

At year’s end the government had not held accountable any individual or governmental body for state violence after 2013, including the deaths of hundreds of civilians during the 2013 dispersals of the sit-ins at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in Cairo and Nahda Square in Giza. On July 25, parliament approved a law giving the president authority to immunize military commanders against prosecution for crimes committed between February 19, 2011 (suspension of the 1971 constitution) and January 23, 2012 (the seating of parliament) and between July 3, 2013 (suspension of the 2012 constitution) and January 1, 2016 (seating of the current parliament). They also have future immunity against prosecution for any crimes that may occur during the suspension of the present constitution and in the absence of a parliament.

Terrorist groups, including “Islamic State”-Sinai (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis), HASM, and Ajnad Misr, among others, conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets throughout the country, including places of worship. There were no published official data on the number of victims of terrorist violence during the year. According to local media reports, terrorists killed hundreds of civilians throughout the country. As of April in Sinai alone, militant violence killed at least six civilians and 37 security force members, according to publicly available information. During the same period in Sinai, the government killed 225 terrorists, according to official public statements.

On March 24, a bomb placed under a car exploded as the motorcade of Alexandria’s director of security passed. The blast killed two police officers and injured at least four others. No party claimed responsibility, but the Ministry of Interior blamed HASM; authorities arrested and killed several persons they said had ties to the attack (see above).

On November 3, terrorists attacked a bus carrying Coptic Christian pilgrims to a monastery in Minya, killing seven and injuring at least seven others. ISIL-Sinai claimed responsibility for the attack. On November 4, the government reported that police in Minya killed 19 militants responsible for the attack in Assyut.

b. Disappearance

Several international and local human rights groups reported continuing large numbers of enforced disappearances, alleging authorities increasingly relied on this tactic to intimidate critics. According to a 2017 Amnesty International (AI) statement, security agents caused the disappearance of at least 1,700 persons since 2015. The Cairo-based NGO Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) documented 230 enforced disappearances between August 2017 and August.

Authorities also detained individuals without producing arrest or search warrants. According to ECRF, authorities detained many of these individuals in police stations or Central Security Forces’ camps, but they were not included in official registers. Authorities held detainees incommunicado and denied their requests to contact family members and lawyers. The length of disappearances documented by AI ranged from a few days to seven months. According to ECRF the organization received more than 10,000 reports of enforced disappearances since 2013, but it had only been able to document 1,520 due to resource constraints. According to government statements, in 2017 the National Council for Human Rights raised 110 cases of enforced disappearances with the Interior Ministry, which responded with information on 55.

According to local organizations and an AI report, on March 1, authorities arrested Ezzat Ghoneim, a human rights lawyer who worked on enforced disappearance cases for ECRF, while returning to his home from work. On March 4, he appeared before State Security Prosecution at which time authorities issued him a 15-day detention order on charges including joining an illegal group and publishing false news. Before his reappearance authorities filmed Ghoneim for an Interior Ministry video broadcast on March 16. The video labeled those who expressed opinions contrary to the state narrative as “terrorists” and claimed Ghoneim was a terrorist. On April 26, the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances transmitted a prompt intervention letter concerning Ghoneim’s enforced disappearance. Ghoneim was later added to case 441/2018, which contains at least 13 activists, journalists, and researchers facing similar charges of spreading false news and joining a terrorist group. On September 4, a court ordered Ghoneim’s release on probation pending investigation, and security forces moved him from prison to a police station. On September 14, his family went to the police station to visit him, but security forces informed them he had been released, according to an AI report. His whereabouts remained unknown at the end of the year.

According to a 2016 AI report, authorities held many victims of forced disappearance at the National Security Sector Lazoughly Office. There were also reports that military authorities continued to hold civilians in secret at al-Azouly Prison inside al-Galaa Military Camp in Ismailia. Authorities did not charge the detainees with crimes or refer them to prosecutors or courts. They also prevented detainees’ access to their lawyers and families.

According to a 2018 annual report of the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, hundreds of disappearance cases were under the working group’s review. The report noted the working group’s “concern” that, despite the government’s engagement, relatively few cases were transmitted under its urgent action procedure during the reporting period of May 2016 through May 2017. As of December 2017, the working group had not received a response to its 2011 request to visit the country, which it renewed in January (see section 5).

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

The constitution states that no torture, intimidation, coercion, or physical or moral harm shall be inflicted upon a person whose movements are restricted or whom authorities have detained or arrested. The penal code forbids torture to induce a confession from a detained or arrested suspect but does not account for mental or psychological abuse against persons whom authorities have not formally accused, or for abuse occurring for reasons other than securing a confession. The penal code also forbids all public officials or civil servants from “employing cruelty” or “causing bodily harm” under any circumstances.

Local rights organizations reported hundreds of incidents of torture throughout the year, including deaths that resulted from torture (see section 1.a.). According to domestic and international human rights organizations, police and prison guards resorted to torture to extract information from detainees, including minors. Reported techniques included beatings with fists, whips, rifle butts, and other objects; prolonged suspension by the limbs from a ceiling or door; electric shocks; sexual assault; and attacks by dogs. A June 2017 UN Committee against Torture report concluded that torture was a systematic practice in the country. Government officials denied the use of torture was systematic. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) and local NGOs, torture was most common in police stations and other Interior Ministry detention sites. The local NGO al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence documented an average of 35 to 40 instances of torture per month. Authorities stated they did not sanction these abuses and, in some cases, prosecuted individual police officers for violating the law.

On May 7, AI released a report stating prisoners detained on politically motivated charges were held in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement. The report also stated such prisoners were subjected to physical abuse, including beatings, lack of food, humiliation, and restricted movement–sometimes for years. In response the government denied widespread use of solitary confinement.

In an October 11 report, HRW alleged security forces detained Khaled Hassan on January 8 in Alexandria and held him incommunicado until bringing him before a military court in May. HRW reported Hassan was repeatedly tortured during his detention, including being raped twice. The government released a public response criticizing the report and stated there was no evidence of any wrongdoing by security officials. Hassan remained in detention pending trial at year’s end.

On June 25, prosecutors ordered the detention of the head of the investigations unit and his assistant pending investigations into the death of Ahmed Zalat while in police custody. On June 2, police arrested Zalat on charges of theft. On the evening of his arrest, authorities transferred him to a hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Family members told press that Zalat’s body bore clear signs of torture. The case was referred to criminal court; the next session was scheduled for December 9.

Local rights groups and international NGOs reported authorities sometimes subjected individuals arrested on charges related to homosexuality to forced anal examinations (see section 6).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the prisons and detention centers were harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding, physical abuse, inadequate medical care, poor infrastructure, and poor ventilation.

Physical Conditions: According to domestic and international NGO observers, prison cells were overcrowded, and prisoners lacked adequate access to medical care, proper sanitation and ventilation, food, and potable water. Inmates often relied upon external visitors for food and other supplies or were forced to purchase those items from the prison canteen at significantly inflated prices, according to a September 28 Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights report. Tuberculosis was widespread. Provisions for temperature control and lighting generally were inadequate. Reports that guards abuse prisoners, including juveniles, in adult facilities were common. Prison conditions for women were marginally better than those for men. Media reported that some prisoners protested conditions by going on hunger strikes.

Authorities did not always separate juveniles from adults and sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Rights organizations alleged the illegal use of Central Security Forces camps as detention facilities.

The large number of arrests and the use of pretrial detention during the year exacerbated harsh conditions and overcrowding, contributing to the prevalence of deaths in prisons and detention centers. During 2017 the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) reported police detention centers were at 150 percent of maximum capacity and that prisons were at 300 percent of maximum capacity. Health care in prisons was inadequate, leading to a large number of prisoner deaths due to possibly treatable natural causes. Human rights groups and the families of some deceased prisoners claimed that prison authorities denied prisoners access to potentially life-saving medical care and, in some cases, denied requests to transfer the prisoners to the hospital, leading to deaths in prison.

International NGOs continued to allege that journalist Hisham Gaafar’s health, including his eyesight, was deteriorating because prison authorities could not provide him necessary health care. Since 2015 authorities detained Gaafar on charges including membership in the MB and illegally receiving foreign funds for his foundation. According to HRW Gaafar suffered from a number of ailments that required continuing specialist care. On November 19, Cairo Criminal Court renewed the detention of Gaafar, pending investigations on charges of receiving funds from foreign agencies for “the purpose of harming national security” and belonging to “a banned group.”

On February 14, authorities arrested Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, former presidential candidate and leader of the opposition party Strong Egypt, on charges of belonging to a banned group and spreading false news. According to rights groups and his family’s statements to the press, his health was deteriorating due to lack of access to adequate health care. Reportedly, Aboul Fotouh had at least one heart attack while in prison, was unable to walk unassisted due to back pain, and was held solitary confinement. On November 17, Cairo Criminal Court ordered that Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh remain in prison for an additional 45 days pending further investigations.

There were reports authorities sometimes segregated prisoners accused of crimes related to political or security issues separately from common criminals and subjected them to verbal or physical abuse and punitive solitary confinement. The retrial of imprisoned activist Ahmed Douma began in July, and the next hearing was scheduled for January 9, 2019. In 2015 authorities convicted Douma of several offenses, including assaulting police and military forces during clashes between protesters and police in 2011. In 2017 the Court of Cassation ordered a retrial of the case. Beginning with his arrest in 2015, authorities held Douma in solitary confinement for more than 1,200 days.

The law authorized prison officials to use force against prisoners who resisted orders.

Administration: The penal code provides for reasonable access to prisoners. According to NGO observers and relatives, the government sometimes prevented visitors’ access to detainees. Prisoners could request investigation of alleged inhumane conditions. NGO observers claimed, however, that prisoners sometimes were reluctant to do so due to fear of retribution from prison officials. The government investigated some, but not all, of these allegations. As required by law, the public prosecutor inspected prisons and detention centers.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit visits by nongovernmental observers but did permit some visits by the National Council for Women and Parliament’s Human Rights Committee to prisons and detention centers. The latter visited six prisons and 24 police stations with detention centers during the 2017-18 parliamentary term. The law formally recognizes the NCHR’s role in monitoring prisons, specifying that visits require notifying the prosecutor general in advance. The NCHR visited two prisons during the year. Authorities did not permit other human rights organizations to conduct prison visits.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but reported incidents of arbitrary arrests and detentions remained frequent, according to local and international rights groups. A December 10 report by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information claimed that police refused to release for as long as months several defendants whom courts ordered released.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. The government does not have effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. Official impunity was a problem. Police investigative skills remained poor. Police did not investigate reported police abuses sufficiently, according to local and international human rights groups. The government investigated and prosecuted some, but not all, reports of abuse, and some prosecutions resulted in acquittals due to insufficient or contradictory evidence. The government frequently called for investigations of abuses by security forces, although these investigations rarely resulted in judicial punishment.

The primary security forces of the Interior Ministry are the Public Police and the Central Security Forces. The Public Police are responsible for law enforcement nationwide. The Central Security Forces provide security for infrastructure and key domestic and foreign officials, and are responsible for crowd control. The National Security Sector, which investigates counterterrorism and internal security threats, also reports to the minister of interior. The armed forces report to the minister of defense and are generally responsible for external defense, but they also have a mandate to “assist” police in protecting “vital public facilities,” including roads, bridges, railroads, power stations, and universities. Military personnel have arrest authority during “periods of significant turmoil.” The Border Guards Department of the Ministry of Defense is responsible for border control and includes members from the army and police. Single-mission law enforcement agencies, such as the Tourist and Antiquities Police and the Antinarcotics General Administration, also worked throughout the country.

The appeal of the retrial of a Central Security Forces officer previously convicted of killing secular activist Shaimaa el-Sabbagh at a peaceful demonstration in 2015 continued. In 2017 a Cairo Criminal Court sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

For persons other than those apprehended in the process of committing a crime, the law requires that police act on the basis of a court-issued warrant issued either under the penal code or the code of military justice, both of which were in effect simultaneously; however, there were numerous reports of arrests without such a warrant.

Ordinary criminal courts and misdemeanor courts hear cases brought by the prosecutor general. Arrests under the penal code occurred openly and with warrants issued by a public prosecutor or judge. There was a functioning bail system, although some defendants claimed judges imposed unreasonably high bail.

Criminal defendants have the right to counsel promptly after arrest, and usually, but not always, authorities allowed access to family members. The court is obliged to provide a lawyer to indigent defendants. Nevertheless, defendants often faced administrative and, in some cases, political obstacles and could not secure regular access to lawyers or family visits. A prosecutor may order four days of preventative detention for individuals suspected of committing misdemeanors and 15 days for individuals suspected of committing felonies. The period of preventative detention is subject to renewal by the prosecutor for up to 60 days, in cases of both misdemeanors and felonies. On the 61st day, the prosecutor must submit a case to a relevant judge who may release the accused person or renew the detention in increments of 15 days (but no longer than 45 days at a time). Detention may extend from the stage of initial investigation through all stages of criminal judicial proceedings. Except in cases involving the death penalty or life imprisonment, the combined periods of prosecutor and court-ordered detentions may not exceed six months in cases of misdemeanors and 18 months in cases of felonies. After the detention reaches its legal limit without a conviction, authorities must release the accused person immediately. Legal experts offered conflicting interpretations of the law in cases in which convictions carry the death penalty or life imprisonment, with some arguing there is no time limit to court-ordered renewals of detention in such cases.

Charges involving the death penalty or life imprisonment sometimes could apply to cases related to demonstrations, such as blocking roads or demonstrating outside government buildings; as a result authorities might hold some appellants charged with nonviolent crimes indefinitely.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arrest, search, or detention without a judicial warrant, except for those caught in the act of a crime. There were frequent reports of arbitrary arrest and detention. Local activists and rights groups stated that hundreds of arrests did not comply with due-process laws. For example, authorities did not charge the detainees with crimes or refer them to prosecutors and prevented access to their lawyers and families (see section 1.b.).

On August 23, security forces arrested political activist Sameh Saudi’s wife and two children, five and seven years old, at their home in Cairo when they did not find him, according to an AI report. Authorities arrested Saudi later that day and released his family.

Pretrial Detention: The government did not provide figures on the total number of pretrial detainees. Rights groups and the quasi-governmental NCHR alleged excessive use of pretrial detention and preventative detention during trials for nonviolent crimes. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Large backlogs in the criminal courts contributed to protracted periods of pretrial detention. Estimates of the number of pretrial and preventive detainees were unreliable. According to a 2016 report by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, almost 1,500 persons in four governorates remained in detention without bail for more than two years without a conviction and at various stages in the legal process. According to a 2015 report by the NCHR, citing Interior Ministry figures, at least 7,000 persons remained in detention without a conviction at various stages in the legal process on charges related to incidents after mid-2013, including approximately 300 “activists.” Most others were affiliated with the MB, according to the NCHR.

Authorities continued to hold Ola al-Qaradawi and her husband Hosam Khalaf, who were arrested in June 2017 while on vacation in Egypt. Al-Qaradawi was being held in solitary confinement in Cairo, had limited access to a lawyer, and had yet to be formally charged. In December, Khalaf received a visit from his father and sister. According to the family’s statements to the media and international NGOs, they were being investigated in connection with belonging to the MB and spreading information aimed at distorting Egypt’s image. On June 12, the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a report concluding that the arrest, detention, and imprisonment of Ola al-Qaradawi and her husband Hosam Khalaf was arbitrary. The report included information provided by the government responding to the allegation that the arrest was arbitrary.

On September 8, following more than five years of detention, a Cairo Criminal Court sentenced photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid (known as Shawkan) to five years’ imprisonment. Authorities arrested him while he was taking pictures during the security forces’ dispersal of the MB sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in Cairo. Authorities charged Shawkan and 739 other defendants with belonging to the MB, possessing firearms, and murder. The court sentenced 75 defendants to death, 47 to life in prison, 215 to 15 years in prison, 23 to 10 years, and 374 to five years’ imprisonment. Five defendants died during the course of the trial. Of the defendants, authorities tried 419 in their absence. As of November, no defendants were released, as in addition to the prison sentence, defendants were ordered to pay financial compensation for damages–estimated to be in the tens of millions of pounds–incurred to private and public properties, as well as a variety of vehicles belonging to security forces during the protest and its violent dispersal. According to press reports, the prosecution sought continued imprisonment of those due for release in lieu of financial compensation as the court has not settled on a final payment amount, and it assumed that, no matter its exact determination, those convicted will be unable collectively to gather the required amount for payment.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to the constitution, detainees have the right to challenge the legality of their detention before a court, which must decide if the detention is lawful within one week or otherwise immediately release the detainee. In practice authorities deprived some individuals of this right, according to international and local human rights groups.

Amnesty: The constitution gives the president the power to cancel or reduce a sentence after consulting with the cabinet. According to press reports, as of September the president had used this authority to grant clemency to more than 15,000 prisoners–generally debtors or those who had served more than one-half their sentences, including secular activists, student protesters, MB members, and others.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Individual courts sometimes appeared to lack impartiality and to arrive at outcomes that were politically motivated or without individual findings of guilt. The government generally respected court orders. Judicial and executive review is available to individuals sentenced to the death penalty.

Some trials involving hundreds of defendants continued, particularly in cases involving demonstrators sympathetic to former president Morsi and the MB in 2013 and 2014.

On April 28, the Court of Cassation upheld the death sentence against six defendants, sentenced three defendants to life, and 59 to 10 years in prison. It acquitted 47 defendants. The defendants faced charges in connection with the killing of a police officer and attempting to kill two other police officers in 2013. In August 2017 the Minya Criminal Court sentenced 24 persons to death, 12 of them in their absence, and a further 119 to life in prison, eight of them in their absence. It sentenced a further two defendants to 10 years in prison and acquitted the remaining 238 defendants.

On September 23, a court sentenced MB Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, along with 64 defendants out of 682 others, to life imprisonment in a retrial over charges of inciting violence in a 2013 case charged with attacking a police station and killing two police officers in Minya. Dozens of others tried in the same case received sentences ranging from two to 15 years, while authorities acquitted 463 others. On July 29, the Minya Criminal Court issued a death sentence to one defendant in the retrial. In 2015 the Court of Cassation ordered a retrial after the Minya Criminal Court issued provisional death sentences in 2014 to 683 defendants.

The law imposes penalties on individuals designated by a court as terrorists, even without criminal convictions. As of May authorities had added more than 2,800 persons to the national terrorists list. The effects of a designation include a travel ban, asset freeze, loss of political rights, and passport cancellation. HRW claimed designated individuals could not contest the designation, and authorities had not informed most individuals of their designation before the court decision; however, the decision may be appealed directly to the country’s highest appeals court. On July 4, the Court of Cassation overturned a ruling placing 1,538 people on a government terrorist list, many of whom were jailed members of the banned MB. The Court of Cassation returned the case to a lower court for reconsideration. On September 27, the Court of Cassation removed Badie and 35 other MB members from the official terrorist list.

The constitution states: “Civilians may not stand trial before military courts except for crimes that represent a direct assault against military facilities, military barracks, or whatever falls under their authority; stipulated military or border zones; military equipment, vehicles, weapons, ammunition, documents, military secrets, public funds or military factories; crimes related to conscription; or crimes that represent a direct assault against its officers or personnel because of the performance of their duties.”

Authorities used military courts to try civilians accused of threatening national security. Public access to information concerning military trials was limited. Military trials were difficult to monitor because media were usually subjected to restraint orders. Rights groups and lawyers stated defense attorneys in military trials had difficulty gaining access to their clients and to documentation related to the cases.

According to a 2016 HRW report, military courts had tried at least 7,400 civilians since the issuance of a 2014 decree ordering the military to “assist” police in securing “vital public facilities.” In an official statement responding to a HRW report, the government noted that, according to the constitution, the military judiciary adjudicates all crimes related to the armed forces, its officers and personnel, and what falls under the military’s jurisdiction.

Domestic and international human rights organizations criticized the executions between December 2017 and January 9 of 22 individuals previously convicted in military courts and raised concerns about lack of respect for fair trial assurances. In one instance authorities executed four individuals convicted in a military trial in 2016 of a deadly attack that killed three military college students and injured two. According to human rights organizations, the defendants were subjected to forced disappearance for more than 70 days. According to the defendants’ written testimony, most were tortured in prison.

On July 31, a military court sentenced poet Galal el Behairy to three years in prison on charges of publishing fake news and insulting the military. The charges stemmed from his anthology of poems The Best Women on Earth, whose title plays on a phrase used to describe the military.

On October 15, the Court of Cassation upheld three-year sentences for former president Morsi and 18 others for insulting the judiciary. On September 30, the Cairo Criminal Court ordered a retrial of MB Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and other senior figures in the MB, related to a 2015 case in which Badie and 13 others received life sentences “over violence between MB supporters and opponents near the group’s headquarters.” The retrial started October 15 and included additional charges of beating protesters, but the law allows modification of charges if new evidence arises. Some local and international rights groups questioned the impartiality of proceedings. According to press statements by Morsi’s family, authorities have only allowed them to visit him twice since his incarceration in 2013. They also stated he remained in solitary confinement and denied medical treatment for his diabetes, resulting in impaired vision in one eye, among other complications.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary often failed to uphold this right.

The law presumes defendants are innocent, and authorities usually inform them promptly and in detail of charges against them. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials. Attendance is mandatory for individuals charged with felonies and optional for those charged with misdemeanors. Civilian criminal and misdemeanor trials usually are public. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney, and the government is responsible for providing counsel if the defendant cannot afford a lawyer. Defendants have the right to free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals. The court assigns an interpreter. The law allows defendants to question witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The constitution provides for the right of an accused person to remain silent in his own trial. Defendants have the right of appeal up to the Court of Cassation. Judges must seek the nonbinding review of the grand mufti on all death sentences, and the president must confirm all such sentences.

The law permits individual members of the public to file charges with the prosecutor general, who is charged with deciding whether the evidence justifies referring the charges for a trial. Observers reported, however, that, due to unclear evidentiary standards, the Prosecutor General’s Office investigates and refers for trial the overwhelming majority of such cases, regardless of the strength of the evidence.

After a prime ministerial decree in October 2017, authorities have referred certain economic and security crimes, including violations of protest laws, to state security courts instead of the public prosecutor. State security courts may have two military judges appointed to sit alongside three civilian judges and verdicts of state security courts can only be appealed on points of law rather than the facts of the case as in a civilian court.

Military courts are not open to the public. Defendants in military courts nominally enjoyed the same fair trial assurances, but the military judiciary has wide discretion to curtail these rights in the name of public security. Military courts often tried defendants in a matter of hours, frequently in groups, and sometimes without access to an attorney, leading lawyers and NGOs to assert they did not meet basic standards of due process. Consequently, the quick rulings by military courts sometimes prevented defendants from exercising their rights. Defendants in military courts have the right to consult an attorney, but sometimes authorities denied them timely access to counsel. According to rights groups, authorities permitted defendants in military trials visits from their attorneys every six months, in contrast with the civilian court system, where authorities allowed defendants in detention attorney visits every 15 days.

The Military Judiciary Law governing the military court system grants defendants in the military court system the right to appeal up to the Supreme Military Court of Appeals. The president must certify sentences by military courts.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners and detainees, although verifiable estimates of their total number were not available. The government claimed there were no political prisoners and that all persons in detention had been or were in the process of being charged with a crime. Human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned as many as several thousand persons solely or chiefly because of their political beliefs. One local rights organization estimated there were more than 2,000 political prisoners in Borg al-Arab Prison alone. A local rights group considered any persons arrested under the 2013 demonstrations law to be political prisoners.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals had access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights violations and filed such lawsuits during the year. Nonetheless, courts often dismissed cases or acquitted defendants for lack of evidence or conflicting witness testimonies. Individuals and organizations can appeal adverse domestic decisions to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Since the launching of Operation Sinai 2018 in February, the government has intensified its efforts to establish a buffer zone in North Sinai Governorate to interdict weapons smuggling and incursions to and from the Gaza Strip. The government also created a buffer zone around the Arish Airport, south of al-Arish.

Based on interviews and analysis of satellite imagery, human rights organizations reported the government destroyed approximately 3,600 homes and commercial buildings and hundreds of acres of farmland in North Sinai since January. In contrast to such reports, according to statements to media, the government stated it demolished 3,272 residential, commercial, administrative, and community buildings between mid-2013 and 2016. Although the government stated it would appropriately compensate all families whose homes it destroyed, rights groups stated that the security forces continued to evict residents of the buffer zone without adequate compensation for loss of property. Moreover, the government did not compensate residents for agricultural land. Human rights organizations, including HRW, reported that security forces punitively demolished the homes of suspected terrorists, dissidents and their families.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions and provides for the privacy of the home, correspondence, telephone calls, and other means of communication. Nevertheless, there were reports that security agencies sometimes placed political activists, journalists, foreigners, and writers under surveillance; monitored their private communications; screened their correspondence, including email and social media accounts; examined their bank records; searched their persons and homes without judicial authorization; and confiscated personal property in an extrajudicial manner.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly “according to notification regulated by law.” Authorities implemented an amended 2013 demonstrations law that includes an expansive list of prohibited activities, giving a judge the authority to prohibit or curtail planned demonstrations after submitting an official memorandum. Domestic and international human rights organizations asserted the law did not meet international standards regarding freedom of assembly. In 2017 the government imposed an exclusion zone of 2,600 feet (790 meters) around vital governmental institutions in which protests are prohibited.

There were protests throughout the year, mostly small, and some occurred without government interference. In most cases the government rigorously enforced the law restricting demonstrations, in some cases using force, including in cases of small groups of protesters demonstrating peacefully.

The number of persons arrested under the protest law was not publicly available, although research center Daftar Ahwal reported at least 37,000 cases of individuals stopped, arrested, or charged under the protest law between November 2013 and September 2016. Authorities charged 15,491 individuals under the protest law, resulting in 6,382 convictions and 5,083 acquittals.

On May 12, police arrested 22 persons protesting increased metro fares but released 12 of them the same day. The remaining 10 faced charges of disrupting public transport. Authorities released them on May 16. On May 14, State Security ordered 20 more persons detained for playing a role in the protests. They faced charges of disturbing the peace and obstructing public facilities. Among those arrested was lawyer and labor activist Haytham Mohamedeen, who was released on October 30, although charges remain pending.

Thousands of persons whom authorities arrested during 2013 and 2014 due to their participation in demonstrations (some of which were peaceful) remained imprisoned; however, authorities released others who had completed their sentences. Authorities held such individuals under charges of attending an unauthorized protest, incitement to violence, or “blocking roads.” This included prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was convicted in 2015 of breaking the demonstrations law related to his participation in a protest in front of the Shura Council in 2013. In 2017 the Court of Cassation reduced the prison sentence of prominent activist Abdel Fattah from five years’ “rigorous” imprisonment to five years’ imprisonment followed by five years of probation. No further appeals are possible. In 2015 the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Abdel Fattah to five years in prison on charges of breaking the demonstrations law related to his participation in a protest in front of the Shura Council in 2013.

Human rights groups claimed authorities inflated or used these charges solely to target individuals suspected of being members of groups in opposition to the government or those who sought to exercise the rights to free assembly or association.

Since their release from prison in January 2017 after completing three-year sentences for violating the protest law, activists Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel remained on probation with terms requiring them to reside in the local police station from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day. On June 19, when Adel reported for his nightly stay, he was detained after a local storeowner filed a legal complaint accusing Adel of inciting antistate sentiments in 14 posts on Facebook. In July he was sentenced to a 15-day detention order.

According to press reports, student groups focused on entertainment while political activities virtually disappeared in light of pressure from authorities and the threat of arrest. Authorities allowed students to protest the move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but authorities tightly controlled and managed such protests. Universities held student union elections in December 2017 for the first time in two years.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law governing associations, however, significantly restricts this right.

In 2017 the government enacted a new NGO law, which remained unimplemented by year’s end. Local and international NGOs stated the law if implemented could make it impossible for them to operate independently. In November, President Sisi stated he recognized the law’s shortcomings and directed the Ministry of Social Solidarity to chair a committee to draft amendments in consultation with civil society and submit the amendments to parliament. The 2017 law includes the creation of a new administrative body that includes members of security services and can regulate all NGOs that receive foreign funding and reject registration applications by not responding for 60 days; rules targeting all aspects of NGO work; and prison sentences among the penalties for violations. Throughout the year the Ministry of Social Solidarity continued to apply the previous NGO law on international and domestic organizations receiving international funding, denying government approval of programs that domestic and international organizations sought to implement, or granting governmental approval after lengthy delays (which in some cases amounted to effective denials). Rights groups reported several incidents of security services ordering cancellation of planned training programs or other events. On June 2, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled an article of the previous NGO law, which gives the Minister of Social Solidarity the right to dissolve NGOs, was unconstitutional.

The penal code criminalizes the request for or acceptance of foreign funds, materiel, weapons, ammunition, or “other things” from states or NGOs “with the intent to harm the national interest.” Those convicted may be sentenced to life in prison (or the death penalty in the case of public officials) for crimes committed during times of war or with “terrorist purpose.”

In a series of raids on November 1, security forces arrested Hoda Abdel Moneim, a former member of the NCHR and at least 30 others, including staff members of the human rights NGO ECRF and unaffiliated lawyers and activists. ECRF subsequently announced it was suspending its operations citing the arrest of Abdel Moneim as well the March arrest of ECRF leader Ezzat Ghoneim (see section 2.b.).

Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy, founder of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared, remained in detention. Authorities arrested him in September 2017, at the Cairo International Airport and initially held him incommunicado. Hegazy was traveling to Geneva to participate in the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. The charges against him included “communicating with a foreign body to harm the Egyptian national interest.” In September 2017 Hegazy told his lawyers authorities tortured him during the first three days they held him.

On April 5, the Court of Cassation overturned the conviction of 16 mostly foreign NGO workers sentenced in 2013 for operating unlicensed organizations and receiving foreign funding without government permission. They were to be retried along with 27 other NGO workers convicted in their absence in the same case. On December 20, a court acquitted 41 defendants; the status of the remaining two was unclear as of the end of the year.

The MB, the MB-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party, and its NGO remained illegal, and the MB was a legally designated terrorist organization.

Authorities continued investigations of local NGOs that received foreign funding under a case originally brought in 2011. On June 20, authorities released Nazra for Feminist Studies founder Mozn Hassan on bail; her charges included receiving foreign funding to harm national security in connection with her NGO. On May 27, authorities questioned Magda Adly and Suzanne Fayyad, founders of the el-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, on charges of establishing an entity in violation of the civil society law and publishing information that was harmful to the state.

On May 21, authorities released Hossam Eddin Ali, executive director of the Egyptian Democratic Institute, on bail. He faced charges of harming national security and receiving foreign funds.

In February 2017 authorities closed the offices of el-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence (also registered under the name el-Nadeem for Psychological Rehabilitation), which documents torture and other forms of abuse and provides counseling for torture and rape victims. In early 2016 the center received administrative closure orders from three governmental bodies, and in late 2016 authorities froze its assets. The organization asserted the closure was politically motivated, targeting el-Nadeem because of its work on torture, deaths in detention, and impunity for these crimes. A court case brought by Nadeem challenging the closure order continued; the most recent hearing was December 5, wherein the court postponed a decision until December 26. The organization continued to operate in a limited capacity.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, albeit with some exceptions, including the handling of potential refugees and asylum seekers. 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. Authorities maintained a “no-fly” list that prevented some defendants in court cases from fleeing the country.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Media, NGOs, and UNHCR staff reported multiple cases of attacks against refugees, particularly women and children. According to UNHCR, refugees sometimes reported harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination. Refugee women and girls, particularly sub-Saharan Africans, faced the greatest risk of societal, sexual, and gender-based violence.

According to UNHCR and press reports, police security sweeps increased in neighborhoods known to house Syrian, Sudanese, and other African refugees, as well as migrants, resulting in increased detentions. Detainees reported authorities subjected them to verbal abuse and poor detention conditions.

In-country Movement: Citizens and foreigners may not travel freely in areas of the country designated as military zones. The government sought to prevent private individuals, journalists, civil society figures, and international organizations from entering North Sinai, stating it was to protect their safety, although it began organizing some supervised visits for journalists to North Sinai in July.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states, “No citizen may be prevented from leaving the State territory.”

Nonetheless, men who have not completed compulsory military service and have not obtained an exemption may not travel abroad or emigrate. National identification cards indicated completion of military service.

Authorities required citizens between ages 18 and 40 to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to 16 countries: Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Qatar, South Africa, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Georgia, and Yemen. Enforcement of these regulations was sporadic. The government stated it intended these regulations to make it more difficult for citizens to join terrorist groups and to stop flight of criminals. These regulations also affected the ability of other individuals to travel outside the country.

The government increasingly imposed travel bans on human rights defenders and political activists charged with offenses or under investigation. In 2016 Mada Masr reported there had been 554 cases of politically motivated banned entry and exit imposed by authorities in airports since 2011. Local human rights groups maintained authorities used travel bans to intimidate and silence human rights defenders, including individuals connected with NGOs facing investigation as part of the reopened NGO foreign-funding case. A September 4 court ruling stated a travel ban “does not require the investigation of certain facts and their certainty,” but there must be “serious evidence that there are reasons for it and that the decision to prevent travel is due to security reasons and the interests of the state.”

Democracy activist Esraa Abdel Fattah remained unable to depart the country. In 2015 authorities prevented Abdel Fattah from departing the country and informed her that authorities had issued a travel ban in her name. She filed a lawsuit to challenge the ban, but the court dismissed the suit. In September 2017 authorities referred a case regarding comments she made on social media for military prosecution. No further information on the case was available.

Exile: There was no government-imposed exile, and the constitution prohibits the government from expelling citizens or banning citizens from returning to the country. Some Mubarak- and Morsi-era politicians lived outside the country by choice and stated they faced government threats of prosecution.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: On November 8, authorities in Sudan announced criminal charges against an activist named Mohamed Boshi for espionage and crimes against the state, which carry the death penalty. On November 15, HRW released a report alleging that Egyptian authorities had detained Boshi on October 10, while he was in Egypt as an asylum seeker, held him incommunicado, and subsequently refouled him to Sudan. Human Rights Watch stated that Boshi’s family told them Sudanese security officials contacted them on October 13 to say he was in their custody.

Although the government often contacted UNHCR upon detaining unregistered migrants and asylum seekers, authorities reportedly sometimes encouraged unregistered detainees to choose to return to their countries of origin or a neighboring country to avoid continued detention, even in cases where the individuals expressed a fear of return. The number of these cases was unknown.

Compared with previous years, fewer Palestinian refugees from Syria entered the country illegally, intending to travel to Europe. In a number of cases, in the absence of valid travel documents or inability to confirm their identities, they faced more difficulties, including higher chances of detention or deportation.

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the protection of political refugees, but the laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a comprehensive legal regime for providing protection to refugees. The government granted UNHCR authority to make refugee status determinations. UNHCR does not register Libyan citizens; neither does it register nor assist Palestinian refugees in the country.

According to UNHCR, as of August 31, there were more than 235,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in the country, coming mainly from Syria, as well as from Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Yemen. Since 2017 the number of Syrian nationals registered as refugees has increased, although at a slower pace than in 2016. Observers attributed the increase to relaxed family reunification visa requirements, increased economic hardship faced by unregistered Syrians already residing in the country, young men attempting to avoid conscription in the national military or armed groups, and an increased fear of raids targeting unregistered migrants. Most Syrians continued to arrive by way of Sudan, which remained the only neighboring country to which Syrians could travel without visas. The number of African refugees also increased during the year, according to UNHCR, particularly among Ethiopian, Eritrean, and South Sudanese populations.

Starting in mid-2013, the government applied a system of visa and security clearance requirements for Syrian nationals and Palestinian refugees from Syria, thus assuring no direct entries from Syria since Egypt lacked consular services there. Following the UNHCR high commissioner’s visit in January 2017, the country relaxed its visa requirements for Syrians seeking family reunification.

Reports of irregular movements of individuals, including asylum seekers, and detention of foreign nationals attempting to depart the country irregularly via the Mediterranean remained low during the year, according to UNHCR, following parliament’s passage and enforcement of a law that dramatically increased patrols on the country’s Mediterranean coast in 2016.

UNHCR and its partners usually had regular access, by request, to detained registered refugees and asylum seekers along the north coast. Local rights groups faced continued resistance from the government when trying to interview detainees at Qanater men’s and women’s prisons outside Cairo, which housed the majority of detained refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities generally granted UNHCR access to asylum seekers at all prison and detention facilities. Authorities generally released asylum seekers registered with UNHCR, although frequently did not do so for detained migrants, many of whom were Ethiopian, Eritrean, Sudanese, and Somali (and may have had a basis for asylum claims). Detained migrants–as unregistered asylum seekers–did not have access to UNHCR. Authorities often held them in in police stations until UNHCR or other aid agencies assisted them, although sometimes authorities sent them to regular prisons alongside convicted criminals or deported them.

The government has never recognized UNHCR’s mandate to offer services to Palestinians outside of the fields of operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency, reportedly due to a belief that allowing UNHCR registration would negate Palestinian refugees’ alleged right of return. Approximately 2,900 Palestinian refugees from Syria were also present in the country, the majority reportedly in Cairo. The Palestinian Authority mission in the country provided limited assistance to this population, who were not able to access UNHCR assistance provided to Syrians due to governmental restrictions. The Swiss Red Cross also provided some humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees from Syria.

Employment: No law grants or prohibits refugees the right to work. Those seeking unauthorized employment were challenged by lack of jobs and societal discrimination, particularly against sub-Saharan Africans. Refugees who found work took low-paying jobs in the informal market, such as domestic servants, and were vulnerable to financial and sexual exploitation by employers.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees, in particular non-Arabic-speaking refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, received limited access to some services, including health care and public education. According to UNHCR refugees can fully access public-health services, although many do not have the resources to do so. The Interior Ministry restricted some international organizations seeking to assist migrants and refugees in Sinai. UNHCR was unaware of any migrants detained in Sinai since 2016. UNHCR provided some refugees with modest support for education and health care, as well as small monthly financial assistance grants for particularly vulnerable refugees. The International Organization for Migration provided additional assistance to particularly vulnerable migrants and individual asylum cases either rejected or being processed by UNHCR.

Refugee children not enrolled in public schools mainly attended refugee-run schools, private schools, or were home schooled. The law requires government hospitals to provide free emergency medical care to refugees, but many hospitals did not have adequate resources to do so. In some cases hospitals insisted that refugees provide payment in advance of receiving services or refused to provide services to refugees. In response to the influx of Syrians, the government allowed Syrian refugees and asylum seekers access to public education and health services. The Ministry of Education estimated that 35,000 school age Syrian children (approximately 90 percent) enrolled successfully in the public school system.

STATELESS PERSONS

Most of the eight stateless persons known to UNHCR were Armenians displaced for more than 50 years. According to a local civil society organization, the number of stateless persons in the country was likely higher than the number recorded by UNHCR. The government and UNHCR lacked a mechanism for identifying stateless persons, including those of disputed Sudanese/South Sudanese nationality and those of disputed Ethiopian/Eritrean nationality. A majority of the approximately 70,000 Palestinian refugees were stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Constraints on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, however, limited citizens’ ability to do so.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held a presidential election in March 2018 resulting in the re-election of President Sisi with 92 percent of the vote. Sisi’s sole opponent, Moussa Moustapha Moussa, received 3 percent of the vote, less than the number of spoiled ballots. Moussa registered his candidacy on January 29, the last possible day to register, and until the day before he registered his candidacy, he was a member of a campaign supporting President Sisi for a second term. Prior to the elections, authorities arrested some potential candidates for allegedly violating military prohibitions for public office and reportedly pressured others against running in the elections. Domestic and international organizations expressed concern that government limitations on association, assembly, and expression severely constrained broad participation in the political process.

International news media alleged that in some instances voters were paid to vote. The Supreme Media Regulatory Council fined some news outlets publishing critical coverage of the presidential election and also referred several journalists to investigation by the Journalists Syndicate (see section 2).

Parliamentary elections were held in 2015. Domestic and international observers concluded that government authorities professionally administered these elections, while also expressing concern about restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and expression and their negative effect on the political climate surrounding the elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution grants citizens the ability to form, register, and operate political parties. The law requires new parties to have a minimum of 5,000 members from each of at least 10 governorates. The constitution also states, “No political activity may be practiced and no political parties may be formed on the basis of religion or discrimination based on gender, origin, or sectarian basis or geographic location. No activity that is hostile to democratic principles, secretive, or of military or quasi-military nature may be practiced. Political parties may not be dissolved except by virtue of a court judgment.”

The Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the MB, remained banned. Authorities did not ban other Islamist parties, including the Strong Egypt Party and the Building and Development Party, although those parties boycotted the 2015 parliamentary elections, citing a “negative political environment.” The Islamist al-Noor Party participated, winning 11 seats.

Authorities arrested opposition figures preceding the presidential election, including potential presidential candidates. On January 22, authorities arrested former chief of staff of the Armed Forces Sami Anan and 30 supporters for running for office without permission from the military. Authorities held Anan in a military prison but moved him to a military hospital after he suffered a stroke.

On February 14, police also arrested former 2012 presidential candidate and Strong Egypt founder Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and, earlier, on February 8, arrested Strong Egypt deputy Mohamed El-Kassas on charges of belonging to a banned group and spreading false news after they publicly urged a boycott of the election.

On January 7, former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq reversed his stated intention to run in the presidential election. According to his family and supporters, he made the statement while under duress. After he announced his intention to run in November 2017 from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where he had been living in exile, UAE authorities detained and deported him to Egypt, according to his supporters. His family told media they could not contact him and claimed authorities held him against his will at a Cairo hotel until released, following his announcement that he would not run for president.

There were reports of physical assaults on members of political opposition movements. For example, on June 5, unidentified individuals attacked dozens of guests at the iftar for the Civil Democratic Movement (CDM), an opposition political coalition, at the Swiss Club restaurant in the Kit Kat district of Giza, according to statements by CDM leaders.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women, members of minorities, or both in the political process, and they did participate. Social and cultural barriers, however, limited women’s political participation and leadership in most political parties and some government institutions. Voters elected a record number of 75 women, 36 Christians, and nine persons with disabilities to parliament during the 2015 parliamentary elections, a substantial increase compared with the 2012 parliament. The House of Representatives law outlines the criteria for the electoral lists, which provides that the House of Representatives must include at least 56 women, 24 Christians, and nine persons with disabilities. In 2015 the president appointed 28 additional members of parliament, including 14 women and two Christians. The House of Representatives law grants the president the authority to appoint House of Representatives members, not to surpass 5 percent of the total number of elected members. If the president opts to use this authority, one-half of his appointments must be women, according to the law. Parliament included 89 women and 38 Christians.

Eight women led cabinet ministries. There were two Christians among the appointed governors of the 27 governorates. In August authorities appointed Manal Awad Michael, a Coptic woman, governor of Damietta, making her the country’s second female governor. No women were on the Supreme Constitutional Court. In August the Supreme Judiciary Council promoted 16 female judges to higher courts, including the Qena Appeals Court. Legal experts stated there were approximately 66 female judges serving in family, criminal, economic, appeals, and misdemeanor courts; that total was less than 1 percent of judges. Several senior judges were Christian.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not consistently implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: The Central Agency for Auditing and Accounting was the government’s internal anticorruption body and submitted reports to the president and prime minister that were not available to the public. The auditing and accounting agency stationed monitors at state-owned companies to report corrupt practices. The Administrative Control Authority, another state institution with technical, financial, and administrative independence, had jurisdiction over state administrative bodies, state-owned enterprises, public associations and institutions, private companies undertaking public work, and organizations to which the state contributes in any form.

On January 14, authorities arrested Menoufia governor Hisham Abdel Baset and two business associates on charges of bribery. On November 12, Giza Criminal Court convicted Basset over corruption charges and acquitted the other two defendants in the same case. The court sentenced Basset to 10 years in prison and fined him LE 15 million ($850 thousand) for ordering a bribe of LE 27.45 million ($1.54 million).

On August 12, authorities sentenced the general manager of the Cairo International Airport-Quarantine to 10 years in prison on charges of receiving bribes to facilitate the import of goods.

Financial Disclosure: There are no financial disclosure laws for public officials. A 2013 conflict-of-interest law forbids government officials from maintaining any pecuniary interest in matters over which they exercise authority.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

International and local human rights organizations said that the government continued to be uncooperative. On August 8, Minister of Local Development Mahmoud Shaarawy said that rights units were established in 18 governorates to receive complaints and spread the culture of human rights. Government officials publicly asserted they shared the civil society organizations’ goals, but they rarely cooperated with or responded to the organizations’ inquiries. The cabinet established a committee on human rights chaired by the minister of foreign affairs to prepare UN reports and respond to human rights allegations raised against the country. Domestic civil society organizations criticized the government’s consultations with civil society as insufficient. Provisions in the 2017 NGO law and penal code established penalties of up to life imprisonment for requesting or accepting foreign funding to undermine state security (see section 2.b.).

Extended delays in gaining government approvals and an unclear legal environment continued to limit the ability of domestic and international NGOs to operate. State-owned and independent media frequently depicted NGOs, particularly international NGOs and domestic NGOs that received funding from international sources, as undertaking subversive activities. Some NGOs reported receiving visits or calls to staff, both at work and at home, from security service officers and tax officials monitoring their activities, as well as societal harassment.

Human rights defenders and political activists were also subjected to governmental and societal harassment and intimidation, including through travel bans (see section 2.d.). Print and television media published articles that included the names, photographs, business addresses, and alleged meetings held by activists, including meetings held with foreign diplomatic representatives.

Well established, independent domestic human rights NGOs struggled to operate amid increasing pressure from security forces throughout the country. Online censorship (see section 2.a.) diminished the roles of internet activists and bloggers in publicizing information concerning human rights abuses. Authorities sometimes allowed civil society organizations not registered as NGOs to operate, but such organizations often reported harassment, along with threats of government interference, investigation, asset freezes, or closure.

The government continued investigations into the receipt of foreign funding by several human rights organizations (see section 1.b.).

Major international human rights organizations, such as HRW and AI, did not have offices in the country after closing them in 2014 due to “concerns about the deteriorating security and political environment in the country.”

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In October the UN Special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing visited the country, the first rapporteur to visit since 2010. In a December 4 statement, the rapporteur claimed that individuals she met during her trip faced retaliation in the form of forced evictions, housing demolitions, arbitrary arrest, intimidation, and other reprisals

Nine other UN special rapporteurs had pending visit requests; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated it was committed to facilitating their visits by the end of 2019. Authorities did not allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to prisoners and detainees. The Interior Ministry provided some international organizations informal access to some detention centers where authorities detained asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants to provide humanitarian assistance (see section 2.d.).

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NCHR monitored government abuses of human rights and submitted citizen complaints to the government. A number of well known human rights activists served on the organization’s board, although some observers alleged the board’s effectiveness was sometimes limited because it lacked sufficient resources and the government rarely acted on its findings. The council at times challenged and criticized government policies and practices, calling for steps to improve its human rights record. For example, the NCHR called for improved prison conditions and for repeal of the protest law.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, prescribing penalties of 15 to 25 years’ imprisonment, or life imprisonment for cases of rape involving armed abduction. Spousal rape is not illegal. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Civil society organizations reported police pressure not to pursue charges.

Domestic violence was a significant problem. The law does not prohibit domestic violence or spousal abuse, but authorities may apply provisions relating to assault with accompanying penalties. The law requires that an assault victim produce multiple eyewitnesses, a difficult condition for domestic abuse victims. Police often treated domestic violence as a social rather than criminal matter.

The Ministry of Social Solidarity supported eight women’s shelters. The Interior Ministry includes a unit responsible for combating sexual and gender-based violence. The National Council for Women (NCW), a quasi-governmental body, was responsible for coordinating government and civil society efforts to empower women. In 2015 the NCW launched a five-year National Strategy to Combat Violence Against Women with four strategic objectives: prevention, protection, intervention, and prosecution. An NCW study found that approximately 1.5 million women reported domestic violence each year.

On August 31, journalist May al-Shamy filed a complaint accusing the editor in chief of the newspaper Youm7 of sexually assaulting her physically, on several occasions in the preceding month. The prosecution suspended its investigation into the case on October 31 due to a lack of evidence. Shamy’s appeal to reopen the investigation was rejected on November 5.

On November 25, the Investment and International Cooperation Ministry launched a national initiative for combating violence against women. The initiative groups international and local partners to conduct an awareness campaign against sexual harassment in means of transportation, in addition to all other forms of violence against women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal, but it remained a serious problem. According to the 2015 Egypt Health Issues Survey, published during 2016 by the Ministry of Health and Population, 70 percent of girls between ages 15 and 19 had undergone FGM/C, a decrease from 81 percent in 2008. In May authorities reportedly arrested a doctor from Sohag University Hospital for allegedly conducting FGM/C on a 12-year-old girl.

On June 1, the Egyptian body, Dar al-Iftaa, responsible for issuing Islamic fatwas, declared FGM forbidden in Islam. On November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the country’s grand mufti Shawqi Allam highlighted Dar al-Iftaa’s issuance of several fatwas confirming the rights of women and preventing FGM.

A 2016 amendment to the law designates FGM/C a felony, as opposed to a misdemeanor as it was previously, and assigns penalties for conviction of five to seven years’ imprisonment for practitioners who perform the procedure or 15 years if the practice led to death or “permanent deformity.” The law granted exceptions in cases of “medical necessity,” which rights groups and subject matter experts identified as a problematic loophole that allowed the practice to continue. According to international and local observers, the government did not effectively enforce the FGM/C law.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law does not specifically address “honor” crimes, which authorities treated as any other crime. There were no reliable statistics regarding the incidence of killings and assaults motivated by “honor,” but local observers stated such killings occurred, particularly in rural areas.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a serious problem. The government claimed it prioritized efforts to address sexual harassment. The penal code defines sexual harassment as a crime, with penalties including fines and sentences of six months’ to five years’ imprisonment if convicted. Media and NGOs reported sexual harassment by police was also a problem, and the potential for further harassment further discouraged women from filing complaints.

Authorities arrested individuals who complained of their experience with sexual harassment online, including activist Amal Fathy and Lebanese tourist Mona el-Mazbouh (see section 2.a.).

On September 9, the Qasr al-Nil misdemeanor court sentenced a man to two years in prison for sexually harassing two women while they were walking in downtown Cairo. The man also was fined and received a three-month sentence for assault. Authorities acquitted a second man of the same charges. When police responded to the incident, the two men alleged the women had assaulted them, and authorities took all four into custody. Authorities held the women in detention for 10 hours until their lawyer assured that they would return them for questioning.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal rights for male and female citizens. Women did not enjoy the same legal rights and opportunities as men, and discrimination was widespread. Aspects of the law and traditional societal practices disadvantaged women in family, social, and economic life.

Women faced widespread societal discrimination, threats to their physical security, and workplace bias in favor of men that hindered their social and economic advancement.

By the end of the year, the Ministry of Interior had implemented a 2017 decree issued by the prime minister to include at least one female officer at every police station.

Laws affecting marriage and personal status generally corresponded to an individual’s religious group. A female Muslim citizen cannot legally marry a non-Muslim man. If she were to do so, authorities could charge her with adultery and consider her children illegitimate. Under the government’s interpretation of Islamic law, any children from such a marriage could be placed in the custody of a male Muslim guardian. Khula divorce allows a Muslim woman to obtain a divorce without her husband’s consent, provided she forgoes all her financial rights, including alimony, dowry, and other benefits. The Coptic Orthodox Church permits divorce only in rare circumstances, such as adultery or conversion of one spouse to another religion. Other Christian churches sometimes permitted divorce on a case-by-case basis.

The law follows sharia in matters of inheritance; therefore, a Muslim female heir generally receives one-half the amount of a male heir’s inheritance, and Christian widows of Muslims have no inheritance rights. A sole Muslim female heir receives one-half her parents’ estate, and the balance goes to the siblings of the parents or the children of the siblings if the siblings are deceased. A sole male heir inherits his parents’ entire estate.

In marriage and divorce cases, a woman’s testimony must be judged credible to be admissible. Usually the woman accomplishes credibility by conveying her testimony through an adult male relative or representative. The law assumes a man’s testimony is credible unless proven otherwise.

Labor laws provide for equal rates of pay for equal work for men and women in the public but not the private sector. Educated women had employment opportunities, but social pressure against women pursuing a career was strong. Large sectors of the economy controlled by the military excluded women from high-level positions.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship through the citizenship of their parents. The mother or the father transmits citizenship and nationality. The government attempted to register all births soon after birth, but some citizens in remote and tribal areas, such as the Sinai Peninsula, resisted registration or could not document their citizenship. In some cases failure to register resulted in denial of public services, particularly in urban areas where most services required presentation of a national identification card.

Education: Education is compulsory, free, and universal until the ninth grade. The law provides this benefit to stateless persons and refugees. Public schools enrolled Syrian refugees, but they largely excluded refugees of other nationalities.

Child Abuse: The constitution stipulates the government shall protect children from all forms of violence, abuse, mistreatment, and commercial and sexual exploitation. According to a local rights group, authorities recorded hundreds of cases of alleged child abuse each month. No dedicated government institution addressed child abuse, although several civil society organizations assisted runaway and abandoned children.

On September 11, authorities began to investigate reports social workers at the Beni Suef orphanage sexually assaulted children. Beni Suef’s governor also ordered an investigation of the orphanage’s board of directors.

Rights organizations reported children faced mistreatment in detention, including torture, sharing cells with adults, denial of their right to counsel, and authorities’ failure to notify their families. In a November 20 report, AI alleged it had documented six instances of torture and 12 instances of enforced disappearances involving children since 2015. The State Information Service released a response denying the report. According to a local rights group, police sometimes charged street children with unsolved crimes to increase perceived police effectiveness.

According to human rights organizations, security forces detained 12-year-old Abdullah Boumedine Nasr al-Din, in his home in December 2017 and accused him of joining a terrorist group and planting explosives. He was then allegedly forcibly disappeared for seven months before being brought before the State Security Prosecution and interrogated without an attorney in July. Authorities then transferred him to Azbakeya Police Station in Cairo where he reportedly spent more than three months in solitary confinement as of October 30.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18. According to UNICEF 17 percent of girls married before age 18, and 2 percent of girls were married by age 15. According to NCW statistics, nearly 36 percent of marriages in rural areas in the southern part of the country included a partner who was not yet age 18. Families reportedly sometimes forced adolescent girls to marry wealthy foreign men in what were known locally as “tourism” or “summer” marriages for the purpose of sexual exploitation, prostitution, or forced labor. According to the law, a foreign man who wants to marry an Egyptian woman more than 25 years younger than he is must pay a fine of LE 50,000 ($2,790). Women’s rights organizations argued that allowing foreign men to pay a fine to marry much younger women represented a form of trafficking and encouraged child marriage. They called on the government to eliminate the system altogether. The Antitrafficking Unit at the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM), a governmental body, is responsible for raising awareness of the problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for sentences of not less than five years’ imprisonment and fines of up to LE 200,000 ($11,150) for conviction of commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. The government did not adequately enforce the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is age 18.

Displaced Children: The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics and the NCCM estimated the number of street children to be 16,000, while civil society organizations estimated the number to be in the millions. The ministry offered shelters to street children, but many chose not to use them because staff treated the children as if they were criminals, according to local rights groups. According to rights groups, the incidence of violence, prostitution, and drug dealing in these shelters was high. Religious institutions and NGOs provided services for street children, including meals, clothing, and literacy classes. The Ministry of Health and Population offered mobile health clinics staffed by nurses and social workers. The Ministry of Social Solidarity offered 17 mobile units in 10 governorates, which provided emergency services, including food and health care, to street children.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community reportedly numbered fewer than eight individuals. There were a few reports of imams, who are appointed and paid by the government, using anti-Semitic rhetoric in their sermons.

Journalists and academics made statements on state-owned television endorsing conspiracy theories about Jewish domination of world media and economy. In a June interview on state-owned Channel Two, a university law professor argued, “Jews control the money and the media,” adding that they have a 50-year plan to reach Mecca and Medina. In May the chair of the Hebrew Language Department at Menoufia University claimed, “Israeli violence…is embedded in the Jewish genes” during a weekly show dedicated to Jews and Israel on state-owned television Channel Two.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution states persons with disabilities are equal without discrimination before the law. During the year the government passed a law prohibiting discrimination in education, employment, health, political activity, rehabilitation, training, and legal protection.

The law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment. Government policy sets a quota for employing persons with disabilities of 5 percent of workers with disabilities for companies with more than 50 employees. Authorities did not enforce the quota requirement, and companies often had persons with disabilities on their payroll to meet the quota without actually employing them. Government-operated treatment centers for persons with disabilities, especially children, were of poor quality.

The Ministries of Education and Social Solidarity share responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities rode government-owned mass transit buses without charge, but the buses were not wheelchair accessible. Persons with disabilities received subsidies to purchase household products, wheelchairs, and prosthetic devices. Some children with disabilities attended schools with their nondisabled peers while others attended segregated schools. Some of the segregated institutions are informal schools run by NGOs.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits discrimination on any grounds. Nevertheless, dark-skinned Egyptians and sub-Saharan Africans faced discrimination and harassment, as did Nubians from Upper Egypt.

According to the constitution, the state should make efforts to return Nubians to their original territories and develop such territories within 10 years of the constitution’s 2014 ratification.

In September 2017 security forces in Aswan arrested 25 Nubians who were participating in a protest to commemorate the 2011 detention of Nubians during a sit-in. The charges against them included protesting illegally and receiving funds from foreign sources. The death of one detainee while in custody triggered another protest in November 2017 by members of the Nubian community. Authorities reportedly arrested as many as 13 protesters at the event. A court ordered the original 24 detainees released; the next hearing for their case was scheduled for January 29. A State Security Misdemeanor Court acquitted seven defendants in the second case on October 28.

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

While the law does not explicitly criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, it allows police to arrest LGBTI persons on charges such as “debauchery,” “prostitution,” and “violating the teachings of religion” and provides for prison sentences if convicted of up to 10 years. According to a local rights group, there were more than 250 reports of such arrests since 2013. Authorities did not use antidiscrimination laws to protect LGBTI individuals. Legal discrimination and social stigma impeded LGBTI persons from organizing or advocating publicly in defense of their rights. Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination. An October 2017 Supreme Media Council (a semigovernmental body) ban on media supporting LGBTI persons and their rights continued.

There were reports of arrests and harassment of LGBTI individuals. Intimidation and the risk of arrest greatly restricted open reporting and contributed to self-censorship. Rights groups and activists reported harassment by police, including physical assault and forced payment of bribes to provide information concerning other LGBTI individuals or to avoid arrest. The government has the authority to deport or bar entry to the country of LGBTI foreigners.

There were credible reports that authorities used social media, dating websites, and cell phone apps to entrap persons they suspected of being gay or transgender, a method LGBTI advocates described as especially effective as LGBTI-friendly public spaces had largely closed during the past two years.

In January police in Alexandria arrested 10 men on charges related to debauchery and narcotics. Police reportedly stated one of the men rented an apartment for men “seeking pleasure from men.”

Rights groups reported that authorities, including the Forensic Medical Authority, conducted forced anal examinations. The law allows for conducting forced anal exams in cases of debauchery.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV-positive individuals faced significant social stigma and discrimination in society and the workplace. The health-care system provided anonymous counseling and testing for HIV, free adult and pediatric antiretroviral therapy, and support groups.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were incidents of mob violence and vigilantism, particularly sectarian violence against Coptic Christian Egyptians. On July 9, a mob of Muslims attacked Copts’ homes in the village of Minbal after a Copt allegedly posted content on social media offensive to Islam. Following the violence police arrested more than 90 Muslims and charged them with forming a mob, attacking Copts’ homes, inciting sedition, and attacking the police. Police also arrested the Copt, Abdu Adel Ayad, alleged to have made the offensive social media post. All of those arrested were released by late July following a customary reconciliation session except for a defendant accused of instigating the attack.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, with significant restrictions. The constitution provides for freedom of association. In December 2017 authorities passed a law regulating labor unions. The law does not recognize independent trade unions and proscribes a strict hierarchy for union formation consisting of a company-level trade union committee, a profession- or industry-level general union, and a national-level federation. It also stipulates a minimum of 20,000 members needed to form a general trade union and 200,000 to form a national-level trade federation. In March the government issued executive regulations of the trade unions law that affirmed the right of unions to form, join, or withdraw from higher-level unions. It also affirmed the legal status and financial independence that allowed them to make administrative and financial decisions independent of national-level unions.

In May the government held trade union elections; however, the executive regulations stipulated a period of only three months for trade unions to legalize their status and provided only one month to hold the elections. These deadlines restricted the ability of unions to campaign effectively, according to labor activists.

The elections produced little change in trade union leadership. Independent trade union leaders claimed that the Ministry of Manpower excluded them from the trade union election by rejecting applications to campaign in the elections and failing to respond to appeals as allowed by law. There were reports the Ministry of Manpower refused to allow independent union candidates or their representatives to monitor the voting or tabulation process.

While the law provides for collective bargaining, it imposes significant restrictions. For example, the government sets wages and benefits for all public-sector employees. The law does not provide for enterprise-level collective bargaining in the private sector and requires centralized tripartite negotiations that include workers, represented by a union affiliated with the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF); business owners; and the Ministry of Manpower overseeing and monitoring negotiations and agreements.

The constitution provides for the right to “peaceful” strikes. The Unified Labor Law permits peaceful strikes as well, but it imposes significant restrictions, including prior approval by a general trade union affiliated with ETUF.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Labor laws do not cover some categories of workers, including agricultural and domestic workers, and other sectors of the informal economy.

The Ministry of Manpower and affiliated directorates did not accept any bylaws other than those provided in the law. This position, according to local workers’ rights organizations, was contrary to the law’s provisions, its executive regulations, and ministerial decree 36/2018, which stated that unions can use the bylaws as guidance to develop their own.

In February, President Sisi instructed the Ministry of Social Solidarity to introduce a new life insurance mechanism for seasonal workers. The values of insurance certificates will vary between LE 500 and 2,500 ($28 to $140) to be paid by workers, who will receive an amount of LE 50,000 to 250,000 ($2,790 to $13,960) in case of death or accident. In the case of retirement, authorities will disburse a monthly pension. Separately, the minister of awqaf (Islamic endowments) announced that his ministry would allocate LE 50 million ($2.79 million) annually from the ministry’s budget for insurance for seasonal workers.

Government enforcement of applicable laws was inconsistent. The government also occasionally arrested striking workers and rarely reversed arbitrary dismissals. The government seldom followed the requirement for tripartite negotiations in collective disputes, leaving workers to negotiate directly with employers, typically after resorting to a strike.

In January employees of ETUF organized a protest to demand the administration pay late financial dues. Employees stated that the heads of ETUF told them that the budget did not allow the payment of late dues. The protest became a sit-in that lasted for multiple days until security forces dispersed participants. Following dispersal of the protesters, ETUF issued a statement promising all dues would be paid. There were no clear reports on whether ETUF honored the promise. On January 16, ETUF suspended four employees it accused of organizing the protest.

Independent unions continued to face pressure to dissolve. In some cases the Ministry of Manpower delayed responding to unions’ applications for legal status, leaving many in legal limbo. In other instances the Ministry of Manpower refused to legalize proposed unions if an ETUF-affiliated counterpart existed. According to trade union activists, the Trade Union Committee of Workers in Cairo Pharmacies applied in March for legal status to the Cairo directorate of the Ministry of Manpower, but officials at the directorate told the representatives of the committee that it should be affiliated to the pharmacist syndicate, a professional trade union. Although committee representatives argued their members were working in pharmacies as assistant pharmacists and, thus, it was not appropriate for them to be part of the pharmacists union, the Directorate of Manpower delayed their application by requesting documents not required by law. The Ministry of Manpower did not publish any status report of the process.

Authorities arrested several labor organizers and subjected others to legal sanctions following the dispersal of a labor strike.

Workers sometimes staged sit-ins on government and private property, often without obtaining the necessary permits. Rights groups claimed authorities sometimes arrested those seeking to obtain protest permits. In April hundreds of baked goods manufacturer Bisco Misr workers in Alexandria and Cairo protested a delay in disbursing bonuses and profit shares. On April 25, security authorities arrested and briefly held six workers from the Cairo branch on charges of organizing a protest without a permit. On May 1, Bisco Misr management filed a complaint against 11 employees that accused them of obstructing work, inciting strikes, and “obstructing foreign investments.” Police and the armed forces to a lesser extent forcefully dispersed labor actions in isolated cases.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution states no work may be compulsory except by virtue of a law. Government did not effectively enforce the prohibition. Employers subjected male and female persons (including citizens) from South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa to forced labor in domestic service, construction, cleaning, begging, and other sectors. The government worked with NGOs to provide some assistance to victims of human trafficking, including forced labor.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age for regular employment at age 15 and at age 13 for seasonal employment. The constitution defines a child as anyone younger than age 18. A Ministry of Manpower decree bars children younger than age 18 from 44 specific hazardous occupations, while the law prohibits employment of children younger than age 18 from work that “puts the health, safety, or morals of the child into danger.” Provincial governors, with the approval of the minister of education, may authorize seasonal work (often agricultural) for children age 13 and older, provided duties are not hazardous and do not interfere with schooling. The labor code and law limit children’s work hours and mandate breaks.

Overall, authorities did not enforce child labor laws effectively. The Ministry of Manpower, in coordination with the NCCM and the Interior Ministry, enforced child labor laws in state-owned enterprises and private sector establishments through inspections and supervision of factory management. Labor inspectors generally operated without adequate training on child labor issues, although the Ministry of Manpower offered some child labor-specific training. The government did not inspect noncommercial farms for child labor, and there were very limited monitoring and enforcement mechanisms for children in domestic service. When authorities prosecuted offenders, the fines imposed were often as low as LE 500 ($28), insufficient to deter violations. The government did not enforce child labor laws in the informal sector.

Although the government often did not effectively enforce relevant laws, authorities implemented a number of social, educational, and poverty reduction programs to reduce children’s vulnerability to exploitive labor. The NCCM, working with the Ministries of Education and Social Solidarity, sought to provide working children with social security safeguards and to reduce school dropout rates by providing families with alternative sources of income.

Child labor occurred, although estimates on the number of child laborers varied. According to the Egypt Demographic and Health Survey, 1.6 million children worked, primarily in the agricultural sector in rural areas but also in domestic work and factories in urban areas, often under hazardous conditions. Children also worked in light industry, the aluminum industry, construction sites, brick production, and service businesses such as auto repair. According to government, NGO, and media reports, the number of street children in Cairo continued to increase in the face of deteriorating economic conditions. Such children were at greater risk of sexual exploitation or forced begging. In some cases employers abused or overworked children.

On July 1, the Ministry of Manpower, in cooperation with the International Labor Organization, the NCCM, and the Federation of Egyptian Industries, launched the National Action Plan on Combating Worst Forms of Child Labor. The minister of manpower stated that his ministry filed lawsuits against 74 institutions that did not comply with the country’s child labor law. While 74 institutions did not comply, he stated 12,700 institutions do comply with the country’s child labor law and that the ministry has protected 18,885 children (previously engaged in child labor) from further subjection to child labor.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution states all citizens “are equal in rights, freedoms, and general duties without discrimination based on religion, belief, gender, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason.” It does not specify age, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. The law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment, but, despite the constitutional protection, the government did not effectively enforce prohibitions against such discrimination. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women and persons with disabilities (see section 6). Discrimination against migrant workers occurred (see section 2.d.).

An employee facing discrimination can file a report with the local government labor office. If the employee and the employer are unable to reach an amicable settlement, they take the claim to administrative court, which may order the employer to redress the complaint or to pay damages or legal fees. According to local rights groups, implementation of the law was inadequate. Additionally, the lengthy and expensive litigation process could deter employees from filing claims.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage in the private sector. The government sets a monthly minimum wage of LE 1,200 ($67) for government employees and public-sector workers. According to labor rights organizations, the government implemented the minimum wage for public-sector workers but applied it only to direct government employees and included benefits and bonuses in calculating total salaries. Most government workers already earned income equal to or more than the announced public-sector minimum wage. For government employees and public business-sector workers, the government also set a maximum wage limit at 35 times the minimum wage of LE 42,000 ($2,340) per month. The law does not require equal pay for equal work.

The law stipulates a maximum 48-hour workweek for the public and private sectors and provides for premium pay for overtime and work on rest days and national holidays. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. The government sets worker health and safety standards, for example, prohibiting employers from maintaining hazardous working conditions. The law excludes agricultural, fisheries, and domestic workers from regulations concerning wages, hours, and working conditions.

The Ministry of Manpower is responsible for enforcing labor laws and standards for working conditions. Due in part to insufficient resources, labor law enforcement and inspections were inadequate. The ministry did not attempt to apply labor standards to the informal sector. Penalties, especially as they were often unenforced, did not appear sufficient to deter violations.

By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to employment, although authorities did not reliably enforce this right. In September a heavy object struck a worker at the Evergrow fertilizer factory killing him. Workers at the factory went on strike after the accident to demand proper compensation for the death of their colleague and to demand better safety measures. There was no further information on the outcome of the dispute.

The government provided services, such as free health care, to all citizens, but the quality of services was often poor. Other benefits, such as social insurance, were available only to employees in the formal sector.

Many persons throughout the country faced poor working conditions, especially in the informal economy, which employed up to 40 percent of workers, according to some estimates. Domestic workers, agricultural workers, workers in rock quarries, and other parts of the informal sector were most likely to face hazardous or exploitive conditions. There were reports of employer abuse of citizen and undocumented foreign workers, especially domestic workers. Little information was available on workplace fatalities and accidents.

Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: ISRAEL AND THE GOLAN HEIGHTS (BELOW) | WEST BANK AND GAZA

Israel is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Although it has no constitution, parliament, the unicameral 120-member Knesset, has enacted a series of “Basic Laws” that enumerate fundamental rights. Certain fundamental laws, orders, and regulations legally depend on the existence of a “state of emergency,” which has been in effect since 1948. Under the Basic Laws, the Knesset has the power to dissolve the government and mandate elections. The nationwide Knesset elections in 2015, which were considered free and fair, resulted in a coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Knesset voted on December 26 to dissolve itself and set April 9, 2019, as the date for national elections.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security services.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including Palestinian killings of Israeli civilians and soldiers; arbitrary detention; restrictions on Palestinian residents of Jerusalem including arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, and home; and significant restrictions on freedom of movement.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses within Israel regardless of rank or seniority.

This section includes Israel, including Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. In December 2017 the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is the position of the United States that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. The Palestinian Authority exercises no authority over Jerusalem.

As stated in Appendix A, this report contains data drawn from foreign government officials; victims of alleged human rights violations and abuses; academic and congressional studies; and reports from the press, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with human rights. In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some of those sources have been accused of harboring political motivations. The Department of State assesses external reporting carefully but does not conduct independent investigations in all cases. We have sought and received input from the government of Israel and we have noted responses where applicable.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

From March 30 to December 5, Palestinian militant groups launched more than 1,150 rockets and mortars from the Gaza Strip toward arbitrary or civilian targets in Israel. Gaza-based militants shot and killed one Israeli soldier, and a rocket launched by Gaza-based militants killed one Palestinian laborer in Ashkelon. More than 200 Israelis required treatment from these attacks, mostly for shock.

Beginning on March 30, Israeli forces engaged in conflict with Palestinians at the Gaza fence, including armed terrorists, militants who launched incendiary devices into Israel, and unarmed protesters. This occurred during mass protests co-opted by terrorist organization Hamas and dubbed a “March of Return.” The government stated that since March 30 it had been “contending with violent attempts led by Hamas to sabotage and destroy Israel’s defensive security infrastructure separating Israel from the Gaza Strip, penetrate Israel’s territory, harm Israeli security forces, overrun Israeli civilian areas, and murder Israeli civilians.” Israel Defense Forces (IDF) shot and killed 190 Palestinians at the Gaza fence as of the end of the year, including 41 minors, according to B’Tselem (see West Bank and Gaza section). According to the World Health Organization, 6,239 Palestinians in Gaza were injured by IDF live fire in the protests. Human rights organizations claimed most victims posed no imminent threat to the IDF. The government stated that many of the victims were operatives of Hamas or encouraged by Hamas to protest near the fence. The government claimed the IDF used live fire as a last resort, when a clear and imminent threat existed, and they aimed below the knee with the intention to wound but not to kill. The government also stated that it used live fire with lethal intent against terrorists perpetrating attacks against IDF forces at the border. The IDF stated they opened an internal inquiry into each Palestinian death at the border. The Israeli Military Advocate General opened five criminal investigations into IDF actions at the Gaza fence as of the end of the year.

On May 24, the Supreme Court rejected human rights organizations’ objections to the IDF rules of engagement that permitted live ammunition against demonstrators near the Gaza fence. The court ruled the applicable international legal paradigm is that of war, not law enforcement, but it called on the IDF to learn operational lessons that will lead to the use of alternative, nonlethal means, in light of “the number of casualties and injuries, and the fact that many were injured in their upper body and some in the back.” The number of Palestinian deaths from IDF fire at the border decreased significantly in the second half of the year.

On May 1, following an investigation of more than one year, State Attorney Shai Nitzan announced he was closing without charges the government’s investigation into a January 2017 incident in which a policeman and a Bedouin Israeli died during a police action to demolish homes in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran. Nitzan wrote that he decided not to bring criminal charges against police officers after concluding police shot Abu al-Qian because they feared for their lives, but he recommended disciplinary action against some officers due to “professional mistakes,” according to media reports. In votes on May 9 and June 13, the Knesset rejected a proposal by Minister of Knesset (MK) Taleb Abu Arar, one of three Bedouins in the Knesset, to establish a Knesset inquiry into the events and all subsequent investigations leading to Nitzan’s decision.

According to the government and media reports, during the year terrorist attacks targeting Jewish Israelis killed two persons and injured 23 others in Israel. The locations of attacks included Jerusalem, Acre, Sderot, Be’er Sheva, and Ashkelon. Most attackers were Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, but one was an Arab citizen of Israel. In addition, the Israeli government reported that security forces foiled approximately 500 terrorist attacks during the year. In April authorities indicted Jewish Israelis Koren Elkayam and Tamir Bartal on charges of terrorism targeting Arab citizens of Israel in a series of attacks, including a stabbing, in Be’er Sheva that began in 2016. According to the indictment, on several occasions the defendants assaulted men who they believed were Arab to deter them from dating Jewish women.

On March 18, Palestinian attacker Abd al-Rahman Bani Fadel stabbed and killed Israeli citizen Adiel Kolman in the Old City of Jerusalem. Police shot and killed the attacker. Palestinians carried out other terrorist attacks in Jerusalem during the year. Israeli forces killed other Palestinians in Jerusalem who were attempting to attack them or civilians. According to unsubstantiated media reports and NGOs, not all of those killed posed a lethal threat to the security forces or civilians at the time they were killed.

b. Disappearance

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

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

There is no law explicitly banning torture; however, the law prohibits assault and pressure by a public official. In 1999 the Supreme Court ruled that although torture and the application of physical or psychological pain were illegal, Israeli Security Agency (ISA) interrogators may be exempt from criminal prosecution if they used “exceptional methods” in extraordinary cases determined to involve an imminent threat, such as the “ticking bomb” scenario, as long as such methods did not amount to torture. On June 19, the Lod District Court ruled that two defendants’ statements were inadmissible evidence because they followed application of interrogation measures “that severely impair the physical and mental well-being of the defendants, as well as their dignity.” The case concerned two Jewish defendants indicted for the 2015 firebombing of a Palestinian home in Duma, the West Bank, which led to the deaths of three family members. The court acknowledged that those measures included physical pain but did not rule whether they amounted to torture. On November 26, the Supreme Court rejected a complaint alleging that ISA interrogators tortured West Bank resident Fares Tbeish in 2012, including punches, slaps, stress positions, threats, humiliation, and sleep deprivation. According to the verdict, the ISA was justified in extracting information from him with “exceptional methods,” even in a situation that did not qualify as a “ticking bomb” scenario. Whereas prior rulings had not expressly permitted violence in interrogations, the NGO Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) stated the text of this ruling may imply that torture is permitted in highly extraordinary cases. The government stated that ISA rules, procedures, and methods of interrogation are confidential for security reasons, but they are subject to governmental supervision from within and outside of the ISA.

Authorities continued to state the ISA held detainees in isolation only in extreme cases and when there was no alternative option, and that the ISA did not use isolation as a means of augmenting interrogation, forcing a confession, or punishment. An independent Inspector for Complaints Against ISA Interrogators in the Ministry of Justice handled complaints of misconduct and abuse in interrogations. The decision to open an investigation against an ISA employee is at the discretion of the attorney general.

In criminal cases investigated by police involving crimes with a maximum imprisonment of 10 years or more, regulations require recording interrogations; however, an extended temporary law exempts the General Security Services from audio and video recording of interrogations of suspects related to “security offenses.”

The 2015 Ciechanover report, which suggested practical steps for implementing recommendations of the second report by the Turkel Commission concerning the legal framework surrounding the interception and capture by the Israeli Navy of ships carrying humanitarian aid bound for Gaza, recommended installing audiovisual documentation systems in ISA interrogation rooms. The government installed closed-circuit cameras and stated that cameras broadcast in real time from all ISA interrogation rooms to a control room, accessible to supervisors appointed by the Ministry of Justice, as of the beginning of 2018. Supervisors are required to report to the comptroller any irregularities they observe during interrogations. PCATI criticized this mechanism as insufficient to prevent and identify torture, since there is no recording of interrogations for later accountability and judicial review.

According to PCATI, the government had acknowledged that it used “exceptional measures” during interrogation in some cases. These methods included beatings, forcing an individual to hold a stress position for long periods, threats of rape and physical harm, and painful pressure from shackles or restraints applied to the forearms, sleep deprivation, and threats against families of detainees. As of May 21, one complaint led to a criminal investigation, but as of the end of the year, authorities had never indicted an ISA interrogator. Nonetheless, some preliminary examinations led to disciplinary measures, changes in procedures, and changes in methods of interrogation. PCATI reported that the average amount of time for the ISA Interrogee Complaint Comptroller to render a decision on a case was more than 34 months, and the vast majority of complaints submitted in 2014 were unanswered as of November. The comptroller initiated 30 preliminary inquiries into allegations regarding ISA interrogations during the year, according to the government.

In its May 2016 review of the country’s compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture, the UN Committee Against Torture recommended (among 50 other recommendations) that the government provide for independent medical examinations for all detainees. The government stated that requests from prisoners for independent examination at the prisoner’s expense are reviewed by an Israel Prison Service (IPS) medical team. During the year 121 private doctors entered IPS facilities to provide both general medical care to the prisoners and individual care requested by prisoners. According to PCATI and Physicians for Human Rights Israel, Israeli medics and doctors ignored bruises and injuries resulting from violent arrests and interrogations. Regulations allow the IPS to deny medical treatment if there are budgetary concerns, according to Physicians for Human Rights Israel.

PCATI stated the government’s system for investigating allegations of mistreatment of detainees was complex and fragmented. For example allegations against police and the ISA are investigated by two separate departments of the Police Investigation Department in the State Attorney’s Office of the Ministry of Justice, each with different procedures. The National Prison Wardens Investigation Unit is responsible for investigating allegations against members of the IPS. PCATI reported this fragmentation created a disorganized system characterized by widely varying response times and professional standards.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The law provides prisoners and detainees the right to conditions that do not harm their health or dignity.

Physical Conditions: The IPS held 19,376 prisoners, including 12,475 Israeli citizens, 5,725 Palestinians from the West Bank, 836 Palestinians from East Jerusalem, and 340 Palestinians from Gaza, as of the end of the year. Of these prisoners, the IPS characterized 5,539 as “security prisoners” (those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence), as of the end of the year. The vast majority (85 percent) of the security prisoners were Palestinian residents of the West Bank; 6 percent were Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, 4 percent were Israeli citizens, and 4 percent were Palestinian residents of Gaza. These prisoners often faced more restrictive conditions than those for prisoners characterized as criminals, including increased incidence of administrative detention, restricted family visits, ineligibility for temporary furloughs, and solitary confinement.

A June 2017 report on 62 prisons by the Public Defender’s Office described physical neglect and harsh living conditions. The report also cited a shortage of treatment and rehabilitation groups for non-Hebrew-speaking prisoners, lack of social workers in some prisons, excessive shaking of detainees during transportation, and extended stays in court detention facilities beyond the duration of legal proceedings.

Among Israeli citizens, the percentage of minors of Ethiopian or Arab origin in prison was significantly higher than their proportion of the population. As of the end of the year, there were 11 Ethiopian-Israeli minors and 44 Arab citizen minors in prison. In addition, 181 imprisoned minors were Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza and 48 were Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.

In June 2017 following a petition by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and the Academic Center for Law and Business in Ramat Gan, the Supreme Court ruled that within 18 months, prisons must allocate a living space of 48 square feet to each prisoner, including toilet and shower, or 43 square feet, not including toilet and shower. According to ACRI, each prisoner is currently allocated 33 square feet, including toilet and shower, and approximately 40 percent of the prisoners were imprisoned in an area that amounted to less than 32 square feet per person. On November 1, the Supreme Court extended the deadline for implementing the verdict to May 2020 but stipulated that living space should be no less than 32 square feet by April 2019. On November 5, the Knesset passed a temporary law for three years to enable earlier release of prisoners excluding security prisoners–in order to facilitate implementation of the Supreme Court verdict on prisoners’ living space.

As of October the government had not applied a 2015 law authorizing force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners under specific conditions. The Israel Medical Association declared the law unethical and urged doctors to refuse to implement it.

Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment, except as noted above. While authorities usually allowed visits from lawyers and stated that every inmate who requested to meet with an attorney was able to do so, this was not always the case. NGOs alleged authorities did not allow Palestinian detainees, including minors, access to a lawyer during their initial arrest. The government granted permits to family members from the West Bank on a limited basis and restricted those entering from Gaza more severely.

In a report in July, the Public Defender’s Office stated that defendants with mental disabilities were often sent to prison when the justice system lacked suitable accommodations and supportive therapeutic treatment.

Independent Monitoring: The International Committee of the Red Cross maintained its regular visits to all detention facilities holding Palestinian detainees in Israel, including interrogation centers, in accordance with its standard modalities, as in previous years. The Public Defender’s Office is mandated to report on prison conditions, which it does every two years.

Improvements: In December 2017 the IPS published new regulations allowing HIV-positive prisoners to reside with the general prison population and to participate in activities as permitted other prisoners, subject to their medical condition.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. Authorities subjected non-Israeli citizens in Jerusalem and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights to the same laws as Israeli citizens. Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza detained on security grounds fell under military jurisdiction as applied by Israel to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, even if detained inside Israel (see “West Bank and Gaza” section).

With regard to irregular migrants from countries to which government policy prohibits deportation, mainly Eritrea and Sudan, the law allows the government to detain migrants who arrived after 2014, including asylum seekers, for three months in the Saharonim Prison “for the purpose of identification and to explore options for relocation of the individual.” The law also states authorities must bring irregular migrants taken into detention to a hearing within five days. After three months in Saharonim, authorities must release the migrant on bail, except when the migrant poses a risk to the state or the public, or when there is difficulty in identity verification.

On January 3, the government approved a plan to detain indefinitely in Saharonim migrants from Sudan and Eritrea who refused to depart to a third country after authorities denied their asylum claim, as well as those who had not submitted an asylum request by December 2017. The plan also included closing the Holot detention center, a remote facility where the IPS had detained Eritrean men for up to 12 months without a criminal conviction. On March 14, the IPS released all irregular migrants from Holot and closed the facility. On April 15, following a Supreme Court order, the IPS also released from Saharonim all Eritrean migrants except those suspected of criminal offenses. The government terminated the plan on April 24 (see section 2.d.).

A policy dating to 2014 authorizes the government to detain without trial and for an indefinite period irregular migrants who were “implicated in criminal proceedings.” The NGO Hotline for Refugees and Migrants noted this policy enabled indefinite detention even in cases in which there is insufficient evidence to try a suspect, including for relatively minor crimes, as well as cases of migrants who completed a sentence following conviction. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated this policy is “at variance with international human rights and refugee law,” and called for migrants suspected of crimes to be treated equally under Israel’s existing criminal laws. On January 4, the Supreme Court ruled that the legality of this policy required additional review. It had not issued any new guidance as of October 27.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Under the authority of the prime minister, the ISA combats terrorism and espionage in Israel, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and Gaza. The national police, including the border police and the immigration police, are under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security. The IDF has no jurisdiction over Israeli citizens. ISA forces operating in the West Bank and East Jerusalem fall under the IDF for operations and operational debriefing.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the ISA and police forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The government took steps to investigate allegations of the use of excessive force by police and military.

The Department for Investigations of Police Officers (DIPO) is responsible for investigating complaints against ISA bodies, including incidents involving police and the border police that do not involve the use of a weapon. In April 2017 the State Comptroller published a report criticizing DIPO for investigating complaints narrowly on criteria of individual criminal or disciplinary violations rather than broadly on criteria of systemic or organizational problems. According to its annual report DIPO published in February, in 2017 DIPO filed criminal indictments in 249 cases (up from 110 in 2016) and 85 percent of indictments led to convictions. For example, in one case a police officer stopped a female driver and touched her inappropriately while conducting an illegal body search. The court sentenced him to five months in prison and 22,000 shekels ($6,000) compensation.

Investigative responsibility for alleged abuses by the IDF, including incidents involving a weapon in which police units were operating under IDF authority in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, remains with the Military Police Criminal Investigations Department of the Ministry of Defense.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police must have a warrant based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official to arrest a suspect. The following applies to detainees, excluding those in administrative detention: Authorities generally informed such persons promptly of charges against them; the law allows authorities to detain suspects without charge for 24 hours prior to bringing them before a judge, with limited exceptions allowing for up to 48 hours; authorities generally respected these rights for persons arrested in the country; there was a functioning bail system, and detainees could appeal decisions denying bail; and authorities allowed detainees to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, including one provided by the government for the indigent and to contact family members promptly.

Authorities detained most Palestinian prisoners within Israel. (Further information on arrest procedures under military law can be found in the West Bank and Gaza section.)

Authorities may prosecute persons detained on security grounds criminally or hold them as administrative detainees or illegal combatants, according to one of three legal regimes.

First, under a temporary law on criminal procedures, repeatedly renewed since 2006, the IPS may hold persons suspected of a security offense for 48 hours prior to bringing them before a judge, with limited exceptions allowing the IPS to detain a suspect for up to 96 hours prior to bringing the suspect before the senior judge of a district court. In security-related cases, authorities may hold a person for up to 35 days without an indictment (versus 30 days for nonsecurity cases), and the law allows the court to extend detentions on security grounds for an initial period of up to 20 days for interrogation without an indictment (versus 15 days for nonsecurity cases). Authorities may deny security detainees access to an attorney for up to 21 days under Israeli civilian procedures.

Second, the Emergency Powers Law allows the Ministry of Defense to detain persons administratively without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely.

Third, the Illegal Combatant Law permits authorities to hold a detainee for 14 days before review by a district court judge, deny access to counsel for up to 21 days with the attorney general’s approval and allow indefinite detention subject to twice-yearly district court reviews and appeals to the Supreme Court. As of October, according to B’Tselem based on IPS data, no Palestinian prisoners were held under this law.

NGOs including Military Court Watch, HaMoked, and B’Tselem accused authorities of using isolation to punish or silence politically prominent Palestinian detainees. According to the government, the IPS did not hold Palestinian detainees in separate detention punitively or to induce confessions. The government stated it uses separate detention only when a detainee threatens himself or others, and authorities have exhausted other options–or in some cases during interrogation, to prevent disclosure of information. In such cases authorities maintained the detainee had the right to meet with International Committee of the Red Cross representatives, IPS personnel, and medical personnel, if necessary.

Palestinian sources reported the IPS placed Palestinian detainees who were mentally disabled or a threat to themselves or others in isolation without a full medical evaluation. According to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, isolation of Palestinian prisoners with mental disabilities was common.

Arbitrary Arrest: Allegations continued of arbitrary arrests of Arab citizens, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, and Ethiopian-Israelis during protests. On May 18, police arrested Mossawa Center Director Jafar Farah, his son, and 17 other Israelis at a protest in Haifa involving primarily Arab citizens. Police officers subsequently broke his knee and inflicted blunt trauma injuries to his chest and abdomen while he was in custody, according to Farah. Police hospitalized him while under arrest, then released him and other detainees on May 21. On May 20, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan stated that he expected the Justice Ministry Police Investigation Division to “quickly investigate the circumstances of Jafar Farah’s injury and his claims. It is urgent to clarify whether unnecessary force has been used illegally.” The Ministry of Justice stated on October 7 that it was considering indicting a police officer for assault and causing injury in this incident but had not indicted him by year’s end. The Israel National Police stated the officer was on compulsory leave since the opening of the investigation.

On November 5, President Rivlin and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked invited Ethiopian-Israelis whom authorities had previously charged with minor offenses such as insulting a public servant, obstructing a public servant, and prohibited assembly and riot, and who were not imprisoned, to apply for their criminal records to be deleted. President Rivlin said the state would view these requests positively in light of the discrimination that Ethiopian-Israelis faced from officials and from Israeli society.

Pretrial Detention: Administrative detention continued to result in lengthy pretrial detention for security detainees (see above).

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law persons arrested or detained on criminal or other grounds are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and any delay in obtaining judicial rulings. If the court finds persons to have been detained unlawfully, they are entitled to prompt release, compensation, or both. An administrative detainee has the right to appeal any decision to lengthen detention to a military court of appeals and then to the Supreme Court. All categories of detainees routinely did so, including citizens, legal residents, and nonresident Palestinians. Military courts may rely on classified evidence denied to detainees and their lawyers when determining whether to prolong administrative detention. There is no system whereby authorities may clear a defense team member to view classified information used to justify holding an administrative detainee.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Exceptions to the right for a public trial include national security concerns, protection of the interest of a minor or an individual requiring special protection, and safeguarding the identity of an accuser or defendant in a sex-offense case. On December 10, the Knesset passed an amendment eliminating the requirement for court involvement before publishing the identity of a victim of a sex offense, provided she or he gave written consent for publication.

Defendants enjoy the rights to a presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and to be present at their trial. They may consult with an attorney or, if indigent, have one provided at public expense. They have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants who cannot understand or speak the language used in court have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. They may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and may appeal to the Supreme Court.

The prosecution is under a general obligation following an indictment to provide all evidence to the defense. The government may on security grounds withhold from defense lawyers evidence it has gathered but will not use in its case against the accused. The Supreme Court (with regard to civilian courts) and the Court of Appeals (with regard to military courts) can scrutinize the decision to withhold such evidence. The rules of evidence in espionage cases tried in criminal court do not differ from the normal rules of evidence, and no use of secret evidence is permissible.

Children as young as 12 years old may be imprisoned if convicted of serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder, or manslaughter. The government reported no child was imprisoned under this law as of the end of the year.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government described security prisoners as those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence. Some human rights organizations claimed that Palestinian security prisoners held in Israel should be considered political prisoners.

In February 2017 the Supreme Court imposed the following restrictions on a practice by the ISA of summoning Israeli political activists suspected of “subversive” activity unrelated to terror or espionage for questioning under caution, meaning they might be charged with a crime. Summoning will be carried out only after consultation with the legal advisor of the ISA; police and the ISA will clarify that questioning is voluntary and the person summoned is not required to appear; and the ISA will clarify during questioning that the suspect’s statements cannot be used in court for other proceedings. On July 31, ACRI sent a letter to the State Attorney’s Office contending the ISA violated the Supreme Court ruling in three incidents at Ben Gurion Airport in June and July, when it detained employees of civil society organizations for questioning upon their return to Israel from outside the country.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

An independent and impartial judiciary adjudicates lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Administrative remedies exist, and court orders usually were enforced. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem can file suit against the government of Israel. By law nonresident Palestinians may file suit in civilian courts to obtain compensation through civil suits in some cases, even when a criminal suit is unsuccessful and the actions against them considered legal. On November 4, however, the Be’er Sheva District Court rejected a tort claim filed by two NGOs in 2016 on behalf of a Palestinian teenager whom the Israeli military shot and injured in his Gaza home, in the absence of military operations, in 2014. Adalah claimed the verdict prevents Gazans from redress for civilians harmed by Israeli security forces under a 2012 amendment to Israel’s Civil Wrongs Law, which exempted from damages “persons who are not citizens or residents of Israel, and … are residents of declared ‘enemy territory.’”

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

New construction remained illegal in towns that did not have an authorized outline plan for development. The government stated that, as of June, 132 of 133 Arab localities had approved outline plans for development, of which 76 had been updated since 2005, and 18 had new plans undergoing statutory approval. NGOs criticized the lack of Arab representation on regional planning and zoning approval committees and stated that planning for Arab areas was much slower than for Jewish municipalities, leading Arab citizens to build or expand their homes without legal authorization, risking a government-issued demolition order. Authorities issued 1,792 administrative and judicial demolition orders during the year, including both Jewish-owned and Arab-owned structures. In cases of demolitions with no agreement from the residents to relocate, the government levied fines against residents to cover expenses incurred in the course of demolitions.

A plan for the Bedouin village of al-Fura’a was not yet completed as of the end of the year, despite government recognition of the village in 2006. As a result, the village lacked basic electricity and water infrastructure, and NGOs reported house demolitions occurred regularly. The government stated that a team from the Ministry of Agriculture Authority for the Development and Settlement of Bedouin in the Negev began working on this issue in the second half of the year, after completing a survey of 180 Bedouin residential clusters.

In April 2017 the Knesset passed an amendment that increased the government’s power to demolish unpermitted structures. Arab MKs and human rights organizations condemned the law for increasing enforcement and demolitions without addressing the systemic housing shortages in Arab communities that led to unpermitted construction. According to human rights organizations, approximately 50,000 Arab families lived in unpermitted houses.

According to the NGO Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF), Bedouins accounted for 34 percent of the population of the Negev, but only 12.5 percent of the residential-zoned land was designated for the Bedouin population. The seven Bedouin townships were all crowded, especially in comparison to the Jewish towns and cities in the area, and had low-quality infrastructure and inadequate access to health, education, welfare, public transportation, postal, and garbage disposal services. In 35 unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev inhabited by approximately 90,000 persons, the government stated it used a “carrot and stick” approach to attempt to compel Bedouin Israelis to move, including demolishing unpermitted structures and offering incentives to move to Bedouin towns. Bedouins often refused to participate because they asserted they owned the land or that the government had given them prior permission to settle in their current locations, as well as fears of losing their traditional livelihoods and way of life and fears of moving onto land claimed by a rival Bedouin clan.

As of the end of the year, 34 percent of 163,089 acres of land that was under ownership dispute was no longer in dispute as a result of either settlement agreements or following legal proceedings, according to the government.

According to NCF, 115 of the 126 Jewish communities in the Negev maintained admission committees to screen new residents, effectively excluding non-Jewish residents. Following objections by multiple NGOs, authorities canceled plans for new Jewish communities called Daya, Eshel HaNasi, and Neve Gurion to replace existing Bedouin villages. The National Planning and Building Council recommended to the government in August to progress with the establishment of a town called Ir Ovot, which was to include a zone for approximately 50 Bedouin Israelis to stay in their current locations.

On April 11, Bedouin residents of the unrecognized village Umm al-Hiran signed an agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture Authority for the Development and Settlement of Bedouin in the Negev to self-demolish their structures and relocate to vacant plots in the Bedouin town of Hura, following extended legal action and negotiations. Umm al-Hiran was to be replaced with a Jewish community called Hiran.

NCF recorded 2,220 demolitions of Bedouin Israelis’ structures in 2017, nearly double the number in 2016, and stated the demolition policy violated Bedouin Israelis’ right to adequate housing. Demolitions by Israeli authorities increased to 641 in 2017 from 412 in 2016, while Bedouins demolished the remaining structures to avoid fines. In 2016 a report from the state comptroller recommended the government act to settle land claims as early as possible, plan resettlement of Bedouin citizens in cooperation with the Bedouin community, develop infrastructure in recognized Bedouin communities, and formulate an enforcement policy regarding illegal construction. The NGO Regavim praised the demolitions as combatting illegal construction by squatters.

In addition to the Negev, authorities ordered demolition of private property in Arab towns and villages, and in East Jerusalem, claiming that they were built without permits. On January 30, in one incident in Issawiya, authorities demolished 12 commercial and livestock structures that were the source of livelihood for nine families. Authorities demolished, or Palestinians demolished on authorities’ orders, 177 Palestinian-owned structures in East Jerusalem due to lack of permits, a 20 percent increase over 2017, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). Human rights NGOs claimed that in Jerusalem, authorities often placed insurmountable obstacles against Palestinian applicants for construction permits, including the requirement that they document land ownership despite the absence of a uniform post-1967 land registration process, the imposition of high application fees, and requirements to connect new housing to often unavailable municipal works.

According to the government, all land ownership cases are assessed individually by an administrative committee, which is subject to judicial review.

According to Ir Amim and B’Tselem, authorities evicted some Palestinians in East Jerusalem based on legal challenges to their ownership of property prior to 1948. Palestinians evicted by authorities in East Jerusalem claimed they received unequal treatment under the law, as the law facilitated Jewish owners’ claims on land owned prior to 1948, while not providing an opportunity for Palestinians to seek restitution for land they owned in Israel prior to 1948.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected those prohibitions.

Separate religious court systems adjudicate matters such as marriage and divorce for the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Druze communities. The country lacks a civil marriage law. To be considered legal, civil marriages and any type of marriage that the religious courts refuse to conduct (for example, marriages in non-Orthodox ceremonies, same-sex marriages, marriages of a Jew to a non-Jew, or marriages of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim) must take place outside the country to be considered legal. Approximately 15 percent of marriages registered with the Ministry of the Interior in 2016, the most recent year available, occurred abroad, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. A growing number of Jewish couples married inside the country in ceremonies not sanctioned by the Chief Rabbinate and are, therefore, not recognized by the government, according to civil society organizations.

The Orthodox Rabbinate did not consider to be Jewish approximately 4 percent of the population who considered themselves Jewish and who immigrated either as Jews or as family members of Jews; therefore, these citizens could not be married or buried in Jewish cemeteries. The government stated that 24 cemeteries in the country served immigrants not considered Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinate, but the NGO Hiddush stated that most of those cemeteries would not bury unrecognized Jews alongside recognized Jews nor allow them a non-Orthodox Jewish burial. Only two civil cemeteries were available to the general public, in addition to a few civil cemeteries in smaller localities reserved for local residents, leaving no access to civil burial in the vicinities of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, where the majority of the Jewish population lives, according to Hiddush. The Orthodox Rabbinate had the authority to handle divorces of any Jewish couple regardless of how they were married.

The 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry, which is renewed annually, prohibits non-Jewish Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, including those who are spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, from obtaining resident status unless the Ministry of the Interior makes a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds. The government has extended the law annually due to government reports that Palestinian family reunification allows entry to a disproportionate number of persons who are later involved in acts of terrorism. HaMoked asserted that statistics from government documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests contradicted these terrorism allegations, and the denial of residency to Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza for the purposes of family reunification led to cases of family separation. According to HaMoked, there were approximately 10,000 Palestinians living in Israel, including Jerusalem, on temporary stay permits because of the law, with no legal guarantee that they would be able to continue living with their families. There were also cases of Palestinian spouses living in East Jerusalem without legal status. Authorities did not permit Palestinians who were abroad during the 1967 war or whose residency permits the government subsequently withdrew to reside permanently in Jerusalem. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations called on the government to repeal this law and resume processing family unification applications. The law allows the entry of spouses of Israelis on a “staying permit” if the male spouse is age 35 or older and the female spouse is age 25 or older, but they may not receive residency based on their marriage and have no path to citizenship.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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 this right, and the government generally respected it.

There were reports that police used excessive force in response to protests by certain groups, including ultra-Orthodox men and boys, Arab citizens and residents, and persons with disabilities. For example, on April 4 in Jerusalem, two police officers reportedly hit on the head an ultra-Orthodox man with a mental disability after he briefly stopped in the road and waved his hands while walking with a group of ultra-Orthodox protesters toward a demonstration, according to PCATI. Multiple NGOs reported that on some occasions, police used excessive force to break up permitted demonstrations after protesters waved a Palestinian flag.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for this right, and the government generally respected it.

The law prohibits registration of an association or a party if its goals include denial of the existence of the State of Israel or the democratic character of the state. A political party will not be registered if its goals include incitement to racism or support of an armed struggle, enemy state, or terror organization against Israel.

The 2016 NGO law, which came into effect after NGOs filed their 2017 annual statements in the first half of the year, requires NGOs receiving more than one-half of their funding from foreign governments to state this fact in all of their official publications, applications to attend Knesset meetings, websites, public campaigns, and any communication with the public. The law allows a fine of 29,200 shekels ($8,000) for NGOs that violated these rules. As of December 15, the government had not taken legal action against any NGO for failing to comply with the law.

In March 2017 the Knesset passed a law mandating additional scrutiny on requests for National Service volunteers from NGOs that received more than one-half of their funding from foreign governments.

Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights problems and critical of the government, asserted the government sought to intimidate them and prevent them from receiving foreign government funding (see section 5).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

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, except as noted below.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Communities with a large concentration of African migrants were occasionally targets of violence. Additionally, the nature of government policies on the legality of work forced many refugees to work in “unofficial” positions, making them more susceptible to poor treatment and questionable work practices by their employers.

On February 22, a court convicted Dennis Barshivatz of manslaughter and a minor of inflicting grievous bodily harm for the death of Sudanese asylum seeker Babikar Ali Adham, whom the defendants beat to death in the city of Petah Tikva in 2016. Adham died from brain-stem bleeding four days after being beaten.

In-country Movement: The security barrier that divided the majority of the West Bank from Israel also divided some Palestinian communities in Jerusalem, affecting access to places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities. For example, restrictions on access in Jerusalem had a negative effect on Palestinian residents who were patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in Jerusalem that offered specialized care, including delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours. Israeli authorities sometimes restricted movement within Palestinian-majority neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s Old City and periodically blocked entrances to the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya, Silwan, and Jabal Mukabber. The government stated that restrictions on movement in Jerusalem were temporary and implemented only when necessary for investigative operations, public safety, or public order, and when there was no viable alternative.

Foreign Travel: Citizens generally were free to travel abroad provided they had no outstanding military obligations and no administrative restrictions. The government may bar citizens from leaving the country based on security considerations, due to unpaid debts, or in cases in which a Jewish man refuses to grant his wife a Jewish legal writ of divorce. Authorities do not permit any citizen to travel to any state officially at war with Israel without government permission. This restriction includes travel to Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen.

The government requires all citizens to have a special permit to enter “Area A” in the West Bank (the area, according to the Interim Agreement, in which the Palestinian Authority exercises civil and security responsibility), but the government allowed Arab citizens of Israel access to Area A without permits. Israel continued to revoke Palestinians’ Jerusalem identity cards. This meant Palestinian residents of Jerusalem could not return to reside in Jerusalem. Reasons for revocation included holding residency or citizenship of another country; living in another country, the West Bank, or Gaza for more than seven years; or, most commonly, being unable to prove a “center of life” (interpreted as full-time residency) in Jerusalem. Some Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem but studied abroad reported losing their Jerusalem residency status, but the government denied revoking residency status of anyone who left for the sole purpose of studying abroad. The government stated that during the year it revoked the Jerusalem residency status of six persons for “breach of trust” relating to terrorism, four persons for “breach of trust” relating to membership in the Palestinian Legislative Council, which has been defunct since 2007, and 13 persons whose residency status “expired.” The government added that the residency of individuals who maintain an “affinity to Israel” will not be revoked and former residents who wish to return to Israel may receive renewed residency status under certain conditions. On October 29, an immigration appeals tribunal granted permanent residence to a woman who had received temporary residency in 2009 based on marriage to a permanent resident but left the man in 2011 after suffering domestic abuse.

Palestinians possessing Jerusalem identity cards issued by the Israeli government needed special documents to travel abroad.

Exile: Following a September 2017 Supreme Court decision striking down the revocation of four Palestinians’ permanent residency for “breach of trust” because no law granted the Minister of the Interior that authority, on March 7, the Knesset passed an amendment to the Entry Into Israel Law granting the minister that authority. NGOs such as the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center criticized the amendment. Human rights organizations appealed against the law, and the case continued at year’s end. In 2017 Human Rights Watch (HRW) said continued Israeli revocation of Jerusalem identity cards amounted to forced exile of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to the West Bank, Gaza, or abroad.

Citizenship: The law allows revocation of citizenship from a person on grounds of “breach of trust to the State of Israel” or following a conviction for an act of terror. In 2016 Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri filed a motion with the Haifa District Court to revoke the citizenship of Alaa Zayoud, whom the courts convicted of four counts of attempted murder in a 2015 car-ramming attack. In August 2017 the Haifa District Court ruled to revoke Zayoud’s citizenship, but the Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction preventing revocation of his citizenship in October 2017. As of September 18, the case was continuing.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened and stated its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement.

The government maintained three policies to induce departure of irregular migrants and asylum seekers who entered the country without permission and whom the government could not deport to their home countries due to Israel’s temporary protection policy prohibiting deportation to those countries. As of September there were 34,370 irregular migrants and asylum seekers in this category, nearly all of whom were from Eritrea or Sudan, according to the Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA).

The first policy, announced in 2015, allowed deportation or indefinite detention of migrants and asylum seekers who refuse to depart the country “voluntarily.” On April 24, following three years of legal challenges, the government informed the Supreme Court that this policy had collapsed and it had no plan to deport migrants to a third country forcibly.

The second policy is to offer irregular migrants incentives to “depart” the country to one of two unspecified third countries in Africa, sometimes including a $3,500 stipend (paid in U.S. dollars). The government claimed the third-country governments provided for full rights under secret agreements with Israel. The government provided most returnees with paid tickets to either Uganda or Rwanda, but NGOs and UNHCR confirmed that migrants who arrived in Uganda and Rwanda did not receive residency or employment rights. In July media reported that the government had stopped offering voluntary departure to Rwanda. During the year, 2,667 irregular migrants departed the country, compared with 3,375 in 2017. Approximately 1,000 of those who departed during the year were resettled to Canada after the Canadian government accepted their refugee claims. NGO advocates for irregular migrants claimed many of those who departed to other countries faced abuses in those countries and that this transfer could amount to refoulement. UNHCR and NGOs reported that many individuals who departed to other countries quickly left or returned to their country of origin because the foreign countries in which they arrived did not accord them protection, residency, and employment rights. The government affirmed it maintained a series of mechanisms to monitor the conditions of those who departed under this program. Authorities stated they had successfully contacted by telephone more than 85 percent of those who departed during the year.

The third policy was detaining irregular migrants without a legal conviction in the Holot facility; however, this policy ended when Holot closed on March 12 (see section 1.d.).

On April 2, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced an agreement with UNHCR to relocate 16,000 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants to Western countries over the next five years while settling a similar number in Israel. Netanyahu canceled the agreement less than 24 hours later, following criticism from his coalition partners and public supporters.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, but it has rarely done so. In 2008 authorities began giving the majority of asylum seekers a “conditional release visa” that requires renewal every one to six months. Only two Ministry of the Interior offices in the country, located in Bnei Brak and Eilat, renew these visas. The government provided these individuals with a limited form of group protection regarding freedom of movement, protection against refoulement, and informal access to the labor market. Advocacy groups argued that the policies and legislation adopted in 2011 were aimed at deterring future asylum seekers by making life difficult for those already in the country, and that these actions further curtailed the rights of the population and encouraged its departure.

Refugee status determination (RSD) recognition rates were extremely low. Since 2009 the government approved only 52 of 55,433 asylum requests, according to a report in May from the State Comptroller’s Office. The government approved six asylum requests during the year, including five from Eritreans and one from a Nigerian.

On February 15, an administrative appeals tribunal ruled that an Eritrean asylum seeker had a well founded fear of persecution after he fled military conscription, and PIBA should not have rejected his asylum application peremptorily. The Ministry of Interior appealed the ruling to a district court, where the case was pending as of the end of the year. As a result of the ruling, however, authorities released from detention 12 Eritreans with similar asylum claims that the government had previously rejected.

In February the government announced it would issue humanitarian visas, which allow migrants to work legally and to reenter Israel after a short departure, to 300 Sudanese migrants from Darfur, and in August the government announced it would issue another 300 to Sudanese migrants from Darfur, the Blue Nile, and Nuba Mountains. While this represented an improvement over previous “conditional release” status, NGOs cautioned that these migrants would continue to lack the full protections of refugee status. On October 28, the government announced a decision to cease issuance of the visas to Sudanese citizens and to begin examining their asylum claims individually.

Migrants from countries eligible for deportation under government policy and those who were unable to prove their citizenship, including those claiming to be Eritrean or Sudanese, were subjected to indefinite detention if they refused to depart after receiving a deportation order. There were 165 migrants with undetermined or disputed citizenship in detention at year’s end.

Despite a stated nondeportation policy preventing refoulement of irregular migrants and asylum seekers to Eritrea and Sudan, government officials and media outlets continued to refer to asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan as “infiltrators.” The term comes from the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law that applies to persons who entered Israel illegally.

A report in May from the state comptroller criticized PIBA regarding excessively long processing time for asylum applications, poor service at RSD facilities, and the exclusion of UNHCR from the PIBA advisory committee that adjudicates asylum claims.

Palestinian residents of the West Bank who claimed to be in a life-threatening situation due to their sexual orientation or other reasons, such as domestic violence, did not have access to the asylum system in Israel. NGOs stated this left persons who claimed they could not return to the West Bank due to fear of persecution vulnerable to human traffickers, violence, and exploitation. The government stated that the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories examines each case individually, with a preference for solutions that allow such individuals to remain under Palestinian administration, but can grant a residence permit in Israel in acute cases.

The government did not accept initial asylum claims at its airports. In October the immigration authority denied entry to 13 Sri Lankan citizens who sought to claim asylum, according to media and NGO reports. The NGO Hotline for Refugees and Migrants appealed for their release and to prevent their deportation. The 13 asylum seekers remained in detention as of December 4.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: In 2017 PIBA announced a fast-track procedure to reject asylum applications from applicants whose country of citizenship the Ministry of the Interior determined was safe for return and began applying it to Georgian and Ukrainian applicants.

On October 7, PIBA announced the government ended the temporary protection policy for Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) citizens and those without a visa must leave Israel by January 5, 2019. Following a petition by human rights organizations, the Jerusalem District Court issued an injunction on December 31, suspending the order to depart. According to NGOs, as of October approximately 200 asylum claims from DRC citizens remained pending for more than 10 years. There were 314 DRC citizens in Israel at year’s end, according to media reports.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities prohibited asylum seekers released from the Holot facility from residing in Eilat and Tel Aviv. Additionally, following the closure of Holot, authorities prohibited asylum seekers from residing in Jerusalem, Petah Tikva, Netanya, Ashdod, and Bnei Brak.

Employment: The few recognized refugees received renewable work visas. Most asylum seekers held a 2A5 visa, which explicitly reads, “This is not a work visa.” The government allowed asylum seekers to work in the informal sector but not to open their own businesses or register to pay value-added tax, although the law does not prohibit these activities. Despite the lack of a legal right to employment, the government’s published policy was not to indict asylum seekers or their employers for their employment. In September 2017, however, the Supreme Court ruled that asylum seekers are included as “foreign workers,” a category prohibited by Finance Ministry regulations from working on government contracts, including local government contracts for cleaning and maintenance, which often employed irregular migrants.

The law requires employers to deduct 20 percent of irregular migrants’ salaries for deposit in a special fund and adds another 16 percent from the employer’s funds. The employee can access the funds only upon departure from the country, and the government may deduct a penalty for each day that the employee is in the country without a visa. NGOs such as Kav LaOved and Hotline for Refugees and Migrants criticized the law for pushing vulnerable workers’ already low incomes below minimum wage, leading employers and employees to judge it to be more profitable to work on the black market, increasing migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking and prostitution. According to government officials and NGOs, some Eritrean women entered prostitution or survival sex arrangements in which a woman lives with several men and receives shelter in exchange for sex. The NGO ASSAF Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel reported significant increases in homelessness, mental health concerns, and requests for food assistance following implementation of the law. In contrast to 2017, when technical problems prevented those who departed the country from receiving the accumulated funds, the government stated that 722 departing migrants withdrew their funds during the year. Kav LaOved reported there was no way for migrants to monitor their deposit balance, and approximately half of the funds were never deposited in the account by employers, despite withholding the funds from their employees. At least 30 migrants left the country without receiving any money that was deducted from their wages, according to Kav LaOved. A coalition of NGOs petitioned the Supreme Court against the deposit law in March 2017, leading the Knesset’s committee on Labor, Welfare, and Health to pass a regulation on June 27, reducing the deduction to 6 percent for vulnerable populations, including recognized trafficking victims. PIBA did not accept a letter from the police that confers official recognition as a trafficking victim for the purpose of reducing the deduction or refunding the deposit, according to Kav LaOved.

The law bars migrants from sending money abroad, limits to the minimum wage for the number of months they resided in the country the amount they may take with them when they leave, and defines taking money out of the country as a money-laundering crime.

Access to Basic Services: Access to health care and shelter was available on an inconsistent basis. The few recognized refugees received social services, including access to the national health-care system, but the government did not provide asylum seekers with public social benefits such as public housing, income assistance, or free health insurance to the most vulnerable individuals, including children, single parents, persons with chronic illnesses, and persons with disabilities. For example, Physicians for Human Rights Israel reported on the difficulties faced by five cancer patients who needed treatment during the year. The Ministry of Health offered medical insurance for minor children of asylum seekers for 120 shekels ($33) per month. The government sponsored a mobile clinic, and mother and infant health-care stations in south Tel Aviv, which were accessible to migrants and asylum seekers. Hospitals provided emergency care to migrants but often denied follow-up treatment to those who failed to pay for their emergency care, according to NGOs. The Ministry of Health funded one provider of mental health services to irregular migrants, which NGOs praised as very effective but overburdened.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals whom it did not recognize as refugees or may not qualify as refugees and did so primarily to Eritrean and Sudanese irregular migrants, as described above.

STATELESS PERSONS

Despite being eligible for Israeli citizenship since 1981, an estimated 23,000 Druze living in territory captured from Syria in 1967 largely refused to accept it, and their status as Syrian citizens was unclear. They held Israeli identification cards, which listed their nationality as “undefined.”

In August 2017 media reported the Ministry of the Interior had retroactively canceled the citizenship of 2,600 Bedouin citizens since 2010, alleging that a “registration error” had mistakenly granted citizenship to their ancestors between 1948 and 1951. Cancellation of their citizenship left these individuals stateless. The government stated at the end of the year that anyone in this group whose citizenship was a result of a clerical error would have the opportunity to regain citizenship, barring any criminal or other impediment.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem who have permanent residency status may vote in Jerusalem municipal elections and seek some municipal offices, but not mayor, and they cannot vote in Knesset elections or serve in the Knesset.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the October 30 municipal elections and parliamentary elections held in 2015 free and fair. In the October 30 municipal election, 60 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, but less than 2 percent of eligible Palestinian residents of Jerusalem did so. Police arrested and subsequently released four Fatah activists in the Jabal Mukabber and Sur Baher neighborhoods of Jerusalem for attempting to interfere with Palestinian residents of Jerusalem participating in the municipal elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Basic Laws prohibit the candidacy of any party or individual that denies the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people or the democratic character of the state or that incites racism. Otherwise, political parties operated without restriction or interference. The Northern Islamic Movement, banned in 2015, continued its practice of prohibiting its members from running for local or national office and boycotting elections.

In 2017 the Knesset passed a law restricting the funding of individuals and groups that engage in “election activity” during the period of a national election, which is typically three months. The law’s sponsors described it as an effort to prevent organizations and wealthy individuals from bypassing election-funding laws, but some civil society organizations expressed concern the law would stifle political participation.

The law allows dismissal of an MK if 90 of 120 MKs voted for expulsion, following a request of 70 MKs, including at least 10 from the opposition. The party of an expelled member could replace the MK with the next individual on its party list, and the expelled member could run in the next election. On May 27, the Supreme Court rejected a legal challenge to this law from Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen and two NGOs. They argued the government intended the law to target Arab legislators, and it harmed democratic principles such as electoral representation and freedom of expression.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The law provides an additional 15 percent in campaign funding to municipal party lists composed of at least one-third women. Women participated widely in politics, including in leadership positions. As of November 20, the 120-member Knesset had 35 female members and 18 members from ethnic or religious minorities (12 Muslims, three Druze, two Ethiopian-Israelis, and one Christian). As of September the 23-member cabinet included four women and one Druze minister. One woman was a deputy minister; there were no Arabs. Aida Touma Suliman, an Arab, chaired a permanent committee in the Knesset, the Committee on the Status of Women. Four members of the 15-member Supreme Court were women, and one was Arab. Following the October 30 municipal elections, the number of women mayors and local council heads increased from six to 14 of a total of 257.

On September 3, in response to a lawsuit against the ultra-Orthodox party Agudat Israel, the party told the Supreme Court it would change its regulations to allow women to run as candidates.

According to Adalah, the estimated 6,000 residents of the recognized Bedouin village of al-Fura’a were unable to vote in the October 30 municipal elections because the village had not been assigned to a regional council. The government stated that efforts by the Ministry of Agriculture Authority for the Development and Settlement of Bedouin in the Negev to create a plan of action for the village, including assigning jurisdiction to a local authority, remained underway as of the end of the year.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were reports of government corruption, although impunity was not a problem.

Corruption: The government continued to investigate and prosecute top political figures. As of December there were four continuing investigations of Prime Minister Netanyahu and individuals close to him. Investigations concerned alleged receipt of inappropriate gifts, an alleged attempt to misuse authority to suppress newspaper competition in exchange for favorable press, and alleged possible corruption involving regulation of a telecommunications company. Netanyahu denied wrongdoing in all cases. The Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office indicted Netanyahu’s wife, on June 21 for misuse of government funds related to the official prime minister’s residence. Several other government ministers and senior officials were under investigation for various alleged offenses.

In December 2017 the Knesset passed a law prohibiting police from offering a recommendation whether to indict a public official when transferring an investigation to prosecutors. The attorney general or state prosecutor can ask police for a recommendation, however. Detectives or prosecutors who leak a police recommendation or an investigation summary can be imprisoned for up to three years. The law does not apply to investigations in process at the time of the law’s passage.

The NGO Lawyers for Good Governance, which combats corruption in Israel’s 86 Arab municipalities, reported that it received 782 corruption-related complaints through its hotline, up 65 percent from 2017. The NGO stated that during the year it prevented 30 senior staff appointments on the basis of nepotism or being hired without a public announcement, such as an appointment to the position of general manager in the northern town of Mashhad.

Financial Disclosure: Senior officials are subject to comprehensive financial disclosure laws, and the Civil Service Commission verifies their disclosures. Authorities do not make information in these disclosures public without the consent of the person who submitted the disclosure. There is no specific criminal sanction for noncompliance.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A variety of Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally responsive to their views, and parliamentarians routinely invited NGOs critical of the government to participate in Knesset hearings on proposed legislation. Human rights NGOs have standing to petition the Supreme Court directly regarding governmental policies and may appeal individual cases to the Supreme Court.

Many NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights, viewed the NGO law (see section 2.b.), which came into effect during the year, as an attempt to stigmatize and delegitimize them. Supporters of the NGO law described it as a transparency measure to reveal foreign government influence. Critics noted it targeted only foreign government funding, while leaving organizations receiving the majority of their funding from foreign private donors secret. The NGO Im Tirtzu, which received a majority of its funding from foreign private donors and strongly supported the law, stated that foreign governments should promote their agendas directly through communication with the government and not indirectly through funding civil society.

Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights problems and critical of the government, asserted that the government sought to intimidate and stigmatize them. The Israeli branch of the New Israel Fund (NIF), an NGO that received the majority of its funding from foreign private donors, was the target of negative rhetoric from government officials during the year alleging it was responsible for Rwanda’s withdrawal from an agreement to receive migrants deported from Israel, a charge which the organization denied.

The attorney general notified the Prime Minister’s Office on November 19 that it has no legal authority to collect information on Israeli human rights NGOs and must delete any information already collected on civilian organizations, according to media reports.

In December 2017 the Be’er Sheva municipality ordered NCF’s Mulkata-Mifgash Cultural Center to evacuate the public shelter where they had operated for a decade on the grounds they had conducted “political activity” in the shelter in violation of the terms of their agreement. The Be’er Sheva District Court upheld the eviction on May 15. On December 26, however, the Supreme Court overturned the order, ruling that “political activity” refers only to activity relating to a political party.

On May 7, the government revoked the work permit of a foreign citizen HRW researcher and instructed him to leave the country within 14 days, based on allegations that he supported a boycott of Israel. He appealed the decision, and a court issued an injunction allowing him to remain in Israel until the end of his case. As of the end of the year, the case was continuing. In February 2017 the government accused HRW of spreading “Palestinian propaganda.”

The Ministry of the Interior continued to deny entry into the country to foreign nationals affiliated with certain NGOs that the government stated called for a boycott of the state of Israel, one of its institutions, or entities in areas under its control. (For information about boycotts against Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank, see section 2.a.).

The staffs of Israeli NGOs, particularly those calling for an end to Israel’s military presence in the West Bank, stated they received death threats from nongovernmental sources, which spiked during periods in which government officials spoke out against their activities or criticized them as enemies or traitors for opposing government policy. For example, NIF faced increased threats following PM Netanyahu’s April 3 statement and a video by the NGO Im Tirtzu on April 4 that accused NIF’s then president Talia Sasson of battling against the IDF and supporting terrorists.

The government stated that it makes concerted efforts to include civil society in the legislation process, in developing public policy, and in a variety of projects within government ministries, but did not state whether it participated in any civil society conferences following the attorney general’s recommendation. Media reported on December 25 that PM Netanyahu barred an IDF legal advisor from participating in a course conducted by ACRI and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government generally cooperated with the United Nations and other international bodies. The government continued its policy of nonengagement with the UN Human Rights Council’s “special rapporteur on the situation in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Following a November 2 letter from four UN special rapporteurs requesting clarification about the Nation State Law (see section 6) in preparation for a report to the UN Human Rights Council, media reported that Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon stated, “The Council has no right to demand anything from us until it removes its clear bias against the State of Israel.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: The state comptroller also served as ombudsman for human rights problems. The ombudsman investigated complaints against statutory bodies that are subject to audit by the state comptroller, including government ministries, local authorities, government enterprises and institutions, government corporations, and their employees. The ombudsman is entitled to use any relevant means of inquiry and has the authority to order any person or body to assist in the inquiry.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a felony punishable by 16 years in prison, or up to 20 years’ imprisonment for rape under aggravated circumstances or if the perpetrator rapes or commits a sexual offense against a relative. Authorities opened 1,443 investigations of suspected rape, issued 235 indictments, and convicted 154 persons during the year.

During the year 26 women and girls, half of whom were Arab citizens, were killed, most by family members or male partners, including two girls in separate incidents on November 25. This was the highest number since 2011. According to the Women’s International Zionist Organization, in 2016 and 2017 police had received domestic violence complaints from half of the women and girls who were later killed in these domestic attacks. On December 4, dozens of Jewish and Arab women NGOs mobilized tens of thousands of women to strike and protest across the country, demanding the elimination of violence against women. A governmental committee resolved on December 5 to finance a 250 million shekel ($68 million) five-year plan and to expedite relevant legislation to combat violence against women.

The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services operated 14 shelters for survivors of domestic abuse, including two for the Arab community, two mixed Jewish-Arab shelters, two for the ultra-Orthodox community, and eight for non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. The Labor Ministry also operated a hotline for reporting abuse. The Labor Ministry reported that it assisted 600 women and girls involved in prostitution during the year, including providing emergency shelters, day centers, and therapeutic hostels.

Women from certain Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, and Druze communities faced significant social pressure not to report rape or domestic abuse. The government stated that police officers receive training to interact with persons of different cultures and backgrounds, with an emphasis on special minority communities.

Beginning in 2017 the global #MeToo campaign led Israeli women to speak out against men they claimed had sexually harassed or assaulted them. In one prominent case, on July 23, the Tel Aviv District Court sentenced real estate businessman and nightclub owner Alon Kastiel to four years and nine months in prison for sexually assaulting four women.

On December 31, the Knesset passed a law criminalizing the purchase of sex, while leaving the provision of sex legal. The law also created new mechanisms for rehabilitation of persons working in prostitution. In addition, police stated they took down some websites advertising prostitution and disconnected telephone numbers on advertisements for prostitution in major cities.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal. Penalties for sexual harassment depend on the severity of the act and whether the harassment involved blackmail. The law provides that victims may follow the progress on their cases through a computerized system and information call center. The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel reported that it received more than 9,000 requests for assistance relating to sexual harassment in 2017, and prosecutors filed 129 indictments for sexual harassment in 2017, up from 26 in 2016. From January 1 to October 15, police opened fewer sexual harassment investigations than during the same period in 2017, according to Ma’ariv newspaper. In March, Supreme Court Chief Justice Hayut established a committee to examine the judicial system’s treatment of victims of sex offenses. The committee had not submitted recommendations as of October 5.

In May, Major General Roni Rittman, head of police anticorruption unit Lahav 433, resigned following accusations that he sexually harassed a subordinate in 2011.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. In the criminal and civil courts, women and men enjoyed the same rights, but in some matters religious courts–responsible for adjudication of family law, including marriage and divorce–limited the rights of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze women.

On May 5, the state announced that it began recruiting women as legal advisors in rabbinical courts in response to a petition to the Supreme Court from the NGO ITIM. In June 2017, in response to a three-year court challenge by women’s rights organizations, the Rabbinical Courts Administration named its first female deputy director general. Although women served as judges in nonreligious courts, they remained barred from serving as judges in rabbinical courts.

The law allows a Jewish woman or man to initiate divorce proceedings, and both the husband and wife must give consent to make the divorce final. Sometimes a husband makes divorce contingent on his wife conceding to demands, such as those relating to property ownership or child custody. Jewish women in this situation could not remarry or give birth to legitimate children from another man. In rare cases Jewish women refused to grant men divorces, but this has lesser effect on a husband under Jewish law. Rabbinical courts sometimes sanctioned a husband who refused to give his wife a divorce, while also declining to grant the divorce without his consent.

A Muslim woman may petition for and receive a divorce through the sharia courts without her husband’s consent under certain conditions. A marriage contract may provide for other circumstances in which she may obtain a divorce without his consent. A Muslim man may divorce his wife without her consent and without petitioning the court. Through ecclesiastical courts, Christians may seek official separations or divorces, depending on their denomination. Druze divorces are performed by an oral declaration of the husband alone and then registered through the Druze religious courts, placing a disproportionate burden on the woman to leave the home with her children immediately. A civil family court or a religious court settles child custody, alimony, and property matters after the divorce, which gives preference to the father unless it can be demonstrated that a child especially “needs” the mother.

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on gender in employment and wages and provides for class action antidiscrimination suits, a wage gap between men and women persisted. On average, men earned 19 percent more per hour than women, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The law requires every government ministry and every local government to have an advisor working to advance women’s rights. The government subsidizes day-care and after-school programs to encourage labor participation by mothers and offers professional training to single parents.

In some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, private organizations posted “modesty signs” demanding women obscure themselves from public view to avoid distracting devout men. The local municipality of Beit Shemesh failed to comply with court orders from 2015 and 2016 to remove the signs, leading the Jerusalem District Court to rule in 2017 that the municipality would face a fine of 10,000 shekels ($2,800) per day if the signs remained posted. In December 2017 the municipality took down six of the eight signs, then ceased their removal due to a protest. Local residents put up new signs to replace those the municipality removed. On February 18, the Supreme Court ordered the municipality to install security cameras and take action against those posting the signs. As of September 4, police had not made any arrests, and the court case continued. The municipality had not installed cameras as of November, according to media reports.

Women’s rights organizations cited a growing trend of gender segregation reflecting increased incorporation of Jewish religious observance in government institutions, including in the IDF, as accommodation to increase the enlistment of participants who follow strict interpretations of Jewish law prohibiting mixing of the sexes. For example, IDF commanders sometimes asked female soldiers serving in leadership or instructor positions to allow a male colleague to assume their duties when religious soldiers were present, according to the Israel Women’s Network. In response to this claim and similar allegations in media reports, IDF Chief of Personnel Director Major General Almoz said that such practices “are in violation of Army orders and policy, do unnecessary harm to large groups serving in the Army, and are inconsistent with IDF commanders’ responsibility.” In general the trend in recent years has been toward greater inclusion of women in the IDF, including in combat roles and senior leadership positions. In June the Army assigned four women to serve as tank commanders for the first time, and in August the Air Force announced the first female commander of a flight squadron.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship at birth within or outside of the country if at least one parent is a citizen. Births are supposed to be registered within 10 days of delivery. Births are registered in the country only if the parents are citizens or permanent residents. Any child born in an Israeli hospital receives an official document from the hospital that affirms the birth.

A child’s status derives from a parent’s status; if one of the parents is an Israeli citizen and the other is not, the child may be registered as Israeli as long as he or she lives with the parent who is an Israeli citizen or permanent resident.

On July 25, in response to a petition by 34 lesbian mothers, the Supreme Court ordered the government to explain its refusal to list nonbiological mothers on birth certificates, despite court-issued parenting orders. In another petition same-sex couples demanded to be listed on the birth certificate of their adopted child, following the issue of a parenting order. The government argued that birth certificates should represent a child’s biological parents. As of September 4, both petitions were ongoing.

The Ministry of the Interior issues a confirmation of birth document, which is not a birth certificate, for children of nonresident parents, including those who lacked legal status in the country. The Supreme Court confirmed in a November 22 ruling that the ministry does not have the authority to issue birth certificates for nonresidents under existing law.

Israel registers the births of Palestinians born in Jerusalem, although Palestinian residents of Jerusalem sometimes reported delays lasting years in that process.

Education: Primary and secondary education is free and universal through age 17 and compulsory through grade 12.

The government did not enforce compulsory education in unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev. Bedouin children, particularly girls, continued to have the highest illiteracy rate in the country, and more than 5,000 kindergarten-age children were not enrolled in school, according to NCF. The government did not grant construction permits in unrecognized villages, including for schools. During the year the government began to provide transportation to preschools for 95 children from the unrecognized villages of al-Sira, al-Jaraf, and Umm al-Nameileh for the first time, in response to legal action. Following an October 2017 court order, the government agreed in May to fund the construction of school bus stops to serve approximately 20,000 Bedouin children from 19 villages, according to Adalah.

There were insufficient classrooms to accommodate schoolchildren in Jerusalem. Based on population data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, the NGO Ir Amim estimated there was a shortage of 2,500 classrooms for East Jerusalem Palestinian children, and 18,600 Palestinian children in Jerusalem were not enrolled in any school. On May 13, the government announced a two billion shekel ($555 million), five-year development plan for East Jerusalem that included 445 million shekels ($120 million) for education. Ir Amim stated that 43 percent of this amount was contingent on schools transitioning from the Palestinian to the Israeli curriculum.

The government operated separate public schools for Jewish children, in which classes were conducted in Hebrew, and for Arab children, with classes conducted in Arabic. For Jewish children separate public schools were available for religious and secular families. Individual families could choose a public school system for their children to attend regardless of ethnicity or religious observance.

The government funded approximately 34 percent of the Christian school system budget and restricted the schools’ ability to charge tuition from parents, according to church officials. The government offered to fund Christian schools fully if they become part of the public (state) school system, but the churches continued to reject this option, citing concerns that they would lose control over admissions, hiring, and use of church property.

Dozens of Jewish schoolgirls were denied admission to ultra-Orthodox schools due to discrimination based on their Mizrahi ethnicity (those with ancestry from North Africa or the Middle East) despite a 2009 court ruling prohibiting ethnic segregation between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi schoolgirls, according to the NGO Noar Kahalacha.

The Netanya municipality moved 70 children of Eritrean irregular migrants from the different preschools they attended during the previous school year to one preschool in poor condition, segregating them from Israeli-born children, according to Ha’aretz. Fearing for their children’s safety because the school was next to a park known for use by drug addicts, the parents of these children all withdrew them from school, according to migrant community leaders.

In recent years an influx of Arab residents to the primarily Jewish town of Nazareth Illit led to a population of some 2,600 Arab students with no option for education in Arabic. As a result most such students attended schools in Arab-majority Nazareth and nearby villages. Following a 2016 petition from ACRI demanding establishment of a school for Arabic-speaking students, authorities established a team to address the issue, including municipality employees, the mayor, Arab residents, and ACRI. The team was in the process of conducting a needs assessment as of the end of the year, according to ACRI.

The NGO National Council for the Child reported it received more than 2,400 complaints during the year relating to the infringement of children’s rights in the education system across the country, concerning issues related to children with disabilities, school transportation, violence in schools, early childhood education, and other issues. Nearly 1,000 of these complaints concerned verbal, emotional, and/or physical violence between students or violence by staff toward students.

On September 3, outgoing Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat announced plans to remove the UN Relief and Works Agency from the municipality and replace it with government providers of education and health care services to Palestinian beneficiaries within municipal boundaries, including the Shu’fat refugee camp. He accused the UN agency of operating illegally and promoting incitement against Israel. On October 8, Barkat visited Shu’fat Camp and promised to provide municipal services there. On October 28, residents of Shu’fat protested Barkat’s plan.

Child Abuse: The law requires mandatory reporting of any suspicion of child abuse. It also requires social service employees, medical and education professionals, and other officials to report indications that minors were victims of, engaged in, or coerced into prostitution, sexual offenses, abandonment, neglect, assault, abuse, or human trafficking. The Ministry of Education operated a special unit for sexuality and for prevention of abuse of children and youth that assisted the education system in prevention and appropriate intervention in cases of suspected abuse of minors.

The National Council for the Child received more than 2,000 complaints during the year relating to physical and sexual abuse, neglect, and child pornography.

According to local government officials, Gaza fence protests, air raid sirens, and rocket attacks led to psychological distress among children living near the Gaza Strip, including nightmares and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 years, with some exceptions for minors due to pregnancy and for couples older than 16 years old if the court permitted it due to unique circumstances. Some Palestinian girls were coerced by their families into marrying older men who were Arab citizens of Israel, according to government and NGO sources.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation of a minor and sets a penalty of seven to 20 years in prison for violators, depending on the circumstances. The law prohibits the possession of child pornography (by downloading) and accessing such material (by streaming). Authorities enforced the law. For example, in October police arrested 42 suspects for internet-based pedophilia offenses. On November 14, media reported that authorities filed indictments against eight of the suspects. Websites and apps such as Telegram and Total Chat facilitated prostitution, including prostitution of children, according to NGOs.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years old. Consensual sexual relations with a minor between the ages of 14 and 16 constitute statutory rape punishable by five years’ imprisonment.

On September 6, authorities indicted handball coach Beno Reinhorn for sexual offenses, including rape, sodomy, sexual harassment, and cybersexual assault, against 170 girls ages nine to 15 in Israel and outside the country.

On November 19, the Ministry of Public Security launched a new hotline for complaints regarding online harm to children through bullying, spreading hurtful materials, extortion, sexual abuse, and exhortation to suicide.

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

Anti-Semitism

Jews constituted approximately 75 percent of the population, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. The government often defined crimes targeting Jews as nationalistic crimes relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict rather than as resulting from anti-Semitism.

On August 13, a vandal spray-painted Nazi symbols on the Mikdash Moshe synagogue and government offices in Petakh Tikva. On August 16, police arrested a suspect. No further information was available as of the end of the year.

Regarding claims for the return of, or restitution for, Holocaust-era assets, the government has laws and mechanisms in place. Relevant Israeli laws refer to assets imported during World War II whose owners did not survive the war. Unclaimed assets were held in trust and not transferred to legal inheritors, who in most cases were not aware that their late relatives had property in Israel.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The Basic Laws provide a legal framework for prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities in the provision of government services. Legislation mandates access to buildings, information, communication, transportation, the judicial system, and physical accommodations and services in the workplace, as well as access to mental health services as part of government-subsidized health insurance, and the government generally enforced these laws. The law prioritizes access by persons with disabilities to public services, such as eliminating waiting in line. There were 1.5 million persons with disabilities in the country, including 790,000 of working age, according to a December report from the Ministry of Justice Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CERPD). Among Arab citizens, 26 percent had a disability, compared with 18 percent of the general population. Of working-age adults with a disability, 60 percent were employed in 2017, compared with 52 percent in 2016.

The law mandated that local governments implement all necessary changes to public locations and buildings constructed before 2009 to make them accessible by November 1, but the Ministry of Justice extended the deadline to November 1, 2021, for buildings and places owned by local authorities. On March 5, the Knesset’s Committee on Labor, Welfare, and Health extended the deadline for 70 percent of government-owned buildings to December 31, and for the remaining 30 percent of government-owned buildings to December 31, 2019. By law buildings constructed since 2009 must be accessible.

Societal discrimination and lack of accessibility persisted in employment, housing, and education. Government ministries had not developed regulations regarding the accessibility of health services, roads, sidewalks, and intercity busses as of November.

The law requires that at least 5 percent of employees of every government employer with more than 100 workers be persons with disabilities. In 2017, 61 percent of government employers met this requirement, according to the December CERPD report.

Shortages of funding for Arab municipalities adversely affected Arabs with disabilities. The disability rights NGO Bizchut reported a lack of accessible transportation services in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

Access to community-based independent living facilities for persons with disabilities remained limited. Following a 2016 plan from the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services to move 900 individuals from group homes to individual facilities, authorities had moved 350 individuals as of November.

On August 13, the government approved the establishment of two new towns, Shibolet in the north of the country and Daniel in the south, in which 20 percent of residents were to be persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

On June 19, the Knesset passed a new basic law referred to as the “Nation State Law.” The new law changed Arabic from an official language, which it had been since Israel adopted prevailing British Mandate law in 1948, to a language with a “special status.” The law also recognized only the Jewish People as having a national right of self-determination and called for promotion of “Jewish settlement” within Israel, which Arab organizations and leaders in Israel feared would lead to increased discrimination in housing and legal decisions pertaining to land. Druze leaders criticized the law for relegating a minority in Israel that serves in the military to second-class citizen status. Opponents also criticized the law for not mentioning the principle of equality to prevent harm to the rights of non-Jewish minorities. Supporters stated it was necessary to anchor Israel’s Jewish character in a basic law to balance the 1992 “Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty,” which protected individual rights, noting that the Supreme Court had already interpreted the 1992 law as mandating equality. Such supporters argued that the Human Dignity and Liberty law continues to safeguard individual civil rights. Political leaders conceded that the criticisms of the Druze community must be addressed. As of December 2, multiple lawsuits challenging the Nation State Law were pending with the Supreme Court.

There were “price tag” attacks, which refer to violence by Jewish individuals and groups against non-Jewish individuals and property with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests. The government classifies any association using the phrase “price tag” as an illegal association and a price tag attack as a security (as opposed to criminal) offense. On March 29, the Lod District Court convicted one person of “membership in a terrorist organization” for a 2015 price tag attack, according to media reports. The most common offenses, according to police, were attacks on vehicles, defacement of real estate, harm to Muslim and Christian holy sites, assault, and damage to agricultural lands. For example, vandals slashed the tires of 30 vehicles and spray-painted pro-Jewish graffiti on a truck in the Arab town of Kafr Kassem in central Israel on December 2, according to media reports.

According to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, in October vandals damaged tombs and broke crosses at the cemetery of the Salesian Monastery at Beit Jimal near Beit Shemesh, the third attack on the monastery in three years. An October 18 statement from the Latin Patriarchate criticized Israeli authorities for failing to apprehend the culprits in any of the preceding cases.

On August 16, following an appeal by the State Attorney’s Office, the Supreme Court added 18 months to a four-year sentence for Yinon Reuveni, who burned and vandalized a large section of the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha in 2015.

Arab citizens faced institutional and societal discrimination. There were multiple instances of security services’ or other citizens’ racially profiling Arab citizens. Some Arab civil society leaders described the government’s attitude toward the Arab minority as ambivalent; others cited examples in which Israeli political leaders incited racism against the Arab community or portrayed it as an enemy.

On April 24, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced two allocations aimed at increasing employment opportunities for Arab citizens in the high-tech sector. The Prime Minister’s Office Committee for Arab Affairs allocated 20 million shekels ($5.6 million) for construction of technology parks to serve as research incubators and office space for high-tech startups in Arab communities and five million shekels ($1.4 million) for roads and transportation services connecting Arab towns to the technology parks.

In 2015, following negotiations with the Arab community, the cabinet approved a five-year plan for development of the Arab sector in the fields of education, transportation, commerce and trade, employment, and policing. In September the government reported it had transferred 4.8 billion shekels ($1.3 billion) under this resolution.

The government employed affirmative action policies for non-Jewish minorities in the civil service. The percentage of Arab employees in the 62 government-owned companies was 2.5 percent; however, Arab citizens held 12 percent of director positions in government-owned companies as of 2017, up from 1 percent in 2000, and Arab workers held 11 percent of government positions, up from 5 percent in 2000, according to the NGO Sikkuy. In August 2017 the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services announced an investment of 15 million shekels ($4.2 million) over the next five years to integrate Arab employees into the high-tech sector. The ministry reported that it signed contracts with two implementing partners, which conducted two training courses for 480 Arab students and graduates by the end of the year.

Separate school systems within the public and semipublic domains produced a large variance in education quality. Arab, Druze, and ultra-Orthodox students passed the matriculation exam at lower rates than their non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish counterparts. The government continued operating educational and scholarship programs to benefit Arab students. As of October, 15 percent of students in Israeli institutes of higher education were Arab citizens or residents, up from 9 percent in 2010, according to the organization Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues.

In March, Kfar Vradim Mayor Sivan Yechieli reportedly suspended sales of new residential land plots after Arab citizens bought 58 of the first 125 plots in the otherwise Jewish town. Yechieli defended his decision as seeking to preserve “communal life and the special character” of the town, according to media reports, but he later clarified to Israel Channel 10 that he had not canceled the tender.

The ethics tribunal of the Israel Press Council, a voluntary association of publishers, journalists, and the public, ruled in May that Israel Hayom and Yediot Ahronot, two of the biggest newspapers, had violated their ethics code by publishing opinion polls of issues relevant to the entire public based on samples of only Jewish Israelis.

Approximately 93 percent of land in Israel is in the public domain. This includes approximately 12.5 percent owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews. Arab citizens are allowed to participate in bids for JNF land, but the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) will grant the JNF another parcel of land whenever an Arab citizen of Israel wins a bid. In 2016 human rights organizations petitioned the Supreme Court against the requirement that six of 14 members of the ILA Council be JNF representatives, claiming the JNF’s mission to benefit only Jewish citizens may make the council discriminatory against non-Jews. On June 21, the Supreme Court rejected the case, ruling that JNF representatives in the council are expected–like the other representatives–to uphold equality. The law requires representation of an Arab, Druze, or Circassian member in the ILA Executive Council.

The Bedouin segment of the Arab population continued to be the most disadvantaged. More than one-half of the estimated 258,000 Bedouin citizens in the Negev lived in seven government-planned towns. In nine of 11 recognized villages, all residences remained unconnected to the electricity grid or to the water infrastructure system, according to NCF. Nearly all public buildings in the recognized Bedouin villages were connected to the electricity grid and water infrastructure, as were residences that had received a building permit, but most residences did not have a building permit, according to the government. Each recognized village had at least one elementary school, and eight recognized villages had high schools.

Approximately 90,000 Bedouins lived in 35 unrecognized tent or shack villages without access to any government services. A three-billion-shekel ($840 million) multiyear plan the government approved in February 2017 to promote economic and social development in Bedouin communities excluded the unrecognized villages. (See section 1.e. for issues of demolition and restitution for Bedouin property.)

In May women filed a class action lawsuit against four hospitals for segregating Jewish and Arab women in maternity wards, according to media reports. A May 2017 report from the state comptroller criticized this practice, noting that separation of patients for nonmedical reasons was incompatible with the principle of equality, even if such separation was requested by the patient or for “cultural considerations.”

Since 2013 the government facilitated the entry of several thousand Syrian nationals, including Druze, to Israel to receive medical treatment. The government generally prohibited Druze citizens and residents from visiting Syria. The government has prevented family visitations to Syria for noncitizen Druze since 1982.

An estimated population of 148,700 Ethiopian Jews faced persistent societal discrimination, although officials and citizens quickly and publicly criticized discriminatory acts against them. According to government assessments, the Ministry of Justice’s National Antiracism Unit (NARU), which combats racism and discrimination by government bodies or individuals against any minority group of Israeli citizens, was more effective in its work on behalf of Ethiopian-Israelis than Arab citizens. There were two Ethiopian-Israeli members of the Knesset. The government maintained several programs to address social, educational, and economic disparities between Ethiopian-Israelis and the general population. On February 19, the government passed a motion to recognize more Ethiopian-Jewish religious leaders and integrate them into Jewish religious councils. Additionally, on October 7, the cabinet approved a plan to facilitate immigration of approximately 1,000 parents of Ethiopian-Israelis from the Ethiopian Falash Mura community to Israel.

On November 5, police were photographed beating a 15-year-old Ethiopian-Israeli boy at his school in Ashdod, according to Kan Radio. On November 20, NARU asked the DIPO to investigate the incident.

On December 20, the Supreme Court partly overturned the conviction of Ethiopian-Israeli Yardau Kasai, whom a Haifa court had convicted after an altercation with city inspectors and police in 2012. The Supreme Court ruled the city inspectors and police were motivated by racism when they detained Kasai.

Following a statement by Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef comparing black persons to monkeys, on March 29, NARU stated it was reviewing the incident to assess whether it constituted incitement to racism.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the government generally enforced these laws, although discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity persisted in some parts of society. There were reports of discrimination in the workplace against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons, despite laws prohibiting such discrimination. At least 14 LGBTI candidates won seats in the October 30 municipal elections, up from eight in the 2013 election.

LGBTI activists were able to hold public events and demonstrations with few, if any, restrictions. On May 31, police canceled security restrictions they had imposed on organizers of the first ever Kfar Saba LGBTI Pride march, including a two-meter (six-foot) fence along the parade route, which would have cost approximately 24,000 shekels ($6,700). This action followed an appeal to the Supreme Court by the NGOs Israel Gay Youth, ACRI, and the Aguda. The march was held on June 1.

Violence and discrimination against transgender persons in confinement remained a matter of concern. Following a lawsuit by a transgender woman and NGOs, on March 5, the IPS issued new regulations that prohibit holding transgender prisoners in solitary confinement, except for the first days after an arrest.

On September 6, the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court sentenced a police officer to two months of community service after he shared a video of a shirtless transgender woman detained at a police station.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although discrimination against persons with HIV is illegal, the Israel AIDS Task Force (IATF) reported instances of HIV-related stigma and discrimination, including cases related to employment, insurance, rehabilitation centers, and prisons.

On March 1, the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court ordered a beauty salon to pay 27,000 shekels ($7,500) compensation to an HIV-positive man to whom the salon had refused service. In August the Kibbutzim movement refused to let a person with HIV volunteer in a kibbutz but later reversed its decision, according to IATF.

On April 1, the Ministry of Health began a two-year pilot program to accept blood donations from gay and bisexual men. Under the pilot program, a donation from a gay or bisexual man is to be stored until the man donates blood again four months later. If both donations pass routine screening tests, both will be used.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Individuals and militant or terrorist groups attacked civilians in Israel, including five stabbing, bombing, or ramming attacks characterized by authorities as terror attacks (see section 1.a.), in addition to rockets shot into Israel by Gaza-based terrorist groups. Incendiary devices tied to kites and balloons caused nearly 2,000 fires and burned more than 5,600 acres of land in Israel, according to the government. These attacks caused 35 million shekels ($10 million) of damage, according to government data. (For issues relating to violence or discrimination against asylum seekers, see section 2.d.)

Arab communities in Israel continued to experience high levels of crime and violence, especially from organized crime, and high numbers of illegal weapons, according to government data and NGOs. Arab citizens constitute 21 percent of the Israeli population, but they were 62 percent of murder victims and 56 percent of murder suspects from 2014 through the first half of 2017, according to a Knesset Research and Information Center report published on February 8. Causes included low level of policing; limited access to capital; easy access to illegal weapons; and socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, unemployment, and the breakdown of traditional family and authority structures, according to The Abraham Fund Initiatives and other NGOs. Government action to address the issue included the following: opening two police stations in Arab towns in 2017 and working to open or upgrade 20 stations by 2020, instituting a plan to hire more than 2,000 Arab officers by 2020, improving communication with Arab citizens through Arabic-language media and social media, and expanding joint patrols between police officers and local government-hired inspectors to every Israeli locality with more than 15,000 residents.

Israeli authorities investigated reported attacks against Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel, primarily in Jerusalem, by members of organizations that made anti-Christian and anti-Muslim statements and objected to social relationships between Jews and non-Jews. In September police arrested a 21-year-old Jerusalem resident in connection with an attack on four Palestinian youth who were beaten, tasered, and stoned while sitting near a rail station in Jerusalem.

The Israeli government and Jewish organizations in Jerusalem made efforts to increase property ownership by Jewish Israelis and emphasized Jewish history in predominantly Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Organizations such as UNOCHA, Bimkom, and Ir Amim alleged that the goal of Jerusalem municipal and Israeli national policies was to decrease the number of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Jewish landowners and their descendants, or land trusts representing the families, were entitled to reclaim property they had abandoned in East Jerusalem during fighting prior to 1949, but Palestinians who abandoned property in Israel in the same period had no reciprocal right to stake their legal claim to the property. In some cases private Jewish organizations acquired legal ownership of reclaimed Jewish property in East Jerusalem, including in the Old City, and through protracted judicial action sought to evict Palestinian families living there. Authorities designated approximately 30 percent of East Jerusalem for Israeli settlements. Palestinians were able in some cases to rent or purchase Israeli-owned property, including private property on Israeli government-owned land, but faced significant barriers to both. Israeli NGOs stated that after accounting for Israeli settlements, Israeli government property and declared national parks, only 13 percent of all land in East Jerusalem was available for Palestinian construction.

Although Israeli law entitles Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to full and equal services provided by the municipality and other Israeli authorities, the Jerusalem municipality failed to provide sufficient social services, education, infrastructure, and emergency planning for Palestinian-majority neighborhoods in Jerusalem, especially in the areas between the security barrier and the municipal boundary. Approximately 117,000 Palestinians lived in that area, of whom approximately 61,000 were registered as Jerusalem residents, according to Israeli government data. According to ACRI, 76 percent of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents and 83 percent of Palestinian children in East Jerusalem lived in poverty. On May 13, the government announced a two-billion-shekel ($555 million), five-year development plan for East Jerusalem (see section 6, “Children”).

Promotion of Acts of Discrimination

Following an oath to the State of Israel and its laws as they took office, members of the Afula City Council added an oath to “preserve the Jewish character” of the city on November 22, according to media reports. Arab analysts interpreted this as promotion of discrimination in accordance with the Nation State Law clause to promote Jewish settlement.

On February 12, in a speech regarding the Nation State bill (which passed into law on June 19), Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked called to “maintain a Jewish majority even at the price of violation of rights,” adding that democracy and maintaining a Jewish majority “must be parallel and one must not outweigh the other.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, strike, and bargain collectively. After a union declares a labor dispute, there is a 15-day “cooling period” in which the Histadrut, the country’s largest federation of trade unions, negotiates with the employer to resolve the dispute. On the 16th day, employees are permitted to strike. Workers essential to state security, such as members of the military, police, prison service, Mossad, and the ISA, are not permitted to strike. While the law prohibits strikes over political issues and also allows the government to declare a state of emergency to block a strike that it deemed could threaten the economy or trade with foreign states, according to the Histadrut, this law has never been applied.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. A labor court has discretionary authority to order the reinstatement of a worker fired for union activity.

The government generally respected these rights; penalties for violations included compensation. The Histadrut raised concerns that enforcement was not always effective, primarily because the appeal process is lengthy and the compensation imposed on employers was insufficient to deter violations.

Court rulings and union regulations forbid simultaneous membership in more than one trade union. Approval by a minimum of one-third of the employees in a given workplace is needed to allow the trade union to represent all workers in that workplace. Members of the Histadrut who pay 0.95 percent of their wages in affiliation fees may be elected to the union’s leadership bodies. Instead of affiliation fees, Palestinian workers pay 0.80 percent of their wages as “trade union fees,” of which half the Histadrut transfers to the Palestinian trade union. Only those who pay affiliation fees are eligible to elect and be elected to its governing bodies, according to the Histadrut.

Authorities generally respected workers’ rights to free association and collective bargaining for citizens, although foreign workers continued facing difficulties exercising these rights during the year, according to the Histadrut. According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), some employers actively discouraged union participation, delayed or refused to engage in collective bargaining, or harassed workers attempting to form a union.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

While the law prohibits and criminalizes forced or compulsory labor, and prescribes up to 16 years’ imprisonment for forced labor of an adult, the government did not effectively enforce laws for foreign workers and some citizen workers.

Some workers, particularly foreign workers, experienced conditions of forced labor, including the unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on freedom of movement, limited ability to change or otherwise choose employers, nonpayment of wages, exceedingly long working hours, threats, sexual assault, and physical intimidation. For example, the Turkish construction company Yilmazlar, which employed approximately 1,200 workers, took extensive measures to deter employees from escaping, including requiring a bond of up to $40,000 before starting work, paying salaries three months in arrears, and employing thugs to chase and beat those who escape, according to NGOs. In April, five employees sued Yilmazlar, alleging they endured forced labor. The company denied all allegations. The case was continuing as of December 3. In addition, an estimated 400 Chinese workers who arrived under agreements with five private Chinese employer associations incurred large debts to pay brokerage fees of up to $30,000 before arriving to Israel. These debts prevented employees from leaving their employer or reporting abuses, according to NGOs.

Foreign agricultural workers, construction workers, and nursing care workers–particularly women–were among the most vulnerable to conditions of forced labor, including in particular nonpayment or withholding of wages. According to government and NGO data, as of October, foreign workers included approximately 113,000 documented foreign workers in the caregiving, agriculture, and construction sectors, including a few thousand in the “skilled worker” category and 39,000 who arrived under bilateral work agreements; 100,000 documented Palestinian workers; 40,000 undocumented Palestinian workers; 100,000 undocumented workers, mostly from countries of the former Soviet Union, who remained in the country after overstaying a visa-free entry or a work visa; and 30,000 irregular African migrants working semilegally in low-skilled jobs. Undocumented workers were not eligible for benefits such as paid leave or recourse in the event of workplace injury.

Palestinian laborers continued to suffer from abuses and labor rights violations, especially in construction, partly as a result of lack of adequate government oversight and monitoring. For example, despite a 2016 government resolution to issue permits directly to Palestinian construction workers rather than Israeli employers, PIBA continued to issue work permits to employers. The work permits linked the employee to a specific employer, creating a dependence which some employers and employment agencies exploited to charge employees monthly commissions and fees; half of Palestinian workers in Israel paid monthly brokerage fees of 1,000 to 3,000 shekels ($270 to $810), according to Kav LaOved. In many cases the employer of record hired out employees to other workplaces. More than half of the documented Palestinian workers did not receive written contracts or pay slips, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Gray-market networks of manpower agencies exploited visa-waiver agreements with countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to recruit laborers to Israel to work illegally, particularly in construction, caregiving, and prostitution, according to NGOs and government authorities. For example, some Israeli companies spread misinformation in Ukraine and Georgia about the possibility of working legally in Israel, then charged large sums of money as agents’ fees, and sometimes sold fake documentation, according to Hotline for Refugees and Migrants. In one case from 2017, an Ukrainian man was recruited by an Ukrainian manpower company and promised work in Israel. He stated that he paid $800 for the service and received guidance on how to pass border control at the Israeli airport, after which two Ukrainian-Israelis provided him with forged documents and took him to a factory where he worked with 15 other Ukrainians between 12 to 15 hours a day. The employer threatened the workers and forbade them from leaving the premises except to return to their apartments.

See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, provides for the protection of children from exploitation in the workplace, and prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Children age 14 and older may be employed during official school holidays in light work that does not harm their health. Children 15 years old and older who have completed education through grade nine may be employed as apprentices. Regulations restrict working hours for youths between the ages of 16 and 18 in all sectors.

The government generally enforced these laws and conducted year-round inspections to identify cases of underage employment, with special emphasis on summer and school vacation periods. During the year authorities imposed a number of sanctions against employers for child labor infractions, including administrative warnings and fines. Minors worked mainly in the food-catering, entertainment, and hospitality sectors. In 2017 there were more than 1,200 cases on violation of rights of children and teenagers at the workplace, mainly regarding pay, firing, and social rights, and authorities filed three indictments against employers for the violating the rights of children in employment, according to the annual report of the National Council for the Child.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. The Equal Employment Opportunities Law prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees, contractors, or persons seeking employment. The Equal Pay Law provides for equal pay for equal work of male and female employees. The Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities (see section 6). The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of language, citizenship, HIV/AIDS status, or other communicable diseases.

The government effectively enforced applicable law, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The law charges the Commission for Equal Employment Opportunities with the implementation and civil enforcement of the Equal Employment Opportunities Law. The 26-member commission includes one member each from organizations that promote employment rights for Muslims, Christians, Druze, Circassians, Haredim, immigrants, elderly persons, women, and army veterans. Additionally, the commission must have adequate representation of citizens of Ethiopian descent and persons with disabilities. According to the commission’s annual report, in 2017 it received 766 complaints, an increase of 8 percent from 2016, including cases relating to discrimination against women and Muslims. Civil society organizations reported discrimination in the employment or pay of women, Ethiopian-Israelis, and Arab citizens. In one case the Commission for Equal Employment Opportunities joined a Muslim dentist in an antidiscrimination lawsuit against the New Shen Clinic in Netanya, which asked her to remove her hijab (Muslim religious women’s head covering) at work. The case was continuing as of December.

On June 17, the Knesset passed an amendment to the Hours of Work and Rest Law, allowing workers to refuse to work on a day of rest, based on their religion, even if they are not religiously observant. The law was scheduled to come into effect on January 1, 2019.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law, particularly in the construction and agriculture industries, and crane and scaffolding regulations were inadequate to protect workers from falls. Employers were responsible for identifying unsafe situations. No law protects the employment of workers who report on situations that endanger health or safety or remove themselves from such situations. During the year 38 workers, including more than 20 Palestinians, died in accidents in the Israeli construction industry, according to the ILO and the labor rights NGO Kav LaOved. Another 169 persons were injured in construction accidents, according to media reports. On November 6, following threats of a general strike, the government signed an agreement with the Histadrut aimed at increasing safety standards for construction workers. The agreement included an increase of on-site inspections, safety training for workers, improvement of safety standards, and sanctions on contractors violating workers’ safety.

The Labor Inspection Service, along with union representatives, enforced labor, health, and safety standards in the workplace. Following the 2014 “Adam Commission,” which concluded that occupational safety legislation was outdated, the government amended the law in 2017 to expand the power of labor supervisors to impose financial sanctions for safety flaws. On November 27, the Knesset passed an amendment appointing a safety officer for construction sites, and on December 31 it passed an amendment authorizing human resource companies to employ crane operators only after receiving a government-issued permit tied to construction safety and labor rights.

Two NGOs petitioned the Supreme Court to demand establishment of a police unit to investigate construction accidents with investigators from the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services; opening of a police investigation into each construction accident resulting in a death or a moderate to severe injury; and an increase in the number of inspectors and investigators. The case was continuing as of the end of the year. On December 31, the government established a new police unit, PELES (an acronym of “Working Without Risk” in Hebrew), to investigate workplace accidents, mainly at construction sites, that resulted in death or severe injuries.

The national minimum wage, which is set annually, was above the poverty income level for individuals, but below the poverty level for couples and families. Authorities investigated 1,418 employers, imposed 103 administrative sanctions totaling nine million shekels ($2.5 million), and filed two indictments for violations of the Minimum Wage Law during the year.

The law allows a maximum 43-hour workweek at regular pay and provides for paid annual holidays. Premium pay for overtime is set at 125 percent for the first two hours and 150 percent for any hour thereafter up to a limit of 15 hours of overtime per week.

The law applies to the informal economy, but there was little information about protection and enforcement standards in this sector, which included an estimated 7 percent of the economy in 2017, according to the ITUC.

According to some NGOs, the country failed to enforce its labor laws fully with respect to minimum working conditions for foreign workers, including asylum seekers, and existing penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. There were documented cases of foreign laborers living in harsh conditions and subjected to debt bondage (see section 7.b.), but authorities prosecuted few employers. The government rejected the allegations in a November 23 BBC report on Thai agricultural workers that described squalid living conditions, lack of appropriate protective equipment while spraying pesticides, and 172 deaths since 2012 in which authorities recorded the cause as “undetermined.”

The provisions of the labor law extended to most Palestinians employed by Israeli businesses in the West Bank. On September 17, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge by civil society groups against a regulation under which noncitizen workers employed by Israeli companies, whether in the West Bank or Israel, must make a monetary deposit to file a labor-rights claim against their employer in an Israeli court. According to Kav LaOved, courts dismissed 28 petitions from workers who did not pay the deposit, as of November. In response to a Supreme Court petition from Kav LaOved, the government confirmed in July that it had not disbursed any sick leave payments to Palestinian workers since January 1, despite depositing 2.5 percent of Palestinian workers’ salaries in a sick leave fund. The case was continuing as of the end of the year.

The country had bilateral work agreements (BWAs) with Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, and China for employment of migrant workers in the construction sector, and with Thailand and Sri Lanka in the agricultural sector. The entire recruitment process of foreign workers in these industries was coordinated solely through government offices, which resulted in a steep decline in recruitment fees paid by those workers. On September 3, the government signed an agreement with the government of the Philippines for employment of workers in the caregiving sector, which officials expect to begin implementation in 2019.

BWAs provide for migrant workers to have information on their labor rights as well as a translated copy of their labor contract before they arrive in the country. The government continued to help fund a hotline for migrant workers to report violations. Government enforcement bodies claimed they investigated all of these complaints. On December 17, noting the government’s progress in moving toward BWAs, the Supreme Court dismissed a 2006 case by human rights NGOs advocating for foreign workers to arrive only through such agreements. The court affirmed that the NGOs’ demands were legitimate, however, noting the government should combat labor trafficking by signing more BWAs and by prohibiting foreign workers who do not arrive through a BWA.

Some employers in the agricultural sector circumvented the bilateral agreement with Thailand by recruiting students from poor countries to take part in agricultural study programs on student visas and then forcing them to work in the agriculture industry once they arrived in the country. According to Kav LaOved, the number of these student workers was approximately 4,000. A government resolution on January 11 began including students in the government’s agricultural worker quotas for the first time. The absence of full-scale bilateral labor agreements in the caregiving field led to continuing widespread abuses against foreign caregivers, including excessive recruitment fees and false descriptions of the terms of employment contracts. Live-in arrangements and lack of legal protections and inspections led to many cases of exploitative working conditions for female migrant workers. Local NGOs filed hundreds of complaints on behalf of foreign caregivers, including allegations of underpayment of wages, physical violence, sexual harassment, and unsuitable employment conditions. For example, a woman who was sexually assaulted by three different employers suffered with the last employer for eight months because she knew regulations would not allow her to switch employers again, according to an NGO. The new agreement with the Philippines will not apply to thousands of foreign caregivers already working in the country, except they will have access to a complaint hotline.


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Jordan

Executive Summary

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Abdullah II bin Hussein. The constitution concentrates executive and legislative authority in the king. The multiparty parliament consists of the 65-member House of Notables (Majlis al-Ayan) appointed by the king and a 130-member elected lower house, the Chamber of Deputies (Majlis al-Nuwwab). Elections for the Chamber of Deputies occur approximately every four years and last took place in 2016. International observers deemed the elections organized, inclusive, credible, and technically well run.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included allegations of torture by security officials, including at least one death in custody; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of activists and journalists; infringements on citizens’ privacy rights; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including criminalization of libel, censorship, and internet site blocking; restrictions on freedom of association and assembly; reports of refoulement of Syrian and Palestinian refugees to Syria without adjudication of whether they had a well-founded fear of persecution; allegations of corruption, including in the judiciary; “honor” killings of women; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and conditions amounting to forced labor in some sectors.

Impunity remained widespread, although the government took limited, nontransparent steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses. Information on the outcomes was not publicly available.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

There were some reports of arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life. Local media, government authorities, and human rights organizations alleged that at least one individual died in custody from alleged torture by Public Security Directorate (PSD)-Criminal Investigations Division (CID) personnel during the year.

In August the Government Coordinator for Human Rights (GCHR) stated the police court was considering one new case of alleged torture and abuse by CID personnel leading to death. Authorities arrested Ibrahim Zahran in Zarqa in June and transferred him to CID custody in Amman, where authorities allegedly beat him to death within 24 hours. PSD Commander Major General Fadel Hmoud immediately opened an investigation and assigned a committee to assess forensic reports to determine criminal liability.

Authorities suspended and detained five CID officers in the course of the investigation. The PSD’s investigation into the incident confirmed the individual’s cause and manner of death was consistent with beating. The quasi-governmental watchdog National Center for Human Rights (NCHR) commended the prompt investigation but described it as “not enough.” The NCHR reiterated its demand to refer such cases to independent civil courts instead of police courts, which fall under the Ministry of Interior and are less independent. In addition to the arrest and prosecution of the officers, the PSD director issued new policy directives regarding the treatment of those in custody including independent reviews of their medical condition and further reviews of detention facilities. The PSD took steps to create a centralized and monitored detention facility to provide compliance with detention policies.

Four additional police court cases continued: the pending trial of eight officers charged with torture after the death of 18-year-old Raed Amar at Jiza police station in May 2017; the trial concerning the 2015 death while in custody of Abdullah al-Zo’ubi (the trial convicted three officers of “torture,” but they appealed the decision); the trial for the 2015 death while in custody of Omar al-Nasir (continuing, with all participants free on bail); and the not guilty verdict concerning the death while in custody of Sultan al-Khatatbeh in 2013, currently under appeal.

b. Disappearance

Human rights lawyers identified at least one case of alleged disappearance during the year, when a robbery suspect was held for 10 days in February in an Irbid police station before authorities brought charges against him. After being turned away from several police stations when trying to locate his son, the robbery suspect’s father filed an official complaint with the PSD and sought support from a local human rights organization.

According to the PSD, historically disappearances have resulted from poor record keeping, which they addressed in July by instituting a logbook with time of intake, charges, time of family notification, name of the arresting official, and the signature of the detainee.

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

The constitution bans torture, including psychological harm, by public officials and provides penalties up to three years’ imprisonment for its use, with a penalty of up to 15 years if serious injury occurs. While the law prohibits such practices, international and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report incidents of torture and widespread mistreatment in police and security detention centers. Human rights lawyers found the penal code ambiguous and supported amendments to define “torture” better and strengthen sentencing guidelines. According to government officials, all reported allegations of abuse in custody were thoroughly investigated. Legal aid NGOs disagreed, sharing three cases where they claimed defendants made statements to public prosecutors that they had been tortured, and that the disclosures had been stricken from the record.

Local and international NGOs reported that the Antinarcotics Department routinely subjected detainees to severe physical abuse. Allegations were also made against the CID, which led to criminal charges. While there was no documentation of complaints of mistreatment by the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) during the year, local NGOs said it still occurred, but citizens did not report abuse due to fear of potential reprisals.

Through August 30, the PSD Human Rights and Transparency Office received 192 allegations of harm (a lesser charge than torture that does not require a demonstration of intent) against officers. Most alleged abuse occurred in pretrial detention. For instance, when authorities referred the robbery suspect identified under section 1.b. “Disappearance” to the State Security Court (SCC) after 10 days in detention, the medical examination noted bruising and signs of abuse.

In August 2017 parliament increased the mandatory minimum sentence for torture from six months to one year. The maximum punishment remained three years imprisonment with hard labor with an increased penalty of up to 15 years if serious injury occurred. No convictions have been made under the new penalty, despite an increase in complaints from citizens concerning allegations of mistreatment by law enforcement from last year, according to the NCHR report released on September 10.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s 16 prisons varied: old facilities were poor, while new prisons met international standards. Authorities held migrants without legal work or residency permits, or charged with other crimes, in the same facilities as citizens. (For information on asylum seekers and refugees, see section 2.d.).

Physical Conditions: During the year, authorities gave prosecutors oversight over the condition of detainees. From January to July, the PSD Human Rights and Transparency Office made 136 visits to detention centers. Significant problems in older prison facilities included inadequate sanitary facilities, poor sanitation and ventilation, extreme temperatures, lack of drinking water, limited access to sunlight, and medical care only in emergencies. In its shadow report for this year’s UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review, including conditions in detention centers, the NCHR identified problems including overcrowding, limited health care, inadequate legal assistance for inmates, and limited social care for the inmates and their families. Detainees reported abuse and mistreatment by guards.

According to the PSD’s Human Rights and Transparency Office, the PSD received 11 cases of allegations of torture and mistreatment in prisons and rehabilitation centers. Authorities convicted seven officers in the death of Ibrahim Zahran, although the officers appealed the verdict. Authorities released all on bail and placed them on administrative leave.

Officials reported overcrowding at most prisons, especially the prisons in and around Amman. The government Coordinator for Human Rights stated that 4,400 detainees above capacity remained in custody as of August.

International and domestic NGOs reported that Islamist prisoners faced harsher prison conditions than other inmates.

According to the PSD, authorities identified some facilities to hold only pretrial detainees. The GID held some persons detained on national security charges in a separate detention facility. During the year, the NCHR made an unspecified number of announced visits to the GID facility, and the GID began allowing the NCHR unsupervised meetings with prisoners. Detainees complained of solitary confinement, isolation, and prolonged pretrial detentions of up to six months. According to human rights activists, the GID held detainees in solitary confinement. Local and international NGOs received reports of mistreatment, abuse, and torture in GID detention facilities.

Although basic medical care was available in all correctional facilities, medical staff complained that correctional facilities throughout the country lacked adequate medical facilities, supplies, and staff. Staff complained that they voiced concerns about deficiencies of care, which authorities did not address. Most facilities were unable to conduct blood tests and had limited X-ray capabilities, forcing doctors to rely largely on self-reporting by patients for certain conditions. If an inmate’s condition was too severe for treatment at the prison’s clinic, doctors recommended transfer to a local hospital.

Conditions in the women’s prisons were generally better than conditions in most of the men’s prisons.

Police stations have no designated holding areas for juveniles. According to the GCHR, authorities held juveniles in special facilities supervised by the Ministry of Social Development. No action was taken to improve mobility in detention centers for persons with disabilities.

Administration: Karamah, a team of government officials and NGOs, and the NCHR monitored prison conditions. In some cases, authorities severely restricted the access of prisoners and detainees to visitors. Authorities allegedly sometimes banned family visits. Authorities sometimes did not inform the families regarding the whereabouts of detainees, or waited between 24 hours and 10 days to alert families, although the PSD attempted to address this problem with a new system of record keeping.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some local and international human rights observers and lawyers to visit prisons and conduct private interviews. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had wide access to visit prisoners and detainees in all prisons, including facilities operated by the GID, according to standard ICRC modalities. Authorities approved some requests by local human rights observers to conduct monitoring visits independently of Karamah and the NCHR but denied others. Local NGOs reported that access depended on relationships with detention center authorities and whether requests came through the GCHR or the NCHR. The prime minister-appointed government coordinator for human rights organized monitoring visits for several local and international NGO representatives to the Jweideh Prison and Suwaqah Prison.

Improvements: The PSD decided to close rural detention centers that did not meet national and international standards permanently and instead focus on expanding central facilities that met standards. Authorities significantly expanded Jweideh prison this year to address overcrowding. Authorities took steps to use alternatives to prison sentences for nonviolent offenders. In August a community sanctions program was inaugurated that will require community service in lieu of jail time for misdemeanors and felonies that would currently warrant a jail sentence of one year or less. In September, the East Amman First Instance judge sentenced an offender to community service of between 40 and 200 hours and a year under surveillance instead of a prison sentence.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court; however, the government did not always observe these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Civilian authorities maintained control over security forces. The PSD controls general police functions. The PSD, the GID, the gendarmerie, the Civil Defense Directorate, and the military share responsibility for maintaining internal security. The PSD, the Civil Defense Directorate, and the gendarmerie report to the minister of interior with direct access to the king when necessary, and the GID reports directly to the king.

According to local and international NGOs, the government rarely investigated allegations of abuse or corruption, and, when it did, there were few convictions and little to no public information or transparency about the investigation or sentencing. Local and international NGOs and activists alleged widespread impunity; however, the PSD disagreed with this characterization. During the year, the PSD director implemented new policies to increase transparency in investigations of allegations of police abuse and pledged to hold officers and their supervisors accountable for their actions. Citizens may file complaints of police abuse or corruption with the PSD’s Human Rights and Transparency Office or with a police prosecutor stationed with each unit and at each prison. Citizens may file complaints of abuse and corruption by the gendarmerie directly with the PSD’s Human Rights and Transparency Office. A GID liaison officer receives complaints against the directorate and refers them to GID personnel for investigation. Citizens may also file complaints against the PSD, gendarmerie, and the GID with the NCHR, several human rights NGOs, or the civilian prosecutor general.

The PSD’s Special Branch Unit is tasked with investigating allegations of police abuse and corruption. According to the law, the PSD and the GID try their personnel internally with their own courts, judges, and prosecutors. Although court hearings are typically public, authorities rarely published reports about the proceedings. The government seconded civilian prosecutors to these courts in response to human rights recommendations. According to human rights organizations and lawyers, trials proceeded slowly and rarely yielded substantive punishments for human rights violations; authorities did not make such punishments public. Human rights activists cited fear of official retribution as a reason for the overall lack of official complaints of human rights violations.

The PSD includes a mandatory module on human rights in required annual training for all personnel including cadets. There is also a mandatory module on human rights in the required training for all new officers in each unit. On May 1, a new human rights training center opened to provide collaborative training to all branches of the PSD. In January, the gendarmerie established a human rights office to train and support forces conducting raids and crowd control more effectively.

During the year, there were few reported instances of security forces using excessive force with impunity and failing to protect demonstrators from violence. In May and June, during sustained protests that forced the former prime minister’s resignation, NGOs agreed that the PSD and gendarmerie forces exercised appropriate restraint while maintaining public order and allowing freedom of expression.

In January, the PSD director ordered immediate investigation of a video reportedly showing police officers mistreating a citizen while arresting him in Karak. The officers were detained at the PSD detention center but subsequently released and placed on administrative leave, pending the results of the investigation, which continued.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law provides the right to appear promptly before a judge or other judicial officer for a judicial determination of the legality of the detention. The law allows authorities to detain suspects for up to 24 hours without a warrant in all cases. It requires that police notify authorities within 24 hours of an arrest and that authorities file formal charges within 15 days of an arrest. Authorities can extend the period to file formal charges to as long as six months for a felony and two months for a misdemeanor. According to local NGOs, prosecutors routinely requested extensions, which judges granted. The SSC authorizes judicial police to arrest and keep persons in custody for seven days prior to notification while conducting criminal investigations. This authority includes arrests for alleged misdemeanors. NGOs alleged that authorities transferred suspects to the SSC to extend the legal time from 24 hours to seven days for investigation prior to notification or transferred suspects from police station to police station to extend the period for investigation. During the summer, authorities implemented a logistical system and standardized record keeping practices designed to reduce the pretrial detention period by holding arresting officials accountable for enforcing the law.

The penal code allows bail, and authorities used it in some cases. In many cases, the accused remained in detention without bail during the proceedings. In July 2017, parliament amended the code of criminal procedure, limiting detention to “exceptional” cases, and strengthening bail and other alternative control measures. In July, the Ministry of Justice proposed a funding application to the Ministry of Finance to purchase electronic bracelets to reduce the number of pretrial detainees in custody. A new PSD regulation instituted during the year contains criteria exempting persons from pretrial detention if they have no existing criminal record and the crime is not a felony.

Most detainees reported not having timely access to a lawyer. Courts appointed lawyers to represent indigent defendants charged with felonies carrying possible life (often interpreted by the judiciary as 20 years) sentences or the death penalty, although legal aid services remained minimal. At times authorities held suspects incommunicado for up to one week or placed them under house arrest. A number of human rights activists alleged that authorities held arrestees incommunicado to hide evidence of physical abuse by security forces. Courts did not offer adequate translation services for defendants who could not speak Arabic.

Arbitrary Arrest: In cases purportedly involving state security, security forces at times arrested and detained individuals without informing them of the charges against them and either did not allow defendants to meet with their lawyers or did not permit meetings until shortly before trial. In August, PSD’s Human Rights and Transparency Office reported authorities held 1,690 persons since January in administrative detention for varying amounts of time. Governors held almost 35,000 persons in administrative detention under the Crimes Prevention Law, an increase of almost 5,000 persons from 2016.

The law allows the 12 provincial governors to detain individuals administratively as they deem necessary for investigation purposes or to protect that individual. Authorities held some individuals in prison or under house arrest without due process and often despite a finding of not guilty in legal proceedings. The governors may prolong detentions, especially those with a criminal history in the interest of “public security” under the Crime Prevention Law. Governors used this provision widely. Several international and national NGOs, along with the NCHR, alleged governors routinely abused the law, imprisoning individuals when there was not enough evidence to convict them, and prolonging the detention of prisoners whose sentences had been completed.

In August, the Ministry of Social Development opened a shelter for women at risk of violence and “honor” crimes. While previously authorities held these women in the same administrative detention facilities as criminals, the PSD now transferred them directly to the shelter. The shelter has space for 40 women, which is higher than the number held in protective detention in 2017. NGOs reported decreased numbers of women at risk of becoming victims of “honor” crimes. As of October, authorities had transferred 10 women to the shelter, with 16 awaiting transfer from Juwaidah Prison.

During the year local NGOs said that officials detained migrant laborers in arbitrary arrests; those whose employers did not administratively secure their release were held for working without authorization, being absent from their authorized workplace, or lacking proper residency permits. One domestic worker claimed that security forces stopped her on the street to ask for her documentation and took her to a detention facility when she was not able to furnish it immediately, without giving her the opportunity to contact her employer to explain her absence or obtain the needed documents.

Pretrial Detention: The law criminalizes detaining any person for more than 24 hours without a prosecutor’s authorization. Rights activists said authorities routinely ignored this limit, and according to human rights organizations, impunity was very common for violations. As of March 44 percent of all detainees were pretrial detainees, according to the University of London’s World Prison Brief, a 7 percent increase from 2017.

The common practice of judges granting extensions to prosecutors prior to filing formal charges unnecessarily lengthened pretrial detention, which lasted anywhere from three days to several years. While judicial reforms implemented this year, such as specialization of judges and prosecutors, were designed to address this problem, the Ministry of Justice lacked the capacity to provide legally mandatory legal aid and translation services and struggled to coordinate witness attendance and transportation of defendants to and from the court. Automation of several legal procedures in recent years reduced the average period of pretrial detention, according to local legal aid organizations, but increased the number of persons in administrative detention using the discretion granted to governors.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law does not have an explicit provision that entitles victims of arbitrary or unlawful detention to restitution. The Criminal Procedures Law does not provide for routine judicial review of administrative detentions ordered by the 12 governors. Detainees can bring civil lawsuits for restitution for arbitrary or unlawful detention or bring criminal lawsuits for illegal incarceration, but this option rarely occurred. Detainees must hire a lawyer with at least five years’ experience, must pay their own fees, and must present a copy of the order of detention. There were no cases of restitution during the year.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but legal experts and human rights lawyers’ allegations of nepotism and the influence of security services and special interests raised concerns about the judiciary’s independence. Additionally, judicial inefficiency and a large case backlog delayed the provision of justice. In August 2017, parliament passed a bill that provided further provisions for an independent judiciary and better qualitative performance of courts, which was implemented this year. This bill also included the specialization of prosecutors and judges, moving away from generalized prosecutors and judges who handle a full range of criminal cases, toward a system in which cases are referred to individuals with legal and subject matter expertise on the specific charges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally sought to enforce this right. The law presumes that defendants are innocent. However, officials sometimes did not respect the right of defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them or to a fair and public trial without undue delay. According to the law, all civilian court trials and SSC trials are open to the public unless the court determines that the trial should be closed to protect the public interest. Authorities occasionally tried defendants in their absence. The country allows defendants to be tried in their absence, but it requires a retrial upon their return. The SSC has more restrictions than the other courts on conducting trials when the defendant is not present. Defendants are entitled to legal counsel, provided at public expense for the indigent in cases involving the death penalty or life imprisonment, but only at the trial stage. Most criminal defendants lacked legal representation prior to and at trial. Frequently, defendants before the SSC met with their attorneys only one or two days before their trial began. Authorities did not accord defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Authorities did not uniformly provide foreign residents, especially foreign workers who often did not speak Arabic, with free translation and defense. The government at times prevented civil society organizations from providing legal aid to clients, despite lacking the capacity to address new cases or the current backlog.

Defendants may present witnesses and evidence and may cross-examine witnesses presented against them. Defendants do not have the right to refuse to testify. Although the constitution prohibits the use of confessions extracted by torture, human rights activists noted that courts routinely accepted confessions allegedly extracted under torture or mistreatment. Defendants can appeal verdicts; appeals are automatic for cases involving the death penalty or a sentence of more than 10 years’ imprisonment. When defendants at trial recant their confessions obtained during the criminal investigation, those confessions are not used against the defendant; the trial then relies solely on the evidence collected and presented at trial.

In the SSC, defendants have the right to appeal their sentences to the Court of Cassation, which has the authority to review issues of both fact and law.

The government allowed international observers to visit the SSC and the Military and Police Courts to observe court proceedings throughout the year. For example, on July 1, officers of a foreign embassy observed a terrorism case being tried at the State Security Court.

Civil, criminal, and commercial courts accord equal weight to the testimony of men and women. In sharia courts, which have jurisdiction over Muslim marriage, divorce, and inheritance cases, the testimony of one man equals that of two women.

The Juvenile Law places the age of criminal responsibility at 12 years. The law stipulates that juveniles charged with committing a crime along with an adult be tried in a juvenile court. There is one case pending at the SSC of a juvenile charged with terrorism-related offenses for involvement in the 2016 terrorist cell in Irbid. Juveniles tried at the SSC were held in juvenile detention centers. The law stipulates alternative penalties for juvenile offenders, including vocational training and community service.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

During the year, there were a few instances of the government detaining and imprisoning activists for political reasons including criticizing the government, criticizing the government’s foreign policy, publishing criticism of government officials and official bodies, criticizing foreign countries, and chanting slogans against the king. Citizens and NGOs alleged the government continued to detain other individuals for political reasons and that governors continued to use administrative detention for what appeared to be political reasons.

The GID detained Ayman Ajawi, the president of the Polytechnic College Student Union, for two weeks after he led protests in late February calling for basic services and campus infrastructure improvements. Ajawi’s father and lawyer told media that the GID prevented them from seeing him in detention. Members of parliament pressed the minister of higher education to intervene on Ajawi’s behalf, and more than 50 students from universities protested in front of the Ministry of Higher Education to demand his immediate release. In March, authorities released Ajawi on bail.

In March, the Jordan Bar Association accused the State Security Court of prosecuting political activists under the guise of upholding national security. In protest, they suspended their members from representing clients before the State Security Court. When they realized that clients would then have to appear in court without representation, they lifted the suspension.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may bring civil lawsuits related to human rights violations through domestic courts.

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

The law prohibits such actions, but individuals widely believed that security officers monitored telephone conversations and internet communication, read private correspondence, and engaged in surveillance without court orders. While no examples were given to justify these beliefs, they widely believed the government employed an informer system within political movements and human rights organizations.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but the government limited this right. Security forces provided security at demonstrations granted permits by government or local authorities.

The law requires a 48-hour notification to the governor for any meeting or event hosted by any local or international group. While not required by law, several local and international NGOs reported that hotels, allegedly at the request of security officials, required them to present letters of approval from the governor prior to holding training, private meetings, or public conferences. There were 42 reported cases of governor denials without explanation this year. Without letters of approval from the government, hotels cancelled the events. In some cases, NGOs relocated the events to private offices. In one case the Amman governor’s office informed a human rights organization it would not be allowed to proceed with hosting antitorture training at a hotel. The organization claimed that it was eventually permitted to host the training after threatening legal action against the governor.

Protests regarding economic policies, corruption, and government ineffectiveness occurred across several governorates throughout the spring and summer. A few hundred local tribal activists organized daily sit-ins lasting up to 70 days in the main town squares of Salt and Karak from February to May. Protestors generally spoke favorably about the government response.

In late May, labor unions joined the protest movement, leading to larger demonstrations across the country. According to government officials, protests were generally peaceful with 42 injuries to security personnel and 60 arrests for vandalism or assault. The Justice Center for Legal Aid, a civil society organization, operated a detention hotline during the protests where citizens could report violations of the government’s pledge not to detain protestors for more than six hours. They reported one incident when a governor allegedly detained a group of 10 protestors for a prolonged period.

The government tabled the proposed tax reform law in response to the protests, leading to the resignation of then Prime Minister Hani Al-Mulki and his government. Police subsequently allegedly dispersed peaceful anticorruption protests under the new government headed by Prime Minister Razzaz.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government limited this freedom. The law authorizes the Ministry of Social Development and Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Supply to approve or reject applications to register organizations and to prohibit organizations from receiving foreign funding for any reason. It prohibits the use of associations for the benefit of any political organization. The law also gives the ministry significant control over the internal management of associations, including the ability to dissolve associations, approve boards of directors, send government representatives to any board meeting, prevent associations from merging their operations, and appoint an auditor to examine an association’s finances for any reason. The law requires associations to inform the Ministry of Social Development of board meetings, submit all board decisions for approval, disclose members’ names, and obtain security clearances for board members from the Interior Ministry. The law includes penalties, including fines up to 10,000 JD ($14,000), for violations of the regulations.

In 2015, the Ministry of Social Development introduced an application form for the approval process for associations that receive foreign funding. Associations criticized the procedure, which incorporated additional ministries into the decision process and removed the deadline for review of funding requests. NGOs stated the registration process and foreign funding procedures were neither clear, transparent, nor consistently applied. Groups attempting to register experienced months of delays, and those for whom authorities denied their applications complained that they received inadequate explanations.

During the year, the Ministry of Social Development introduced an automated system for associations to apply for foreign funding and track their applications. As of August 30, the ministry received 5,735 applications for foreign funding and approved 190 of them. NGO’s reported that unexplained, months-long delays in the decision process continued.

The law authorizes the Ministry of Social Development to intervene in NGO activities. Warned NGOs are given a two-month probationary period to address violations.

In June Amman’s first instance court sentenced the chief executive officer of the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) to one year in prison for inaccuracies in the CDFJ’s budget and operating under an incorrect legal status. The court also fined CDFJ 200 JD ($282) for irregularities in its budget and organizational documents. In October, a Court of Appeal acquitted the CDFJ’s chief executive officer of these charges. The Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Supply alleged in 2017 that CDFJ violated foreign funding restrictions and ordered it to halt receipt of any foreign funding.

Citizens widely suspected that the government infiltrated civil society organizations, political parties, and human rights organizations and their internal meetings.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although there were some restrictions.

The United Nations reported that 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 (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: The government placed some restrictions on the free internal movement of registered Syrian refugees and asylum seekers. The country’s land border with Syria has been closed to new refugee arrivals since June 2016. During the June southwest offensive in Syria, the government maintained a closed border policy, preventing new asylum seekers from entering the country. Some of these newly displaced persons, however, received emergency humanitarian assistance from inside the Free Trade Zone between Jordan and Syria. There was no legal framework for refugees residing in the Jordanian refugee camps to leave permanently to settle in host communities for family reunification; long-term medical treatment was unavailable in the camps.

The government registered and facilitated access to civil documentation for Syrian refugees. The Urban Verification Exercise for refugees has steadily expanded, and the government increased access to birth and marriage certificates by simplifying and reducing the costs. While on several occasions, the government allowed the regularization of certain refugees who left the camps to settle in host communities, there was generally no option for camp residents to move permanently into rural and urban areas and only limited options to move in and out of camps.

Conversely, reports of forced relocations to Azraq camp, including many to Azraq’s restricted Village 5 (V5), increased as an alternative to deportation, for offenses by Syrian refugees that encompassed “irregular status” (for example, no updated registration, working without a work permit); criminal activities; and potential security risks, without the latter being clearly defined. As of June, Azraq camp hosted over 36,000 individuals, including over 9,000 adults and children, in the fenced-off area V5. Residents of V5 had access to basic humanitarian assistance inside the village but access to the broader camp facilities, including the camp hospital, required a security escort. The screening process allowing V5 residents to relocate to the larger camp was irregular and very slow. Reportedly, since entering Jordan from Syria, two thirds of the residents have remained in V5 for more than two years. It remained unclear whether individuals in Azraq V5 will be permitted to move to less restrictive, unfenced areas in the camp or to host communities.

Authorities required all residents of King Abdullah Park refugee camp, to obtain a leave permit, which was not systematically granted, to visit their relatives in Jordan or for other purposes. Authorities made some exceptions for the sick and elderly to allow twice-monthly visits. Palestinian Refugees from Syria (PRS) accounted for 354 of the 509 refugees in the camp as of June, including “PRS Families” (families including at least one family member, which subjected them to specific treatment and limitation related to PRS).

Foreign Travel: Activists alleged authorities imposed travel bans against citizens.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: There were few reports of the government forcibly returning Syrian refugees and PRS, including women, children, war-injured persons, and persons with disabilities, to Syria. International organizations continued to report that the government forcibly returned to Syria some refugees residing in the country’s host communities and camps for alleged security concerns and relocated others to various locations including Azraq camp V5. Some relocated individuals were held pending security vetting to ensure they did not pose a security risk. There was no established time period for security vetting.

Some reasons for returns and relocations were allegations of communicating with and sending money to relatives who are in ISIS-controlled territories in Syria and other activities that could create security concerns.

From October 2017 through July 2018, the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) was aware of three cases of refoulement of 15 PRS. The vulnerability of PRS to deportation increased their risk of other abuses. For those who entered the country irregularly (for example, without required documentation, or using Syrian identity documents), refoulement was a constant risk, and access to basic civil services–including renewal of identity documents, the registration of marriages, deaths, and births–was highly complex. UNRWA reported that such activities could result in forced return to Syria, as well as detention and denaturalization. These vulnerabilities put refugees at additional risk of abuse by third parties such as employers and landlords.

Access to Asylum: The country’s laws do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government lacked a formal system of protecting refugees. A 1998 memorandum of understanding between the government and UNHCR, renewed in 2014, contains the definition of a refugee, confirms adherence to the principle of nonrefoulement, and allows recognized refugees a maximum stay of one year, during which period UNHCR must find them a durable solution. The time limit is renewable, and the government generally did not force refugees to return to their country of origin. As of 2014, authorities required all Syrians in the country to register with the Ministry of Interior and obtain a ministry-issued identification card.

The government declared it would not accept additional Syrian refugees after a 2016 suicide attack along the northeast border with Syria, declaring the surrounding area a “closed military zone.” The government restricted humanitarian access to the area. International organizations reported that between 45,000 and 50,000 internally displaced Syrians remained at the northeast desert Jordan-Syria border throughout the year. The government’s 2013 announcement that it would not allow entry of PRS remained in effect.

Employment: In 2016, the government announced it would allow Syrian refugees access to the formal labor market and committed to providing 200,000 job opportunities for Syrians in the coming years. The Ministry of Labor issued more than 120,000 work permits to Syrians. More than 36,000 Syrian refugees received new or renewed work permits in 2018. The government took several steps to expand and facilitate the issuance of work permits, including waiving fees. The government also revised work permit practices to allow Syrian workers in the agricultural and construction sectors to switch employers under the supervision of agricultural cooperatives and a trade union, rather than requiring new work permits for each job transfer.

There continued to be delays in implementing procedures at Ministry of Labor offices in governorates outside Amman. There remained uncertainty among the refugee population and employers regarding how to apply for the work permits. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees continued to work in the informal economy. A government-commissioned study on migrant workers, published in 2016, estimated that 26 percent of Syrian refugees were economically active in the labor market. Very few non-Syrian refugees had access to the formal labor market, and, due to the difficulties and expenses involved in seeking work authorization, many worked in the unofficial labor market.

The United Nations reported that in general Syrian refugees working informally were no longer deported or sent to the refugee camps when caught working without authorization. During the year, the Ministries of Interior and Labor, in coordination with the United Nations, permitted refugees living in the camps to apply for work permits. The agreement allows camp-based refugees to use their work permits as a 30-day leave pass to work outside the camp. Camp-based refugees receiving work permits must report to the camp at least one day per month.

Some longstanding Palestinian refugees with Jordanian citizenship were integrated into the workforce. Almost 160,000 Palestinian refugees originally from Gaza, however, were not eligible for Jordanian citizenship, and authorities restricted their access to public services and employment. Additionally, according to UNRWA, authorities did not allow PRS to work, and a significant percentage remained without Jordanian documents.

Access to Basic Services: The government allowed Syrian and other UNHCR-registered refugees to access public health and education facilities. From 2014 until March, authorities charged Syrian refugees for health care at the same rates as uninsured Jordanians, who pay a nominal fee for most basic health services. Iraqi and other refugees must pay the foreigner’s rate for health care. As of March authorities required Syrian refugees to pay 80 percent of the foreign resident rate for all medical costs.

The government continued to provide free primary and secondary education to Syrian refugee children and to permit all school-age Syrian refugees access to education. As of the end of the academic year 2017-18, authorities had not fully completed this objective, and an estimated 73,000 Syrians were still without formal or informal education. There were reports that some Syrian refugee children may not enroll in school if they do not have Ministry of Interior cards. Non-Syrian refugees must pay to attend government schools. Public schools, particularly in the north of the country, were overcrowded and operated on a double-shift schedule to accommodate Syrian students. The government increased the number of double-shift schools in an action designed to allow an additional 50,000 Syrian refugee students to obtain formal education as well as 126,000 refugee students enrolled in 2016-17.

For those not eligible to access formal education because they have been out of school for three or more years, the Ministry of Education developed a catch-up program that reached over 4,000 students between the ages of nine and 12 since 2016 and enrolled them at catch-up centers across the country in 2017-18. Children 13 years old and above, who were not eligible to enroll in formal education, could also participate in nonformal education drop-out programs implemented by NGO partners, in close coordination with the Ministry of Education.

Some Syrian children continued to face barriers to attending public schools, including lack of transportation, long distances to schools, bullying by fellow students and teachers, or child labor.

Palestinian refugees from Gaza who entered the country following the 1967 war were not entitled to services, including access to public assistance and higher education. Earlier refugees from Gaza, who came to Jordan between June 1946 and May 1948, were eligible to receive UNRWA services.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government tolerated the prolonged stay of many Iraqis and other refugees beyond the expiration of the visit permits under which they had entered the country.

STATELESS PERSONS

Only fathers can transmit citizenship. Women do not have the legal right to transmit citizenship to their children. Children of female citizens married to noncitizens receive the nationality of the father and rely on a special identification card to enroll in school, access services, and obtain a driver’s license. Since 2016, the Ministry of Education has formally allowed all children, regardless of nationality or status, to enroll in formal education, although in practice lacking proper paperwork did sometimes lead to delays or issues enrolling children in school. In guidelines announced by the government in 2014, if children of Jordanian mothers and noncitizen fathers apply and meet certain criteria, they may gain access to certain services enjoyed by citizens, including subsidized health care; the ability to own property, invest, and obtain a Jordanian driver’s license; and have employment priority over other foreigners. This ruling affects tens of thousands of families, including hundreds of thousands of children, in which the father lacked Jordanian citizenship. An estimated 55,000 of these fathers were Palestinians. To access these services, children must obtain a special identification card through the Civil Status Bureau. Under the 2014 law, applicants must prove the maternal relationship, that the Jordanian mother has been resident in the country for five years, and that the children currently reside in the country. In 2016, the Civil Status Bureau began issuing identification cards to replace the initial certificates. In September, the cabinet removed the five-year residency requirement for Jordanian mothers. By law, the cabinet may approve citizenship for children of Jordanian mothers and foreign fathers under certain conditions, but this mechanism was not widely known, and approval rarely occurred.

Women may not petition for citizenship for noncitizen husbands, who may apply for citizenship only after fulfilling a requirement that they maintain continuous Jordanian residency for 15 years. Once a husband has obtained citizenship, he may apply to transmit citizenship to his children. Such an application could take years, and the government can deny the application.

Syrian refugees were sometimes unable to obtain birth certificates for children born in the country if they could not present an official marriage certificate or other nationality documents, which were sometimes lost or destroyed when they fled, or confiscated by government authorities when the refugees entered the country. A large number of Syrian marriages reportedly took place in Jordan without registration. The government opened a legal process for such cases to adjust and obtain registration documents. Refugee households headed by women faced difficulty in certifying nationality of offspring in absence of the father, which increased the risk of statelessness among this population. Civil registry departments and sharia courts in the Za’atri and Azraq camps helped refugees register births.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their executive branch of government. The king appoints and dismisses the prime minister, cabinet, and upper house of parliament; can dissolve parliament; and directs major public policy initiatives. Citizens have the ability to choose the lower house of parliament in generally credible periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot. Citizens also elect 97 of the 100 mayors, most members of governorate councils, and all members of municipal and local councils. While the voting process is well run, official obstacles to political party activity and campaigning limited participation. International organizations continued to have concerns about the gerrymandering of electoral districts. The cabinet, based on the prime minister’s recommendations, appoints the mayors of Amman, Wadi Musa (Petra), and Aqaba, a special economic zone. Elections for the lower house of parliament took place in 2016. Elections for mayors, governorate councils, and municipal councils took place in August 2017.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government held parliamentary elections in 2016. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) administered the polls. The commission is an autonomous legal entity. It supervises and administers all phases of parliamentary elections, regional and municipal elections, as well as other elections called by the Council of Ministers. Local and foreign monitors noted the election was technically well administered. Politicians and activists reported most government interference occurred prior to the election, in the form of channeling support to preferred candidates and pressuring others not to run.

The election exhibited important technical competence in administration, but observers cited allegations of vote buying, ballot box tampering in one region, and other abuses. International and domestic observers of the election process expressed reservations about inadequacies in the electoral legal framework and stressed the need to allocate seats to districts proportionally based on population size.

Several Islamist parties participated in the 2016 parliamentary election, ending a six-year boycott. The Islamic Action Front won 15 seats, including 10 for party members.

The August 2017 governorate and municipal elections marked the first time the IEC administered subnational elections, since the Ministry of Interior conducted them until a 2014 constitutional amendment granted the IEC more authority. In addition to the election of mayors and local councils, the poll resulted in the election of new governorate-level councils. Many monitors praised the elections as technically well run, but a nongovernment elections monitoring body, Rased, registered more than 500 illegal incidents.

The elections took place under a decentralization law passed by parliament and ratified by the king in 2015. The law established an additional council to participate in the budgeting process at the governorate level; it is 85 percent elected and 15 percent appointed. The new council will work with the existing executive council, which is fully appointed. The appointed council is composed of technical experts from the central government.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Political Parties Law places supervisory authority of political parties in the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs. Political parties must have 150 founding members, all of whom must be citizens habitually resident in the country and not be members of non-Jordanian political organizations, judges, or affiliated with the security services. There is no quota for women when founding a new political party. Parties may not be formed on the basis of religion, sect, race, gender, or origin (meaning that they may not make membership dependent on any of these factors). The law stipulates citizens may not be prosecuted for their political party affiliation. Most politicians believed that the GID would harass them if they attempted to form or join a political party with a policy platform. A 2016 bylaw stipulates 50,000 JD ($70,000) annual financial support from the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs to registered political parties older than one year with more than 500 members from at least seven governorates, at least 10 percent of whom are women. The Committee on Political Party Affairs oversees the activities of political parties. The secretary general of the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs chairs the committee, which includes a representative from the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Culture, the National Center for Human Rights, and civil society. The law grants the committee the authority to approve or reject applications to establish or dissolve parties. It allows party founders to appeal a rejection to the judiciary within 60 days of the decision. According to the law, approved parties can only be dissolved subject to the party’s own bylaws; or by a judicial decision for affiliation with a foreign entity, accepting funding from a foreign entity, violating provisions of the law, or violating provisions of the constitution. The law prohibits membership in unlicensed political parties. There were approximately 50 registered political parties, but they were weak, generally had vague platforms, and were personality centered. The strongest and most organized political party was the Islamic Action Front.

At least one new political party successfully registered in late 2017. The party, however, postponed the official launch event in December 2017, when the Greater Amman Municipality initially blocked the rally due to “security concerns.” The launch event occurred in early 2018.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The electoral law limits parliamentary representation of certain minorities to designated quota seats. Human rights activists cited cultural bias against women as an impediment to women participating in political life on the same scale as men. There are quotas for women in the lower house of parliament, governorate councils, municipal councils, and local councils. Women elected competitively or appointed through quota systems tended to be small minorities in national and local legislative bodies and executive branch leadership positions.

The 29-member cabinet included seven female ministers: the minister of information and communications, the minister of public sector development, the minister of tourism and antiquities, the minister of planning and international cooperation, the minister of energy and mineral resources, the minister of culture, and the minister of social development. Of the 376 governate seats, 53 were held by women. At the municipal council level, women won 28 indirectly elected seats and 57 by quota, of 1,783 total municipal council seats. At the local council (neighborhood) level, women won 231 seats in free competition and 324 through the quota system of 1,179 seats. No women won mayorships.

Citizens of Palestinian origin were underrepresented at all levels of government and the military. The law reserves nine seats in the lower house of parliament for Christians and three seats for the Circassian and Chechen ethnic minorities combined, constituting an overrepresentation of these minorities. The law stipulates that Muslims must hold all parliamentary seats not specifically reserved for Christians or on the national list. Seven Christians were in the upper house of parliament, with one, subsequently, leaving in June when appointed deputy prime minister. There are no reserved seats for the relatively small Druze population, but its members may hold office under their government classification as Muslims. Christians served as cabinet ministers and ambassadors. There were four Christian ministers in the cabinet. There was one Druze cabinet member.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, although the government did not implement the law effectively. Some officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. During the year, there were some investigations into allegations of corruption but very few convictions. The use of family, business, and other personal connections to advance personal economic interests was widespread. There were allegations of lack of transparency in government procurement, government appointments, and dispute settlement. Corruption was a major theme of the protests that resulted in the government’s resignation in the summer.

In response to these protests, newly appointed Prime Minister Razzaz stated in June that combating corruption and increasing transparency were priorities for the government; he and his ministers consulted with civil society on how to achieve this objective. On November 25, the government withdrew the proposed amendments to the long-tabled right to information law that intended to make it easier for citizens to obtain access to government information, but was seen as ineffective.

Corruption: The Jordan Integrity and Anticorruption Commission (JIACC) is the main body responsible for combating corruption, although the Anti-Money Laundering Unit is responsible for combating money laundering. Despite increased investigations, some local observers questioned the JIACC’s effectiveness due to its limited jurisdiction, insufficient staff, legal obstacles, and the small number of investigations involving senior officials or large government projects. There were credible allegations that the commission failed to investigate cases involving high-level government officials.

The Ombudsman Bureau receives and investigates public complaints about corruption and misconduct by public officials.

The government has taken steps to address corruption and prosecute tax evasion.

A high profile anticorruption case involving illegal production and smuggling of tobacco was ongoing. In August, the State Security Court’s Public Prosecution issued an Interpol Red Notice against the prime suspect in the case, businessman Awni Motee, who fled the country before being arrested. The Public Prosecution coordinated with the Anti-Money Laundering Unit to freeze the suspect’s assets, conduct financial analysis, and investigate the charges. While the king noted the case as evidence of the government’s commitment to combating corruption, observers complained that referral of the case to the SSC would make it difficult to prosecute if the suspect was abroad.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires certain government officials, their spouses, and dependent children to declare their assets privately within three months of their assuming a government position. Officials rarely publicly declared their assets. Prime Minister Razzaz privately declared his assets in accordance with the law, but he did not publicly disclose them. Authorities blocked efforts by transparency activists to identify officials publicly who did not declare their assets. In the event of a complaint, the chief justice may review the disclosures. Under the law failure to disclose assets could result in a prison sentence of one week to three years or a fine of five to 200 JD (seven to $280). No officials were punished for failing to submit a disclosure.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country with some restrictions. The law gives the government the ability to control NGOs’ internal affairs, including acceptance of foreign funding. NGOs generally were able to investigate and report publicly on human rights abuses, although government officials were not always cooperative or responsive. In at least one case, security services subjected a human rights NGO to intimidation. A legal aid organization reported that lawyers were harassed for following up on cases.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NCHR, a quasi-independent institution established by law, received both government and international funding. The prime minister nominates its board of trustees, and the king ratifies their appointment by royal decree. The government appoints NCHR’s commissioner general. The NCHR compiles an annual report assessing compliance with human rights that sometimes criticizes government practices. The NCHR submits the report to the upper and lower houses of parliament, and to the council of ministers. NCHR recommendations are not legally binding. In June parliament amended the law that established the NCHR to expand its authority to monitor and follow up with victims’ and confirm receipt of promised compensation. Other amendments renewed the mechanism of appointing and terminating service of board of trustees members, increased funding to implement awareness projects, and established branches and networks across the country.

In 2017 the prime minister established a permanent governmental committee headed by the GCHR to review NCHR recommendations and to measure progress towards international human rights standards. In May the GCHR office made public the government submission to the third UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in November. The report detailed the country’s efforts to implement UPR recommendations and declared a national commitment to enhance human rights. Ministries’ working groups continued to meet and implement their responsibilities under the national human rights action plan, a 10-year comprehensive program launched in 2016, designed to reform laws in accordance with international standards and best practices, including integrating accessibility for persons with disabilities. Developments were regularly published on their websites. Ministries stated commitment to the plan, but expressed frustration with the limited resources available to implement it.

To implement the action plan, the GCHR maintained a team of liaison officers from government, NGOs, security agencies, and other formal institutions to improve collaboration and communication. The GCHR published an official statement inviting civil society to take part in the drafting of the government’s report to the UPR as a commitment to the government’s partnership with civil society.

The GCHR office convened 28 activities during the year in relation to the national human rights plan. Subjects included trafficking in persons, UN resolution 2250, recommendations for the Antinarcotics Department, legislative priorities ahead of the UPR, youth and technology, and workshops on modern slavery. In February the GCHR was appointed as the deputy president of the Higher Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (HCD) Board of Trustees. In October the GCHR was elevated to cabinet level reiterating government commitment to improving the status of human rights in Jordan.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law stipulates a sentence of at least 10 years of imprisonment with hard labor for the rape of a girl or woman 15 years old or older. Spousal rape is not illegal. Parliament passed a revised domestic violence law in 2017 that clarified procedures for reporting and case management and specified that these complaints must receive expedited processing. The law made prosecution mandatory for felony offenses. Nonfelony offenses are first subjected to mediation by the Family Protection Department (FPD) of the PSD. The law now provides options for alternative sentencing in domestic violence cases with consent of the victim. NGOs noted that the law also now clarifies procedures for handling domestic violence, but the definition of domestic violence remains unclear.

In 2017 parliament abolished an article of the penal code that exonerated rapists who married their victims and amended another article prohibiting the “fit of fury” excuse for “honor crimes.” Parliament also amended the law to eliminate mitigated sentencing for honor crimes cases when the family would ordinarily drop charges. NGOs reported the number of women under protective detention decreased.

The government did not effectively enforce the law against rape, and violence against women was widespread. In January the Court of Cassation ruled that they would not allow reprosecution of a man who raped a woman in 2016 and married her to avoid criminal charges, despite the elimination of the exonerating clause in 2017.

Women may file complaints of rape or physical abuse with certain NGOs or directly with judicial authorities. As of August the FPD treated and investigated over 5,100 cases of domestic violence, including almost 1,300 cases of rape or sexual assault against women. The FPD actively investigated cases, but gave preference to mediation, with almost 2,500 of the cases referred to the social service office. Some NGOs and lawyers reported pressure against taking physical abuse cases to court. Spousal abuse is technically grounds for divorce, but husbands sometimes claimed religious authority to strike their wives. Observers noted while judges generally supported a woman’s claim of abuse in court, due to societal and familial pressure, as well as fears of violence such as honor killings, of which eight were reported in 2017, few women sought legal remedies.

The FPD continued to operate a domestic violence hotline and received inquiries and complaints via the internet and email. According to the Ministry of Social Development, the government maintained a second shelter for female victims of domestic violence in Irbid.

In November 2017 the Judicial Council assigned 107 judges, including 14 women, to specialize in handling domestic violence cases. In application of the 2017 domestic violence protection law, specialized judges were now expediting and classifying these cases; misdemeanor cases take roughly three months to resolve.

On July 30, the Ministry of Social Development officially opened Dar Aminah, a shelter for women at risk of violence and honor crimes. According to the minister and partnering NGO, 26 women, who were placed under “protective detention” in detention centers, would move to the shelter. As of October authorities had transferred 10 women to the shelter; 16 awaited transfer from Jweidah Prison.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: During 2017 of the 42 women killed in the country through August, local media identified eight as “honor crimes.” Civil society organizations stated, however, many such crimes went unreported.

There were no reported instances of forced marriage as an alternative to a potential honor killing during the year, although NGOs noted that many cases of forced marriage occurred shortly after an accusation of rape due to family and societal pressure before any formal trial began. Observers noted that if a woman marries her rapist, according to customary belief, her family members do not need to kill her to “preserve the family’s honor,” a belief that persisted despite the 2017 amendment to the legal code.

As of August governors had begun referring potential victims of honor crimes to the Ministry of Social Development shelter Dar Aminah instead of involuntary protective custody in the Women’s Correctional and Rehabilitation Centers in the Jweideh and the Umm al-Lulu detention facilities.

Sexual Harassment: The law strictly prohibits sexual harassment and does not distinguish between sexual assault and sexual harassment. Both carry a minimum prison sentence of four years of hard labor. Parliament amended laws to set penalties for indecent touching and verbal harassment, but did not define or substantively strengthen protections against sexual harassment. The government did not enforce this law. Sexual harassment of women and girls in public was widely reported. In September the organizers of an outdoor festival were arrested and the venue, Seven Hills, was closed after allegations of sexual harassment spread on social media. The ensuing investigation led to criminal charges for the unauthorized sale of alcohol. NGOs reported refugees from Syria and foreign migrant workers, including garment workers and domestic workers, were especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, including sexual harassment and sexual assault, in the workplace.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law does not provide for the same legal status, rights, and inheritance provisions for women as for men. Women experienced discrimination in a number of areas, including divorce, child custody, citizenship, the workplace, and, in certain circumstances, the value of their testimony in a sharia court.

No specialized government office or designated official handles discrimination claims. The Jordanian National Commission for Women, a government-supported NGO, operated a hotline to receive discrimination complaints.

Under sharia, as applied in the country, daughters inherit half the amount that sons receive. A sole female heir receives only half of her parents’ estate, with the balance going to uncles, whereas a sole male heir inherits all of his parents’ property. Women may seek divorce without the consent of their husbands in limited circumstances such as abandonment, spousal abuse, or in return for waiving financial rights. The law allows retention of financial rights under specific circumstances, such as spousal abuse. Special courts for each Christian denomination adjudicate marriage and divorce, but for inheritance, sharia rules apply by default.

The law allows fathers to prevent their children under the age of 18 from leaving the country through a court order that is not available to mothers. Authorities did not stop fathers from exiting the country with their children when the mother objected. Divorced mothers may put injunctions on their former spouses to prevent them from leaving the country with their children.

The government provided men with more generous social security benefits than women. Civil servants now follow the social security law, which contains provisions for family members to inherit the pension payments of deceased male and female civil servants. Laws and regulations governing health insurance for civil servants under the Civil Service Bureau now permit women to extend their health insurance coverage to dependents or spouses, even if they are not Jordanians. Men must be citizens to extend full insurance benefits to spouses and dependents.

Parliament’s 2017 amendments of the penal code granted mothers permission to give consent for surgeries on their minor children without consent of their father.

Children

Birth Registration: Only fathers can transmit citizenship. The government did not issue birth certificates to all children born in the country during the year. The government deemed some children – including children of unmarried women, orphans, or certain interfaith marriages involving a Muslim woman and converts from Islam to another religion – illegitimate and denied them standard registration. Instead, the government issued these children unique national identification numbers, making it difficult for them to attend school, access health services, or receive other documentation. Authorities removed children born out of wedlock from their mothers and placed them in orphanages, regardless of the mother’s desire for custody.

Education: Education is compulsory from ages six through 16 and free until age 18. No legislation exists to enforce the law or to punish guardians for violating it. Children without legal residency face obstacles to enrolling in public school. Some children of female citizens and noncitizen fathers must apply for residency permits every year, and authorities did not assure permission (see section 2.d., Stateless Persons). See section 2.d. for information on access to education for Syrian refugees.

Children with disabilities experienced extreme difficulty in accessing constitutionally protected early and primary education.

Child Abuse: No specific law provides protection for children, but other laws specify punishment for child abuse. For example, conviction for rape of a child younger than age 15 potentially carries the death penalty. There were no convictions for rape of a child under the age of 15 during the year. Local organizations working with abused children pointed to gaps in the legal system that regularly resulted in lenient sentencing, particularly for family members. In child abuse cases, judges routinely showed leniency in accordance with the wishes of the family. In some cases, authorities failed to intervene when confronted with reports of abuse, resulting in escalating violence and ultimately death.

In January the public prosecutor detained a woman for abuse related to the death of her three-year-old daughter. Forensic reports on her daughter concluded widespread traces of torture and abuse and burns on 25 percent of her body. The case remained pending with the woman being held in Jweideh detention center.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. With the consent of both a judge and a guardian, a child as young as 15 years old may be married. Judges have the authority to decide if marriage of girls between 15 and 18 years old would be “in their best interest” and to adjudicate the marriage contract.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law stipulates a penalty for the commercial exploitation of children of six months’ to three years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits the distribution of pornography involving persons under the age of 18. The law does not specifically prohibit the possession of child pornography without an intention to sell or distribute. The law penalizes those who use the internet to post or distribute child pornography. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18, although sexual relations between minors whose marriages the courts approved are legal.

Displaced Children: Given the large refugee population, there were significant numbers of displaced children (see section 2.d.).

Institutionalized Children: NGOs reported physical and sexual abuses occurred in government institutions. Authorities automatically referred cases involving violence against persons with disabilities or institutionalized persons to the FPD. The community monitoring committee highlighted the pervasive use of physical discipline; physical and verbal abuse; unacceptable living conditions; and a lack of educational, rehabilitative, or psychosocial services for wards and inmates.

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

Anti-Semitism

Aside from foreigners, there was no resident Jewish community in the country. Anti-Semitism was present in media. Editorial cartoons, articles, and opinion pieces sometimes negatively depicted Jews without government response. The national school curriculum, including materials on tolerance education, did not mention the Holocaust, but it was taught in some private school curriculums.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law generally provides equal rights to persons with disabilities, but authorities did not uphold such legal protections. Disabilities covered under the law include physical, sensory, psychological, and mental disabilities. The Higher Council for Affairs of Persons with Disabilities, a government body, worked with ministries, the private sector, and NGOs to formulate and implement strategies to assist persons with disabilities. During the year, the GCHR became the deputy president of the Higher Council for Disabilities to attempt better to integrate rights for persons with disabilities. Citizens and NGOs universally reported that persons with disabilities faced problems in obtaining employment and accessing education, health care, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other services, particularly in rural areas.

In June 2017 parliament amended the law on the rights of persons with disabilities, strengthening protections for workers with disabilities and criminalizing neglect of persons with disabilities. The law requires private companies to hire workers with disabilities, forbids employers from firing employees solely because of their disability, and directs employers to make their workplaces accessible to persons with disabilities.

Activists noted the law lacked implementing regulations and funding, and authorities rarely enforced it. Authorities exempted from the quota employers who stated the nature of the work was not suitable for persons with disabilities. As part of the law, the government announced in 2017 a 10-year plan for full accessibility and inclusivity by 2027. In June 2018 the Ministry of Social Development announced its intention to transfer 500 persons with intellectual disabilities out from institutions into family or community environments. According to the Higher Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as of November 1,874 persons with disabilities remained institutionalized.

The electoral law directs the government to verify that voting facilities are accessible to persons with disabilities and allows such persons to bring a personal assistant to the polling station.

The law tasks the Special Buildings Code Department with enforcing accessibility provisions and oversees retrofitting of existing buildings to comply with building codes. The vast majority of private and public office buildings continued to have limited or no access for persons with disabilities. Municipal infrastructure such as public transport, streets, sidewalks, and intersections was not accessible.

The PSD national 9-1-1 emergency call center provided emergency services for citizens with hearing and speech impediments by using sign language over a video call. These PSD interpreters were also available for citizens to use when discussing issues with government offices where a representative who can communicate via sign language was not present.

An NCHR report from September noted that school classrooms were not fully accessible, and there were no qualified teachers for children with disabilities. Families of children with disabilities reported that teachers and principals often refused to include children with disabilities in mainstream classrooms.

Human rights activists and media reported on cases of physical and sexual abuse of children and adults with disabilities in institutions, rehabilitation centers, and other care settings. The government operated some of these institutions.

There was no information regarding abuses against those with disabilities and whether or not authorities took official action against those committing such abuses.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Four groups of Palestinians resided in the country, not including PRS, covered in section 2.d., many of whom faced some discrimination. Those who migrated to the country and the Jordan-controlled West Bank after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war received full citizenship, as did those who migrated to the country after the 1967 war and held no residency entitlement in the West Bank. Those still holding residency in the West Bank after 1967 were no longer eligible to claim full citizenship, but they could obtain temporary travel documents without national identification numbers, provided they did not also carry a Palestinian Authority travel document. These individuals had access to some government services; they paid 80 percent of the rate of uninsured foreigners at hospitals and noncitizen rates at educational institutions and training centers. Refugees who fled Gaza after 1967 were not entitled to citizenship, and authorities issued them temporary travel documents without national numbers. These persons had no access to government services and were almost completely dependent on UNRWA services. Those who were able to enter the country, despite many being turned away at the border, had access to UNRWA services.

Palestinians were underrepresented in parliament and senior positions in the government and the military, as well as in admissions to public universities. They had limited access to university scholarships. They were well represented in the private sector.

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

Authorities can arrest LGBTI individuals for allegedly violating public order or public decency, which are crimes under the penal code. While consensual same-sex sexual conduct among adults is not illegal, societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was prevalent, and LGBTI persons were targets of violence and abuse, including rape, with little or no legal recourse against perpetrators. Transgender individuals were especially vulnerable to acts of violence and sexual assault. LGBTI persons reported discrimination in housing, employment, education, and access to public services. The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI individuals. Some LGBTI individuals reported reluctance to engage the legal system due to fear their sexual orientation or gender identity would either provoke hostile reactions from police, disadvantage them in court, or be used to shame them or their families publicly. LGBTI community leaders reported that most LGBTI individuals were closeted and feared disclosure of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics. The Media Commission banned books containing LGBTI content.

During the year, there were reports of individuals who left the country due to fear that their families would kill them because of their gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV/AIDS was a largely taboo subject. Lack of public awareness remained a problem, because many citizens believed the disease exclusively affected foreigners and members of the LGBTI community. Society stigmatized HIV/AIDS-positive individuals, and they largely concealed their medical status. The government continued its efforts to inform the public about the disease and eliminate negative attitudes about persons with HIV/AIDS, but it also continued to test all foreigners annually for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, syphilis, malaria, and tuberculosis. The government deported migrant workers who tested HIV-positive.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutes, provides for the right to form and join free trade unions and conduct legal strikes, but with significant restrictions. There is no right to collective bargaining, although the labor code provides for collective agreements. The law identifies specific groups of public- and private-sector workers who may organize and defines 17 industries and professions in which trade unions may be established. The establishment of new unions requires approval from the Ministry of Labor and at least 50 founding members. The law requires that these 17 trade unions belong to the government-linked General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions, the country’s sole trade union federation. The law authorizes additional professions on a case-by-case basis to form professional associations. The law allows foreign workers to join unions, but it does not permit them to form unions or hold union office. Authorities did not permit civil servants to form or join unions, and they cannot engage in collective bargaining. The constitution prohibits antiunion discrimination, and the law protects workers from employer retaliation due to union affiliation or activities. The law does not explicitly provide a worker fired due to antiunion views with the right to reinstatement.

Regulations refer conflicts during negotiations first to informal mediation between the concerned party and the employer. The parties to a conflict proceed in the following sequence until the conflict is resolved: a Ministry of Labor-appointed mediator for 21 days; then the minister of labor; then to a mediation council composed of an employer representative, a labor representative, and a chair appointed by the minister of labor; and finally to a labor court with a panel of ministry-appointed judges for 21 days. There are limits on the right to strike, including a requirement to provide a minimum of 14 days’ notice to the employer. The law prohibits strikes if a labor dispute is under mediation or arbitration. The labor code prevents management from arbitrarily dismissing workers engaged in labor activism or arbitration, but NGOs reported enforcement was inconsistent due to the limited capacity of the 170 labor inspectors.

The government did not fully respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Many worker organizations were not independent of the government, and government influence on union policies and activities continued.

The government subsidized and audited salaries and activities of the General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions and monitored union elections. The government denied recognition to independent unions organized outside the structure of the government-approved federation. The government did not meet with these unions, and the lack of legal recognition hampered their ability to collect dues, obtain meeting space, and otherwise address members’ workplace concerns. Labor organizations also reported trouble getting government recognition for trade unions in new sectors beyond the 17 established in law.

There were no reports of threats of violence against union heads, although labor activists alleged that the security services pressured union leaders to refrain from activism that challenged government interests. Strikes generally occurred without advance notice or registration.

Labor organizations reported that some management representatives used threats to intimidate striking workers.

Some foreign workers, whose residency permits are tied to work contracts, were vulnerable to retaliation by employers for participating in strikes and sit-ins. Participation in a legally unrecognized strike counted as an unexcused absence under the law. The law allows employers to consider employment contracts void if a worker is absent more than 10 consecutive days, as long as the employer provides written notice. Labor rights organizations reported instances of refusing to renew foreign workers’ contracts due to attempts to organize in the workplace.

Observers noted that the labor code did not explicitly protect nonunionized workers from retaliation. This was particularly the case for foreign workers in all sectors as well as citizens working in the public sector on short-term contracts (day laborers).

Labor NGOs working to promote the rights of workers generally focused on promoting the rights of migrant workers. Labor NGOs did not face additional or different government restrictions than those discussed in section 2.b.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor except in a state of emergency, such as war or natural disaster. The government made substantial efforts to enforce the law through inspections and other means. Labor activists noted that law enforcement and judicial officials did not consistently identify victims or open criminal investigations.

The government inspected garment factories, a major employer of foreign labor, and investigated allegations of forced labor. Forced labor or conditions indicative of forced labor occurred, particularly among migrant workers in the domestic work and agricultural sectors. In October labor inspectors closed at least three dormitories in the Mafraq Qualified Industrial Zone for conditions that inspectors described as “deplorable.” Activists highlighted the vulnerability of agricultural workers due to minimal government oversight. Activists also identified domestic workers, most of whom were foreign workers, as particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to inadequate government oversight, social norms that excused forced labor, and workers’ isolation within individual homes. NGOs reported the Joint Antitrafficking Unit preferred to settle potential cases of domestic servitude through mediation, rather than referring them for criminal prosecution. High turnover at the unit also reportedly made prosecution more difficult. The government issued domestic helper by-laws in 2015 which regulate the hiring contract terms, the employer responsibilities/rights, and the responsibilities of the recruitment office. Recruitment offices were inspected and found to be violating a rule that prohibits the use of pregnancy tests in hiring practices. The government ordered the end of the practice and took steps to ensure compliance, including distributing materials to recruiting offices on the rights of children born to foreign workers. The government continued to monitor the situation.

Government bylaws require recruitment agencies for migrant domestic workers to provide health insurance, workplace accident insurance, and insurance that reimburses the recruitment fees to employers when a worker leaves before fulfilling the contract. If the employer fails to pay the worker’s salary or to return the worker’s passport, then the employer would not be entitled to the insurance payment. The bylaws authorize the Ministry of Labor publicly to classify recruitment agencies based on compliance and to close and withdraw the license of poorly ranked agencies. As of July the ministry issued warnings to 65 recruitment agencies and transferred 74 cases of domestic helper complaints to the Joint Antitrafficking Unit. A closure recommendation is an internal procedure in which inspectors send their recommendation to close certain recruitment offices with many labor violations to the minister of labor. Based on that recommendation, the minister may issue a closure decision.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law forbids employment of children younger than 16 years old, except as apprentices in nonhazardous positions. The law bans those between the ages of 16 and 18 from working in hazardous occupations, limits working hours for such children to six hours per day, mandates one-hour breaks for every four consecutive working hours, and prohibits work after 8 p.m., on national or religious holidays and on weekends.

There were instances of child labor, and many local and international organizations reported it was on the rise, particularly among Syrian refugees. In 2017 approximately 1.9 percent of the estimated four million children of all nationalities between the ages of five and 14 residing in the country were employed.

The Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Unit was responsible for coordinating government action regarding child labor in collaboration with the National Committee on Child Labor and, with the ministry’s labor inspectors, was responsible for enforcing all aspects of the labor code, including child labor. Authorities referred violators to the magistrate’s penalty court which handles labor cases; according to the Ministry of Justice, child labor cases are never referred to criminal courts. The law provides that employers who hired a child younger than age 16 pay a fine of as much as 500 JD ($700), which doubles for repeat offenses.

Labor inspectors reportedly monitored cases of legally working children between 16 and 18, to issue advice and guidance, providing safe work conditions, and cooperate with employers to permit working children to attend school concurrently. In accordance with the labor code, the Ministry employed a zero-tolerance policy for labor of children below the age of 16 and hazardous work for children under 18 years old.

The government’s capacity to implement and enforce child labor laws was not sufficient to deter violations. The government had limited capacity to monitor children working in the informal work sector, such as children working in family businesses and the agricultural sector.

The Ministries of Labor, Education, and Social Development collaborated with NGOs seeking to withdraw children from the worst forms of labor.

Syrian refugee children worked in the informal sector without legal work permits. They sold goods in the streets, worked in the agricultural sector, and begged in urban areas.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws do not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, language, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, national origin, and sexual orientation (see section 6).

Union officials reported that sectors employing predominantly women, such as secretarial work, offered wages below the official minimum wage. Many women also reported traditional social pressures discouraged them from pursuing professional careers, especially after marriage. According to a Department of Statistics’ survey on unemployment, economic participation by women was 15.2 percent, and unemployment among women holding a bachelor’s degree was 77.1 percent compared to the overall unemployment rate of 18.7 percent.

Some persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment and access to the workplace despite the Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which requires 4 percent of a workplace of more than 50 employees to employ persons with disabilities. Some migrant workers faced discrimination in wages, housing, and working conditions irrespective of the labor law (see section 7.e.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage, which was raised to 220 JD ($310) per month from 190 JD ($268).

The law sets a workweek of 48 hours and requires overtime pay for hours worked in excess of that level. Because there was no limit on mutually agreed overtime, the Ministry of Labor reportedly permitted employees in some industries, such as the garment sector, to work as many as 70 to 75 hours per week, although observers reported many foreign workers requested overtime work.

Employees are entitled to one day off per week. The law provides for 14 days of paid sick leave and 14 days of paid annual leave per year, which increases to 21 days after five years of service with the same firm. Workers also received additional national and religious holidays designated by the government. The law permits compulsory overtime under certain circumstances such as conducting an annual inventory, closing accounts, preparing to sell goods at discounted prices, avoiding loss of goods that would otherwise be exposed to damage, and receiving special deliveries. In such cases actual working hours may not exceed 10 hours per day, the employee must be paid overtime, and the period may not last more than 30 days. There is no cap on the amount of mutually agreed overtime.

Employers are required to abide by all occupational health and safety standards set by the government. The law requires employers to protect workers from hazards caused by the nature of the job or its tools, provide any necessary protective equipment, train workers on hazards and prevention measures, provide first aid as necessitated by the job, and protect employees from explosions or fires by storing flammable materials appropriately.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement of labor laws and acceptable conditions of work. Ministry inspectors enforced the labor code but were unable to assure full compliance in every case due to lack of capacity and resources. Labor inspectors did not regularly investigate reports of labor or other abuses of domestic workers in private homes, and inspectors could not enter a private residence without the owner’s permission except with a court order. Employees may lodge complaints regarding violations of the labor code directly with the Ministry of Labor or through organizations such as their union or the NCHR. The Ministry opened an investigation for each complaint.

Labor standards apply to the informal sector, but the Ministry of Labor lacked the capacity to detect and monitor workplace violations. Authorities struggled to apply consistently all the protections of the labor code to domestic and agricultural workers, due to the migratory nature of workers in these sectors, cultural barriers preventing direct entry into the workplace, and insufficient number of labor inspectors. Labor organizations stated that many freelancing agricultural and domestic workers, cooks, and gardeners, mostly foreign workers, were not enrolled for social benefits from the Social Security Corporation because only salaried employees were automatically enrolled, and optional enrollment was limited to citizens.

The government took action to prevent violations and improve working conditions. As of July, however, the authorities had not closed a workplace for recruiting foreign workers without work permits. The Ministry of Labor placed a special focus on enforcing compliance in the Qualifying Industrial Zones, where most migrant garment workers were employed. The ratio of labor inspectors to workers or places of employment was significantly higher in these zones than for the general population. The government required garment export manufacturers to participate in the Better Work Jordan program, a global program implemented by the International Labor Organization and the International Finance Corporation to improve labor standards. During the year, all 77 foreign exporting factories required by the government to join Better Work Jordan were active members of the program.

Wage, overtime, safety, and other standards often were not upheld in several sectors, including construction, mechanic shops, day labor, and the garment industry. Some foreign workers faced hazardous and exploitative working conditions in a variety of sectors. Authorities did not effectively protect all employees who attempted to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health and safety. Labor organizations reported that female citizen workers were more likely to encounter labor violations, including wages below the minimum wage and harassment in the workplace.

In the garment sector, foreign workers were more susceptible than citizens to dangerous or unfair conditions. In October labor inspectors traveled to the Industrial Zone in Mafraq to close several dormitories run by textile and garment companies, describing the conditions as “deplorable.” Better Work Jordan stated compliance regarding coercion improved. Indebtedness of migrant garment workers to third parties and involuntary or excessive overtime persisted.

Employers subjected some workers in the agricultural sector, the vast majority of whom were Egyptians, to exploitative conditions. According to a domestic NGO, agricultural workers usually received less than the minimum wage. Some employers in the agricultural sector also reportedly confiscated passports. Egyptian migrant workers were also vulnerable to exploitation in the construction industry; employers usually paid them less than the minimum wage, and they lacked basic training and equipment necessary to uphold occupational health and safety standards.

Domestic workers often faced unacceptable working conditions. While domestic workers could file complaints in person with the Ministry of Labor’s Domestic Workers Directorate or the PSD, many domestic workers complained there was no follow-up on their cases. During the year the Antitrafficking Unit at the PSD began operating its hotline 24 hours per day, seven days a week, with operators available in all languages spoken by migrant workers in the country, including Tagalog, Bengali, and Tamil.

In 2015 the prosecutor general charged a Jordanian woman in Irbid with premeditated murder after she allegedly beat an Indonesian domestic worker in her employ to death. The forensic report showed that the worker died due to brain hemorrhage. The court acquitted the Jordanian woman during the year.

Advocates for migrant domestic workers reported that domestic workers who sought government assistance or made allegations against their employers frequently faced counterclaims of criminal behavior from their employers. Employers could file criminal complaints or flight notifications against domestic workers with police stations. Authorities used a general amnesty waiving immigration overstay fines for workers deported for criminal allegations or unrenewed work permits. The previous process had resulted in an entry ban of three consecutive years.

During the year dozens of domestic workers from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka sought shelter at their countries’ embassies in Amman. Most of the domestic workers reportedly fled conditions indicative of forced labor or abuse, including unpaid wages and, to a lesser extent, sexual or physical abuse. By law, employers are responsible for renewing foreign employees’ residency and work permits but often failed to do so for domestic employees. As a result authorities considered most of the domestic workers sheltered by embassies illegal residents, and many were stranded because they were unable to pay accumulating daily overstay fees to depart the country. The government continued its cooperation with foreign embassies to waive overstay fees for migrant domestic workers who wished to repatriate after a two-year stay in the country, a policy that greatly reduced the number of domestic workers stranded at their embassies’ shelters.

As a result of poor working conditions experienced by some of its citizens, Indonesia continued to prohibit its citizens from traveling to Jordan (among 20 other countries in the region) as domestic workers; the policy has been in effect since 2016. Some human rights organizations argued that these bans heightened the vulnerability of foreign domestic workers who engaged unscrupulous recruitment agencies to migrate illegally to the country.

Kuwait

Executive Summary

Kuwait is a constitutional, hereditary emirate ruled by the Al Sabah family. While there is also a democratically elected parliament, the emir holds ultimate authority over most government decisions. The last parliamentary election was held in 2016 and was generally free and fair with members of the opposition winning seats.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of torture; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including criminalization of libel, censorship, and internet site blocking; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement; trafficking in persons; criminalization of consensual adult male same-sex sexual conduct; and reports of forced labor, principally among foreign workers.

The government took steps in some cases to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Impunity, however, was a problem in corruption cases.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there continued to be reports of torture and mistreatment by police and security forces against detained members of minority groups and noncitizens.

Several persons claimed police or Kuwait State Security (KSS) force members beat them at police checkpoints or in detention. Six foreign nationals held at the detention center managed by the Drug Enforcement General Department (DEGD) reported credible cases of mistreatment during interrogation. Detainees reported being bound by the hands and feet and suspended by a rope while an interrogator beat their legs and feet with a wooden stick to coerce confessions or encourage them to give up information. Under the law when meeting with a public prosecutor, prisoners should be afforded an opportunity to file a claim of abuse to be referred to a designated physician for a medical exam and to document and treat their injuries. Two of these prisoners claimed that this opportunity was not provided to them; others may not have been aware they had this right under the country’s laws. The DEGD investigated and found no evidence of the torture of the six foreign nationals.

The government stated it investigated complaints against police officers and that disciplinary action was taken when warranted. Disciplinary actions in the past included fines, detention, and occasionally removal from their positions or termination. The government did not make public the findings of its investigations or punishments it imposed. In one publicized case in March, the Appeals Court upheld a ruling against a police officer who was terminated from his job and sentenced to five years in prison on charges of creating false documentation and blackmail in a drug related case. Although government investigations do not lead to compensation for victims of abuse, the victim can utilize government reports and results of internal disciplinary actions to seek compensation via civil courts.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to the Human Rights Committee at the National Assembly, the prisons lacked the minimum standards of cleanliness and sanitation, were overcrowded, and suffered from widespread corruption in management, leading to drug abuse and prisoner safety issues. International observers who visited the Central Prison corroborated some of the reports. In February a group of defendants alleged there was a severe bacterial meningitis outbreak in the general prison population and requested authorities to take immediate action to resolve the problem. The defendants included members of the opposition in parliament as well as known political activists. The Ministry of Interior’s decision to transfer the prison hospital back to Ministry of Health management in accordance with international regulations and standards was commended by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding continued to be a significant problem. The three prisons in the country’s Central Prison Complex were designed to accommodate 2,500 prisoners, but the population had reached more than 6,000 inmates during the year. Prisoners share large dormitory cells that were designed to accommodate 20 to 30 inmates. During interviews with foreign diplomatic representatives, prisoners at the facilities reported it was common for double or triple that number of prisoners to be held in one cell. Inmates incarcerated at the central prison said the prison cells have become so overcrowded that they were forced to sleep on the floor in their cells, on mattresses in the hallway outside their cells, or share beds with other inmates.

In January the Ministry of Interior and the Public Prosecutor’s office agreed to form a special committee tasked with addressing the problem of overcrowding in the prison system. In February the emir ordered the payment of debts for citizens and foreign residents in prison, paving the way for release or extradition of detainees. In April the government issued a pardon commuting the sentences of nearly 2,300 inmates.

A nursery complex was provided for female inmates with young children. Officials stated the prison was not designed to accommodate prisoners with disabilities, adding that there had not been any convict with a significant disability held in the Central Prison.

The number of inmates at the Talha Deportation Center often went significantly beyond the 500 detainees it was designed to accommodate for brief periods. Detainees housed there faced some of the worst conditions in the prison system. Noncitizen women pending deportation were held at the Women’s Prison in the Central Prison Complex due to lack of segregated facilities at the deportation center. Resident representatives from various foreign missions reported that detainees complained of discrimination according to national origin and citizenship status.

Administration: There were some reports of corruption and lack of supervision by the administration of the prison and detention center system. While inmates lodged complaints against prison officials and other inmates, no information was available on the resolution of these complaints.

Independent Monitoring: The Ministry of Interior permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by some nongovernmental observers and international human rights groups and required written approval for visits by local NGOs. Authorities permitted staff from the ICRC and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to visit the prisons and detention centers. The Kuwait Society for Human Rights and the Kuwait Association for the Basic Evaluation of Human Rights were allowed to visit prisons during the year. A government official stated that local and international NGOs visited prisons approximately 75 times during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. There were numerous reports, however, that police made arbitrary arrests of foreigners, regardless of their residency status, as part of sustained action against persons in the country illegally.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police have sole responsibility for the enforcement of laws not related to national security, and the KSS oversees national security matters; both are under the purview of civilian authorities at the Ministry of Interior. The armed forces (land forces, air force, and navy) are responsible for external security and are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. The Kuwait National Guard is a separate entity that is responsible for critical infrastructure protection, support for the Ministries of Interior and Defense, and for the maintenance of national readiness. The Kuwait Coast Guard falls under the Ministry of Interior.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, which varied in effectiveness.

Police were generally effective in carrying out core responsibilities. There were reports that some police stations did not take criminal complaints seriously, especially those of foreigners, and of citizen and noncitizen victims of rape and domestic violence. In cases of alleged police abuse, the district chief investigator is responsible for examining abuse allegations and refers cases to the courts for trial. Alleged crimes perpetrated by nationals against nonnationals rarely led to prosecution. Many cases reached an informal resolution through cash settlement.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

A police officer generally must obtain an arrest warrant from a state prosecutor or a judge before making an arrest, except in cases of hot pursuit or observing the commission of a crime. There were numerous reports of police arresting and detaining foreign nationals without a warrant, primarily as part of the government’s action against unlawful residents. The courts usually do not accept cases without warrants issued prior to arrests. Authorities generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them and allowed access to their lawyers and family members. Police investigate most misdemeanor cases and suspects are released within 48 hours after paying bail or a fine. For more serious misdemeanors and felonies, police can hold a suspect a maximum of four days on their own authority before they must refer the case to prosecution. Nonetheless, there were cases of detainees, especially those held for drug crimes, who were detained for periods of one to two weeks, and who were unaware of the specific charges against them; they were also not allowed to make phone calls or contact lawyers and family members.

Diplomatic representatives observed that in some detention cases, authorities permitted lawyers to attend legal proceedings but did not allow direct contact with their clients. In other cases defendants were absent and sentenced in their absence. Detainees were routinely denied access to their lawyers and translators in advance of hearings. Defendants who do not speak or understand Arabic often learned of charges against them after the trial, as they did not have access to a translator when the charges were pressed against them. The law provides the detained person the right to a prompt judicial determination of the detention’s legality. If authorities file charges, a prosecutor may remand a suspect to detention for an additional 10 days for a serious misdemeanor and three weeks for a felony to question the suspect and investigate the case. Prosecutors also may obtain court orders to extend detention for another 15 days, up to a maximum of four months’ detention pending trial. There is a functioning bail system for defendants awaiting trial. The bar association provides lawyers for indigent defendants; in these cases defendants do not have the option of choosing which lawyer is assigned to them. Defendants in drug cases were usually held incommunicado for several days while their cases were under investigation.

The Ministry of Interior investigates misdemeanor charges and refers cases to the misdemeanor court as appropriate. An undersecretary in the Ministry of Interior is responsible for approving all administrative deportation orders.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports that police arbitrarily detained nonnationals during raids, including some who possessed valid residency permits and visas.

Pretrial Detention: Arbitrary lengthy detention before trial sometimes occurred. Authorities held some detainees beyond the maximum detention period of six months. NGOs familiar with the judicial system reported that they believed the number of judges and prosecutors working at the MOJ was considered inadequate to handle cases in a timely manner and was the main cause of delays in processing cases.

Prolonged detention at the government-run Talha Deportation Center was also a problem, particularly when the detainee owed money to a citizen or was a citizen from a country without diplomatic representation in the country to facilitate exit documents.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law and the constitution provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The Supreme Judicial Council nominates all prosecutors and judges and submits nominations to the emir for approval. Judges who were citizens received lifetime appointments until they reached mandatory retirement age; judges who were noncitizens held one to three-year renewable contracts. The Supreme Judicial Council may remove judges for cause. Noncitizen residents involved in legal disputes with citizens frequently alleged the courts showed bias in favor of citizens. Cases existed in which legal residency holders were detained and deported without recourse to the courts.

Under the law questions of citizenship or residency status are not subject to judicial review, so noncitizens arrested for unlawful residency, or those whose lawful residency is canceled due to an arrest, have no access to the courts. The clause that allows government authorities to administratively deport a person without judicial review requires a person to be a threat to the national security or harmful to the state’s interests. The law is broadly used and subjects noncitizens charged with noncriminal offenses, including some residency and traffic violations, to administrative deportations that cannot be challenged in court; however, noncitizens charged in criminal cases face legal deportations, which can be challenged in court.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. The law forbids physical and psychological abuse of the accused. Under the law defendants also enjoy the right to be present at their trial, as well as the provision of prompt, detailed information on charges against them. There were cases where non-Arabic speaking defendants did not understand the charges against them due to language barriers and restrictions on communication between lawyers and their clients. Defendants were not always provided with interpreters as required by law. Criminal trials are public unless a court decides the “maintenance of public order” or the “preservation of public morals” necessitates closed proceedings. The bar association is obligated upon court request to appoint an attorney without charge for indigent defendants in civil, commercial, and criminal cases, and defendants used these services. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The public did not have access to most court documents. The Ministry of Justice is required to provide defendants with an interpreter for the entire judicial process, but in practice, this did not always occur.

Defendants have the right to confront their accusers, to confront witnesses against them, and to present their own witnesses, although these rights were not always respected in practice. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal verdicts to a higher court, and many persons exercised this right.

Under the domestic labor law, domestic workers are exempted from litigation fees. If foreign workers had no legal representation, the public prosecutor arranged for it on their behalf, but with little or no involvement by the workers or their families. When workers received third-party assistance to bring a case, the cases were often resolved when the employer paid a monetary settlement to avoid a trial.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were many instances of persons detained for their political views. Throughout the year the government arrested 12 individuals on charges such as insulting the emir, insulting leaders of neighboring countries, or insulting the judiciary. One defendant was acquitted, while others received jail sentences or were kept in remand pending a final verdict. During the year sentences for insulting or speaking out against the emir or other leaders on social media ranged from a few months in prison to up to 70 years for multiple offenses. Political activist Sagar al-Hashash, who is out of the country on self-imposed exile, has been convicted multiple times (including twice during the year) on various charges that included defaming the emir, speaking out against the judiciary, or insulting neighboring countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates.

The government actively monitors social media and incarcerates bloggers and political activists for expressing antigovernment opinions and ideas. The media reported between two-to-four such convictions per month. In July the Court of Cassation upheld a verdict sentencing two current lawmakers and six former MPs, all of them leading opposition figures, to seven-to-nine years in jail for “storming the National Assembly building” in 2012. The defendants claimed they were peacefully assembled to ask the then prime minister to step down and face corruption charges. The defendants’ attorneys argued in court that the protestors were attacked by security forces trying to break up the rally, forcing them to run into parliament’s building for shelter. The verdict also sentenced more than 60 other political activists charged in the same case. Half of those sentenced were in country and have begun serving their sentences.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary and trial for individuals or organizations in civil matters regarding human rights violations, but authorities occasionally did not enforce such rulings for political reasons. Authorities also occasionally used administrative punishments in civil matters, such as instituting travel bans or deportations. In the majority of cases of human rights or labor law violations, victims can go to the Public Authority for Manpower (PAM) or the Domestic Labor Department (DLD) to reach a negotiated settlement outside of court. If that is unsuccessful, individuals can pursue their cases in court. There is no regional mechanism to appeal adverse domestic human rights decisions.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and the government respected these prohibitions. Cybercrime agents within the Ministry of Interior, however, regularly monitored publicly accessible social media sites and sought information about owners of accounts, although foreign-owned social media companies denied most requests for information.

Some activists have alleged that family members have been deprived of access to education, healthcare, and jobs if they advocate for the Bidoon.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted the right of noncitizens to demonstrate.

Officials sometimes also restricted the location of planned protests to designated public spaces, citing public safety and traffic concerns. In September a group of activists peacefully assembled and protested the censorship of books in front of the Ministry of Information. Activists reported that they had applied in advance, notifying the authorities of their planned protest, but had not received a response. The initial rally dispersed peacefully when members of police requested activists to move to a different venue. A second protest was organized and the authorities gave permission for the rally away from the Ministry of Information. In the past courts have tried and sentenced participants in unlicensed demonstrations to prison terms and deported noncitizens for participating in rallies.

The Bidoon are stateless Arabs who are recognized by the authorities but not granted citizenship. Bidoon activists have reported that if they try to assemble peacefully or organize campaigns to gain equal rights, authorities regularly harass them. Some Bidoon activists indicated they were detained for questioning by authorities each time they planned campaigns or protests.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government placed restrictions on this right. The law prohibits officially registered groups from engaging in political activities.

The government used its power to register associations as a means of political influence. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor can reject an NGO’s application if it deems the NGO does not provide a public service. Most charity closings resulted from improper reporting of fundraising activities, which included not getting permission from the ministry or failing to submit annual financial reports. Dozens of unlicensed civic groups, clubs, and unofficial NGOs had no legal status, and many of those chose not to register due to bureaucratic inconvenience or inability to meet the minimum 50-member threshold. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor continued to reject some new license requests, contending established NGOs already provided services similar to those the petitioners proposed. Members of licensed NGOs must obtain permission from the ministry to attend international conferences as official representatives of their organization.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution generally provides for freedom of internal movement, but numerous laws constrain foreign travel.

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

Because there is no path to citizenship, all workers are considered foreign residents and not labelled as migrants.

Foreign Travel: Bidoon and foreign workers faced problems with, or restrictions on, foreign travel. The government restricted the ability of some Bidoon to travel abroad by not issuing travel documents, although it permitted some Bidoon to travel overseas for medical treatment and education, and to visit Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage). The Ministry of Interior has not issued “Article 17” passports (temporary travel documents that do not confer nationality) to Bidoon except on humanitarian grounds since 2014.

The law also permits travel bans on citizens and nonnationals accused or suspected of violating the law, including nonpayment of debts, and it allows other citizens to petition authorities to impose one. This provision resulted in delays and difficulties for citizens and foreigners leaving the country.

Citizenship: By law the government is prohibited from revoking the citizenship of an individual who was born a citizen unless that individual has obtained a second nationality, which is against the law. Additionally, the law permits the government to revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens for cause, including a felony conviction and, subsequently, deport them. The government has justified the revocation of citizenship by citing a 1959 nationality law that permits withdrawal of citizenship from naturalized Kuwaitis who acquired citizenship dishonestly or threatened to “undermine the economic or social structure of the country.” Additionally, if a person loses citizenship, all family members whose status derives from that person also lose their citizenship and all associated rights. Children born of citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers are not granted citizenship. Children born of noncitizen mothers and Kuwaiti fathers are granted citizenship.

In May the Court of Cassation affirmed that it is not permissible to withdraw citizenship from any citizen without a legitimate reason, stressing that a final court ruling must justify the withdrawal of the citizenship of any citizen. There were, however, cases in which natural born citizens had their citizenship revoked, even when courts found it illegal.

Persons who had their citizenship revoked, and any family members dependent on that individual for their citizenship status, became stateless individuals. Authorities can seize the passports and civil identification cards of persons who lose their citizenship and enter a “block” on their names in government databases. This “block” prevented former citizens from traveling or accessing free health care and other government services reserved for citizens. A Council of Ministers committee created in 2017 to review citizenship revocations since 1991, received 200 appeals and sent their recommendations for 70 of those to the Council of Ministers. Seven families had their citizenship restored, while the other 63 were rejected. There were no known revocations of citizenship during the year.

The law prohibits the granting of citizenship to non-Muslims, but it allows non-Muslim male citizens to transmit citizenship to their descendants. According to the law, children derive citizenship solely from the father; children born to citizen mothers and nonnational fathers do not inherit citizenship. Female citizens may sponsor their nonnational children (regardless of age) and husbands for residency permits, and they may petition for naturalization for their children if the mother becomes divorced or widowed from a noncitizen husband.

The government may deny a citizenship application by a Bidoon resident based on security or criminal violations committed by the individual’s family members. Additionally, if a person loses citizenship, all family members whose status was derived from that person also lose their citizenship and all associated rights.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status. There is no system for providing protection to refugees, and the government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year. UNHCR recognized approximately 1,650 registered asylum seekers and refugees in the country.

During the year the country suspended an agreement allowing refugees to be resettled in Turkey, Jordan, and Sudan, among others. The decision followed protests, notably in Sudan, over this policy.

Freedom of Movement: During the year UNHCR reported that hundreds of Syrian refugees remained at the deportation center since, according to UNHCR, they could not be sent back to Syria without the refugees’ approval. Holding refugees at the deportation center for long periods has exacerbated an already difficult situation at the overcrowded facility.

Employment: Most asylum seekers and refugees were from Iraq, Somalia, and Syria, and many were either employed or supported by human rights groups pending resolution of their UNHCR asylum requests and resettlement. Many reported being increasingly fearful of losing their job, residency status, or both.

Access to Basic Services: Due to populist antiexpatriate sentiments in the country, the government enacted policies making healthcare and education more expensive for foreign workers than for citizens. Human rights organizations reported the immediate effect of this policy was that many foreign workers and their families receiving medical treatment chose to be discharged from hospitals rather than receive treatment they could no longer afford. Compounded by stagnant wages, an increasing cost of living, and a lack of job security, more persons–even legally employed workers, especially from conflict zones–began seeking asylum and resettlement in Europe, America, and Australia.

Stateless Persons

According to the latest government figures, there were approximately 88,000 Bidoon in the country, while in Human Rights Watch estimated the Bidoon population at more than 100,000 in 2018. The law does not provide noncitizens, including Bidoon, a clear or defined opportunity to gain nationality. The judicial system’s lack of authority to rule on the status of stateless persons further complicated the process for obtaining citizenship, leaving Bidoon with no access to the judiciary to present evidence and plead their case for citizenship.

The naturalization process for Bidoon is not transparent, and decisions appeared arbitrary. The Central Agency for Illegal Residents, tasked with monitoring Bidoon affairs, had more than 88,000 registered Bidoon under review. Although Bidoon are entitled to government benefits including five-year renewable residency, free healthcare and education, and ration cards, community members have alleged it was difficult for them to avail of those services due to bureaucratic red tape.

According to Bidoon advocates and government officials, many Bidoon were unable to provide documentation proving ties to the country sufficient to qualify for citizenship. The government alleged that the vast majority of Bidoon concealed their “true” nationalities and were not actually stateless. Agency officials have extended incentive benefits to Bidoon who disclose an alternate nationality, including priority employment after citizens, and the ability to obtain a driver’s license. As of March approximately 12,700 Bidoon admitted holding other nationalities.

Bidoon leaders alleged that when some members of the Bidoon community attempted to obtain government services from the central agency, officials would routinely deceive them by promising to provide the necessary paperwork if Bidoon agreed to sign a blank piece of paper. Later, Bidoon reported, the agency would write a letter on the signed paper purportedly “confessing” the Bidoon’s “true” nationality such as Saudi, Iraqi, Syrian, Iranian, or Jordanian, which rendered them ineligible for recognition or benefits as Bidoon.

According to UNHCR some Bidoon underwent DNA testing to “prove” their Kuwaiti nationality by virtue of blood relation to a Kuwaiti citizen. Bidoon are required to submit DNA samples confirming paternity to become naturalized, a practice critics said leaves them vulnerable to denial of citizenship based on DNA testing.

The government discriminated against Bidoon in some areas. Some Bidoon and international NGOs reported that the government did not uniformly grant some government services and subsidies to Bidoon, including education, employment, medical care, and the issuance of civil documents, such as birth, marriage, and death certificates. Since the government treats them as illegal immigrants, Bidoon do not have property rights.

Bidoon advocates reported that many Bidoon families were unable to obtain birth certificates for their children due to extensive administrative requirements, which restricted the children’s ability to obtain government-issued identification cards, access adequate medical care, attend school, and be counted in official statistics.

Many adult Bidoon lacked identification cards due to the many administrative hurdles they face, preventing them from engaging in lawful employment or obtaining travel documents. This restriction resulted in some Bidoon children not receiving an education and working as street vendors to help support their families. Many Bidoon children who attended school enrolled in substandard private institutions as citizens were given priority to attend public school.

The government amended the existing law on military service to allow the sons of soldiers who served in the military for 30 years and the sons of soldiers killed or missing in action to be eligible to join the military. According to the head of the Interior and Defense Parliamentary Committee, more than 25,000 Bidoons are awaiting enlistment.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution stipulates the country is a hereditary emirate. The 50 elected members of the National Assembly (along with government-appointed ministers) must, by majority vote conducted by secret ballot, approve the emir’s choice of crown prince (the future emir). According to the Succession Law, the crown prince must be a male descendant of Sheikh Mubarak Al Sabah and meet three additional requirements: have attained the age of 30, possess a sound mind, and be a legitimate son of Muslim parents. The National Assembly may remove the emir from power by a two-thirds majority vote if it finds that any of these three conditions is or was not met.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers generally considered the 2016 parliamentary election free and fair and found no serious procedural problems. The election followed the emir’s October 2016 order to dissolve the National Assembly because of “mounting security challenges and volatile regional developments.” Most opposition politicians and their supporters who boycotted the 2013 election returned and participated without incident. Official turnout for the 2016 elections was approximately 70 percent.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not recognize any political parties or allow their formation, although no formal law bans political parties. National Assembly candidates must nominate themselves as individuals. Well organized, unofficial blocs operated as political groupings, and MPs formed loose alliances. In June 2016 the National Assembly amended the election law to bar those convicted of insulting the emir and Islam from running for elected office. Voters register to vote every February upon reaching the voting age of 21. Prosecutors and judges from the Ministry of Justice supervise election stations. Women prosecutors served as supervisors for the first time during the 2016 elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate in political life. Although women gained the right to vote in 2005, they still faced cultural and social barriers to political participation. For example, some tribal leaders have successfully excluded women from running for office or choosing preliminary candidates by banning them from being considered or attending unofficial tribal primaries. In the 2016 elections, 15 women filed candidate applications with one woman successfully winning a seat. Women registered to vote at a higher rate than men. Two appointed women cabinet members also serve in the country’s 65-seat parliament. In the 2016 parliamentary elections, male candidates from the Shia community, which comprised approximately one-third of the citizen population, won six seats in parliament.

There were no female public prosecutors in the country until the first group of 21 was recruited in 2015. While no legal provisions prohibit women from appointment as judges, none has been appointed, as yet, because no women have yet met the threshold of five years of service as a prosecutor required to be considered. After not hiring female prosecutors for two years, the Supreme Judicial Council accepted a new group of 30 female prosecutors in July. As more female candidates are regularly hired by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, a larger pool of female candidates will become eligible to serve as judges after 2020.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Observers believed officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

There were many reports that individuals had to pay intermediaries to receive routine government services. Police corruption was a problem, especially when one party to a dispute had a personal relationship with a police official involved in a case. Widespread reports indicated that police favored citizens over noncitizens. There were several reports of corruption in the procurement and bidding processes for lucrative government contracts.

All judicial officers received training on corruption and transparency obligations as part of the Judicial Institute’s official curriculum.

Corruption: The Audit Bureau is an agency responsible for supervising public expenses and revenues and for preventing any misuse or manipulation of public funds. The government distributes reports by the Audit Bureau annually to the emir, prime minister, head of parliament, and minister of finance. The public did not have access to these reports. Parliament’s Committee on the Protection of Public Funds frequently announced inquiries into suspected misuse of public funds. For the first time in the country’s history, a former health minister and two assistant undersecretaries were referred to the ministerial court over charges of public funds encroachment and embezzlement. In 2017 the former minister of communications referred to the public prosecution an embezzlement case involving the Kuwait Port Authority and a private company based on alleged financial irregularities discovered by the State Audit Bureau. In May the criminal court sentenced defendants from both organizations to 82 years in jail with labor and ordered them to return 62 million dinars ($205 million) of embezzled funds.

Investigations have uncovered apparently widespread use of false academic credentials by citizens and foreign residents in the public and private sectors, exposing a lack of transparency in the hiring and promotion of officials. Authorities conducted an investigation in July, which uncovered more than 10 false doctorates held by local citizens working in critical government jobs.

In March the National Assembly passed a Conflict of Interest law to promote transparency in the public sector. Employees violating this law would risk imprisonment for up to five years, a fine of up to 10,000 dinars ($33,000), and a requirement to refund any ill-gotten gains.

Media and government officials reported cases of widespread, visa-related corruption, namely selling visas or visa fraud, at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor and the Ministry of Interior. Newspapers reported that widespread abuse of “visa trading” targeting marginal workers continued throughout the year. Civil society organizations continued to criticize the government for its failure to curb this illegal trade and bring perpetrators to justice. The Ministry of Interior Criminal Investigation Department for Residence Affairs prioritized investigation and deportation of foreign nationals involved in visa selling. In November the media reported a government raid on three companies that illegally brought in approximately 2,900 foreign resident workers.

Financial Disclosure: The Anti-Corruption Authority (ACA) is charged with receiving and analyzing complaints and forwarding complaints to the appropriate authorities in either the Public Prosecutor’s Office or police for further investigation or action. As of September the ACA had received 136 corruption reports, four administrative violation reports, and three financial irregularity reports. The ACA referred 19 reports to the Office of the Public Prosecutor.

In April the Public Prosecution received more than 110 reports filed by the ACA against officials who failed to submit their financial statements on time.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The government imposed some limits on the operations of domestic and international human rights groups. A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated with limited restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. The law permits the existence of NGOs, but the government continued to deny registration to some. NGOs may not engage in political activity or encourage sectarianism. NGOs are required to demonstrate that their existence is in the public interest to be registered. Registered NGOs must show they will conduct business beneficial to the country; their work cannot undermine cultural values and norms as defined by the government.

Major local NGOs dedicated specifically to human rights included the Kuwait Society for Human Rights and the Kuwaiti Association of the Basic Evaluators of Human Rights. Other local registered NGOs were devoted to the rights or welfare of specific groups–such as women, children, prisoners, and persons with disabilities–operated with little government interference, as did a few dozen local, unregistered human rights groups. The government and various national assembly committees met occasionally with local NGOs and generally responded to their inquiries.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Assembly’s Human Rights Committee, which operates independently of the government, is an advisory body that primarily hears individual complaints of human rights abuses and worked with plaintiffs and relevant stakeholders to reach a mutual settlement. The committee visited the central prison and the central deportation center throughout the year to review overcrowding, prison and detainee treatment, and the condition of both facilities. The committee had adequate resources and was considered effective. In 2015 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs established an office of human rights funded by and under the authority of the ministry’s legal department. The office’s purpose is to produce human rights reports and respond to such reports produced by international organizations and governments that referenced the country. In January the committee started receiving grievances online.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape carries a maximum penalty of death, which the courts occasionally imposed for the crime; spousal rape is not a crime under the law, and there is no specific domestic violence law. Authorities did not effectively enforce laws against rape. Violence against women continued to be a problem. The penal code allows a rapist to elude punishment on the condition that he marry his victim and that her guardian consents that the perpetrator not be punished. There were reports alleging that some police stations did not take seriously reports by both citizens and noncitizens of rape and domestic violence.

When reported, police typically arrested perpetrators and investigated allegations of rape and, in a limited number of cases, prosecuted the accused. In September, two male citizens were sentenced to five years in prison for raping a non-Kuwaiti woman.

Although the government does not regularly publish statistics on violence against women, domestic violence cases against women were regularly reported by members of civil society organizations that worked on gender violence issues. While there is no specific domestic violence law, punishments ranged between six months in jail to the death penalty. Service providers that assisted women claimed that domestic violence statistics were significantly underreported. Women’s rights activists have recounted numerous stories of citizen women trying to get help to leave an abusive situation, but there were no shelters specifically for victims of domestic abuse. The authorities claimed to have opened a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, but activists familiar with the facility have said it was an empty building. Advocates claimed that women who reach out to police rarely get help because officers were not adequately trained to deal with domestic violence cases. Victims were generally sent back to their male guardians, who in some instances may also be their abusers.

The government does not publish statistics on violence against women. During the year a Kuwait University study found that 53 percent of Kuwaiti women were victims of domestic violence. A woman may petition for divorce based on injury from spousal abuse, but the law does not provide a clear legal standard regarding what constitutes injury. A woman must produce a report from a government hospital to document her injuries in addition to having at least two male witnesses (or a male witness and two female witnesses) who can attest to the abuse.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Officials did not report any honor killings during the year. The penal code treats some honor crimes as misdemeanors or provides for very light penalties. The law states that a man who sees his wife, daughter, mother, or sister in the “act of adultery” and immediately kills her or the man with whom she is committing adultery faces a maximum punishment of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 225 dinars ($743).

Sexual Harassment: Human rights groups characterized sexual harassment in the workplace as a pervasive and unreported problem. No specific law addresses sexual harassment, but the law criminalizes “encroachment on honor,” which encompasses everything from touching a woman against her will to rape, and police inconsistently enforced this law. The government deployed female police officers specifically to combat sexual harassment in shopping malls and other public spaces. Perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault faced fines and imprisonment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women do not enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, but citizen women enjoyed many political rights. Sharia (Islamic law) courts have jurisdiction over personal status and family law cases for Sunni and Shia Muslims. Sharia, as implemented in the country, discriminates against women in judicial proceedings, freedom of movement, marriage, child custody, and inheritance. There were no known cases of official or private sector discrimination in accessing credit, owning or managing a business, and securing housing. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to both citizen and noncitizen women (see section 7.d.). Secular courts allow any person to testify and consider male and female testimony equally, but in sharia courts, which govern personal status matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance issues, the testimony of one man equals that of two women.

The Kuwaiti Family Law Code prohibits marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, but allows marriage between Muslim men and non-Muslim women (of Abrahamic faiths). The law does not require a non-Muslim woman to convert to Islam to marry a Muslim man, but many non-Muslim women faced strong economic and societal pressure to convert. In the event of a divorce, the law grants the father or his family sole custody of children of non-Muslim women who do not convert. A non-Muslim woman who does not convert to the religion of her husband is also ineligible for naturalization as a citizen and cannot inherit her husband’s property unless specified as a beneficiary in his will.

Inheritance is also governed by sharia, which varies according to the specific school of Islamic jurisprudence. In the absence of a direct male heir, a Shia woman may inherit all property, while a Sunni woman inherits only a portion, with the balance divided among brothers, uncles, and male cousins of the deceased.

Female citizens are unable to pass citizenship to their noncitizen husbands or their children; however, exceptions were made for some children of widowed or divorced female citizens. Male citizens married to female noncitizens do not face such discrimination.

The law requires segregation by gender of classes at all universities and secondary schools, although it was not always enforced.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives entirely from the father; children born to citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers do not inherit citizenship unless the mother is divorced or widowed from the noncitizen father. The government designates religion on birth and marriage certificates. The government often granted citizenship to orphaned or abandoned infants, including Bidoon infants. Parents were sometimes unable to obtain birth certificates for their Bidoon children because of extensive administrative requirements. The lack of a birth certificate prevented such children from accessing public services such as education and health care.

Education: Education for citizens is free through the university level and compulsory through the secondary level. Education is neither free nor compulsory for noncitizens. The 2011 Council of Ministers decree which extended education benefits to Bidoon has not been implemented fully.

Medical Care: Lack of identification papers sometimes restricted Bidoon access to public medical care.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal marriage age is 17 for boys and 15 for girls, but girls continued to marry at a younger age in some tribal groups.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There are no laws specific to child pornography, because all pornography is illegal. There is no statutory rape law or minimum age for consensual sexual relations; premarital sexual relations are illegal.

In April the Child Protection Office of the Ministry of Health reported 60 cases of sexual assault on children, of approximately 600 child abuse cases that occurred in 2017. Most abuses occurred within the family. The agency reported an increase in the rate of reported cases of child abuse following the establishment of the office, which has made significant efforts in monitoring and following cases of child abuse since it was established in 2014.

The agency set up a 24-hour hotline to receive reports of child mistreatment and abuse from within the family.

In July government officials said that cases of child abuse continued to rise every year, with 20 percent of all cases related to sexual abuse. A new policy aimed at protecting children from dangers posed by social media platforms and exploitation by parents and other adults had been put in place by the Child Protection Office in the Juvenile Protection Department. The policy holds families of children 13 years old or younger responsible for the use of social media applications that might be unsuitable for young children or can expose them to sexual predators.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were no known Jewish citizens and an estimated few dozen Jewish foreign resident workers. Anti-Semitic rhetoric often originated from self-proclaimed Islamists or conservative opinion writers. These columnists often conflated Israeli government actions or views with those of Jews more broadly. Reflecting the government’s nonrecognition of Israel, there are longstanding official instructions to teachers to expunge any references to Israel or the Holocaust from English-language textbooks. The law prohibits local companies from conducting business with Israeli citizens. This included transporting Israeli citizens on the country’s national airline.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with permanent physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other government services. It imposes penalties on employers who refrain without reasonable cause from hiring persons with disabilities. The law also mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities. The government generally enforced these provisions. Noncitizens with disabilities neither had access to government-operated facilities nor received stipends paid to citizens with disabilities that covered transportation, housing, job training, and social welfare costs. The government still has not fully implemented social and workplace aides for persons with physical and, in particular, vision disabilities.

During the year the government reserved a small number of admissions to Kuwait University for citizens with disabilities, and there was regular media coverage of students with disabilities attending university classes. Nonetheless, authorities did not provide noncitizens with disabilities the same educational opportunities, and noncitizen students with disabilities experienced a lack of accessible materials and lack of reasonable accommodations in schools.

Children with disabilities attended public school. The government supervised and contributed to schools and job training programs oriented to persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Approximately 70 percent of residents were noncitizens, many originating from other parts of the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and South and Southeast Asia. Societal discrimination against noncitizens and Bidoon was prevalent and occurred in most areas of daily life, including employment (see section 7.d.), education, housing, social interaction, and health care. The Ministry of Interior uses administrative deportation, which is not subject to judicial review, to deport noncitizens for minor offenses, such as operating a taxi without a license.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men and crossdressing are illegal. The law punishes consensual same-sex sexual activity between men older than 21 with imprisonment of up of to seven years; those engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity with men younger than 21 may be imprisoned for up to 10 years. No laws criminalize sexual behavior between women. The law imposes a fine of approximately 1,060 dinars (approximately $3,500) and imprisonment for one to three years for persons imitating the appearance of the opposite sex in public. Transgender persons reported harassment, detention, and abuse by security forces.

Societal discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity occurred; to a lesser extent, officials also practiced such discrimination, usually upon discovering that a person stopped for a traffic violation did not appear to be the gender indicated on the identification card.

No registered NGOs focused on LGBTI matters, although unregistered ones existed. Due to social convention and potential repression, LGBTI organizations neither operated openly nor held LGBTI human rights advocacy events or Pride marches.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Local human rights NGOs reported no accounts of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, but persons with HIV/AIDS did not generally disclose their status due to social stigma associated with the disease. Consular officers who have reviewed medical visa applications for countries with strong HIV/AIDS treatment have alleged that local doctors and hospitals will not diagnose a patient with HIV/AIDS on their medical reports so that the patient is not subject to social stigma. Since 2016 authorities deported 576 foreign residents with HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Unmarried persons continued to face housing discrimination based solely on marital status. For example, police frequently raided apartment blocks housing bachelors. The law prohibits single persons from obtaining accommodation in many urban residential areas. Single noncitizens faced eviction due to a decision by the municipality to enforce this prohibition and remove them from residences allocated for citizens’ families, citing the presence of single men as the reason for increased crime, a burden on services, and worsening traffic.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law protects the right of Kuwaiti workers to form and join trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, with significant restrictions. The government, however, did not always respect these rights.

The law does not apply to public-sector employees, domestic workers, or maritime employees. Discrete labor laws set work conditions in the public and private sectors, with the oil industry treated separately. The law permits limited trade union pluralism at the local level, but the government authorized only one federation, the Kuwait Trade Union Federation (KTUF). The law also stipulates any new union must include at least 100 workers and that at least 15 must be citizens.

The law provides workers, except for domestic workers, maritime workers, and civil servants, a limited right to collective bargaining. There is no minimum number of workers needed to conclude such agreements.

Public-sector workers do not have the right to strike. Citizens in the private sector have the right to strike, although cumbersome provisions calling for compulsory negotiation and arbitration in the case of disputes limit that right. The law does not prohibit retaliation against striking workers or prevent the government from interfering in union activities, including the right to strike.

According to the PAM, there were 2.75 million workers in the country. Only 17.7 percent of the total workforce were citizens. Most citizens (78 percent) worked in the public sector, in part because the government provided lucrative benefits to citizens, including generous retirement funding.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference with union functions. It provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Nevertheless, the law empowers the courts to dissolve any union for violating labor laws or for threatening “public order and morals,” although a union can appeal such a court decision. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor can request the Court of First Instance to dissolve a union. Additionally, the emir may dissolve a union by decree.

Foreign workers, who constituted more than 80 percent of the workforce, may join unions only as nonvoting members after five years of work in the particular sector the union represents, provided they obtain a certificate of good conduct and moral standing from the government. They cannot run for seats or vote in board elections. Both the International Labor Organization and the International Trade Union Confederation criticized the citizenship requirement for discouraging unions in sectors that employ few citizens, including much of private-sector employment, such as construction.

The government enforced applicable laws, with some exceptions, and procedures were generally not subjected to lengthy delay or appeals.

The government treated worker actions by citizens and noncitizens differently. While citizens and public sector union leaders and workers faced no government repercussions for their roles in union or strike activities, companies directly threatened noncitizen workers calling for strikes with termination and deportation.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminally sanctions forced or compulsory labor “except in cases specified by law for national emergency and with just remuneration.” Although the law prohibits withholding of workers’ passports, the practice remained common among sponsors and employers of foreign workers and the government demonstrated no consistent efforts to enforce this prohibition. Employers confined some domestic and agricultural workers to their workspaces by retaining their passport and, in the case of some domestic workers, locked them in their work locations. Workers who fled abusive employers had difficulty retrieving their passports, and authorities deported them in almost all cases. The government usually limited punishment to assessing fines, shutting employment firms, issuing orders for employers to return withheld passports, or requiring employers to pay back wages.

Over the last year, 3,600 Indian workers were stranded in the country when the Kharafi National Company declared bankruptcy on one of its largest projects and stopped paying workers. In July more than 700 of the Indian workers were forced to leave the country without their earned salaries after the Indian government negotiated with the PAM a 250 dinars ($825) relief amount to purchase air tickets for repatriation to India and have their travel bans lifted. According to officials the PAM selected the 700 workers that received the relief stipend based on their sponsorship status with Kharafi National Company, complaints lodged with the PAM, and willingness to leave the country between November and April without the payment of earned salaries. Some of the workers who remained in the country were able to find new sponsors and take on new work.

As of April, PAM inspectors in collaboration with residency affairs detectives raided 206 fake and inactive companies that had approximately 4,000 workers under their sponsorship. These companies were found to be in violation of residency laws. The owners of fake companies were referred to the public prosecution, and the courts fined them more than one million dinars ($3.3 million) in penalties.

In July the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor indicated that approximately 7,200 court rulings were issued against fake companies involved in visa trafficking since 2014. The total amount of fines collected from those companies exceeded 12 million dinars ($40 million), an average of 1,700 dinars (approximately $5,600) per company. In August the PAM reported it had won more than 500 cases against visa traffickers. These companies were founded solely to sell visas to foreign workers; once the workers were registered to the fake companies, they become unemployed, worked as marginal workers, or were trafficked.

Some incidents of forced labor and conditions indicative of forced labor occurred, especially among foreign domestic and agricultural workers. Such practices were usually a result of employer abuse of the sponsorship system (kafala) for noncitizen workers. Employers frequently illegally withheld salaries from domestic workers and minimum-wage laborers.

Domestic servitude was the most common type of forced labor, principally involving foreign domestic workers employed under the sponsorship system, but reports of forced labor in the construction and sanitation sectors also existed. Forced labor conditions for migrant workers included nonpayment of wages, long working hours, deprivation of food, threats, physical and sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as withholding passports or confinement to the workplace. As of July employers filed 4,500 “absconding” reports against private sector employees. Domestic workers have filed approximately 240 complaints against their employers in accordance with the domestic labor law. Numerous domestic workers who escaped from abusive employers reported waiting several months to regain passports, which employers illegally confiscated when they began their employment.

The PAM operated a shelter for abused domestic workers. As of October, according to a government source, the shelter had a capacity of 500 victims. It housed as many as 450 residents in April before the residency amnesty that removed travel bans from workers seeking to return home. According to the latest report, 145 workers were resident at the shelter.

A government owned company for recruiting domestic workers officially launched its services in 2017 and initially planned to bring 120 domestic workers a month from the Philippines and approximately 100 male workers from India. In November the government-owned company, which is mandated to provide training for domestic workers and cut out middlemen to lower recruitment fees for employers, announced new agreements with India and the Philippines to start bringing workers. The target recruitment fee is between 350 and 895 dinars (approximately $1,150 and $3,000) per worker, depending on experience and skillset. The government regularly conducted information awareness campaigns via media outlets and public events and otherwise informed employers to encourage compliance by the public and private recruiting companies with the new law.

There were numerous media reports throughout the year of sponsors abusing domestic workers or significantly injuring them when they tried to escape; some reports alleged that abuse resulted in workers’ deaths. Female domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. Police and courts were reluctant to prosecute citizens for abuse in private residences but prosecuted serious cases of abuse when reported. According to a high-level government official, authorities prosecuted several cases of domestic worker abuse. In November a local woman was charged with premeditated murder and trafficking in persons for beating her domestic worker to death.

In February the case of Joanna Demafelis, a Filipina domestic worker killed and left in an apartment freezer by her Syrian and Lebanese employers highlighted the plight of domestic workers in the country. The employers of the Filipina domestic worker, who had fled the country, were arrested in February in Syria and Lebanon following an Interpol manhunt and faced extradition to Kuwait. The Criminal Court sentenced the pair in their absence to death by hanging.

Numerous media reports highlighted the problem of visa trading, where companies and recruitment agencies work together to “sell” visas to prospective workers. Often the jobs and companies attached to these visas do not exist, and the workers were left to be exploited and find work in the black market to earn a living and pay the cost of the residency visa. Arrests of visa traffickers and illegal labor rings occurred almost weekly. Since workers cannot freely change jobs, they were sometimes willing to leave their initial job due to low wages or unacceptable working conditions and enter into an illegal residency status with the hope of improved working conditions at another job.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits child labor. The legal minimum age for employment is 18, although employers may obtain permits from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor to employ juveniles between 15 and 18 in some nonhazardous trades. Juveniles may work a maximum of six hours a day with no more than four consecutive hours followed by a one-hour rest period. Juveniles cannot work overtime or between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Although not extensive, there were credible reports that children of South Asian origin worked as domestic laborers. Some underage workers entered the country on travel documents with falsified birth dates.

The government made efforts to enforce laws regulating child labor. Approximately 450 PAM labor and occupational safety inspectors routinely monitored private firms for labor law compliance, including laws against child labor. Noncompliant employers faced fines or a forced suspension of their company operations. Nevertheless, the government did not consistently enforce child labor laws in the informal sector, such as in street vending.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, sex, gender, and disability. The government immediately deports HIV-positive foreign workers, and there is no protection for workers based on sexual orientation. No laws prohibit labor discrimination based on non-HIV communicable diseases, or social status, but there were no reported cases of discrimination in these areas. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to both citizen and noncitizen women. Female domestic workers were at particular risk of discrimination or abuse due to the isolated home environment in which they worked.

Shia continued to report government discrimination based on religion. For example, Shia were represented in police force and military/security apparatus, although not in all branches and often not in leadership positions. Some Shia continued to allege that a glass ceiling of discrimination prevented them from obtaining leadership positions in public-sector organizations, including the security services. In the private sector, Shia were generally represented at all levels in proportion to their percentage of the population.

The law states that a woman should receive “remuneration equal to that of a man provided she does the same work,” although it prohibits women from working in “dangerous industries” and in trades “harmful” to health. Educated women contended the conservative nature of society restricted career opportunities, although there were limited improvements. Media reported that the gender pay gap between male and female workers in the public sector was 28.7 percent for citizens and 7.9 percent for non-Kuwaitis. While more than 70 percent of college graduates from Kuwait University were women, they were underrepresented among the number of students sent to study internationally, likely due to societal concerns about permitting young women to study away from their families. According to government statistics, women represented 51 percent of the population but had a total female workforce participation rate of 56 percent.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law sets the national minimum wage in the oil and private sector at 75 dinars (approximately $250) per month. The minimum wage for domestic workers was 60 dinars (approximately $200) per month. Most low-wage employees lived and worked in the country without their families, and employers generally provided at least some form of housing.

The law limits the standard workweek to 48 hours (40 hours for the petroleum industry), and gives private-sector workers 30 days of annual leave. The law also forbids requiring employees to work more than 60 hours per week or 10 hours per day. The law provides for 13 designated national holidays annually. Workers are entitled to 125 percent of base pay for working overtime and 150 percent of base pay for working on their designated weekly day off.

The government issued occupational health and safety standards that were current and appropriate for the main industries. For example, the law provides that all outdoor work stop between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. during June, July, and August, or when the temperature rises to more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. A worker could file a complaint against an employer with the PAM if the worker believed his safety and health were at risk.

The law and regulations governing acceptable conditions of work do not apply to domestic workers. The Ministry of Interior has jurisdiction over domestic worker matters and enforces domestic labor working standards.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for enforcement of wages, hours, overtime, and occupational safety and health regulations of nondomestic workers. Enforcement by the ministry was generally good, but there were gaps in enforcement with respect to unskilled foreign laborers. Several ministry officials cited inadequate numbers of inspectors as the main reason for their inability to enforce the laws to the best of their abilities.

Approximately 460 labor and occupational safety inspectors monitored private firms. The government periodically inspected enterprises to raise awareness among workers and employers and to assure that they abided by existing safety rules, controlled pollution in certain industries, trained workers to use machines, and reported violations.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor monitored work sites to inspect for compliance with rules banning summer work and recorded hundreds of violations during the year. Workers could also report these violations to their embassies, the KTUF, or the Labor Disputes Department. Noncompliant employers faced warnings, fines, or forced suspensions of company operations, but these were not sufficient to deter violators.

In the first 10 months of the year, the Labor Disputes Department received approximately 15,150 complaints from workers of which approximately 5,800 were referred to the courts; these complaints were either about contract issues, such as nonpayment of wages, or about difficulties transferring work visas to new companies. Most of the complaints were resolved in arbitration, with the remaining cases referred to the courts for resolution. In July the Court of Appeals ordered Al-Kharafi & Sons to pay heirs of a deceased Egyptian foreign resident (former employee of the company) 30,000 dinars ($99,000) in consequence of the company’s negligence and noncompliance to safety and security regulations. The lawsuit indicated employees of the company caused the unintentional death of the victim due to negligence by tasking the employee to clean a six-meter-deep manhole without proper gear and without checking for poisonous gases.

At times the PAM intervened to resolve labor disputes between foreign workers and their employers. The authority’s labor arbitration panel sometimes ruled in favor of foreign laborers who claimed violations of work contracts by their employers. The government was more effective in resolving unpaid salary disputes involving private sector laborers than those involving domestic workers. Media reports indicated that the Minister of Social Affairs and Labor won 58 court cases against visa traders by October.

Foreign workers were vulnerable to unacceptable conditions of work. Domestic workers and other unskilled foreign workers in the private sector frequently worked substantially in excess of 48 hours a week, with no day of rest.

Domestic workers had little recourse when employers violated their rights except to seek admittance to the domestic workers shelter where the government mediated between sponsors and workers either to assist the worker in finding an alternate sponsor or to assist in voluntary repatriation. There were no inspections of private residences, the workplace of the majority of the country’s domestic workers. Reports indicated employers forced domestic workers to work overtime without additional compensation.

Some domestic workers did not have the ability to remove themselves from an unhealthy or unsafe situation without endangering their employment. There were reports of domestic workers’ committing or attempting to commit suicide due to desperation over abuse, including sexual violence or poor working conditions. In 2016 the government implemented the domestic labor law that provides legal protections for domestic workers. The law established a formal grievance process and identified the Domestic Labor Department at the Ministry of Interior as the sole arbitration entity for domestic worker labor disputes. A worker not satisfied with the department’s arbitration decision has the right to file a legal case via the labor court. As of September the department conducted more than 2,400 inspections of domestic worker recruiting agencies, shut 15 fake agencies, and closed 30 for failing to meet the requirements of the law,

Several embassies with large domestic worker populations in the country met with varying degrees of success in pressing the government to prosecute serious cases of domestic worker abuse. Severe cases included those where there were significant, life-threatening injuries.

Morocco

Executive Summary

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary national legislative system under which ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, who presides over the Council of Ministers. The king shares executive authority with Head of Government (prime minister) Saadeddine El Othmani. According to the constitution, the king appoints the head of government from the political party with the most seats in parliament and approves members of the government nominated by the head of government. International and domestic observers judged the 2016 parliamentary elections credible and relatively free from irregularities.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included allegations of torture by some members of the security forces, although the government condemned the practice and made substantial efforts to investigate and address any reports; allegations that there were political prisoners; undue limits on freedom of expression, including criminalization of libel and certain content that criticized Islam, the monarchy, and the government’s position regarding territorial integrity; limits on freedom of assembly and association; corruption; and criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) conduct.

There were few examples of investigations or prosecutions of human rights abuses by officials, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, which contributed to the widespread perception of impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

According to the annual report from the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, from May 2017 to May 2018, the UN Working Group referred 20 cases to the government of disappearances between 1956 and 1992. The National Council on Human Rights (CNDH), a publicly funded national human rights institution, continued to cooperate with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on unresolved cases of disappearance dating to the 1950s through the 1990s. The CNDH continued to investigate individual claims, but since 2009 shifted its overall focus from individual claims to community reparation projects. According to the CNDH, the government allocated additional funds during the year to the CNDH for reparations to individuals (or their living beneficiaries) not previously compensated due to technical errors in the work of the now-defunct Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In addition to direct financial compensation, the government funded professional reinsertion and medical assistance programs as well as recovered stolen assets as reparations to individuals or their living family members that the commission identified. (For information on reparation claims in Western Sahara, see the Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights for Western Sahara.)

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such practices, and the government denied it authorizes the use of torture. In May, during a television program, Human Rights Minister Mustafa Ramid acknowledged that, while the government did not condone torture, some incidents of torture still occurred in the country without government approval. He denied, however, its use was systematic or as prevalent as in the past. The law defines torture and stipulates that all government officials or members of security forces who “make use of violence against others without legitimate motive, or incite others to do the same, during the course of their duties shall be punished in accordance with the seriousness of the violence.”

In the event of an accusation of torture, the law requires judges to refer a detainee to a forensic medical expert when the detainee or lawyer requests it or if judges notice suspicious physical marks on a detainee. In some cases judges have refused to order a medical assessment when a detainee made an allegation of abuse. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and media documented cases of authorities’ failure to implement provisions of the antitorture law, including failure to conduct medical examinations when detainees alleged torture.

In February 2017 a court of first instance (trial court) in Kenitra ruled to hold in preventative detention a royal gendarme accused of raping a detainee with a baton in the same month. According to the government, the individual remained in preventative detention pending a ruling by the court of appeals in Kenitra.

The National Police Force (DGSN) reported that, between September and December 2017, three police officers were implicated in three cases involving torture allegations and nine were implicated in five cases involving inappropriate use of violence; the outcomes of these cases were unknown. The three cases noted by the DGSN were likely among those included in the Minister of Justice Mohammed Aujjar’s report to parliament in December 2017, which stated that, as of August 2017, 151 individuals reported experiencing torture and were examined by medical personnel and that two officials had since been prosecuted. The outcomes of the cases were unknown at year’s end.

According to the DGSN, from January through August, the police internal mechanism for investigation of possible torture or mistreatment addressed 19 cases, six of which were dismissed due to unfounded allegations. In the remaining 13 cases, 20 officers were reprimanded for their actions through administrative sanctions. Four additional cases were brought before the court alleging 10 police officers were involved in torture and mistreatment. According to the Ministry of Justice, as of November, in accordance with the law against torture, judges made requests for the medical examination of 99 detainees who alleged torture; 77 of the examinations were in progress at year’s end, while the results of the 22 completed examinations were unknown. It was unclear whether the cases reported by the DGSN were included in the Ministry of Justice’s statistics through November. Judicial investigations into the allegations of torture were ongoing at year’s end.

In February parliament unanimously voted to broaden the CNDH’s mandate to include a National Preventative Mechanism (NPM), in line with the requirements of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. Consultations were underway to staff the NPM at year’s end.

In March the DGSN issued instructions to police-affiliated provisional detention centers, such as local jails, reminding police detention officials that they must respect the law and human rights and refrain from any actions that denigrate or humiliate detainees or face sanctions. The DGSN also revised its curriculum to include additional human rights training.

In April a court of appeals upheld a court of first instance ruling against three prison officials implicated in three cases of torture of detainees after the CNDH referred the cases to the Ministry of Justice in October 2017. The court of appeals, however, altered the court of first instance sentences for each prison official from four months in prison to a four-month suspended sentence and a fine of 500 dirhams ($52). In April the Prison Administration (DGAPR) also distributed guidelines to all prison personnel on preventing torture in custody, as part of a three-month training. The CNDH also organized training in April for members of the Royal Gendarmerie and provided them information on the national and international mechanisms for the prevention of torture.

According to the CNDH, in October the Ministry of Justice launched independent investigations into 2016 and 2017 complaints made by Hirak movement detainees alleging torture or mistreatment by police or prison officials. The CNDH had previously referred 35 individual forensic reports to the ministry from 19 detainees held in the Ain Sebaa prison and 16 in the Al Hoceima prison. According to the Ministry of Justice, after a court in September 2017 ordered investigations into allegations that police from the National Brigade of Judicial Police had abused 32 individuals detained in Al Hoceima, a judge requested medical exams for 22 of the detainees alleging torture. The forensic medical examiner concluded that three of the 22 individuals had been exposed to physical violence. The Ministry of Justice, however, did not take further action on the cases involving the three individuals. According to the ministry, the lawyers representing the three detainees visited the individuals 64 times and did not report allegations of torture.

According to the government, there were two new allegations submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by Moroccan peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping operations for events that occurred in previous years. Morocco and the UN jointly investigated two other allegations submitted in 2017 against Moroccan peacekeepers and determined the allegations to be unsubstantiated.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions improved during the year but in some cases did not meet international standards.

Physical Conditions: The Moroccan Observatory of Prisons (OMP), an NGO focused on the rights of prisoners, continued to report that some prisons were overcrowded and failed to meet local and international standards. Since 2008 the DGAPR has built 31 new prisons to international standards. In the new prisons, pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners are held separately. As the DGAPR completed construction of each new prison, it closed older prisons and moved inmates to the new locations; during the year it closed two older prisons and opened four new ones. Older prisons remained overcrowded, however, resulting in authorities frequently holding pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners together. According to government sources and NGOs, prison overcrowding was due in large part to an underutilized system of bail or provisional release, a severe backlog in cases, and lack of judicial discretion to reduce the length of prison sentences for specific crimes. Government sources stated that administrative requirements also prevented prison authorities from transferring individuals in pretrial detention or the appeals phase to facilities outside the jurisdiction where their trials were to take place.

In March the DGSN issued instructions to police-affiliated provisional detention centers, such as local jails, calling for adequate furnishing of facilities with mattresses, provision of medical care by police doctors for injured or ill detainees, and an invitation for officers to visit the detention area regularly.

The law provides for the separation of minors. In all prisons, officials classify youth offenders into two categories, both of which are separated from other prisoners: minors under 18 and youthful offenders 18 to 20 years old. According to authorities minors are not held with prisoners older than 20 years. The DGAPR had four dedicated juvenile “centers for reform and education” but maintained separate, dedicated youth detention areas for minors in all prisons. The government reported that, in cases where a juvenile court judge ruled that detention was necessary, minors less than 14 years old were detained separately from minors 15 to 18 years old. In cases where a minor is ordered detained, a judge must follow up on a monthly basis.

A 2016 CNDH study noted less access to health facilities and vocational training opportunities for female prisoners, as well as discrimination by prison staff.

Local NGOs asserted that prison facilities did not provide adequate access to health care and did not accommodate the needs of prisoners with disabilities, although government sources stated that a nurse and a psychologist examined each prisoner on arrival and received care upon request. According to the DGAPR, prisoners received five general and one dental consultations with a medical professional per year, in addition to psychological or other specialist care, and that all care was provided free of charge.

The DGAPR provided food to inmates at no cost, certified by the Ministry of Health as meeting the nutritional needs of the average adult male. Prison commissaries stocked fresh fruit and vegetables for purchase. Some Jewish community leaders reported that, since the DGAPR phased out the delivery of family food baskets in November 2017, some Jewish prisoners were unable to access kosher foods. According to the DGAPR, the penitentiary system accommodates the special dietary needs of prisoners suffering from illnesses and of prisoners with religious dietary restrictions. In addition the DGAPR authorizes religious observances and services provided by religious leaders for all prisoners, including religious minorities.

NGOs frequently cited cases where prisoners protested the conditions of their detention with hunger strikes. According to Amnesty International, prisoners launched hunger strikes to protest prison conditions, including poor hygiene and sanitation, inadequate health care, overcrowding, and detention far from their families, as well as limited visiting rights and access to education. The CNDH and the DGAPR regularly addressed requests for transfer based on family proximity, and the DGAPR sometimes granted such requests. At other times the DGAPR informed the detainee that the requested transfer was not possible, often because of overcrowding at the requested location.

Some human rights activists have asserted that the prison administration reserved harsher treatment for Islamists who challenged the king’s religious authority and for those accused of “questioning the territorial integrity of the country.” The DGAPR denied that any prisoners received differential treatment and asserted that all prisoners received equal treatment in accordance with the Prison Act.

Administration: While authorities generally permitted relatives and friends to visit prisoners, there were reports that authorities denied visiting privileges in some instances. The DGAPR assigned each prisoner to a risk classification level, which determined visiting privileges. According to the DGAPR’s prisoner classification guide, the DGAPR placed restrictions on the level of visits, recreation, and types of educational programming for higher-risk prisoners. At all classifications prisoners may receive visits, although the length, frequency, and number of visitors may vary. Most prisons assigned each prisoner a designated “visit day” to manage the number of visits to the prison.

The CNDH and the DGAPR investigated allegations of inhuman conditions. The CNDH and the DGAPR effectively served the function of an ombudsman, and a system of “letterboxes” operated in prisons to facilitate prisoners’ right to submit complaints regarding their imprisonment. Detainees could submit complaints without censorship to the DGAPR Delegate General’s Office for processing, as well as to the CNDH. The DGAPR reported that it conducted investigations into 367 complaints of mistreatment and six of extortion by prison personnel but that none of the allegations were substantiated. The DGAPR also reported 451 complaints associated with transfer requests, health care, and educational or vocational training.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some NGOs with a human rights mandate to conduct unaccompanied monitoring visits. Government policy permitted NGOs that provided social, educational, or religious services to prisoners to enter prison facilities. According to prison officials, various NGOs conducted more than 350 monitoring visits through August and at least 22 of the visits through September were by the OMP. The CNDH conducted an average of 300 monitoring visits per year.

Improvements: To alleviate overcrowding and improve overall conditions, government authorities reported opening four new detention facilities during the year (see section 1.c., Physical Conditions). The government reported increasing the number of vocational and educational training programs it administers in prisons. The Mohammed VI Foundation for the Reinsertion of Prisoners provided educational and professional training in 58 prisons to inmates approaching their release date. As part of a required six-month training program for all of its new officials, the DGAPR trained 430 new recruits on human rights and 710 DGAPR officials on collaboration with outside partners. In September the DGAPR launched a radio station in one prison that offered prisoners and prison staff the opportunity to discuss issues related to prison operations and rehabilitation.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention. Observers indicated that police did not always respect these provisions or consistently observe due process, particularly during or in the wake of protests. According to local NGOs and associations, police sometimes arrested persons without warrants or while wearing civilian clothing. Individuals have the right to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and request compensation by submitting a complaint to the court.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The security apparatus includes several police and paramilitary organizations with overlapping authority. The National Police (“Direction Generale de la Surete Nationale”–DGSN) manages internal law enforcement in cities and reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Auxiliary Forces also report to the Ministry of Interior and support gendarmes and police. The Royal Gendarmerie, which reports to the Administration of National Defense, is responsible for law enforcement in rural regions and on national highways. The judicial police (investigative) branches of both the Royal Gendarmerie and the National Police reports to the royal prosecutor and have the power to arrest individuals. The Department of Royal Security is a branch of the National Police that provides protection for the king and royal family members. The Directorate General of Territorial Surveillance has intelligence-gathering responsibilities without arrest powers and reports to the Ministry of Interior.

There are mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. Nevertheless, in the past international and domestic human rights organizations claimed that authorities dismissed many complaints of abuse and relied only on police statements.

Authorities investigated some low-level incidents of alleged abuse and corruption among security forces. The judicial police investigated allegations, including those against security forces, and advised the court of their findings. Cases at times languished in the investigatory or trial phases.

As of August the government conducted 36 administrative investigations into 14 allegations of corruption, 10 of extortion, five of collusion with drug traffickers, and seven of misappropriation of seized objects. As a result, 26 police officers received disciplinary sanctions, three cases were referred to the courts, and 20 cases were dismissed for unfounded allegations. The government also referred 17 corruption cases that implicated 29 police officers to the national judicial police for criminal investigations. Nine police officers were dismissed from duty for corruption during the year, compared to eight in 2017.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law police may arrest an individual after a general prosecutor issues an oral or written warrant. The law permits authorities to deny defendants’ access to counsel or family members during the initial 96 hours of detention under terrorism-related laws or during the initial 24 hours of detention for other charges, with an optional extension of 12 hours with the approval of the Prosecutor’s Office. Authorities did not consistently respect these provisions. Reports of abuse generally referred to these initial detention periods, when police interrogated detainees. According to the government, it trained 1,010 police officers on security and human rights in partnership with civil society. The Royal Gendarmerie also trained 1,660 gendarmes and 2,875 gendarme trainees.

In ordinary criminal cases, the law requires police to notify a detainee’s next of kin of an arrest immediately after the above-mentioned period of incommunicado detention, unless arresting authorities applied for and received an extension from a magistrate. Police did not consistently abide by this provision. Authorities sometimes delayed notifying the family or did not inform lawyers promptly of the date of arrest, and the families and lawyers were not able to monitor compliance with detention limits and treatment of the detainee.

The law states, “in the case of a flagrant offense, the Judicial Police Officer has the right to keep the suspect in detention for 48 hours. If strong and corroborated evidence is raised against this person, [the officer] can keep them in custody for a maximum of three days with the written authorization of the prosecutor.” For common crimes, authorities can extend this 48-hour period twice, for up to six days in detention. Under terrorism-related laws, a prosecutor may renew the initial detention by written authorization for a total detention time of 12 days. According to the Antiterrorism Act, there is no right to a lawyer during this time except for a half-hour monitored visit at the midpoint of the 12-day period. Observers widely perceived the 2015 law on counterterrorism as consistent with international standards.

At the conclusion of the initial detention period in police custody, a detainee must be presented to a prosecutor, who may issue provisional charges and order additional investigation by an investigatory judge in preparation for trial. The investigative judge has four months, plus a possible one-month extension, to interview the individual and determine what charges, if any, to file for trial. An individual may be detained in investigatory detention or at liberty during this phase. At the end of five months (if an extension is granted), the investigative judge must either file charges, decline to file charges and drop the case, or release the individual pending an additional investigation and a determination of whether to file. Authorities generally followed these timelines.

NGO sources stated that some judges were reticent to use alternative sentences permitted under the law, such as provisional release. The law does not require written authorization for release from detention. In some instances judges released defendants on their own recognizance. A bail system exists; the deposit may be in the form of property or a sum of money paid to court as surety to ensure the defendant’s return to future court proceedings. The amount of the deposit is subject to the discretion of the judge, who decides depending on the offense. Bail may be requested at any time before the judgment. According to the law, defendants have the right to attorneys; if a defendant cannot afford private counsel, authorities must provide a court-appointed attorney when the criminal penalty exceeds five years in prison. Authorities did not always provide effective counsel.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces often detained groups of individuals, took them to a police station, questioned them for several hours, and released them without charge. Under the penal code, any public official who orders an arbitrary detention may be punished by demotion and, if it is done in a private interest, by imprisonment for 10 years to life. An official who neglects to refer a claimed or observed arbitrary or illegal detention to his superiors may be punished by demotion. There was no available information as to whether these provisions were applied during the year.

Pretrial Detention: Although the government claimed that authorities generally brought accused persons to trial within two months, prosecutors may request as many as five additional two-month extensions of pretrial detention. Pretrial detentions can last as long as one year; in the past there were reports that authorities routinely held detainees beyond the one-year limit. The government reported there were no cases where detainees were held beyond the one-year limit during the year. Government officials attributed these delays to the large backlog of cases in the justice system. The government stated that a variety of factors contributed to this backlog: a lack of resources devoted to the justice system, both human and infrastructure; the lack of plea bargaining as an option for prosecutors, lengthening the amount of time to process cases on average; rare use of mediation and other out-of-court settlement mechanisms allowed by law; and the absence of legal authority for alternative sentencing. The government reported that, as of November, 42 percent of detainees were in pretrial detention awaiting their first trial. In some cases detainees received a sentence shorter than the time they spent in pretrial detention, particularly for misdemeanors.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and, as in previous years, NGOs asserted that corruption and extrajudicial influence weakened judicial independence. The Supreme Judicial Council, mandated by the 2011 constitution, manages the courts and day-to-day judicial affairs in place of the Ministry of Justice. The president of the Court of Cassation (the highest court of appeals) chairs the 20-member body. Additional members include the president of the First Chamber of the Court of Cassation; the prosecutor general (equivalent of the attorney general); the mediator (national ombudsman); the president of the CNDH; 10 members elected by the country’s judges; and five members appointed by the king. In October the Supreme Judicial Council established its internal mechanisms and began the process of taking over day-to-day management and oversight from the Ministry of Justice, although the activities of the Supreme Judicial Council experienced delays due to administrative and legal impediments. While the government stated the aim of creating the council was to improve judicial independence, its effect on judicial independence was not clear. According to media reports and human rights activists, outcomes of trials in which the government had a strong interest, such as those touching on Islam as it related to political life and national security, the legitimacy of the monarchy, and Western Sahara, sometimes appeared predetermined.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial with the right of appeal, but this did not always occur. The law presumes that defendants are innocent. Defendants are informed promptly of potential charges after the initial arrest and investigation period. Defendants are then informed of final charges at the conclusion of the full investigatory period, which may last several months. Trials are conducted in Arabic, and foreigners have the right to request interpretation if they do not speak Arabic.

Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult in a timely manner with an attorney. Defendants have the right to refuse to participate in their trial, and a judge may decide to continue the proceedings in the defendant’s absence while providing a detailed summary to the defendant. Authorities often denied lawyers timely access to their clients and, in the some cases, lawyers met their clients only at the first hearing before the judge. Authorities are required to provide attorneys in cases where the potential sentence is greater than five years, if the defendant is unable to afford one. Publicly provided defense attorneys were often poorly paid and neither properly trained in matters pertaining to juveniles nor provided to defendants in a timely fashion. The appointment process for public defenders was lengthy, often resulting in a defendant arriving to trial before a court-appointed attorney was designated. In these cases the judge may ask any attorney present to represent the defendant. This practice often resulted in inadequate representation. Many NGOs provided attorneys for vulnerable individuals (minors, refugees, victims of domestic violence), who frequently did not have the means to pay. Such resources were limited and specific to larger cities. The law permits defense attorneys to question witnesses. Despite the provisions of the law, some judges reportedly denied defense requests to question witnesses or to present mitigating witnesses or evidence.

The law forbids judges from admitting confessions made under duress. NGOs reported that the judicial system often relied on confessions for the prosecution of criminal cases, and authorities pressured investigators to obtain a confession from suspects in order for prosecution to proceed. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and local NGOs charged that judges, at their discretion, sometimes decided cases based on forced confessions.

The courts were moving away from a confession-based system to an evidence-based system. Since 2016 the National Police have had evidence preservation centers throughout the country to secure evidence collected at crime scenes and to ensure compliance with chain of custody procedures. According to the Ministry of Justice, legal clerks manage the evidence preservation centers and coordinate the court’s and the defense’s access to evidence. The Kenitra Royal Police Institute has trained 23,280 police officers in crime scene management and preservation since 2014. Police were working with the courts to demonstrate the utility of evidence preservation rooms as a means to increase judges’ confidence in evidence presented at trials and decrease the pressure on investigators to obtain confessions.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The law does not define or recognize the concept of a political prisoner. The government did not consider any of its prisoners to be political prisoners and stated that it had charged or convicted all individuals in prison under criminal law. Criminal law covers nonviolent advocacy and dissent, such as insulting police in songs or “defaming Morocco’s sacred values” by denouncing the king and regime during a public demonstration. NGOs, including the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) and Sahrawi organizations, asserted that the government imprisoned persons for political activities or beliefs under the cover of criminal charges.

Some NGOs alleged that a group of 24 Sahrawis, convicted in 2017 in connection with the deaths of 11 members of Moroccan security forces during the 2010 dismantlement of the Gdeim Izik protest camp and subsequent violence in Laayoune, Western Sahara, were political prisoners. In November 2017 the CNDH published a report on the 2017 trial hearings and determined that the trial met the conditions of a fair trial as provided in the country’s Constitution and Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. For more information see the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights for Western Sahara.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Although individuals have access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights violations and have filed lawsuits, such lawsuits were frequently unsuccessful due to the courts’ lack of independence on politically sensitive cases or lack of impartiality stemming from extrajudicial influence and corruption. The Supreme Judicial Council is tasked with ensuring ethical behavior by judicial personnel (see section 4). There are administrative as well as judicial remedies for alleged wrongs. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders in a timely manner.

The Institution of the Mediator (national ombudsman) helped to resolve civil matters that did not clear the threshold to merit involvement of the judiciary. Although it faced backlogs, it gradually expanded the scope of its activities and subjected complaints to in-depth investigation. The mediator retransmitted to the CNDH for resolution cases specifically related to allegations of human rights abuses by authorities. The CNDH continued to be a conduit through which citizens expressed complaints regarding human rights abuses and violations.

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

While the constitution states an individual’s home is inviolable and that a search may take place only with a search warrant, authorities at times entered homes without judicial authorization, monitored without legal process personal movement and private communications–including email, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private–and employed informers.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for the right of peaceful assembly. The government generally allowed authorized and unauthorized peaceful demonstrations to occur. Under the law groups of more than three persons require authorization from the Ministry of Interior to protest publicly. Security forces intervened on occasion to disband both authorized and unauthorized protests when officials deemed the demonstration a threat to public security.

Some NGOs complained that authorities did not apply the approval process consistently and used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. According to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2018, police allowed many protests demanding political reform and protesting government actions, but often forcibly dispersed peaceful protests or prevented demonstrations from occurring. According to the government, there was an average of 20,000 demonstrations per year. While the majority of protests proceeded peacefully, on several occasions violence erupted between protestors and police. According to the CNDH, during some unauthorized demonstrations in Tan-Tan, the security forces intervened in a “disproportionate manner.”

Security forces were generally present both in and out of uniform at protests, particularly if the protest was expected to address a sensitive issue. In general, officers were under orders to observe and not intervene, unless the demonstration becomes unruly, threatening to bystanders, or overflows into public highways. In those cases, under standard operating procedures, officers are required to give the crowd three warnings that force will be used if they do not disperse. Security forces then attempt to force protestors to leave the area, using riot shields to push standing protestors into a designated area or carrying seated protestors to the designated area. If such lower-level tactics fail, security forces may escalate to the use of batons, water cannons, or tear gas to clear the area and restore order. Security force tactics did not differ significantly, whether the protest was authorized or unauthorized, although the decision on whether to intervene sometimes depended on whether the protest was authorized. According to the government, if officers intervene in a protest, a police judiciary officer not involved in the intervention and under the supervision of the attorney general must produce a statement documenting the circumstances of the case, the number of victims, and the material damage due to the operation. The police judiciary officer must address the statement to the Attorney General’s Office with a copy to the governor of the territorial jurisdiction where the incident transpired. The government organized ongoing training on human rights-based methods to manage crowds throughout the year.

In December 2017, two brothers were found dead inside a coal pit in the northeast province of Jerada where they mined illegally. According to media reports, their deaths sparked protests over social disparities, economic grievances, and unemployment. According to the government, from December 2017 to August, approximately 300 protests involving nearly 55,000 persons total took place, injuring 29 civilians and 247 members of the security forces in violence that erupted during interventions.

On March 14, online media sources released a video showing four police vehicles driving close to protesters and severely injuring a minor during an unauthorized protest in Jerada. The government reported that security forces accidentally hit the minor while attempting to disperse the crowds. As of December authorities arrested 94 people in connection with the Jerada protests. According to press reports, several protest leaders and three minors were among the detained. According to the government, 51 were sentenced to prison, 31 of whom were sentenced to prison terms of one to five years. Some detainees were sentenced for destruction of public goods, incitement to commit crimes, and or involvement in unauthorized protests. More than 40 cases continued at year’s end.

On June 26, the Casablanca Court of Appeal convicted and issued sentences to protest leader Nasser Zefzafi and 52 other members of the Hirak protest movement. Four detainees, including Zefzafi, were sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment on charges including threatening national security. Other sentences varied from 15 years’ imprisonment to suspended sentences and fines. The detainees appealed the convictions; no updates were available at year’s end. According to the Ministry of Justice, authorities implicated 578 persons in crimes related to the Hirak protests, of whom 306 were sentenced, 204 pardoned, 39 acquitted of all charges, and 29 were awaiting trial as of November.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of association, although the government sometimes restricted this freedom. The government prohibited or failed to recognize some political opposition groups by deeming them unqualified for NGO status. While the government does not restrict the source of funding for NGOs operating in the country, NGOs that receive funding from foreign sources are required to report the amount and its origins to the government within 30 days from the date of receipt. The government denied official recognition to NGOs that it considered advocates against Islam as the state religion or questions the legitimacy of the monarchy or the country’s territorial integrity. Authorities obstructed the registration of a number of associations perceived to be critical of the authorities by refusing to accept their registration applications or to deliver receipts confirming the filing of applications (see section 5).

The Ministry of Interior required NGOs to register before being recognized as legal entities, but there was no comprehensive national registry publicly available. A prospective organization must submit its objectives, bylaws, address, and photocopies of members’ identification cards to the ministry. The ministry issues a receipt to the organization that signifies formal approval. Organizations without receipts are not formally registered, although the government tolerated activities of several organizations without these receipts. Unregistered organizations could not access government funds or legally accept contributions.

The National Federation of Amazigh Associations, an organization supporting the inclusion of the Amazigh (Berber) population in public life, reported that, as of October, the nine Amazigh organizations denied registration in 2017 continued to be denied registration during the year, including the federation itself (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

According to the CNDH, the Tan-Tan branch of the CNDH received one complaint from an organization denied registration during the year. The branch contacted government authorities, and following mediation the government registered the organization.

Authorities continued to monitor Justice and Charity Organization activities.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights although it limited movement to areas experiencing widespread unrest. The government denied entry to individuals it believed threatened the stability of the country. 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, and other persons of concern. The government also provided funding to humanitarian organizations to provide social services to migrants, including refugees.

The government continued to make travel documents available to Sahrawis, and there were no reported cases of authorities preventing Sahrawis from traveling. The government encouraged the return of Sahrawi refugees from Algeria and elsewhere if they acknowledged the government’s authority over Western Sahara.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees and asylum seekers, as well as migrants, were particularly vulnerable to abuse. Europe-bound human smuggling and human trafficking increased in part due to restrictions on migration via the central and eastern Mediterranean. Moroccan authorities, however, cooperated with Spanish and EU authorities to thwart trafficking networks and arrest traffickers. Parliament passed legislation in 2016 to improve protections for victims. There were reports of government authorities arresting or detaining migrants, particularly around the Spanish enclave cities of Melilla and Ceuta, and forcibly relocating them to other parts of the country to deter attempts to cross illegally into Spanish territory.

In-country Movement: According to Amnesty International, since July law enforcement authorities seized an estimated 5,000 persons, including thousands of sub-Saharan migrants, and forcibly relocated them from areas neighboring the straits of Gibraltar and the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta to the south of the country or near the Algerian border. According to Amnesty International, these included 14 asylum-seekers and four refugees registered with UNHCR in the country who authorities forcibly transferred to the south. At a press conference on August 30, government spokesperson Mustapha Khalfi stated the operations transferring migrants to other cities were in accordance with national laws that fight illegal immigration. The Ministry of Interior also affirmed the authorities relocated migrants without legal status from the north to other parts of Morocco in accordance with the law after local authorities had given notice to the migrants to relocate due to national security concerns.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status. The government has historically deferred to UNHCR as the sole agency in the country entitled to perform refugee status determinations and verify asylum cases. UNHCR referred cases that meet the criteria for refugee recognition to the government’s interministerial Commission in Charge of Hearings for Asylum Seekers within the Bureau of Refugees and Stateless Persons. The government recognizes two types of asylum status: refugees designated according to the UNHCR statute and the “exceptional regularization of persons in irregular situation” under the 2016 migrant regularization program. The government continued to grant status to UNHCR-recognized refugees and temporary status to registered Syrians. There were 755 refugees registered in the country. During the year the commission held one hearing on January 25 for 36 asylum seekers referred by UNHCR; the eight asylum seekers who attended the hearing were granted legal status. According to the Ministry of Interior, as of August, UNHCR Rabat referred 803 asylum seekers to the commission, of whom about 60 percent were Syrian nationals.

Access to Basic Services: Recognized refugees and migrants were generally able to work and access health care and education services, including publicly funded professional and vocational training. Requests on behalf of women and children receive automatic approval, with immediate access to education and healthcare. Asylum seekers were, however, sometimes unable to access the national health care system and continued to have little access to the judicial system until recognized as refugees.

Durable Solutions: According to the government, during the second phase of its migrant regularization program from December 2016 to December 2017, the government granted legal status to 27,660 applicants. The government initially denied 14,898 applicants, of whom 9,328 reapplied and reviewing committees established at the local level reviewed these applications and granted those 9,328 legal status. The reviewing committees were composed of government officials, authorities, and representatives from the CNDH and migrant-serving NGOs. The program, similar to the 2014 campaign, granted legal status to foreign spouses and children of citizens and other legal residents of the country as well as to individuals with at least five years of residence in the country, a valid work contract, or chronic illness. From 2014 through 2017, the government granted legal status to more than 50,756 migrants, approximately 85 percent of the migrants who applied. Migrants and refugees may obtain Moroccan nationality if they meet the legal requirements of the Nationality Law and submit a request to the Ministry of Justice. The government facilitated voluntary returns in cooperation with UNHCR and, when necessary, the resettlement of recognized refugees to third countries. Since 2004 the government and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have cofunded for the voluntary return of an estimated 26,000 migrants to their countries of origin. According to the government, it assisted with the voluntary return to the country of origin of an average of 2,000 to 3,000 migrants per year.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Syrians and Yemenis benefited from “exceptional regularization” outside of the more permanent migrant regularization program. From December 2017 to February, 23,464 migrants benefited from exceptional regularization.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The country is a constitutional monarchy under which ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, who presides over the Council of Ministers. The king shares executive authority with the head of government (prime minister). According to the constitution, the king appoints the head of government from the political party with the most seats in parliament and approves members of the government nominated by the head of government.

The law provides for, and citizens participated in, free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage for parliament’s Chamber of Representatives and municipal and regional councils. Regional and professional bodies indirectly elected members of parliament’s less powerful Chamber of Counselors.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2016 the country held direct elections for the Chamber of Representatives (the more powerful lower house of parliament). The major political parties and domestic observers considered the elections free, fair, and transparent. International observers considered the elections credible, noting voters were able to choose freely and the process was free of systemic irregularities. As stipulated by the constitution, the king tasked the Party of Justice and Development, which won the most seats in the newly elected chamber, to form a governing coalition and nominate new ministers.

Political Parties and Political Participation: A political party may not legally challenge Islam as the state religion, the institution of the monarchy, or the country’s territorial integrity. The law prohibits basing a party on a religious, ethnic, or regional identity.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Voters elected a record number of women in the 2016 elections, although very few subsequently won leadership positions as ministers or parliamentary committee presidents.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches during the year.

Corruption: Observers generally considered corruption an ongoing problem, with insufficient governmental checks and balances to reduce its occurrence. There were reports of petty government corruption. According to the Ministry of Justice, 134 public officials were charged with corruption during the year; 121 were investigated and 13 convicted for corruption.

Some members of the judicial community were reluctant to implement adopted reforms and procedures to strengthen controls against corruption. In some cases judges received disciplinary sanctions for corruption but were not prosecuted. The Supreme Judicial Council is tasked with ensuring ethical behavior by judicial personnel (see section 1.e.).

In May 2017 the Ministry of Justice announced the arrest of Rabat Court of Appeals judge Rachid Mechkaka on charges of accepting a bribe of 10,000 dirhams ($1,050) to give a favorable decision in a family court appeal case. In July 2017 the court of first instance in Casablanca sentenced Mechkaka to one year’s imprisonment and a fine of 1,000 dirhams ($105). In December 2017 an appeals court upheld the court of first instance’s sentence, and he was imprisoned in Oukacha (Ain Sebaa) prison in Casablanca, pending appeals in the Court of Cassation.

Observers noted widespread corruption among police. The government claimed to investigate corruption and other instances of police malfeasance through an internal mechanism (see section 1.d.). On March 29, the court of appeals in Tangier acquitted a police officer of criminal charges after he was suspended from his duties in October 2017 for forgery of travel documents that allowed an Afghan family to travel to France. In May a police officer at the Tanger Med port was arrested in possession of large quantities of drugs and charged with drug trafficking. The officer was sentenced to three years in prison and a 20,000 dirham ($2,100) fine. According to media reports, on November 3 and 4, the Rabat Court of Appeals found 16 police officers guilty in drug-smuggling cases and sentenced them to prison with sentences ranging from five to 12 years.

According to the government, a number of gendarmes and officers were placed in preventive detention and were facing charges for corruption, abuse of power, breaking professional secrecy, and transporting illegal drugs. In May, five royal gendarmes in Marrakech were dismissed for corruption. The government reported that every gendarme accused of corruption during the year was subject to legal proceedings. The results of these cases were pending court rulings.

The National Authority for Probity, Prevention, and Fighting Corruption (INPPLC) is responsible for combating corruption. In 2015 parliament adopted a constitutionally mandated law providing the INPPLC with the authority to compel government institutions to comply with anticorruption investigations. On December 13, the king appointed Mohamed Bachir Rachdi president of the INPPLC.

In addition to the INPPLC, the Ministry of Justice and the High Audit Institution (government accountability court) had jurisdiction over corruption issues. The institution has authority to conduct investigations. In August the High Audit Institution released a public report flagging the misuse of public funds in some ministries and lack of fairness and transparency in public tenders that required penal prosecution. According to the Ministry of Justice, six investigations were launched and one case was presented before the court as a result of this year’s audit report.

The Ministry of Justice ran a hotline for the public to report instances of corruption. In a presentation to the judiciary in December 2017, Minister of Justice Mohammed Aujjar stated that, between June 25 and September 30 of that year, the corruption hotline had led to 31 cases that resulted in prison time. In February, Head of Government Saadeddine El Othmani confirmed that state officials had been arrested as a result of calls to the hotline regarding corruption and embezzlement.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires judges, ministers, and members of parliament to submit financial disclosure statements to the High Audit Institution, which is responsible for monitoring and verifying disclosure compliance. According to allegations from government transparency groups, however, many officials did not file disclosures. There are no effective criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published findings on human rights cases; however, the government’s responsiveness to, cooperation with, and restrictions on domestic and international human rights organizations varied, depending on its evaluation of the political orientation of the organization and the sensitivity of the issues.

The government did not approve AMDH appeals during the year to register 44 of its 96 branches. The organization has regularly faced difficulties renewing the registration of its offices.

During the year activists and NGOs reported continuing restrictions on their activities in the country. Many activists alleged that the government restricted their use of public spaces and conference rooms as well as informed the proprietors of private spaces that certain activities should not be welcomed. According to the government, its actions were in accordance with the law. Registered organizations are authorized to meet within their established headquarters, but any meetings outside that space, including privately owned establishments, are considered to be in public spaces and require authorization from the Ministry of Interior. Organizations stated that government officials told them their events were canceled for failing to follow required procedures for public meetings, although the organizations claimed to have submitted the necessary paperwork or believed the law did not require it.

Some unrecognized NGOs that did not cooperate officially with the government still shared information informally with both the government and government-affiliated organizations.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated with the UN and permitted requested visits.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is a national human rights institution established by the constitution that operates independently from the elected government. It is publicly funded and operates in conformity with the Principles of Paris according to the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, which recognized it in 2015 as a “class A national human rights institution” within the UN framework. It served as the principal advisory body to the king and government on human rights. The council filled the role of a national human rights monitoring mechanism for preventing torture. The CNDH oversees the National Human Rights Training Institute, which collaborated with international organizations to provide training to civil society, media, law enforcement, medical personnel, educators, and legal practitioners.

The Institution of the Mediator acted as a general ombudsman. It considered allegations of governmental injustices and had the power to carry out inquiries and investigations, propose disciplinary action, or refer cases to the public prosecutor.

The mission of the Interministerial Delegation for Human Rights (DIDH), which reports to the minister of state in charge of human rights, is to promote the protection of human rights across all ministries, serve as a government interlocutor with domestic and international NGOs, and interact with relevant UN bodies regarding international human rights obligations. DIDH has the primary responsibility for coordinating government responses to UN bodies on adherence to treaty obligations.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law punishes individuals convicted of rape with prison terms of five to 10 years; when the conviction involves a minor, the prison sentence ranges from 10 to 20 years. Spousal rape is not a crime. Numerous articles of the penal code pertaining to rape perpetuate unequal treatment for women and provide insufficient protection. On September 12, a new law came into effect that provides a stronger legal framework to protect women from violence, sexual harassment, and abuse. Under the new law, a sexual assault conviction may result in a prison sentence of six months to five years and a fine of 2,000 to 10,000 dirhams ($210 to $1,050). For insults and defamation based on gender, an individual may be fined up to 60,000 dirhams for insults and up to 120,000 dirhams for defamation ($6,300 to $12,600). General insult and defamation charges remain in the penal code. Some women’s rights NGOs criticized the lack of clarity in procedures and protections for reporting abuse under the new law. In the past, authorities did not effectively enforce laws against sexual harassment; the impact of the new law was not yet clear by year’s end. According to local NGOs, survivors did not report the vast majority of sexual assaults to police due to social pressure and the concern that society would most likely hold the victims responsible. Police selectively investigated cases; among the minority brought to trial, successful prosecutions remained rare.

The law does not specifically define domestic violence against women and minors, but the general prohibitions of the criminal code address such violence. Legally, high-level misdemeanors occur when a victim’s injuries result in 20 days of disability leave from work. Low-level misdemeanors occur when a victim’s disability lasts for less than 20 days. According to NGOs the courts rarely prosecuted perpetrators of low-level misdemeanors. Police were slow to act in domestic violence cases, and the government generally did not enforce the law and sometimes returned women against their will to abusive homes. Police generally treated domestic violence as a social rather than a criminal matter. Physical abuse was legal grounds for divorce, although few women reported such abuse to authorities.

In August, Khadija Okkarou, 17, reported to the authorities that she was kidnapped in Oulad Ayad in June and held for two months by a group of men who raped her repeatedly and forced her to consume drugs and alcohol. Police arrested 12 suspects on charges for abduction, rape, and torture. On December 11, the court of appeals in Beni Mellal postponed the trial hearing to January 9, 2019.

Statistics on rape or sexual assault were unreliable due to underreporting.

The government funded a number of women’s counseling centers under the Ministry of Solidarity, Women, Family, and Social Development. Statistics provided by the government indicated that it provided 30.8 million dirhams ($3.2 million) in direct support to 172 women’s counseling centers for female survivors of violence. A few NGOs provided shelter, assistance, and guidance for survivors of domestic abuse. There were reports, however, that these shelters were not accessible to persons with disabilities. Courts had “victims of abuse cells” that brought together prosecutors, lawyers, judges, women’s NGO representatives, and hospital personnel to review domestic and child abuse cases to provide for the best interests of women or children.

Sexual Harassment: Before September 12, sexual harassment was only a crime if it was committed by a supervisor in the workplace. Under a new law, sexual harassment is a crime punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine up to 10,000 dirhams ($1,050) if the offense takes place in a public space or by insinuations through texts, audio recording, or pictures. In cases where the harasser is a coworker, supervisor, or security official, the sentence is doubled. Prison sentences and fines are also doubled in cases where a spouse, former spouse, fiance, or a family member perpetrates the harassment act, physical violence, or abuse or mistreatment or breaks a restraining order or if the crime is perpetrated against a minor. In the past, authorities did not effectively enforce laws against sexual harassment. As of year’s end, it was too soon to assess the impact of the new law.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: While the constitution provides women equal rights with men in civil, political, economic, cultural, and environmental affairs, laws favor men in property and inheritance. Numerous problems related to discrimination against women remained, both with inadequate enforcement of equal rights provided for by the laws and constitution and in the reduced rights provided to women in inheritance.

According to the law, women are entitled to a share of inherited property, but a woman’s share of inheritance is less than that of a man. Women are generally entitled to receive half the inheritance a man would receive in the same circumstances. A sole male heir would receive the entire estate, while a sole female heir would receive half the estate with the rest going to other relatives.

The family code places the family under the joint responsibility of both spouses, makes divorce available by mutual consent, and places legal limits on polygamy. Implementation of family law reforms remained a problem. The judiciary lacked willingness to enforce them, as many judges did not agree with their provisions. Corruption among working-level court clerks and lack of knowledge about its provisions among lawyers were also obstacles to enforcing the law.

The law requires equal pay for equal work, although in practice this did not occur.

The government led some efforts to improve the status of women in the workplace, most notably the constitutional mandate, established by parliament in August 2017, for the creation of an Authority for Gender Parity and Fighting All Forms of Discrimination. The Gender Parity Authority, however, has yet to become functional.

Children

Birth Registration: The law permits both parents to pass nationality to their children. The law establishes that all children have civil status regardless of their family status. There were, nonetheless, cases in which authorities denied identification papers to children because they were born to unmarried parents, particularly in rural areas or in the cases of poorly educated mothers unaware of their legal rights. According to Amazigh NGOs, during the year representatives of the Ministry of Interior refused to register the births of at least two children whose parents sought to give them Amazigh names. The government determined that the cases brought to its attention by the press or at the request of civil society had been denied because the applicants submitted the request to the wrong territorial jurisdiction or did not provide the necessary supporting documents.

In December 2017 the government launched a campaign to register all nonregistered children, particularly those born to unknown fathers, from families in situations of parental conflict, and from families facing financial hardships. An estimated 90 percent of citizens are registered. As of September 30, there were 43,820 individuals newly registered under the campaign, including 36,831 children, 50 percent of whom were girls.

Also in January a court in Nador ordered children born in the country to migrants to be registered in the civil registry, allowing them to obtain identification documents that permit enrollment in school.

Child Abuse: NGOs, human rights groups, media outlets, and UNICEF claimed child abuse was widespread. Official data on child abuse does not exist. Prosecutions for child abuse were extremely rare.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 years, but parents, with the informed consent of the minor, may secure a waiver from a judge for underage marriage. The judiciary approved the vast majority of petitions for underage marriages.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is 18 years. The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering or procuring for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Penalties for sexual exploitation of children under the criminal code range from two years’ to life imprisonment and fines from 9,550 dirhams ($1,000) to 344,000 dirhams ($36,100).

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

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

Anti-Semitism

The constitution recognizes the Jewish community as part the country’s population and guarantees to each individual the freedom to “practice his religious affairs.” Community leaders estimated the size of the Jewish population at 3,000 to 3,500. Overall there appeared to be little overt anti-Semitism, and Jews generally lived in safety.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, and access to health care. The law also provides for regulations and building codes that provide for access for persons with disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce or implement these laws and regulations. While building codes enacted in 2003 require accessibility for all persons, the codes exempt most pre-2003 structures, and authorities rarely enforced them for new construction. Most public transportation is inaccessible to persons with disabilities, although the national rail system offers wheelchair ramps, accessible bathrooms, and special seating areas. Government policy provides that persons with disabilities should have equal access to information and communications. Special communication devices for persons with visual or audio disabilities were not widely available.

The Ministry of Social Development, Family, and Solidarity has responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and attempted to integrate persons with disabilities into society by implementing a quota of 7 percent for persons with disabilities in vocational training in the public sector and 5 percent in the private sector. Both sectors were far from achieving the quotas. The government maintained more than 400 integrated classes for children with learning disabilities, but private charities and civil society organizations were primarily responsible for integration.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The majority of the population, including the royal family, claimed some Amazigh (Berber) heritage. Many of the poorest regions in the country, particularly the rural Middle Atlas region, were predominantly Amazigh and had illiteracy rates higher than the national average. Basic governmental services in this mountainous and underdeveloped region were lacking. Official languages are Arabic and Amazigh, although Arabic predominates. Amazigh cultural groups contended they were rapidly losing their traditions and language to Arabization. The government offered Amazigh language classes in some schools. Although the palace-funded Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture created a university-level teacher-training program to eliminate the shortage of qualified teachers, Amazigh NGOs contended that the number of qualified teachers of regional dialects of Amazigh languages continued to decrease. The government reported, however, that the number of teachers employed to teach the official national Amazigh language has increased. Instruction in the Amazigh language is mandatory for students at the Ministry of Interior’s School for Administrators.

Amazigh materials were available in the news media and, to a much lesser extent, educational institutions. The government provided television programs in the three national Amazigh dialects of Tarifit, Tashelhit, and Tamazight. According to regulations public media are required to dedicate 30 percent of broadcast time to Amazigh language and cultural programming. According to Amazigh organizations, however, only 5 percent of broadcast time was being given to Amazigh language and culture. The National Federation of Amazigh Associations submitted a complaint to the High Authority for Audiovisual Communications in June 2017 to request compliance with the quota.

For more information regarding the situation of Sahrawis in Moroccan-administered Western Sahara, see the Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights for Western Sahara.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, with a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Media and the public addressed questions of sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity more openly than in previous years. According to some human rights organizations, LGBTI victims of violence in high profile cases from previous years continue to be harassed when recognized in public.

Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to LGBTI persons, and the penal code does not criminalize hate crimes. There was a stigma against LGBTI persons, but there were no reports of overt discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, or health care.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS faced discrimination and had limited treatment options. The Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS reported that some health-care providers were reluctant to treat persons with HIV/AIDS due to fear of infection. According to the Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), treatment coverage increased from 16 percent in 2010 to 48 percent in 2016 and the new National Strategic Plan 2017-2021 commits the country to reduce new infections among key and vulnerable populations, eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, reduce AIDS-related deaths, confront discrimination, and strengthen governance for an efficient response.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides workers with the rights to form and join unions, strike, and bargain collectively, with some restrictions.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and prohibits companies from dismissing workers for participating in legitimate union-organizing activities. Courts have the authority to reinstate workers dismissed arbitrarily and may enforce rulings that compel employers to pay damages and back pay. Trade unions complained that the government at times used the penal code to prosecute workers for striking and to suppress strikes.

The law prohibits certain categories of government employees, including members of the armed forces, police, and some members of the judiciary, from forming and joining unions and from conducting strikes. The law excludes migrant workers from assuming leadership positions in unions.

The law allows several independent unions to exist but requires 35 percent of the total employee base to be associated with a union for the union to be representative and engage in collective bargaining. The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Employers limited the scope of collective bargaining, frequently setting wages unilaterally for the majority of unionized and nonunionized workers. Domestic NGOs reported that employers often used temporary contracts to discourage employees from affiliating with or organizing unions. Unions can legally negotiate with the government on national-level labor issues. At the sectoral level, trade unions negotiated with private employers concerning minimum wage, compensation, and other concerns. Labor disputes were common and, in some cases, the result of employers failing to implement collective bargaining agreements and withholding wages.

The law concerning strikes requires compulsory arbitration of disputes, prohibits sit-ins, and calls for a 10-day notice of a strike. The government may intervene in strikes. A strike may not occur over matters covered in a collective contract for one year after the contract commences. The government has the authority to disperse strikers in public areas not authorized for demonstrations and to prevent the unauthorized occupancy of private space. Unions may neither engage in sabotage nor prevent those individuals who were not on strike from working.

The government did not adequately enforce labor laws due to a lack of inspection personnel and resources. Inspectors’ role as mediators of labor conflicts significantly limits the amount of time they can spend proactively inspecting worksites and remediating any violations they uncover. Inspectors do not have punitive power and cannot levy fines or other punishments. Upon action of the state prosecutor, the courts can force the employer to take remedial actions through a court decree. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Enforcement procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Most union federations were strongly allied with political parties, but unions were generally free from government interference.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

On October 2, the domestic workers law passed in 2016 went into effect. The law provides new protections to domestic workers, including limits on working hours and a minimum wage. Penalties for violating this law start with a fine and, in cases of repeated offense, can include one to three months’ imprisonment.

In the past, authorities did not adequately enforce laws against forced or compulsory labor, although it was too soon to assess the impact of the new law. Labor inspectors did not inspect small workshops and private homes where the majority of such violations occurred, as the law requires a warrant to search a private residence. The new law establishes a conciliation process that labor inspectors can conduct for disputes between domestic workers and their employers, but it lacks time limits for resolving those disputes. The small number of inspectors, the scarce resources at their disposal, and the broad geographic dispersion of sites also limited effective enforcement of the law.

Local NGOs reported that an undetermined number of vulnerable migrant domestic workers filed suits against their former employers. These suits included significant indicators of potential trafficking abuses, such as withholding passports or wages. Information on disposition of these cases was not available.

Reports indicated that forced labor, especially of children, occurred (see section 7.c.).

For more information see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law established a minimum age for employment and the government effectively enforced these laws. In 2016 parliament passed a law that went into effect on October 2 prohibiting children under the age of 16 from working as domestic servants and strictly limiting the work of children under the age of 18. Punishments for violations of the child labor laws include criminal penalties, civil fines, and withdrawal or suspension of one or more civil, national, or family rights, including denial of legal residence in the country for five to 10 years. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

The overwhelming majority of child laborers worked in rural areas, according to the government’s statistical agency, the High Planning Commission.

The labor code does not apply to children who work in the traditional artisan or handicraft sectors for businesses with fewer than five employees or to those who work on private farms or in residences. Some children became apprentices before they were 12, particularly in small, family-run workshops in the handicraft industry and in the construction industry and mechanic shops. Children also worked in hazardous occupations as designated by law (see section 7.e.). These included fishing and, in the informal sector, in textiles, light manufacturing, and traditional handicrafts. Children’s safety, health conditions, and wages were often substandard.

In some cases employers subjected children to the worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as the result of human trafficking (see section 6, Children); forced domestic work, sometimes as the result of human trafficking; and forced labor in the production of artisan crafts and construction.

For more information see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor code prohibits discrimination regarding employment and occupation based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, or disability. The law does not address age or pregnancy.

Discrimination occurred in all categories prohibited by law, as the government lacked sufficient human and financial resources to enforce these laws effectively. Migrant worker organizations reported that some migrants experienced discrimination in hiring, wages, or conditions of employment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage was 108 dirhams ($11.30) per day in the industrialized sector, 70 dirhams ($7.30) per day for agricultural workers, and 65 dirhams ($6.50) per day for domestic workers. The World Bank established the absolute poverty level threshold wage as 70 dirhams ($7.30) per day. Including traditional holiday-related bonuses, workers generally received the equivalent of 13 to 16 months’ salary each year.

The law provides for a 44- to 48-hour maximum workweek with no more than 10 hours in a single day, premium pay for overtime, paid public and annual holidays, and minimum conditions for health and safety, including a prohibition on night work for women and minors. The law prohibits excessive overtime.

Occupational health and safety standards, reviewed and enforced by the Ministry of Employment and Vocational Integration, are rudimentary, except for a prohibition on the employment of women and children in certain dangerous occupations. The law prohibits persons under the age of 18 from hazardous work in 33 areas, including working in mines, handling dangerous materials, transporting explosives, and operating heavy machinery.

Many employers did not observe the legal provisions for conditions of work. The government did not effectively enforce basic provisions of the labor code, such as payment of the minimum wage and other basic benefits under the National Social Security Fund. The country’s 394 labor inspectors attempted to monitor working conditions and investigate accidents, but lack of resources prevented effective enforcement of labor laws. Penalties were generally not sufficient to deter violations.

According to NGOs no major workplace accidents occurred during the year. There were, however, numerous media reports of accidents, sometimes fatal, on construction sites that had substandard standards or lacked safety equipment. In the formal sector, workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in such situations.

Oman

Executive Summary

The Sultanate of Oman is a hereditary monarchy ruled by Sultan Qaboos al-Said since 1970. The sultan has sole authority to enact laws through royal decree, although ministries and the bicameral Majlis Oman (parliament) can draft laws on nonsecurity-related matters, and citizens may provide input through their elected representatives. The Majlis Oman is composed of the Majlis al-Dawla (upper house or State Council), whose 84 members are appointed by the sultan, and the elected 85-member Majlis al-Shura (lower house or Consultative Assembly). In October 2015 more than 250,000 citizens participated in the country’s Majlis al-Shura elections for the Consultative Assembly; there were no independent observers and no notable claims of improper government interference.

The Royal Office and Royal Diwan–the sultan’s personal offices–maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included occasional allegations of torture of prisoners and detainees in government custody; undue restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation, and criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) conduct.

Authorities generally held security personnel and other government officials accountable for their actions. The government acted against corruption during the year, with cases proceeding through the court system.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices. In an open April letter to the sultan, however, French activist Theirry Danaudet, who spent approximately six months in prison in 2017 for violating Omani customs laws pertaining to prescription medication, cited reports from fellow prisoners, most of whom were of South or Southeast Asian origin, that they suffered systematic beatings and exposure to extreme temperatures.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

While prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards there were some allegations of abuse and life-threatening conditions.

Physical Conditions: Danaudet’s letter alleged that prison guards abused some prisoners. Human rights organizations reported that activist Hassan al-Basham died on April 28 while in detention at Samail Central Prison.

Human rights groups further alleged that courts ignored requests from al-Basham’s lawyers for a medical examination, despite his deteriorating health. Al-Basham had been detained since 2015 after he was convicted on charges including insulting Oman’s ruler and using the internet to prejudice religious values.

Administration: There was no established prison authority to which prisoners could bring grievances concerning prison conditions. There is no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees; this responsibility falls under the public prosecutor’s jurisdiction. Prisoners and detainees did not always have regular access to visitors.

Independent Monitoring: The Oman Human Rights Commission (OHRC), a quasi-independent government-sanctioned body, investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions through site visits. OHRC authorities investigated claims of abuse but did not publish the results of their investigations, purportedly to protect the privacy of the individuals involved. The law permitted visits by independent human rights observer groups, yet none existed in the country, and there were no reports of independent, nongovernmental observers from abroad requesting to visit the country. Consular officers from some embassies reported difficulties in meeting with prisoners or delayed notification about detained citizens.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the law permits the government to detain suspects for up to 30 days without charge. Persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis of their detention.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of the Royal Office controls internal and external security and coordinates all intelligence and security policies. Under the Royal Office, the Internal Security Service (ISS) investigates all matters related to domestic security. The Royal Oman Police (ROP), including the ROP Coast Guard, is also subordinate to the Royal Office and performs regular police duties, provides security at points of entry, and serves as the country’s immigration and customs agency. The Ministry of Defense, particularly the Royal Army of Oman (RAO), is responsible for securing the borders and has limited domestic security responsibilities. The Sultan’s Special Force (SSF) facilitates land and maritime border security in conjunction with the ROP, including rapid reaction antismuggling and antipiracy capabilities. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the ISS, the SSF, the RAO, and the ROP. There were no reports of judicial impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law does not require the ROP to obtain a warrant before making an arrest, but it stipulates that police must either release the person or refer the matter to the public prosecution within specified timeframes. For most crimes the public prosecutor must formally arrest or release the person within 48 hours of detention; however, in cases related to security, which is broadly defined, authorities can hold individuals for up to 30 days without charge. The law requires those arrested be informed immediately of the charges against them. There was a functioning bail system. Detainees generally had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice. The state provided public attorneys to indigent detainees, as required by law. Authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to family members. In cases involving foreign citizens, police sometimes failed to notify the detainee’s local sponsor or the citizen’s embassy.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, individuals can be held for up to 30 days without charge.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the sultan may act as a Court of Final Appeal and exercise his power of pardon as chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, the country’s highest legal body, which is empowered to review all judicial decisions. Principles of sharia (Islamic law) inform the civil, commercial, and criminal codes. The law allows women to serve as judges. Civilian or military courts try all cases. There were no reports judicial officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys faced intimidation or engaged in corruption.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair trial and stipulates the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Citizens and legally resident noncitizens have the right to a public trial, except when the court decides to hold a session in private in the interest of public order or morals; the judiciary generally enforced this right. The government reserved the right to close sensitive cases to the public. The government did not uniformly provide language interpretation for non-Arabic speakers.

Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney. The law guarantees defendants the right to be informed promptly of charges. There is no guarantee for adequate time for defense attorneys to prepare, but in practice most court dates provide ample time. There is no guarantee for free interpretation. Courts provide public attorneys to indigent detainees and offer legal defense for defendants facing prison terms of three years or more. The prosecution and defense counsel direct questions to witnesses through the judge. Defendants have the right to be present, submit evidence, and confront witnesses at their trials. There is no known systemic use of forced confession or compulsion to self-incriminate during trial proceedings in the country. Those convicted in any court have one opportunity to appeal a jail sentence longer than three months and fines of more than 480 rials ($1,250) to the appellate courts. The judiciary enforced these rights for all citizens; some foreign embassies claimed these rights were not always uniformly enforced for noncitizens, particularly migrant workers.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The number of political prisoners was unknown. Previously, the government has publicly acknowledged that it holds a “small number” of political prisoners, and human rights organizations reported that several individuals were detained during the year for their use of social media. Political prisoners were usually detained for short periods of time and without being formally charged with a crime. Political prisoners were afforded the same rights as other prisoners, and could ask to speak with representatives from the Oman Human Rights Commission or the ICRC.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Civil laws govern civil cases. Citizens and foreign residents could file cases, including lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations, but no known filings occurred during the year. The Administrative Court reviews complaints about the misuse of governmental authority. It has the power to reverse decisions by government bodies and to award compensation.

Appointments to this court are subject to the approval of the Administrative Affairs Council. The court’s president and deputy president are appointed by royal decree based on the council’s nomination. Citizens and foreign workers may file complaints regarding working conditions with the Ministry of Manpower for alternative dispute resolution. The ministry may refer cases to the courts if it is unable to negotiate a solution.

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

The 2018 penal code does not allow public officials to enter a private home without first obtaining a warrant from the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The government monitored private communications, including cell phone, email, and internet chat room exchanges. The government blocked most voice over internet protocol sites, such as Skype and FaceTime. Authorities blocked the import of certain publications, e.g., pornography and religious texts without the necessary permit. Shipping companies claimed customs officials sometimes confiscated these materials.

The Ministry of Interior requires citizens to obtain permission to marry foreigners, except nationals of Gulf Cooperation Council countries, whom citizens may marry without restriction; authorities do not automatically grant permission, which is particularly difficult for Omani women to obtain. Citizen marriage to a foreigner abroad without ministry approval may result in denial of entry for the foreign spouse at the border and preclude children from claiming citizenship and residency rights. It also may result in a bar from government employment and a fine of 2,000 rials ($5,200).

Despite legal protections for women from forced marriage, deeply embedded tribal practices ultimately compel most citizen women towards or away from a choice of spouse.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Human rights organizations expressed concern that overly broad provisions in the 2018 penal code could further restrict the work of human rights activists and limit freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for limited freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. Under the 2018 penal code, gatherings of more than 10 persons in a public place are unlawful if they “endangered the public security or order” or “influenced the function of authorities.” A 2014 report from the UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly expressed concern with government attempts to limit assembly and association rights and stated individuals seeking reform were “afraid to speak their minds, afraid to speak on the telephone, afraid to meet.”

Private sector employees in the energy and industrial manufacturing sectors threatened strikes in isolated cases; however, company leadership used incentives like promises of job security and other material benefits to persuade organizers to call off strikes (see section 7.a.).

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association for undefined “legitimate objectives and in a proper manner.” Examples of such associations include registered labor unions and social groups for foreign nationalities, such as the Indian Social Group.

The government limited freedom of association in practice by prohibiting associations whose activities it deemed “inimical to the social order” or otherwise inappropriate. A 2014 royal decree stipulates citizens joining groups deemed harmful to national interests could be subject to revocation of citizenship.

Associations must register with their corresponding ministries, which approve all associations’ bylaws and determine whether a group serves the interest of the country. The time required to register an association ranged from two months to two years. Approval time varied based on the level of preparedness of the applying organization, the subject matter of the organization, its leadership, and the organization’s mission. The law limits formal registration of nationality-based associations to one association for each nationality and restricts activities of such associations. The government sometimes denied permission for associations to form.

Under the 2018 penal code, associations are forbidden from conducting any kind of fundraising without government approval, including for charitable causes. Individuals convicted of accepting unlawful funding for an association may receive up to one year in jail and a fine of 2,000 rials ($5,200). Foreign diplomatic missions are required to request meetings with nongovernmental associations through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by diplomatic note. Associations may not meet with foreign diplomatic missions and foreign organizations without prior approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The government enforced this law, and all foreign-funded educational and public diplomacy programs required prior government review.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Citizens could generally travel freely outside the country, although that right is not codified. Citizens related to citizens living abroad who criticized the government reportedly were told not to leave the country. Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees personnel occasionally visited the country but did not maintain an office or personnel locally.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The country has a large number of female migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, many of whom are employed as domestic workers. NGOs based outside the country, such as Human Rights Watch, and embassies of labor-sending countries alleged that domestic workers faced discrimination, to include physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. The country criminalizes slavery and trafficking, but enforcement was weak. Although forced labor is punished under the labor law, domestic workers are excluded from that law’s protections. Authorities prosecuted nine individuals for forced labor during the year, but it was unclear whether any of those cases involved domestic workers.

The government did not allow refugees to remain in the country. Refugees escaping conflict areas, such as Yemen, were allowed to remain in a border camp for a few days and then returned to their country of citizenship, where they could face persecution or torture, or moved onward to a third destination. In the case of Syrians fleeing conflict in Yemen, the government allowed them to choose a third country as a destination.

In-country Movement: There are no official government restrictions on internal travel for any citizen. The government must approve official travel by foreign diplomats to the Dhofar and Musandam regions. There were reports many foreign domestic employees had their passports confiscated by employers, who sponsor the foreign workers.

Employers have a great amount of control over these workers. The country’s visa-sponsorship system (kafala) ties migrant workers to their employers and prevents them from changing jobs without their sponsor’s consent. Migrant workers cannot work for a new employer in the country within a two-year period without the permission of their current employer, even if they complete their contract and the current employer is abusive. Employers can have a worker’s visa canceled arbitrarily. Workers who leave their jobs without the consent of their employer can be punished with fines, deportation, and/or reentry bans.

Foreign Travel: Some foreigners must obtain an exit visa from their employer prior to leaving the country. Exit visas may be denied when there is a dispute over payment or work remaining, leaving the foreign citizen in country with recourse only through local courts. Courts provided recourse to workers denied exit visas, but the process was opaque. In the past, travel bans–through confiscation of passports–were imposed on citizens involved in political activism. While no new cases were reported during the year, previously imposed travel bans on activists were likely still in effect.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government did not provide protection to refugees from involuntary returns to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened. Tight control over the entry of foreigners effectively limited access to protection for refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities apprehended and deported presumed economic migrants from Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea who sought to enter the country illegally by land and sea from the south. Afghans and Pakistanis travelling irregularly to escape violence generally came to the country by boat via Iran. Authorities generally detained these persons in centers in Salalah or the northern port city of Sohar, where they were held an average of one month before deportation to their countries of origin.

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refuge for internally displaced persons, and the government has established a system for providing protection. The ROP’s system for granting asylum and resettlement is not transparent, and the law does not specify a timeframe in which the ROP must adjudicate an asylum application. It is current policy not to recognize refugees from conflict zones, such as Yemen, although the government provided temporary medical care to certain Yemeni citizens.

Durable Solutions: When third-country nationals presented themselves on the Oman-Yemen border, the government worked with local embassies to facilitate a return to these individuals’ home countries. In cases where individuals could not return to their home country, like Syrians, the government would facilitate travel to a third country of their choice.

Temporary Protection: The government provided emergency medical care to certain Yemeni citizens who demonstrated they could not receive adequate care in Yemen. These Yemenis and one accompanying family member per patient were offered status in Oman during the treatment period.

STATELESS PERSONS

Under the law citizenship is passed through the father. Therefore, children born to foreign fathers and Omani citizen mothers in Oman risk statelessness.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage. The sultan retains ultimate authority on all foreign and domestic issues. With the exception of the military and other security forces, all citizens who have reached 21 years of age have the right to vote for candidates for the Majlis al-Shura and the provincial councils.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 approximately 250,000 citizens participated in the country’s Majlis al-Shura elections for the consultative assembly, or lower house of parliament. Electoral commissions reviewed potential candidates against a set of objective educational and character criteria (at least a high school education and no criminal history or mental illness) before they allowed candidates’ names on the ballot. The Ministry of Interior administered and closely monitored campaign materials and events. There were no notable or widespread allegations of fraud or improper government interference in the voting process. The government did not allow independent monitoring of the elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law does not allow political parties, and citizens did not attempt to form them.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women in the political process, and they did participate. During the Majlis al-Shura elections in 2015, voters elected one woman as a representative. The government does not recognize a right for minority groups as such to participate in political life and have roles in government. There were no self-identified minority communities.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively.

Corruption: There were reports of government corruption, including in the police, ministries, and state-owned companies. Political and social favoritism were widespread in public and private institutions.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws. When selected for disclosure, officials are required to list their finances, business interests, and property, as well as that of their spouses and children. These records are made public, and there are fines associated with noncompliance. The State Audit Authority monitors this process.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

No independent, officially sanctioned, domestic human rights organizations existed. There were civil society groups that advocated for persons protected under human rights conventions, particularly women and persons with disabilities. These groups were required to register with the Ministry of Social Development.

The law permits domestic and international actors to request permission to engage in human rights work, but none did because they believed the government was not likely to grant permission.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The OHRC, a government-funded commission made up of members from the public, private, and academic sectors, reported on human rights to the sultan via the State Council. The OHRC also published an annual report summarizing the types of complaints it received and how it handled those complaints. The OHRC also conducted prison visits and continued a community and school outreach program to discuss human rights with students.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape with penalties of up to 15 years in prison. The law does not criminalize spousal rape explicitly, but it does criminalize all “sex without consent.” The government generally enforced the law when individuals reported cases. Foreign nationals working as domestic employees occasionally reported that their sponsors or employees of labor recruitment agencies had sexually abused them. According to diplomatic observers, police investigations resulted in few rape convictions.

The law does not specifically address domestic violence, and judicial protection orders prohibiting domestic violence do not exist. Charges could be brought, however, under existing statutes outlawing assault, battery, and aggravated assault, which can carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Allegations of spousal abuse in civil courts handling family law cases reportedly were common. Victims of domestic violence may file a complaint with police, and reports suggested that police responded promptly and professionally. The government operated a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits health-care practitioners, parents, and guardians from performing “traditional practices” that may harm the health of a child, but it does not explicitly ban FGM/C. There were no reliable statistics on the prevalence of FGM/C, but some reports suggested it was practiced.

The government held outreach events at mosques, hospitals, and schools and aired television programs about the harm “traditional practices” may have on children.

Sexual Harassment: Although there is no law against sexual harassment, it has been effectively prosecuted using statutes prohibiting offensive language and behavior. In September a man was sentenced to six months in prison and fined 10,000 rials ($26,000) for “public insults” after a woman accused him of sexual harassment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law prohibits gender-based discrimination against citizens, but the government did not appear to enforce the law effectively. Local interpretations of Islamic law and practice of cultural traditions, in social and legal institutions discriminated against women. In some personal status cases, such as divorce, a woman’s testimony is equal to half that of a man. The law favors male heirs in adjudicating inheritance. Women married to noncitizens may not transmit citizenship to their children and cannot sponsor their noncitizen husband’s or children’s presence in the country.

The law provides for transmission of citizenship at birth if the father is a citizen, if the mother is a citizen and the father is unknown, or if a child of unknown parents is found in the country. The law provides that an adult may become a citizen by applying for citizenship and subsequently residing legally in the country for 20 years or 10 years if married to a male citizen.

Children from a marriage between an Omani woman and a non-Omani man are not eligible for citizenship and are vulnerable to being stateless.

Government policy provided women with equal opportunities for education, and this policy effectively eliminated the previous gender gap in educational attainment. Although some educated women held positions of authority in government, business, and media, many women faced job discrimination based on cultural norms. The law entitles women to paid maternity leave and equal pay for equal work. The government, the largest employer of women, observed such regulations, as did many private sector employers.

The Ministry of Social Development is the umbrella organization for women’s issues. The ministry provided support for women’s economic development through the Oman Women’s Association and local community development centers.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from the father. Women married to noncitizens may not transmit citizenship to their children, and there were a few reported cases of stateless children based on this law. Children of unknown parents are automatically eligible for citizenship. Government employees raised abandoned children in an orphanage. Such children receive free education through the university level and a job following graduation. Citizen marriage to a foreigner abroad without ministry approval may preclude children from claiming citizenship rights (see section 1.f.).

Child Abuse: The Ministry of Health noted that sexual abuse most commonly involved children of both sexes between the ages of six and 12 and was committed by close relatives or friends of the family. According to the law, any concerned citizen may report child abuse, and each governorate had an interagency committee that would meet to discuss the allegations and possibly take the child out of the parent’s custody until the allegations were investigated. The government operated a child abuse hotline, which reported in October that calls during the year would likely double the number received in 2017, and that the main complaint was negligence.

Early and Forced Marriage: The age of legal marriage for men and women is 18 years, although a judge may permit a person to marry younger when the judge or family deemed the marriage was in the minor’s interest. Child marriage occurred in rural communities as a traditional practice.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography are punishable by no fewer than five years’ imprisonment. The 2018 penal code increases the punishment for rape of a child under the age of 15 to life imprisonment. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. Marriages performed in the country require both parties to be at least 18 years old, but there were widespread reports of Omani men traveling abroad to marry underage girls. Omani authorities sometimes accepted these marriages, and it was unclear if statutory rape would be prosecuted if the parties were married. All sex outside of marriage is illegal, but sex with a minor under age 15 carries a heavier penalty (up to 15 years’ imprisonment). Authorities do not charge minors. Child prostitution was rare, and soliciting a child for prostitution is prohibited.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no indigenous Jewish population. Several Arabic-language Omani newspapers, particularly Al-Watan, featured cartoons depicting anti-Semitic imagery when criticizing the Israeli government.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law provides persons with disabilities the same rights as other citizens in employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of other state services. Persons with disabilities, however, continued to face discrimination. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, but many older buildings, including government buildings and schools, did not conform to the law. The law also requires private enterprises employing more than 50 persons to reserve at least 2 percent of positions for persons with disabilities. Authorities did not systematically enforce this regulation.

The government provided alternative education opportunities for citizen children with disabilities, including overseas schooling when appropriate.

Additionally, the Ministry of Education collaborated with the International Council for Educational Reform and Development to create a curriculum for students with intellectual disabilities within the standard school system, which was in place throughout the year. The ministers of education and of health crafted a broad-based, prioritized strategy for various ministries to coordinate on the issue of child autism in the sultanate, including early autism diagnosis and intervention in children. The Ministry of Education also coordinated with UNICEF to improve its alternative education systems.

The Ministry of Social Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Directorate General of Disabled Affairs within the Ministry of Social Development creates programs for persons with disabilities and implements these programs in coordination with relevant authorities. The directorate was authorized further to supervise all of the ministry’s rehabilitation and treatment centers for persons with disabilities.

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

The 2018 penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct with a jail term of six months to three years, but it requires a spouse or guardian complaint to initiate prosecution. The government did not actively enforce this law.

The 2018 penal code introduced “crossdressing” (defined as males dressing in female clothing) as a criminal act punishable by up to one year’s imprisonment and a 300-tial ($780) fine. In February two men dressed as women posted a video on Snapchat. In October the court sentenced each of them to four years’ imprisonment and a fine of 3,000 rials ($7,800), representing maximum penalties for crossdressing and using technology to “prejudice the moral order.”

Public discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity remained a social taboo. There were no known LGBTI organizations active in the country; however, regional human rights organizations focused on the human rights of LGBTI citizens. Authorities took steps to block LGBTI-related internet content. There were no Pride marches or LGBTI human rights advocacy events.

Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Social and cultural norms reinforced discrimination against openly LGBTI persons. There were no government efforts to address discrimination.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Foreigners seeking residency in the country are tested for HIV/AIDS. If tested positive, the residency permission is denied, and foreigners must leave the country, but there were no known occurrences of this.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides that workers can form and join unions, as well as conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, but with significant restrictions. The law provides for one general federation, to which all unions must affiliate, and which represents unions in regional and international fora. The law requires a minimum of 25 workers to form a union, regardless of company size. The law requires an absolute majority of an enterprise’s employees to approve a strike, and notice must be given to employers three weeks in advance of the intended strike date. The law allows for collective bargaining; regulations require employers to engage in collective bargaining on the terms and conditions of employment, including wages and hours of work. Where there is no trade union, collective bargaining may take place between the employer and five representatives selected by workers. The employer may not reject any of the representatives selected. While negotiation is underway, the employer may not act on decisions related to problems under discussion. The law prohibits employers from firing or imposing other penalties on employees for union activity, although it does not require reinstatement for workers fired for union activity.

Despite the legal protections for labor unions, no independent organized labor unions existed. Worker rights continued to be administered and directed by the General Federation of Oman Trade Unions (GFOTU).

Government-approved unions are open to all legal workers regardless of nationality. The law prohibits members of the armed forces, other public security institutions, government employees, and domestic workers from forming or joining such unions. In addition labor laws apply only to workers who perform work under a formal employment agreement.

The law prohibits unions from accepting grants or financial assistance from any source without the Ministry of Manpower’s prior approval. By law unions must notify the government at least one month in advance of union meetings. All unions are subject to the regulations of the government federation and may be shut down or have their boards dismissed by the federation.

The government generally enforced applicable laws effectively and respected the rights to collectively bargain and conduct strikes, although strikes in the oil and gas industries are forbidden. The GFOTU reported in a survey conducted by the International Trade Union Confederation that employers bypassed collective bargaining and retaliated against workers who participated in strikes. The government provided an alternative dispute resolution mechanism through the Ministry of Manpower, which acted as mediator between the employer and employee for minor disputes such as disagreement over wages. If not resolved to the employee’s satisfaction, the employee could, and often did, resort to the courts for relief. The country lacked dedicated labor courts, and observers noted the mandatory grievance procedures were confusing to many workers, especially foreign workers. The Ministry of Manpower had sufficient resources to act in dispute resolution, and there were no complaints of lengthy delays or appeals. Foreign and local union leaders reported intimidation by companies for their activities and complained they were passed over for promotion.

Freedom of association in union matters and the right to collective bargaining exist, but often the threat of a strike can prompt either company action to resolution or spur government intervention. Strikes rarely occurred and were generally resolved quickly, sometimes through government mediation.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forced or compulsory labor, but the law does not cover domestic workers. All police officials underwent training in how to identify victims of trafficking in persons to help them identify cases of forced or compulsory labor.

Conditions indicative of forced labor were present. By law all foreign workers, who constituted approximately one-half of the workforce and the majority of workers in some sectors, must be sponsored by a citizen employer or accredited diplomatic mission. Some men and women from South and Southeast Asia, employed as domestic workers or as low-skilled workers in the construction, agriculture, and service sectors, faced working conditions indicative of forced labor, including withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, usurious recruitment fees, nonpayment of wages, long working hours without food or rest, threats, and physical or sexual abuse. These situations were generally considered civil or contract matters by authorities, who encouraged dispute resolution rather than criminal action. Authorities continued to rely on victims to identify themselves and report abuses voluntarily, rather than proactively investigating trafficking in vulnerable communities.

Sponsorship requirements left workers vulnerable to exploitative conditions, as it was difficult for an employee to change sponsors (see section 2.d.). The “free visa” system allows sponsors to enable employees to work for other employers, sometimes in return for a fee. This system is illegal, but enforcement is weak and such arrangements left workers vulnerable. The government clarified that sponsors of domestic workers are not allowed to send their workers to another home to work, but the regulation was weakly enforced. Some employers of domestic workers, contrary to law, withheld passports and other documents, complicating workers’ release from unfavorable contracts and preventing workers’ departure after their work contracts expired. In some cases employers demanded exorbitant release fees totaling as much as four months’ salary before providing a “no-objection certificate” to permit the worker to change employers. Without this release letter, foreign workers are required to either depart the country for a minimum of two years, or remain in their current position. There were reports that sponsors were reluctant to provide release letters, which would result in loss of the foreign labor certificate for that position.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 16 years, or 18 for certain hazardous occupations. Children between the ages of 16 and 18 may work only between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. and are prohibited from working for more than six hours per day, on weekends, or on holidays. The law allows exceptions to the age requirement in agricultural works, fishing, industrial works, handicrafts, sales, and administration jobs, under the conditions that it is a one-family business and does not hinder the juvenile’s education or affect health or growth.

The Ministry of Manpower and Royal Oman Police are responsible for enforcing laws with respect to child labor. The law provides for fines for minor violations and imprisonment for repeat violations. Employers are given time to correct practices that may be deemed child labor.

In 2017 the country made a moderate advance in eliminating the worst forms of child labor. Although the problem does not appear to be widespread, children engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation. The government does not publish information on the enforcement of child labor laws and lacks a reciprocal mechanism between the labor inspectorate and social services.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations do not address discrimination based on race, sex, gender, nationality, political views, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status. Discrimination occurred based on gender, sexual orientation, nationality, and gender identity. Foreign workers were required to take HIV/AIDS tests and could only obtain or renew work visas if the results were negative. For further discussion of discrimination, see section 6.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for citizens was 325 rials ($845) per month. Minimum wage regulations do not apply to a variety of occupations and businesses, including small businesses employing fewer than five persons, dependent family members working for a family firm, or some categories of manual laborers. The minimum wage does not apply to noncitizens in any occupation. Most citizens who lived in poverty, about 8 percent of the population, were engaged in traditional subsistence agriculture, herding, or fishing, and generally did not benefit from the minimum wage. The private sector workweek is 45 hours and includes a two-day rest period following five consecutive days of work. Government workers have a 35-hour workweek. The law mandates overtime pay for hours in excess of 45 per week.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards. The law states an employee may leave dangerous work conditions without jeopardy to continued employment if the employer was aware of the danger and did not implement corrective measures. Employees covered under the labor law may receive compensation for job-related injury or illness through employer-provided medical insurance.

Neither wage and hour nor occupational safety and health regulations apply to domestic workers.

The Ministry of Manpower is responsible for enforcing labor laws, and during the year it employed approximately 90 inspectors in Muscat and an additional 70 around the country. It generally enforced the law effectively with respect to citizens; however, it did not effectively enforce regulations regarding hours of employment and working conditions for foreign workers.

Labor inspectors with arrest authority for egregious violations performed random checks of worksites to verify compliance with all labor laws. Approximately 180 inspectors from the Department of Health and Safety of the Labor Care Directorate are responsible for enforcement of health and safety codes. Limited inspections of private sector worksites are required by law to deter or redress unsafe working conditions in the most dangerous sectors.

The Ministry of Manpower effectively enforced the minimum wage for citizens. No minimum wage existed for noncitizens. In wage cases the Ministry of Manpower processed complaints and acted as mediator. In a majority of cases, the plaintiff prevailed, gaining compensation, the opportunity to seek alternative employment, or return to their country of origin in the case of foreign laborers, although they rarely used the courts to seek redress. The ministry was generally effective in cases regarding minor labor disputes.

The government made insufficient efforts during the year to prevent violations or improve wages and working conditions, which disproportionately affected foreign workers.

Foreign workers were vulnerable to poor, dangerous, or exploitative working conditions. There were reports that migrant laborers in some firms and households worked more than 12 hours a day without a day off for below-market wages. Employers often cancelled the employment contracts of seriously sick or injured foreign workers, forcing them to return to their countries of origin or remain in the country illegally. Frequently, labor inspections focused on enforcing visa violations and deporting those in an irregular work visa status rather than verifying safe and adequate work conditions.

There are no maximum work-hour limits for domestic workers nor any mandatory rest periods, although the contract between the employer and worker can specify such requirements. There were frequent reports that domestic workers were subject to overwork with inadequate rest periods. Separate domestic employment regulations obligate the employer to provide domestic workers with free local medical treatment throughout the contract period. Penalties for noncompliance with health regulations, ranging from approximately 10 to 100 rials ($26 to $260), multiplying per occurrence per worker and doubling upon recurrence, were insufficient to deter violations. Some domestic workers were subjected to abusive conditions.

There was no data available on workplace fatalities or safety.

Qatar

Executive Summary

Qatar is a constitutional monarchy in which Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani exercises full executive power. The constitution provides for hereditary rule by men in the Amir’s branch of the Al Thani family. The most recent elections were in 2015 for the Central Municipal Council, an advisory and consultative body. Observers considered these elections free and fair. All cabinet members are appointed by the Amir, including the prime minister.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included criminalization of libel; restrictions on peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including prohibitions on political parties and labor unions; restrictions on the freedom of movement for migrant workers’ travel abroad; limits on the ability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections; and criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity. There were reports of forced labor that the government took steps to address.

The government took limited steps to prosecute those suspected of committing human rights abuses.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment.

The government interprets sharia as allowing corporal punishment for certain criminal offenses, including court-ordered flogging in cases of alcohol consumption and extramarital sex by Muslims. Courts typically reduced sentences to imprisonment or a fine.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Aside from the Deportation Detention Center (DDC), prison conditions generally met international standards. In its 2017 report the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC), an independent government-funded nongovernmental organization (NGO), investigated one case of an expatriate prisoner who complained about his conditions in the detention facility. The NHRC visited the facility, met with the prisoner and the detention center management, and submitted a list of recommendations to the management about this case. The NHRC recommended updating the official documents of the prisoner and discussed the possibility of lifting the ban on his bank account. The NHRC further recommended that the government publically declare the number of accusations of mistreatment of prisoners reported to it as well as any follow up actions taken. The committee made 177 visits to eight different detention and interrogation facilities across the country during the year and concluded that the facilities met international standards. The NHRC also conducted a training for Ministry of Interior officials on international obligations to refrain from torture of prisoners.

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions.

Administration: No statute allows ombudsmen to advocate for prisoners and detainees.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers and international bodies to all facilities except the state security prison. The government routinely provided foreign diplomats access to state security prisoners. Representatives from the NHRC conducted regular visits to all facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government usually observed these requirements.

Authorities may detain individuals in the state security prison for indefinite periods under the Protection of Society Law and the Combating Terrorism Law. The government limited detention to two months for all DDC detainees, except those facing additional financial criminal charges. The processing time for deportations ranged from two days to 10 months. There were reports that authorities delayed deportations in cases where detainees had to resolve financial delinquencies before they departed the country.

The NHRC 2017 report stated that the committee investigated five cases of citizens and expatriates arrested arbitrarily by security forces and submitted recommendations to security forces in three cases to accelerate the process of referring the detainees to the prosecution.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police and state security forces maintain internal security. State security forces address internal threats such as terrorism, political disputes, cyberattacks, or espionage while the national police are the regular law enforcement body. The army is responsible for external security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police under the Ministry of Interior, state security forces, which report directly to the Amir, and military forces under the Ministry of Defense. The government employed effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.

There were isolated reports of police aggressively turning away, through threats of physical force, foreign domestic workers seeking assistance with claims against their employers.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Criminal law requires that persons be apprehended with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official, be charged within 24 hours, and be brought before a court without undue delay.

The law provides procedures that permit detention without charge for as long as 15 days, renewable for up to six months. The law permits an additional six months’ detention without charge with the approval of the prime minister, who may extend the detention indefinitely in cases of threats to national security. The law allows the Ministry of Interior to detain persons suspected of crimes related to national security, honor, or impudence; in these cases, persons detained are generally released within 24 hours or brought before a court within three days of detention. Decisions under this law are subject to appeal to the prime minister only. A provision of this law permits the prime minister to adjudicate complaints involving such detentions. The law permits a second six-month period of detention with approval from the criminal court, which may extend a detention indefinitely with review every six months. The state security service may arrest and detain suspects for up to 30 days without referring them to the public prosecutor.

In most cases a judge may order a suspect released, remanded to custody to await trial, held in pretrial detention pending investigation, or released on bail. Although suspects are entitled to bail (except in cases of violent crimes), bail was infrequent.

Authorities were more likely to grant bail to citizens than to noncitizens. Noncitizens charged with minor crimes may be released to their employer (or a family member for minors), although they may not leave the country until the case is resolved.

By law in nonsecurity-related cases, the accused is entitled to legal representation throughout the process and prompt access to family members. There are provisions for government-funded legal counsel for indigent prisoners in criminal cases, and authorities generally honored this requirement. There were no new reported cases invoking either the Protection of Society Law or the Combating Terrorism Law.

By law all suspects except those detained under the Protection of Society Law or the Combating Terrorism Law must be presented before the public prosecutor within 24 hours of arrest. If the public prosecutor finds sufficient evidence for further investigation, authorities may detain a suspect for up to 15 days with the approval of a judge, renewable for similar periods not to exceed 45 days, before charges must be filed in the courts. Judges may also extend pretrial detention for one month, renewable for one-month periods not to exceed half of the maximum punishment for the accused crime. Authorities typically followed these procedures differently for citizens than for noncitizens. The NHRC called on the government to amend the Criminal Procedures Code to set a maximum period for preventive detention, as the law does not specify a time limit for pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the Amir, based on recommended selections from the Supreme Judicial Council, appoints all judges, who retain their positions at his discretion. Foreign detainees had access to the legal system, although some complained of opaque legal procedures and complications mostly stemming from language barriers. Foreign nationals did not uniformly receive translations of legal proceedings, although interpretation was generally provided within courtrooms. Worker Dispute Settlement Committees were established in March to increase the efficiency and speed of decision making in the overloaded labor courts and included court translators who were present throughout all hearings. Some employers filed successful deportation requests against employees who had pending lawsuits against them, thus denying those employees the right to a fair trial.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial for all residents, and the judiciary generally enforced this right.

The law provides defendants the presumption of innocence, and authorities generally inform defendants promptly of the charges brought against them, except for suspects held under the Protection of Society Law and Combating Terrorism Law. The defendant may be present at his or her trial.

Defendants are entitled to choose their legal representation or accept it at public expense throughout the pretrial and trial process. In matters involving family law, Shia and Sunni judges may apply their interpretations of sharia for their religious groups. The law approves implementing the Shiite interpretation of sharia upon the agreement and request of the parties involved in the dispute. In family law matters, a woman’s testimony is deemed half that of a man’s.

Defendants usually have free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, while court documents are provided only in Arabic. Defendants have access to government-held evidence, have the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present one’s own witnesses and evidence, and have the opportunity to give a statement at the end of their trial. Defendants have the right to appeal a decision within 15 days; use of the appellate process was common.

The Court of Cassation requires a fee to initiate the appeals process. In some cases, courts waived fees if an appellant demonstrated financial hardship.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no substantiated reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Civil remedies are available for those seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations, but there were no cases reported during the year. The law specifies circumstances that necessitate a judge’s removal from a case for conflict of interest, and authorities generally observed these laws. Individuals and organizations may not appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

The constitution and the criminal procedures code prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. Police and security forces, however, reportedly monitored telephone calls, emails, and social media posts.

Citizens must obtain government permission to marry foreigners, which is sometimes not granted for female citizens. Male citizens may apply for residency permits and citizenship for their foreign wives, but female citizens may apply only for residency for their foreign husbands and children, not citizenship.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but this right is restricted by law, including the General Assembly and Demonstration Law and the Associations and Private Institutions Law. Noncitizens are exempt from the constitutional protections on freedom of assembly. Organizers of public meetings must meet a number of restrictions and conditions and obtain approval from the Ministry of Interior to acquire a permit.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right to form groups, defined by the law as professional associations and private institutions, but the government significantly limited this right. Noncitizens are exempt from the constitutional protections on freedom of association. There were no reports of attempts to organize politically. There were no organized political parties, and authorities prohibited politically oriented associations. The government prohibits professional associations and private institutions from engaging in political matters or affiliating internationally. Civil society organizations must obtain approval from the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs, which may deny their establishment if it deems them a threat to the public interest.

Informal organizations, such as community support groups and activity clubs, operated without registration, but they may not engage in activities deemed political.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not fully respect these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to assist internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: Restrictions on in-country movement for citizens concerned sensitive military, oil, and industrial installations. Although there was less emphasis on setting and enforcing “family-only” times at entertainment areas in Doha, several local malls and markets continued to restrict access to certain areas to foreign workers on weekends and those dressed “immodestly.”

Foreign Travel: The government prevented the travel of its citizens only when they were involved in court cases in progress. In September new legislation abolished the exit requirements for 95 percent of the workforce in the private sector, with some exceptions including domestic workers. Government employees are also not exempted. Employers may still request exit permits for up to 5 percent of their workforce but must provide an explanation to the government for why they believe any employee should retain an exit permit restriction, such as access to sensitive information.

The law prohibits the practice of employers withholding workers’ passports and increases penalties for employers who continue to do so, but noncitizen community leaders and officials from labor-exporting countries confirmed it remained a common problem with insufficient enforcement.

Citizenship: The law allows for the revocation of citizenship. In September representatives from the Al-Ghufran tribe submitted a complaint to the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, accusing the government of arbitrarily revoking the citizenship of 6,000 members of the tribe. Representatives from the government and the NHRC acknowledged that the citizenship of some of the tribe’s members was previously revoked but stated that revocations were only for dual-citizens, which the country does not recognize, and denied any new revocations during the year.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: In September the government passed legislation to grant political asylum status to asylum seekers. The new law stipulates the creation of a specialized committee within the Ministry of Interior to handle requests from asylum seekers. Once granted political asylum, the individual and his or her family have access to a range of free services provided by the government, including travel documents, jobs, monthly allowances, medical and educational services, and housing. Previously, the government accepted such individuals as “guests” on a temporary basis. The government legally classified the small number of persons granted residence on humanitarian grounds as visitors. The government provided housing and education to these de facto refugees. The Syrian Opposition Coalition office in Doha reported approximately 60,000 Syrians were living in Doha of which roughly 20,000 came to Doha after the start of the civil war and have been granted repeated extensions to their residency status to allow them to remain in country.

STATELESS PERSONS

Citizenship derives solely from the father, and women cannot transmit citizenship to their noncitizen spouse or children. A woman must obtain permission from authorities before marrying a foreign national but does not lose citizenship upon marriage.

The law allows long-term residents to apply for citizenship after living in the country for 25 consecutive years, but the government rarely approved citizenship applications, which were by law capped at 50 per year. Restrictions and inconsistent application of the law prevented stateless persons from acquiring citizenship. In September the government passed a new law to regulate granting permanent residencies to some categories of non-Qataris. The law caps the number of new permanent residents to 100 per year. The intended beneficiaries of the new law are the children of Qatari women with non-Qatari fathers, husbands of Qatari women, and individuals with special skills or who offered remarkable services to the country.

The NHRC estimated that during the year there remained between 1,000 and 2,000 Bidoon, stateless residents in the country, and that they suffered some social discrimination. The Bidoon, who are afforded residency with the sponsorship of a Qatari resident, were able to register for public services such as education and health care. Bidoon, however, are unable to own property in the country and cannot travel freely to other Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

Permanent residents have the right to own property, open businesses without Qatari partners, and receive free education and health services.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The government did not allow the formation of political parties or opposition groups. The Amir exercises full executive powers, including the appointment of cabinet members. In 2016 the Amir issued a decree extending the term of the appointed Shura Council, the country’s titular legislative body, by three years.

The constitutional provisions for electing two-thirds of the Shura Council members and initiation of legislation by the Shura Council remain unimplemented.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 citizens elected the 29 members of the fourth Central Municipal Council, including two women, to four-year terms. The council advises the minister of municipality and urban affairs on local public services. Foreign diplomatic missions noted no apparent irregularities or fraud in the elections, although voter registration was lower than authorities expected.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not permit the organization of political parties, and there were no attempts to form them during the year. Voting is open to all citizens who are at least 18 years old, including those who have been naturalized for at least 15 years; members of the armed services and employees of the Ministry of Interior may not vote.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Although traditional attitudes and societal roles continued to limit women’s participation in politics, women served in various roles in public office, such as minister of public health, chair of the Qatar Foundation, head of the Qatar Museum Authority, permanent representative to the United Nations, and ambassadors to Croatia and the Holy See. In November 2017 the Amir appointed four women to the Shura Council for the first time in the legislative body’s history. Noncitizen residents are banned from participating in political affairs, although they serve as judges and staffers at government ministries.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. There were reports, however, of government corruption during the year. In 2016 the Amir signed legislation giving the State Audit Bureau more financial authority and independence and allowing it to publish parts of its findings, provided confidential information is removed, something it was not previously empowered to do. Official statistics from 2017, the last officially released numbers, showed 10 cases of embezzlement of which five had been closed.

Financial Disclosure: There are no legal requirements for public officials to disclose their income and assets, and they did not do so.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Researchers from international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and international unions such as Building and Wood Workers’ International and the International Trade Union Confederation continued to visit and report on the country without interference from authorities. The government was often responsive to requests for meetings and jointly participated in public events hosted by human rights groups, including on sensitive topics such as labor rights.

Several quasi-governmental organizations are under a single entity, Qatar Foundation, which is under the leadership of Sheikha Hind Al Thani, the sister of the Amir. These organizations cooperated with the government, rarely criticized it, and did not engage in political activity. Some international NGOs have offices in the country focused on labor rights with the permission of the government.

The NHRC provided some mild criticism of abuses and conducted its own investigations into human rights violations. A law regulating the work of the NHRC granted the committee “full independence” in practicing its activities and providing immunity to the committee’s members. The NHRC typically handled petitions by liaising with government institutions to ensure a timely resolution to disputes.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Interior and the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are mandated to observe, report, and handle human rights issues. The NHRC is mandated by the cabinet to issue an annual report pertaining to the human rights conditions in the country.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape. Spousal rape is not explicitly criminalized, but a woman may file a complaint. The penalty for rape is life imprisonment, regardless of the age or gender of the victim. If the perpetrator is a nonspousal relative, teacher, guardian, or caregiver of the victim, the penalty is death. The government enforced the law against rape.

No specific law criminalizes domestic violence. According to the NHRC, authorities may prosecute domestic violence as “general” violence under the criminal law. According to the Protection and Social Rehabilitation Center shelter (PSRC), rape and domestic violence against women continued to be a problem. Police treated domestic violence as a private family matter rather than a criminal matter and were reluctant to investigate or prosecute reports.

Human Rights Watch reported that extramarital sex is punishable by up to seven years in prison, flogging (for unmarried persons), or the death penalty (for married persons). A woman who gives birth to a baby out of wedlock receives a 12-month jail sentence, on average, which could also include deportation, and even corporal punishment (lashings), according to news reports. The PSRC reported there were a total of 366 cases of adult women and 78 cases of minors who suffered various forms of physical or physiological violence in 2017.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and carries penalties of imprisonment or fines. In some cases, sponsors sexually harassed and mistreated foreign domestic servants.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The constitution asserts equality between citizens in rights and responsibilities, but social and legal discrimination against women persisted. For example, the housing law, which governs the government housing system, discriminates against women married to noncitizen men and against divorced women.

Under the Nationality Law, female citizens face legal discrimination, since they are unable to transmit citizenship to their noncitizen husbands and to children born from a marriage to a noncitizen.

To receive maternity care, a woman must have a marriage certificate, although in practice hospitals will assist in the birth of children of unwed women.

Traditions of sharia also significantly disadvantage women in family, property, and inheritance law and in the judicial system generally. For example, a non-Muslim wife does not have the automatic right to inherit from her Muslim husband. She receives an inheritance only if her husband wills her a portion of his estate, and even then she is eligible to receive only one-third of the total estate. Sisters inherit only one-half as much as their brothers. In cases of divorce, young children usually remain with the mother, regardless of her religion, unless she is found to be unfit.

Women may attend court proceedings and represent themselves, but a male relative generally represented them. A woman’s testimony is deemed half that of a man’s.

A non-Muslim woman is not required to convert to Islam upon marriage to a Muslim, but many did so. The government documents children born to a Muslim father as Muslims. Men may prevent adult female family members from leaving the country, but only by seeking and securing a court order. There were no reports that the government prevented women over age 18 from traveling abroad.

By law women are entitled to equal pay for equal work, but this did not always happen in practice and they often lacked access to decision-making positions in management of private companies and in the public sector.

There was no specialized government office devoted to women’s equality.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from the father. The government generally registered all births immediately.

Education: Education is free and compulsory for all citizens through age 18 or nine years of education, whichever comes first. Education is compulsory for noncitizen children, but they pay a nominal fee. Islamic instruction is compulsory for Muslims attending state-sponsored schools.

Child Abuse: There were limited cases of reported child abuse, family violence, and sexual abuse. A PSRC report mentioned 78 cases of violence against minors in 2017.

Early and Forced Marriage: By law the minimum age for marriage is 18 years for boys and 16 years for girls. The law does not permit marriage of persons below these ages except with consent from the legal guardian and with permission from a judge. Underage marriage was rare.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: No specific law sets a minimum age for consensual sex. The law prohibits sex outside of marriage. In the criminal law, the penalty for sexual relations with a person younger than 16 years is life imprisonment. If the individual is the nonspousal relative, guardian, caretaker, or servant of the victim, the penalty is death; there were no reports this sentence was ever implemented. No specific law prohibits child pornography because all pornography is prohibited, but the law specifically criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country does not have an indigenous Jewish community. Sporadic cartoons in local papers carried anti-Semitic messages every few months, linking Israel or stereotypical Jewish figures to the decision by the Quartet (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt) to sever diplomatic ties and place an embargo on Qatar or to Palestinian issues. In May, for example, Al-Arab newspaper posted a cartoon depicting the Quartet as serving the “Palestinian cause” in the shape of a peace dove to a Jewish claw.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against–and requires the allocation of resources for–persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, the judicial system, and other government services or other areas. The government is charged with acting on complaints from individuals, and the NHRC has responsibility for enforcing compliance. The NHRC stated that they have received 17 complaints from those with disabilities in 2017. The NHRC report listed a number of challenges facing individuals with disabilities, including the lack of updated statistics for this group, the need for better legislation to ensure absolute equality in having access to government services and job opportunities, and the scarcity of efficient institutions that can provide services to disabled citizens and expats.

Private and independent schools generally provided most of the required services for students with disabilities, but government schools did not. Few public buildings met the required standards of accessibility for persons with disabilities, and new buildings generally did not comply with standards.

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

LGBTI persons faced discrimination under the law and in practice. The law prohibits consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men but does not explicitly prohibit same-sex sexual relations between women. Under the law, a man convicted of having sexual relations with a boy younger than 16 years is subject to a sentence of life in prison. A man convicted of having same-sex sexual relations with a man 16 years of age or older may receive a sentence of seven years in prison.

There were no public reports of violence against LGBTI persons, who largely hid their sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics due to an underlying pattern of discrimination toward LGBTI. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination nor are there antidiscrimination laws that protect LGBTI individuals on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics.

Due to social and religious conventions, there were no LGBTI organizations, Pride marches, or LGBTI rights advocacy events. Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The NHRC reported no LGBTI-related complaints in the past year.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was discrimination against HIV-positive patients. Authorities deported foreigners found to be HIV positive upon arrival. Mandatory medical examinations were required for residents. Since health screenings are required for nonresidents to obtain work visas, some HIV-positive persons were denied work permits prior to arrival. The government quarantined HIV-positive citizens and provided treatment for them.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not adequately protect the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively, which made the exercise of these rights difficult. The law provides local citizen workers in private sector enterprises that have 100 citizen workers age 18 and older a limited right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law excludes government employees, noncitizens, domestic workers, drivers, nurses, cooks, gardeners, casual workers, workers employed at sea, and most workers employed in agriculture and grazing from the right to join worker committees or the national union, effectively banning these workers from organizing, bargaining collectively, or striking.

In organizations with more than 50 workers, the law permits the establishment of “joint committees” with an equal number of worker and management representatives to deal with a limited number of workplace problems. Foreign workers may be members of joint labor-management committees. The law offers a means to file collective disputes. If disputes are not settled internally between the employees and employer, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs may mediate a solution. An agreement signed between the ministry and the International Labor Organization (ILO) includes provisions to create these committees with ILO supervision and assistance. Several pilot committees have begun operation and held elections during the year to determine the representatives for the workers.

The law requires approval by the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs for worker organizations to affiliate with groups outside the country. The government did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining outside of the joint committees.

For those few workers covered by the law protecting the right to collective bargaining, the government circumscribed the right through its control over the rules and procedures of the bargaining and agreement processes. The labor code allows for only one trade union, the General Union of Workers of Qatar (General Union), which was composed of general committees for workers in various trades or industries. Trade or industry committees were composed of worker committees at the individual firm level. The General Union was not a functioning entity.

Employees could not freely practice collective bargaining, and there were no workers under collective bargaining contracts. While rare, when labor unrest occurred, mostly involving the country’ s overwhelmingly foreign workforce, the government reportedly responded by dispatching large numbers of police to the work sites or labor camps involved; the government also requested the assistance of the embassies for the nationals involved. Strikes generally ended after these shows of force and the involvement of their embassies to resolve disputes. In many cases, the government summarily deported the workers’ leaders and organizers. International labor NGOs were able to send researchers into the country under the sponsorship of academic institutions and quasi-governmental organizations such as the NHRC.

Although the law recognizes the right to strike for some workers, restrictive conditions made the likelihood of a legal strike extremely remote. The law requires approval for a strike by three-fourths of the General Committee of the workers in the trade or the industry, and potential strikers also must exhaust a lengthy dispute resolution procedure before a lawful strike may be called. Civil servants and domestic workers do not have the right to strike; the law also prohibits strikes at public utilities and health or security service facilities, including the gas, petroleum, and transportation sectors. The Complaint Department of the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs, in coordination with the Ministry of Interior, must preauthorize all strikes, including approval of the time and place.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. International media and human rights organizations alleged numerous abuses against foreign workers, including forced or compulsory labor, withheld wages, unsafe working conditions, poor living accommodations, employers who routinely confiscated worker passports, and a sponsorship system that gave employers inordinate control of workers.

The government made efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor, although the restrictive sponsorship system left some migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation. The law allows employees to switch employers at the end of their contract, which can be up to five years, without the permission of their employer. Employees may also switch in cases of failure to pay, violation of contract, mutual agreement, filing of a legal case in court, and bankruptcy or death of employer. Law 13 of 2018 eliminated the exit visa requirement for most workers covered under the labor law. The law does not extend to domestic workers who continue to require their employers’ permission to leave the country. All workers subjected to exit permit requirements are allowed to seek the removal of such restrictions through a Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs jointly operated Grievance Committee.

The government also inaugurated several new government-funded labor accommodation sites designed to replace unsafe temporary housing for migrant workers. The government arrested and prosecuted individuals for suspected labor law violations. Since opening its office in Doha in April, the ILO has collaborated with the government to receive worker complaints and as of October had facilitated the submission of 52 worker complaints to Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs involving more than 320 workers. The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, and the NHRC conducted training sessions for migrant laborers to educate them on their rights in the country. The three entities also printed and distributed pamphlets that included pertinent articles of the labor and sponsorship laws in multiple languages to educate migrant workers on their rights. To combat the problem of late and unpaid wages, the government mandated that employers pay wages electronically to all employees subject to the labor law through a system subject to audits by an inspection division at the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs. Employers who failed to pay their workers faced penalties of 2,000-6,000 QAR ($550-$1,650) per case and possible prison sentences.

There were continuing indications of forced labor, especially in the construction and domestic labor sectors, which disproportionately affected migrant workers. Exorbitant recruitment fees incurred abroad entrapped many workers in long-term debt, making them more vulnerable to exploitation. Some foreign workers who voluntarily entered the country to work had their passports and pay withheld and worked under conditions to which they had not agreed. Contract substitution remained a problem according to representatives of the migrant worker community; however, a new government electronic contracting system was being piloted to help eliminate the practice.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 years and stipulates that minors between the ages of 16 and 18 years may work with parental or guardian permission. Minors may not work more than six hours a day or more than 36 hours a week. Employers must provide the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs with the names and occupations of their minor employees and obtain permission from the Ministry of Education and Higher Education to hire a minor. The ministry may prohibit the employment of minors in jobs judged dangerous to their health, safety, or morals. The government generally enforced relevant laws effectively, and child labor rarely occurred.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, language, and religion, but not political opinion, national origin, social origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, or HIV-positive status. Local custom, however, outweighed government enforcement of nondiscrimination laws, and legal, cultural, and institutional discrimination existed against women, noncitizens, and foreign workers. The government prohibited lower-paid male workers from residing in specific “family” residential zones throughout the country. The government discriminated against noncitizens in employment, education, housing, and health services (see section 6).

The law requires reserving 2 percent of jobs in government agencies and public institutions for persons with disabilities, and most government entities appeared to conform to this law. Private-sector businesses employing a minimum of 25 persons are also required to hire persons with disabilities as 2 percent of their staff. Employers who violate these employment provisions are subject to fines of up to 20,000 QAR ($5,500). There were no reports of violations of the hiring quota requirement during the year.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In November 2017 the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs announced a temporary minimum wage for migrant workers worth 750 QAR ($200) per month. The ministry and the ILO Office in Doha are currently conducting surveys and studies to set an appropriate permanent minimum wage for workers. The labor law provides for a 48-hour workweek with a 24-hour rest period and paid annual leave days. The law requires premium pay for overtime and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. Employees who work more than 48 hours per week or 36 hours per week during the month of Ramadan are entitled to an overtime pay supplement of at least 25 percent. The government sets occupational health and safety standards including restrictions on working during the hottest hours of the day during the summer and general restrictions related to temperature during the rest of the day as well. The labor law and provisions for acceptable conditions of work do not apply to workers in the public sector or agriculture, or to domestic workers. In August 2017 the Amir ratified a law regulating service workers in the home. The law provides for a maximum 10-hour workday, one day a week off, and allows for overtime. Poverty among citizens was very low, and the government did not track poverty statistics among migrant workers.

Responsibility for laws related to acceptable conditions of work fell primarily to the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs as well as the Ministry of Municipality and Environment and the Ministry of Public Health. The government did not effectively enforce standards in all sectors; working conditions for citizens were generally adequate, because government agencies and the major private sector companies employing them generally followed the relevant laws. Enforcement problems were in part due to insufficient training and lack of personnel.

The government took limited action to prevent violations and improve working conditions. In March the Worker Dispute Settlement Committees assumed their duties, chaired by first-instance judges appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council and members of the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs. As of July the committees reported seeing over 120 cases per night and rulings were on behalf of employees in the over 70 percent of cases.

The Labor Inspection Department conducted monthly and random inspections of foreign worker camps. When inspectors found the camps to be below minimum standards, the operators received a warning, and authorities ordered them to remedy the violations within one month. For example, inspectors reportedly checked companies’ payrolls and health and safety practices, returning after one month to ensure any recommended changes were made. If a company did not remedy the violations, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs imposed fines, blacklisted the company, and on occasion referred the matter to the public prosecutor for action.

Fear of penalties such as blacklisting appeared to have had some effect as a deterrent to some labor law violations. Blacklisting is an administrative hold on a company or individual that freezes government services such as processing new visa applications from the firms. Firms must pay a 3,000 QAR ($825) fine to be removed from the list–even if the dispute is resolved–and the ministry reserves the right to keep companies on the list after the fine is paid as a punitive measure.

The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs inspectors continued to conduct inspection visits to work and labor housing sites. Officials from the ILO joined labor inspectors on several inspections and assisted in the formation of a new strategic plan for strengthening the Labor Inspections Unit expected to begin implementation in 2019. Violators faced penalties of up to 6,000 QAR ($1,650) and 30 days’ imprisonment in the most serious cases, but labor observers reported that most safety and health violations were handled through administrative fines or blacklisting. The ministry maintained an office in Doha’s industrial area, where most unskilled foreign workers resided, to receive complaints about worker safety or nonpayment of wages.

Violations of wage, overtime, and safety and health standards were relatively common, especially in sectors employing foreign workers, in which working conditions were often poor. Employers must pay their employees electronically to provide a digital audit trail for the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs. Employers who failed to pay their workers faced penalties of 2,000-6,000 QAR ($550-$1,650) per employee and possible prison sentences. By law employees have a right to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively provide protection to employees exercising this right. Employers often ignored working-hour restrictions and other laws with respect to domestic workers and unskilled laborers, the majority of whom were foreigners.

Some employers did not pay workers for overtime or annual leave. Employers housed many unskilled foreign laborers in cramped, dirty, and hazardous conditions, often without running water, electricity, or adequate food. The government continued to serve eviction notices to landlords whose buildings were not up to code. Throughout the year international media alleged some abusive working conditions existed, including work-related deaths of young foreign workers, especially in the construction sector.

Domestic workers often faced unacceptable working conditions. Many such workers frequently worked seven days a week and more than 12 hours a day with few or no holidays, no overtime pay, and limited means to redress grievances. Some employers denied domestic workers food or access to a telephone, according to news reports and foreign embassy officials.

International NGOs found that foreign workers faced legal obstacles and lengthy legal processes that prevented them from seeking redress for violations and exploitative conditions. Noncitizen community leaders also highlighted migrant workers’ continued hesitation to report their plight due to fear of reprisals.

Saudi Arabia

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is both head of state and head of government. The 1992 Basic Law sets out the system of governance, rights of citizens, and powers and duties of the government, and it provides that the Quran and Sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) serve as the country’s constitution. It specifies that the rulers of the country shall be male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz (Ibn Saud). In 2015 the country held its most recent municipal elections on a nonparty basis for two-thirds of the 3,159 seats in the 284 municipal councils around the country. Independent polling station observers did not identify significant irregularities with the elections. For the first time, women were allowed to vote and run as candidates in these municipal elections.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced renditions; forced disappearances; and torture of prisoners and detainees by government agents. There were also reports of arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy; criminalization of libel, censorship, and site blocking; restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and movement; severe restrictions of religious freedom; citizens’ lack of ability and legal means to choose their government through free and fair elections; trafficking in persons; violence and official discrimination against women, although new women’s rights initiatives were implemented; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity; and prohibition of trade unions.

Government agents carried out the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2. King Salman pledged to hold all individuals involved accountable, regardless of position or rank. Several officials were removed from their positions, and on November 15, the Public Prosecutor’s Office (PPO) announced the indictment of 11 suspects. The PPO announced it would seek the death penalty for five of the suspects charged with murder and added that an additional 10 suspects were under further investigation. At year’s end the PPO had not named the suspects nor the roles allegedly played by them in the killing, nor had they provided a detailed explanation of the direction and progress of the investigation. In other cases the government did not punish officials accused of committing human rights abuses, contributing to an environment of impunity.

The country continued air operations in Yemen as leader of a military coalition formed in 2015 to counter the 2014 forceful takeover of the Republic of Yemen’s government institutions and facilities by Houthi militias and security forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure on a number of occasions, and the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, reported that some coalition airstrikes caused disproportionate collateral damage. Houthi-aligned militias carried out cross-border raids into Saudi territory and fired missiles and artillery into Saudi Arabia throughout the year, killing and injuring Saudi civilians. The coalition’s Joint Incident Assessment Team, established by the Saudi government and based in Riyadh, investigated allegations of civilian casualties, published recommendations, and in some cases promised to provide compensation to affected families, although no prosecutions occurred.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

The government or its agents engaged in arbitrary or unlawful killings. On October 2, Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist who lived abroad in “self-exile,” was killed by government agents during a visit to the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The government initially claimed he had left the consulate in good health but changed its story as facts came to light. On November 15, the PPO announced the indictment of 11 suspects in Khashoggi’s killing and that it would seek the death penalty for five of them charged with murder. The PPO added that an additional 10 suspects were under investigation in connection with the case. The PPO did not name the suspects. Previously, on October 19, the government announced the dismissal of five senior officials, including Royal Court advisor Saud al-Qahtani and Deputy Chief of the General Intelligence Presidency Ahmad al-Asiri, in connection with Khashoggi’s killing. In 2016 authorities reportedly banned Khashoggi from writing, appearing on television, and attending conferences due to remarks he made that were interpreted as critical of foreign and Saudi government officials, according to multiple media sources.

On March 12, the New York Times reported that unnamed sources said 17 detainees–among them princes, businessmen, and former and current government officials–held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh in November 2017 had required hospitalization for physical abuse and that one had died in custody.

Under the country’s interpretation and practice of sharia (Islamic law), capital punishment may be imposed for a range of nonviolent offenses, including apostasy, sorcery, and adultery, although in practice death sentences for such offenses were rare and often reduced on appeal. The government, however, frequently implemented capital punishment for nonviolent drug trafficking offenses. According to the governmental Saudi Press Agency, the country carried out 145 executions as of December 19, 57 of which were for drug-related offenses. Three of those executions were carried out in public.

Since the country lacks a comprehensive written penal code listing criminal offenses and the associated penalties for them (see section 1.e.), punishment–including the imposition of capital punishment–is subject to considerable judicial discretion. Defendants are able to appeal their sentences. The law requires a five-judge appellate court to affirm a death sentence, which a five-judge panel of the Supreme Court must unanimously affirm. Appellate courts may recommend changes to a sentence, including increasing a lesser sentence to the death penalty.

Defendants possess the right under the law to seek commutation of a death sentence for some crimes and may receive a royal pardon under specific circumstances (see section 1.d.).

Many of those executed during the year had been convicted in trials that did not meet international minimum fair trial standards, according to NGOs such as Amnesty International. Amnesty noted that “those sentenced to death are often convicted solely on the basis of ‘confessions’ obtained under torture and other mistreatment, denied legal representation in trials which are held in secret, and are not kept informed of the progress of the legal proceedings in their case.”

In August the public prosecutor charged six Eastern Province activists with offenses that potentially could lead to death sentences based on the sharia principle of ta’zir, or “discretionary” punishments, according to HRW. The judge has discretion over the definition of what constitutes a crime and the sentence. The activists had initial hearings before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), set up in 2008 to try terrorism cases, on charges including “participating in violent protests” in the Qatif area of Eastern Province. Local and international human rights organizations noted the hearings before the SCC lacked transparency and did not adhere to minimum fair trial standards.

On March 15, seven UN experts issued a statement expressing concern over the pending death sentence of Abbas Haiji al-Hassan and 14 others, whom the SCC convicted of spying for Iran, financing terrorism, and illegally proselytizing in 2016. The experts called on the government to annul the death sentences, which had been upheld by further court rulings in July and December 2017. Al-Hassan was later transferred to the State Security Presidency (SSP), and his sentence was, at year’s end, subject to ratification by the king. The UN report commented: “We are concerned that these individuals were subjected to torture during their interrogation to obtain confessions and that the death sentences may be based on evidence obtained under these conditions.”

The government also imposed death sentences for crimes committed by minors. According to the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR), at year’s end eight individuals on death row were minors when detained, or at the time they committed offenses. The new Juvenile Law (approved by Royal Decree No. M/113, dated August 1, 2018), however, sets the legal age at 18 based on the Hijri calendar and in some cases permits detention of minors in a juvenile facility for up to 15 years if the crime is otherwise punishable by death.

At year’s end the government had not carried out the execution of Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr, sentenced to death in 2014 for crimes he allegedly committed when he was 17. Al-Nimr was charged with protesting, aiding and abetting fugitives, attacking security vehicles, and various violent crimes. Human rights organizations reported due process concerns relating to minimum fair trial standards for his case. Al-Nimr was the nephew of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, executed in 2016.

There were terrorist attacks in the country during the year. A police officer, a Bangladeshi national, and two attackers were killed in a terrorist attack claimed by ISIS that targeted a security checkpoint in Buraidah, Qassim Province, on July 8.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances carried out by or on behalf of government authorities.

On May 29 and June 13, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Liz Throssell and HRW, respectively, urged authorities to disclose the whereabouts of Nawaf al-Rasheed, a citizen with dual Qatari nationality, whom Kuwait authorities stated had been deported to Saudi Arabia on May 12 at the kingdom’s request.

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

The law prohibits torture and makes officers, who are responsible for criminal investigations, liable for any abuse of authority. Sharia, as interpreted in the country, prohibits judges from accepting confessions obtained under duress. Statutory law provides that public investigators shall not subject accused persons to coercive measures to influence their testimony.

Multiple human rights organizations, the United Nations, and independent third parties noted numerous reports of torture and mistreatment of detainees by law enforcement officers. In November HRW and Amnesty International reported that some female right-to-drive activists arrested in May and June were subjected to torture and sexual harassment while in detention at Dhahban Prison near Jeddah. Human rights organizations and Western media outlets reported the women had been subjected to electric shocks, whipping, and forced kissing.

In a September SCC hearing attended by diplomatic representatives, three defendants reported their confessions had been forced after they were subject to abuse including beatings, sleep deprivation, being forced to stand for long periods, and food deprivation. In a June report, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson called on authorities to investigate allegations of the torture of detainees. While noting the country had “suffered numerous terrorist acts” and had a duty to protect its citizens, Emmerson said he had “well-documented reports” of torture and mistreatment by law enforcement officials against individuals accused of terrorism, as well as the use of coerced confessions. Emmerson also said authorities had widened their use of the broad antiterrorism law since his visit in April-May 2017. Authorities denied officials committed torture and stated they afforded all detainees due process and properly investigated credible complaints of mistreatment or torture.

On March 11, The New York Times reported that businessmen and princes arrested and detained during the government’s November 2017 anticorruption campaign were required to wear ankle bracelets that tracked their movements after their release. It added that at least 17 detainees were hospitalized for physical abuse, and one later died in custody with his body bearing signs of torture.

Amnesty, HRW, and other organizations also reported cases in which the SCC based its decisions on confessions allegedly obtained through torture and then admitted as evidence.

Former detainees in facilities run by the General Investigations Directorate (the country’s internal security forces, also known as Mabahith) alleged that abuse included beatings, sleep deprivation, and long periods of solitary confinement for nonviolent detainees.

Officials from the Ministry of Interior, PPO, and Human Rights Commission (HRC) claimed that rules prohibiting torture prevented such practices from occurring in the penal system. The ministry said it installed surveillance cameras to record interrogations of suspects in some criminal investigation offices, police stations, and prisons where such interrogations regularly occurred, such as the General Investigations Directorate/Mabahith prison facilities. There were reports that defendants who requested copies of video footage from the ministry’s surveillance system to provide as evidence of torture did not receive it.

Courts continued to sentence individuals to corporal punishment, usually in the form of floggings, whippings, or lashings, a common punishment that government officials defended as punishment dictated by sharia. According to human rights activists, police conducted the floggings according to a set of guidelines determined by local interpretation of sharia. The police official administering the punishment must place a copy of the Quran under his arm that prevents raising the hand above the head, limiting the ability to inflict pain or injury on the person subjected to the punishment, and instructions forbid police from breaking the skin or causing scarring when administering the lashes. Human rights organizations disputed that officials implemented floggings according to these guidelines for all prisoners and characterized flogging as a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

There were no reported cases of judicially administered amputation during the year.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions varied, and some did not meet international standards; reported problems included overcrowding and inadequate conditions.

Physical Conditions: In May the HRC reported that the most common problems observed during prison visits conducted in 2017 included overcrowding as well as insufficient facilities for inmates with disabilities.

Juveniles constituted less than 1 percent of detainees and were held in separate facilities from adults, according to available information.

Violations listed in National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) reports following prison visits documented shortages of properly trained wardens and lack of prompt access to medical treatment and services, including medication, when requested. Some prisoners alleged prison authorities maintained cold temperatures in prison facilities and deliberately kept lights on 24 hours a day to make prisoners uncomfortable.

Human rights activists reported that deaths in prisons, jails, or pretrial detention centers were infrequent (see section 1.a.).

Authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. They separated persons suspected or convicted of terrorism offenses from the general population but held them in similar facilities. Activists alleged that authorities sometimes detained individuals in the same cells as individuals with mental disabilities as a form of punishment and indicated that authorities mistreated persons with disabilities.

Administration: There were multiple legal authorities for prisons and detention centers. The General Directorate of Prisons administered approximately 91 detention centers, prisons, and jails, while the General Investigations Directorate/Mabahith administered approximately 20 regional prisons and detention centers for security prisoners. Article 37 of the law of criminal procedure gives members of the PPO the authority to conduct official visits of prisons and detention facilities “within their jurisdictional areas to ensure that no person is unlawfully imprisoned or detained” (see section 1.d., Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees).

No ombudsmen were available to register or investigate complaints made by prisoners, although prisoners could and did submit complaints to the HRC and the NSHR for follow up. Article 38 of the law of criminal procedure provides that “any prisoner or detainee shall have the right to submit, at any time, a written or verbal complaint to the prison or detention center officer and request that he communicate it to a member of the [former] Bureau of Investigations and Public Prosecution [renamed the PPO].” Under the law there is no right to submit complaints directly to judicial authorities or to challenge the legality of an individual’s detention before a court of law (habeas corpus). There was no information available on whether prisoners were able to submit complaints to prison or prosecutorial authorities without censorship, or whether authorities responded or acted upon complaints.

On December 17, the Wall Street Journal reported the HRC was investigating alleged abused of detained women’s rights activists.

On July 6, security authorities arrested human rights defender Khaled al-Omair after he had filed a complaint with the Royal Court against an officer of the General Directorate of Investigation who allegedly tortured him during a prior imprisonment, according to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR). Al-Omair was previously released in April 2017 after serving an eight-year sentence for inciting demonstrations and calling for them via the internet, according to the GCHR.

Recordkeeping on prisoners was inadequate; there were reports authorities held prisoners after they had completed their sentences.

A Ministry of Interior-run website (Nafetha) provided detainees and their relatives access to a database containing information about the legal status of the detainee, including any scheduled trial dates. Activists said the website did not provide information about all detainees.

Authorities differentiated between violent and nonviolent prisoners, sometimes pardoning nonviolent prisoners to reduce the prison population. Certain prisoners convicted on terrorism-related charges were required to participate in government-sponsored rehabilitation programs before consideration of their release.

Authorities generally permitted relatives and friends to visit prisoners twice a week, although certain prisons limited visitation to once every 15 days. There were reports that prison, security, or law enforcement officials denied this privilege in some instances, often during investigations. The families of detainees could access the Nafetha website for applications for prison visits, temporary leave from prison (generally approved around post-Ramadan Eid holidays), and release on bail (for pretrial detainees). Some family members of detained persons under investigation said family visits were typically not allowed, while others said allowed visits or calls were extremely brief (less than five minutes). Some family members of prisoners complained authorities canceled scheduled visits with relatives without reason.

Authorities generally permitted Muslim detainees and prisoners to perform religious observances such as prayers.

Independent Monitoring: Independent institutions were not permitted to conduct regular, unannounced visits to places of detention, according to the UN Committee against Torture. During the year the government permitted some foreign diplomats to visit some prison facilities to view general conditions in nonconsular cases. In a limited number of cases, foreign diplomats visited individuals in detention, but the visits took place in a separate visitors’ center where conditions may have differed from those in the detention facilities holding the prisoners.

The government permitted the HRC and domestic quasi-governmental organizations, such as the NSHR, to monitor prison conditions. The organizations stated they visited prisons throughout the country and reported on prison conditions. In December the HRC reported it had conducted more than 1,200 prison visits in 2017, including visits to Mabahith prisons, criminal investigation prisons, and some military prisons, as well as “social surveillance centers” and girls’ welfare institutions. The NSHR reportedly monitored health care in prisons and brought deficiencies to the attention of the PPO.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law provides that no entity may restrict a person’s actions or imprison a person, except under the provisions of the law. The law of criminal procedure provides that authorities may not detain a person for more than 24 hours, except pursuant to a written order from a public investigator. Authorities must inform the detained person of the reasons for detention. Regardless, the Ministry of Interior and the SSP, to which the majority of forces with arrest powers reported, maintained broad authority to arrest and detain persons indefinitely without judicial oversight, notification of charges, or effective access to legal counsel or family. Authorities held persons for months and sometimes years without charge or trial and reportedly failed to advise them promptly of their rights, including their legal right to be represented by an attorney. Under the law of criminal procedure, detentions can be extended administratively for up to six months at the discretion of the PPO.

The Supreme Anti-Corruption Committee, formed by Royal Order No. (A/38) in November 2017, was granted broad powers, including the authority to issue arrest warrants and travel bans, freeze accounts and portfolios, and take whatever measures deemed necessary to deal with those involved in public corruption cases.

In January the public prosecutor stated the committee summoned 381 persons for questioning, of whom 56 suspects were still held on graft charges. On April 8, the public prosecutor began investigations and opening arguments for the remaining 56 suspects. In an October 5 interview with Bloomberg News, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman declared only eight suspects remained.

The PPO may order the detention of any person accused of a crime under the 2017 counterterrorism law for up to 30 days, or successive periods not exceeding 30 days each, and in total not more than 12 months. The SCC must authorize periods of detention of more than 12 months. In practice the United Nations and international human rights organizations documented numerous cases of detention that reportedly exceeded the maximum allowable period under the law.

By law defendants accused of any crime cited in the law are entitled to hire a practicing lawyer to defend themselves before the court “within an adequate period of time to be decided by the investigatory body.”

Since May 15, authorities arrested at least 30 prominent activists, and imposed travel bans on others, in connection with these activists’ advocacy for the right of women to drive. On June 1, Public Prosecutor Sheikh Saud al-Mu’jab stated authorities temporarily released eight of the detainees (five women and three men). An additional activist was released in December.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

In July 2017 King Salman issued a royal decree that established the State Security Presidency (SSP), a new entity reporting directly to the king, to consolidate “the counterterrorism and domestic intelligence services” and “all matters related to state security, … combatting terrorism, and financial investigations,” according to the official Saudi Press Agency. The royal decree moved the General Directorate of Investigation (Mabahith), Special Security Forces, Special Emergency Forces, General Security Aviation Command, General Directorate of Technical Affairs, and the National Information Center from the Ministry of Interior to the SSP. Police, traffic authorities, and the General Directorate of Passports remained under the Ministry of Interior, according to the Ministry of Information’s website.

The king, SSP, and Ministries of Defense, Interior, and National Guard are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The SSP and Ministry of Interior exercise primary control over internal security and police forces. The civil police and the internal security police have authority to arrest and detain individuals. Ministry of Interior and SSP police and security forces were generally able to maintain order.

The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), which monitors public behavior to enforce strict adherence to official interpretation of Islamic norms, reports to the king via the Royal Diwan (royal court) and to the Ministry of Interior. In 2016 the cabinet issued regulations severely curtailing the CPVPV’s enforcement powers. The new regulations prohibit CPVPV officers from investigating, detaining or arresting, or requesting the identification of any individual. The regulations also limit their activities to providing counseling and reporting individuals suspected of violating the law to police or other authorities. Evidence available since the end of 2017 indicated that CPVPV officers were less visibly present and active after implementation of the new strictures. Mabahith officers also have broad authorities to investigate, detain, and forward “national security” cases to judicial authorities–which ranged from terrorism cases to dissident and human rights activist cases–separate from the PPO.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, and the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. Military and security courts investigated abuses of authority and security force killings. The Board of Grievances (“Diwan al-Mazalim”), a high-level administrative judicial body that hears cases against government entities and reports directly to the king, is the primary mechanism to seek redress for claims of abuse. Citizens may report abuses by security forces at any police station or to the HRC or NSHR. The HRC and NSHR maintained records of complaints and outcomes, but privacy laws protected information about individual cases, and information was not publicly available. The HRC said in February that it received 2,646 human rights-related complaints during fiscal year 2016-17. During the year the Board of Grievances held hearings and adjudicated claims of wrongdoing, but there were no reported prosecutions of security force members for human rights violations.

The HRC, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, provided materials and training to police, other security forces, the Ministry of Defense, and the CPVPV on protecting human rights.

The Supreme Anti-Corruption Committee, established in November 2017, the National Anticorruption Commission (Nazaha), the PPO, and the Control and Investigation Board are units of the government with authority to investigate reports of criminal activity, corruption, and “disciplinary cases” involving government employees. These bodies are responsible for investigating potential cases and referring them to the administrative courts. Legal authorities for investigation and public prosecution of criminal offenses are consolidated within the PPO; the Control and Investigation Board is responsible for investigation and prosecution of noncriminal cases. Financial audit and control functions are vested in the General Auditing Board.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

In June 2017 King Salman issued two royal decrees that created the Public Prosecutor’s Office, (formerly the Bureau of Investigations and Public Prosecution or BIPP), establishing Saud bin Abdullah bin Mubarak al-Mu’jab as its head attorney general. The decrees directed the newly named agency to report directly to the king (rather than the Ministry of Interior, to which the BIPP had reported). Officials stated these changes would increase the independence and effectiveness of the lead prosecutorial office.

According to the law of criminal procedure, “no person shall be arrested, searched, detained, or imprisoned except in cases provided by law, and any accused person shall have the right to seek the assistance of a lawyer or a representative to defend him during the investigation and trial stages.” By law authorities may summon any person for investigation and may issue an arrest warrant based on evidence. In practice authorities frequently did not use warrants, and warrants were not required under the law in all cases.

The law requires authorities to file charges within 72 hours of arrest and hold a trial within six months, subject to exceptions specified by amendments to the law of criminal procedure and the counterterrorism law (see section 2.a.). Authorities may not legally detain a person under arrest for more than 24 hours, except pursuant to a written order from a public investigator. Authorities reportedly often failed to observe these legal protections, and there was no requirement to advise suspects of their rights. There were also reports that authorities did not allow legal counsel access to detainees who were under investigation in pretrial detention. Judicial proceedings begin after authorities complete a full investigation, which in some cases took years.

The law of criminal procedure specifies procedures required for extending the detention period of an accused person beyond the initial five days. Authorities may approve official detentions in excess of six months in “exceptional circumstances,” effectively allowing individuals to be held in pretrial detention indefinitely. Authorities may also extend from three months to six months the deadline for the PPO to gather evidence against the accused and issue a warrant for the defendant’s arrest, summons, or detention.

There is a functioning bail system for less serious criminal charges. Detainees generally did not have the right to obtain a lawyer of their choice. The government provided lawyers to defendants who made a formal application to the Ministry of Justice to receive a court-appointed lawyer and prove their inability to pay for their legal representation. The law contains no provision regarding the right to be informed of the protections guaranteed under the law.

Incommunicado detention was a problem. Authorities reportedly did not always respect a detainees’ right to contact family members following detention, and the counterterrorism law allows the investigatory body to hold a defendant for up to 90 days in detention without access to family members or legal counsel (and the SCC may extend such restrictions beyond this period). Security and some other types of prisoners sometimes remained in prolonged solitary detention before family members or associates received information of their whereabouts, particularly for detainees in Mabahith-run facilities.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrest and detention. During the year authorities detained security suspects, persons who publicly criticized the government, Shia religious leaders, and persons who violated religious standards, without charge.

On January 2, a group of UN human rights experts deplored what they said was “a worrying pattern of widespread and systematic arbitrary arrests and detention” following the arrests of religious figures, writers, journalists, academics, and civic activists, along with members of the banned Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) since September 2017. The experts denounced the use of the 2014 Counterterrorism Law (as amended in 2017) and other security-related laws against human rights defenders, urging the government to end repression and release those detained for peacefully exercising their rights. In September the SCC opened trials against some of the clerics, academics, and media figures arrested in September 2017. The SCC saw a significant increase in the number of cases and judicial rulings between September 2017 and March 2018, compared with the same period in the previous 12-month period. On April 22, local media reported an increase of 132 percent in the number of cases referred to the SCC and a 182 percent increase in the number of defendants.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem.

In August 2017 the PPO found during inspections of prisons and detention centers across the country that more than 2,000 individuals remained in detention without charge or trial since 2014. The attorney general ordered the cases immediately examined, and the majority of detainees were reportedly released on bail. The attorney general also asked the courts to find an appropriate legal remedy for the affected individuals.

Nonetheless, in a May 6 statement, HRW noted that authorities had detained thousands of persons for more than six months, in some cases for more than a decade, without referring them to courts for criminal proceedings, and that the number held for excessively long periods had apparently increased dramatically in recent years.

There was no current information available on the percentage of the prison population in pretrial detention or the average length of time held. Local human rights activists and diplomatic representatives reportedly received regular reports from families claiming authorities held their relatives arbitrarily or without notification of charges.

During the year the SSP stated it had detained numerous individuals for terrorist acts. On May 9, local media reported there were 5,342 detainees in five intelligence prisons across the country, of whom 83 percent were Saudis.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Under the law detainees are not entitled to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court. In the case of wrongful detention, the law of criminal procedure, as well as provisions of the counterterrorism law, provide for the right to compensation if detainees are found to have been held unlawfully.

Amnesty: The law of criminal procedure stipulates that the king may issue a pardon “on pardonable matters” for public crimes only. The law of criminal procedure also states that a victim’s heirs may grant a pardon for private crimes. The Ministry of Interior publishes the conditions for royal pardons annually, and these generally exclude specific crime categories such as murder or drug smuggling, or those convicted of crimes involving state security. Under the country’s interpretation of sharia, there are three broad categories of offenses: (1) huddud or “boundary” crimes, which are explicitly enumerated in the Quran and whose corresponding punishments are also prescribed; these are considered crimes against God and thus not pardonable; (2) qisas or “legal retribution crimes,” which involve murder or intentional bodily harm and give the victim’s family or legal heirs the private right to legal retribution; the victim’s family or legal heirs may grant a pardon in exchange for financial compensation (diya or “blood money,); and (3) crimes that do not reach the level of huddud or qisas and which are left to the discretion of the state (judge). Ta’zir or “discretionary” punishments are issued for crimes against public rights; this is the most frequently used basis for conviction.

The king continued the tradition of commuting some judicial punishments. Royal pardons sometimes set aside a conviction and sometimes reduced or eliminated corporal punishment. The remaining sentence could be added to a new sentence if the pardoned prisoner committed a crime subsequent to release.

Authorities did not detain some individuals who had received prison sentences. The counterterrorism law allows the PPO to stop proceedings against an individual who cooperates with investigations or helps thwart a planned terrorist attack. The law authorizes the SSP to release individuals already convicted.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides that judges are independent and not subject to any authority other than the provisions of sharia and the laws in force. Nevertheless, the judiciary, PPO, and SSP were not independent entities, as they were required to coordinate their decisions with executive authorities, with the king and crown prince as arbiters. Although public allegations of interference with judicial independence were rare, the judiciary reportedly was subject to influence, particularly in the case of legal decisions rendered by specialized judicial bodies, such as the SCC, which rarely acquitted suspects. Human rights activists reported that SCC judges received implicit instructions to issue harsh sentences against human rights activists, reformers, journalists, and dissidents not engaged in violent activities. Activists also reported that judicial and prosecutorial authorities ignored due process-related complaints, including lack of access by lawyers to their clients at critical stages of the judicial process, particularly during the pretrial/investigation phase.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

In the judicial system, there traditionally was no published case law on criminal matters, no uniform criminal code, no presumption of innocence, and no doctrine of stare decisis that binds judges to follow legal precedent. The Justice Ministry is expanding a project first started in 2007 to encapsulate and distribute model judicial decisions to ensure more uniformity of legal application. The law states that defendants should be treated equally in accordance with sharia. The Council of Senior Scholars (CSS), or the ulema, an autonomous advisory body, issues religious opinions (fatwas) that guide how judges interpret sharia.

In the absence of a formalized penal code that details all criminal offenses and punishments, judges in the courts determine many of these penalties through their interpretations of sharia, which varied according to the judge and the circumstances of the case. Because judges have considerable discretion in decision making, rulings and sentences diverged widely from case to case.

Several laws, however, provide sentencing requirements for crimes including terrorism, cybercrimes, trafficking in persons, and domestic abuse. In 2016 the Ministry of Justice issued its first compilation of previous decisions that judges could refer to as a point of reference in making rulings and assigning sentences.

Appeals courts cannot independently reverse lower court judgments; they are limited to affirming judgments or returning them to a lower court for modification. Even when judges did not affirm judgments, appeals judges in some cases remanded the judgment to the judge who originally authored the opinion. This procedure sometimes made it difficult for parties to receive a ruling that differed from the original judgment in cases where judges hesitated to admit error. While judges may base their decisions on any of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, all of which are represented in the CSS, the Hanbali school predominates and forms the basis for the country’s law and legal interpretations of sharia. Shia citizens use their legal traditions to adjudicate family law cases between Shia parties, although either party can decide to adjudicate a case in state courts, which apply Sunni legal traditions.

While the law states that court hearings shall be public, courts may be closed at the judge’s discretion. As a result, many trials during the year were closed. Through mid-October foreign diplomatic missions were able to obtain permission to attend some nonconsular court proceedings (cases to which neither the host country nor any of its nationals were a party; diplomatic missions are generally allowed to attend consular proceedings of their own nationals). To attend, authorities required diplomats to obtain advance written approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In October, however, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs suspended diplomatic access to court proceedings. Authorities sometimes did not permit entry to such trials to individuals other than diplomats who were not the legal agents or family members of the accused. SCC officials sometimes banned female relatives or diplomats from attending due to the absence of women officers to conduct security inspections of the women upon entry to the courtroom. According to the Ministry of Justice, authorities may close a trial depending on the sensitivity of the case to national security, the reputation of the defendant, or the safety of witnesses. Representatives of the HRC sometimes attended trials at the SCC.

Amendments to the law of criminal procedure in 2013 strengthened provisions stating that authorities will offer defendants a lawyer at government expense. In August 2017 the Ministry of Justice stated that defendants “enjoy all judicial guarantees they are entitled to, including the right to seek the assistance of lawyers of their choosing to defend them, while the ministry pays the lawyer’s fees when the accused is not able to settle them.” Activists, however, reported the process for applying for a court-appointed lawyer was difficult and cumbersome. Many said they were not able or allowed to retain an attorney or consult with their attorneys during critical stages of the investigatory and trial proceedings. Detained human rights activists often did not trust the courts to appoint lawyers for them due to concerns of lawyer bias.

The law provides defendants the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney during the trial. The counterterrorism law, however, authorizes the attorney general to limit the right of defendants accused of terrorism to access legal representation while under investigation “whenever the interests of the investigation so require.” There is no right to discovery, nor can defendants view their own file or the minutes from their interrogation. Defendants have the right to call and cross-examine witnesses under the law; however, activists reported SCC judges could decide to restrict this right in “the interests of the case.” The law provides that a PPO-appointed investigator questions the witnesses called by the defendant during the investigation phase before the initiation of a trial. The investigator may also hear testimony of additional witnesses he deems necessary to determine the facts. Authorities may not subject a defendant to any coercive measures or compel the taking of an oath. The court must inform convicted persons of their right to appeal rulings.

The law does not provide for a right against self-incrimination.

The law does not provide free interpretation services, although services were often provided in practice. The law of criminal procedure provides that “the court should seek the assistance of interpreters,” but it does not obligate the court to do so from the moment the defendant is charged, nor does the law specify that the state will bear the costs of such services.

While sharia as interpreted by the government applies to all citizens and noncitizens, the law in practice discriminates against women, noncitizens, nonpracticing Sunni, Shia, and persons of other religions. Although exceptions exist, a woman’s testimony before a court counts as only half that of a man’s. Judges may discount the testimony of nonpracticing Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, or persons of other religions; sources reported judges sometimes completely disregarded or refused to hear testimony by Shia.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government maintained there were no political prisoners, including detainees who reportedly remained in prolonged detention without charge, while local activists and human rights organizations claimed there were “hundreds” or “thousands.” Credible reporting by advocacy groups and press suggested that authorities detained persons for peaceful activism or political opposition, including nonviolent religious figures, imams deemed to have strayed from the official religious line, Shia activists, women’s rights defenders, other activists, and bloggers who the government claimed posted offensive or antigovernment comments on websites.

In many cases it was impossible to determine the legal basis for incarceration and whether the detention complied with international norms and standards. Those who remained imprisoned after trial, including persons who were political activists openly critical of the government, were often convicted of terrorism-related crimes. During the year the SCC tried political and human rights activists for nonviolent actions unrelated to terrorism, violence, or espionage against the state.

International NGOs, the United Nations, and others criticized the government for abusing its antiterrorism prerogatives to detain or arrest some dissidents or critics of the government or royal family on security-related grounds who had not espoused or committed violence. Authorities restricted attorneys’ access to all detainees, and no international humanitarian organizations had access to them.

On May 25, authorities arrested ACPRA founding member Mohammed al-Bajadi, along with almost a dozen women rights defenders, some of whom were later released. Al-Bajadi was previously released from prison in 2016 after serving a four-year prison sentence on charges stemming from his work with ACPRA. Among other rights defenders arrested in May was lawyer Ibrahim al-Mudaimeegh, who previously represented activists including Waleed Abu al-Khair and Lujain al-Hathloul. Al-Mudaimeegh was reportedly released on December 21.

At least 120 persons remained in detention for activism, criticism of government leaders, impugning Islam or religious leaders, or “offensive” internet postings, including prominent activists such as Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Hatoon al-Fassi, Raif Badawi, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Loujain al-Hathloul, and Samar Badawi, and clerics including former Grand Mosque Imam Salih al-Talib, Sahwa movement figures Safar al-Hawali, Nasser al-Omar, and others.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Complainants claiming human rights violations generally sought assistance from the HRC or the NSHR, which either advocated on their behalf or provided courts with opinions on their cases. The HRC generally responded to complaints and could refer cases to the PPO; domestic violence cases were the most common. Individuals or organizations may petition directly for damages or government action to end human rights violations before the Board of Grievances, except in compensation cases related to state security, where the SCC handles remediation. The counterterrorism law contains a provision allowing detainees in Mabahith-run prisons to request financial compensation from the Ministry of Interior/SSP for wrongful detention beyond their prison terms. In some cases the government did not carry out judicially ordered compensation for unlawful detentions in a timely manner.

In August 2017 the Ministry of Justice issued a press release stating that “…the accused enjoy all judicial guarantees they are entitled to, including the right to seek the assistance of lawyers of their choosing to defend them, while the Ministry [of Justice] pays the lawyer’s fees when the accused is not able to settle them.” Security detainees held in accordance with the 2017 Counterterrorism Law are entitled “to seek the assistance of a lawyer or legal agent,” but the Public Prosecutor may restrict this right during the investigation “whenever the interests of the investigation so require.” The United Nations and international NGOs reported security detainees were denied access to legal counsel during pretrial detention during the year.

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

The law prohibits unlawful intrusions into the privacy of persons, their homes, places of work, and vehicles. Criminal investigation officers are required to maintain records of all searches conducted; these records should contain the name of the officer conducting the search, the text of the search warrant (or an explanation of the urgency that necessitated the search without a warrant), and the names and signatures of the persons who were present at the time of search. While the law also provides for the privacy of all mail, telegrams, telephone conversations, and other means of communication, the government did not respect the privacy of correspondence or communications and used the considerable latitude provided by law to monitor activities legally and intervene where it deemed necessary.

There were reports from human rights activists of governmental monitoring or blocking of mobile telephone or internet usage. The government strictly monitored politically related activities and took punitive actions, including arrest and detention, against persons engaged in certain political activities, such as calling for a constitutional monarchy, publicly criticizing senior members of the royal family by name, forming a political party, or organizing a demonstration (see section 2.a.). Customs officials reportedly routinely opened mail and shipments to search for contraband. In some areas Ministry of Interior/SSP informants allegedly reported “seditious ideas,” “antigovernment activity,” or “behavior contrary to Islam” in their neighborhoods.

The 2017 Counterterrorism Law allows the Ministry of Interior/SSP to access a terrorism suspect’s private communications as well as banking information in a manner inconsistent with the legal protections provided by the law of criminal procedure.

The CPVPV monitored and regulated public interaction between members of the opposite sex, though in practice CPVPV authorities were greatly curtailed and mixed-gender events this year.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law does not provide for freedom of assembly and association, which the government severely limited.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law requires a government permit for an organized public assembly of any type. The government categorically forbids participation in political protests or unauthorized public assemblies, and security forces reportedly arrested demonstrators and detained them for brief periods. Security forces at times allowed a small number of unauthorized demonstrations throughout the country.

On March 27, security forces arrested 32 citizens and referred them to the public prosecutor for illegally gathering in front of Taif governorate headquarters to protest the removal of unlicensed housing structures built on government land, according to the Ministry of Interior.

CPVPV and other security officers also restricted mixed gender gatherings of unrelated men and women in public and private spaces (see section 1.f.).

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provided for limited freedom of association, however, the government strictly limited this right. In 2016 a law came into effect known as the Law on Associations and Foundations (Civil Society Organizations Law), which for the first time provided a comprehensive legal framework to govern the establishment, operation, and supervision of associations and foundations. The government, however, prohibited the establishment of political parties or any group it considered as opposing or challenging the regime. All associations must be licensed by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development and comply with its regulations. Some groups that advocated changing elements of the social or political order reported their licensing requests went unanswered for years, despite repeated inquiries. The ministry reportedly used arbitrary means, such as requiring unreasonable types and quantities of information, to delay and effectively deny licenses to associations.

On January 25, the SCC sentenced Mohammad al-Otaiby and Abdullah al-Attawi, founding members of the Union for Human Rights (known in Arabic as “al-Ittihad”) to 14 and seven years in prison, respectively, for “participating in setting up an organization and announcing it before getting an authorization,” “spreading chaos, inciting public opinion and publishing statements harmful to the kingdom and its institutions,” and “publishing information about their interrogations despite signing pledges to refrain from doing so,” according to media and NGO reporting.

In 2013 and 2014, the few local NGOs that had operated without a license ceased operating after authorities ordered them disbanded. While ACPRA maintained a presence on social media networks such as Twitter, the government severely curtailed its operations and closed down its website. On February 28, the SCC sentenced lawyer and ACPRA member Issa al-Nukheifi to six years in prison (three years under the anti-cybercrimes law and three years under ta’zir, or “discretionary” sentencing), followed by a six-year ban on social media and travel outside of the country, based on charges of “infringing on the public order and religious values,” “communicating with members of ACPRA,” “opposing Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen,” and related charges. Al-Nukheifi was detained in 2016 and charged in August 2017 under provisions of both the 2014 Counterterrorism Law and the 2008 Anti-Cybercrimes Law.

Government-chartered associations limited membership only to citizens.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law does not contain provisions for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

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, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the free movement of male citizens within the country, but it severely restricted the movement of female citizens. While the guardianship system does not require a woman to have the permission of her male guardian (normally a father, husband, son, brother, grandfather, uncle, or other male relative) to move freely within the country, courts sometimes ruled that women should abide by a male guardian’s request to stay at home by “occasionally upholding a guardian’s right to obedience from his female dependents,” according to a HRW report.

In April 2017 King Salman issued a royal decree ordering all government agencies to review their guardianship laws and to provide, within three months, their understanding of the legal basis for withholding services to women. The stated goal was to avoid denying government services to women who do not present a male guardian’s consent except when law or regulations explicitly require it. At year’s end the results of the government’s review of its guardianship laws had not been announced.

Authorities respected the right of citizens to change residence or workplace, provided they held a national identification card (NIC). The law requires all male citizens who are 15 or older to possess a NIC. In 2012 the Ministry of Interior announced it would start issuing NICs to all female citizens at the age of 15, phasing in the requirement over a seven-year period. There was minimal information available regarding whether this initiative was successfully implemented.

On June 24, the country lifted its longstanding ban on women driving. The process of issuing licenses, however, was slowed by the small number of training schools available to women and the high cost of driver’s education for women, which was four to five times as expensive as men’s fees. As a result, there were waiting lists for driving classes.

Foreign Travel: There are severe restrictions on foreign travel, including for women and members of minority groups. No one may leave the country without an exit visa and a passport. Females of any age, males younger than 21, and other dependents or foreign citizen workers under sponsorship require a male guardian’s consent to travel abroad. According to Ministry of Interior regulations, a male guardian must apply for and collect a passport for women and minors. A noncitizen wife needs permission from her husband to travel, unless both partners sign a prenuptial agreement permitting the noncitizen wife to travel without the husband’s permission. If a wife’s guardian is deceased, a court may grant the permission. Government entities can ban the travel of citizens and noncitizens without trial, and male family members can “blacklist” women and minor children, prohibiting their travel. In December the General Directorate of Passports announced that divorced Saudi women older than 21 who possess a NIC with at least three months’ validity may travel to other Gulf Cooperation Council member states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates) without the consent of a male guardian.

Employers or sponsors controlled the departure of foreign workers and residents from the country; employers or sponsors were responsible for processing residence permits and exit visas on their behalf. Sponsors frequently held their employees’ passports against the desires of the employees, despite a law specifically prohibiting this practice. Foreign workers typically provided sponsors with their residence permit before traveling in exchange for their passport to ensure the worker’s return to their employer after their travel.

The government reportedly confiscated passports for political reasons and revoked the rights of some citizens to travel, often without providing them notification or opportunity to contest the restriction. Most travel bans reportedly involved individuals in court cases relating to corruption; state security concerns; or labor, financial, and real estate disputes. Many relatives of citizens detained in relation to the government’s anticorruption campaign, as well as relatives of detained clerics and human rights activists, were also reportedly under travel bans.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The law does not contain provisions for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

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, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the free movement of male citizens within the country, but it severely restricted the movement of female citizens. While the guardianship system does not require a woman to have the permission of her male guardian (normally a father, husband, son, brother, grandfather, uncle, or other male relative) to move freely within the country, courts sometimes ruled that women should abide by a male guardian’s request to stay at home by “occasionally upholding a guardian’s right to obedience from his female dependents,” according to a HRW report.

In April 2017 King Salman issued a royal decree ordering all government agencies to review their guardianship laws and to provide, within three months, their understanding of the legal basis for withholding services to women. The stated goal was to avoid denying government services to women who do not present a male guardian’s consent except when law or regulations explicitly require it. At year’s end the results of the government’s review of its guardianship laws had not been announced.

Authorities respected the right of citizens to change residence or workplace, provided they held a national identification card (NIC). The law requires all male citizens who are 15 or older to possess a NIC. In 2012 the Ministry of Interior announced it would start issuing NICs to all female citizens at the age of 15, phasing in the requirement over a seven-year period. There was minimal information available regarding whether this initiative was successfully implemented.

On June 24, the country lifted its longstanding ban on women driving. The process of issuing licenses, however, was slowed by the small number of training schools available to women and the high cost of driver’s education for women, which was four to five times as expensive as men’s fees. As a result, there were waiting lists for driving classes.

Foreign Travel: There are severe restrictions on foreign travel, including for women and members of minority groups. No one may leave the country without an exit visa and a passport. Females of any age, males younger than 21, and other dependents or foreign citizen workers under sponsorship require a male guardian’s consent to travel abroad. According to Ministry of Interior regulations, a male guardian must apply for and collect a passport for women and minors. A noncitizen wife needs permission from her husband to travel, unless both partners sign a prenuptial agreement permitting the noncitizen wife to travel without the husband’s permission. If a wife’s guardian is deceased, a court may grant the permission. Government entities can ban the travel of citizens and noncitizens without trial, and male family members can “blacklist” women and minor children, prohibiting their travel. In December the General Directorate of Passports announced that divorced Saudi women older than 21 who possess a NIC with at least three months’ validity may travel to other Gulf Cooperation Council member states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates) without the consent of a male guardian.

Employers or sponsors controlled the departure of foreign workers and residents from the country; employers or sponsors were responsible for processing residence permits and exit visas on their behalf. Sponsors frequently held their employees’ passports against the desires of the employees, despite a law specifically prohibiting this practice. Foreign workers typically provided sponsors with their residence permit before traveling in exchange for their passport to ensure the worker’s return to their employer after their travel.

The government reportedly confiscated passports for political reasons and revoked the rights of some citizens to travel, often without providing them notification or opportunity to contest the restriction. Most travel bans reportedly involved individuals in court cases relating to corruption; state security concerns; or labor, financial, and real estate disputes. Many relatives of citizens detained in relation to the government’s anticorruption campaign, as well as relatives of detained clerics and human rights activists, were also reportedly under travel bans.

STATELESS PERSONS

The country had a number of habitual residents who were legally stateless, but data on the stateless population were incomplete and scarce.

Citizenship is legally derived only from the father. Children born to an unmarried citizen mother who is not legally affiliated with the citizen father may be considered stateless, even if the father recognized the child as his, or if the government did not authorize the marriage of a citizen father and a noncitizen mother prior to birth of the children. The nationality laws do not allow Saudi women married to foreign nationals to pass their nationality to their children, except in certain circumstances such as fathers who are unknown, stateless, of unknown nationality, or do not establish filiation. Sons of citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers may apply for citizenship once they turn 18 (if not already granted citizenship at birth under certain circumstances); daughters in such cases can obtain citizenship only through marriage to a Saudi man. A child may lose legal identification and accompanying rights if authorities withdraw identification documents from a parent (possible when a naturalized parent denaturalizes voluntarily or loses citizenship through other acts). Since there is no codified personal status law, judges make decisions regarding family matters based on their own interpretations of Islamic law.

Foreign male spouses of female citizens are entitled to permanent residency in the country without needing a sponsor, and they receive free government education and medical benefits. These spouses are also included in the quota of Saudis employed in private companies under the nitaqaat, or labor quota system, which improves their employment prospects. Female citizens must be between the ages of 30 and 50 in order to marry a non-Saudi man. Non-Saudi wives of Saudi men receive more rights if they have children resulting from their marriage with a Saudi man. Male citizens must be between the ages of 40 and 65 in order to marry a non-Saudi woman. The extent to which those strictures were enforced was unclear; there was anecdotal evidence that they were not uniformly enforced. Children of Saudi women who are married to foreign spouses receive permanent residency, but their residency status is revocable in the event of the death of the Saudi mother.

In past years UNHCR unofficially estimated there were 70,000 stateless persons in the country, almost all of whom were native-born residents known locally as Bidoon (an Arabic word that means “without” [citizenship]). Updated information on stateless persons was not available. Bidoon are persons whose ancestors failed to obtain nationality, such as descendants of nomadic tribes not counted among the native tribes during the reign of the country’s founder, King Abdulaziz; descendants of foreign-born fathers who arrived before there were laws regulating citizenship; and rural migrants whose parents failed to register their births. As noncitizens, Bidoon are unable to obtain passports. The government sometimes denied them employment and educational opportunities, and their marginalized status made them among the poorest residents of the country. In recent years the Ministry of Education encouraged them to attend school. The government issues Bidoon five-year residency permits to facilitate their social integration in government-provided health-care and other services, putting them on similar footing with sponsored foreign workers. The General Directorate of Passports issued special identification cards to Bidoon similar to residency permits issued to foreigners in the country, but with features entitling their holders to additional government services similar to those available to citizens.

There were also some Baloch, West Africans, and Rohingya Muslims from Burma, but only a small portion of these communities was stateless. Many Rohingya had expired passports that their home government refused to renew, or had entered the country with fraudulent travel documents. UNHCR estimated there were between 250,000 and 500,000 Rohingya in the country. Some of these individuals benefited from a prior program to correct their residency status; in 2014 the government issued nearly 200,000 four-year residency permits to Rohingya who entered the country prior to 2008. Rohingya who arrived in the country after 2008 were not eligible for residency permits, although NGOs reported that Rohingya, including those without legal residency, were generally not subject to deportation prior to 2018. Upon the expiration of Rohingya residency permits in 2018, media reported more than 100 Rohingya faced deportation to Bangladesh at year’s end and hundreds more were in detention at Shumaisi Detention Center near Mecca. Only an estimated 2,000 individuals of Rohingya origin had Saudi citizenship. There also were between 300,000 and 400,000 Palestinian residents not registered as refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage; it establishes an absolute monarchy led by the Al Saud family as the political system. The Allegiance Council, composed of up to 34 senior princes appointed by the king, is formally responsible for selecting a king and crown prince upon the death or incapacitation of either. Only select members of the ruling family have a voice in the choice of leaders, the composition of the government, or changes to the political system.

The law provides citizens the right to communicate with public authorities on any matter and establishes the government on the principle of consultation (shura). The king and senior officials, including ministers and regional governors, are required to be available through majlis, open-door meetings where in theory any male citizen or noncitizen may express an opinion or a grievance without an appointment.

Most government ministries and agencies had women’s sections to interact with female citizens and noncitizens, and at least two regional governorates hired female employees to receive women’s petitions and arrange meetings for women with complaints for, or requests of, the governor.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 elections were held for two-thirds of the 3,159 seats on 284 municipal councils; the government appointed the remaining third. Council members serve four-year terms. Women were allowed to vote and run as candidates for the first time. The voting age was also lowered universally to 18 years. The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs actively encouraged women’s participation in the municipal elections. Election regulations prohibited candidates from contesting under party affiliation. Twenty-one women won seats and 17 were appointed to seats, totaling approximately 1 percent of all available seats.

The NSHR observed the elections, and select international journalists were also permitted to observe. Independent polling station observers identified no irregularities with the election. Prior to the election, several candidates reported they were disqualified for “violating the rules and regulations,” without further explanation. They had the right to appeal, and some were reinstated in time for the elections. Uniformed members of the security forces, including the military and police, were ineligible to vote.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no political parties or similar associations. The law does not protect the right of individuals to organize politically. In November 2017 implementing regulations for the 2017 counterterrorism law were published; however, implementation regulations for the 2014 counterterrorism law (issued by the Ministry of Interior in March 2014) remain in place, as they explicitly and specifically banned a number of organizations with political wings, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as regional and local terrorist groups. The government continued to regard human rights organizations, such as ACPRA, as illegal political movements and treated them accordingly.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Gender discrimination excluded women from many aspects of public life. Women slowly but increasingly participated in political life, albeit at a disadvantage, in part due to guardianship laws requiring a male guardian’s permission for legal decisions, restrictions on women candidates’ contact with male voters in the 2015 elections, and the ban on women driving, which the government lifted in June. In the 2015 municipal elections, women made up less than 10 percent of the final list of registered voters, according to HRW.

In 2013 former king Abdullah issued a royal decree changing the governance of the Consultative Council, the 150-person royally appointed body that advises the king and may propose but not pass laws. The changes mandate that women constitute no less than 20 percent of the membership of the Consultative Council. In accordance with the law, in 2013 the council inducted 30 women as full members.

Women were routinely excluded from formal decision-making positions in both government and the private sector, although some women attained leadership positions in business and served in senior advisory positions within government ministries. Women’s ability to practice law was limited; there were no women on the High Court or Supreme Judicial Council and no female judges or public prosecutors. The Ministry of Justice, however, announced in February that it was planning to hire 300 women as social, legal, and sharia researchers and administrative assistants in the first stage of its female employment program, following a decision by Minister of Justice Walid Al-Samaani to find vacancies for Saudi women in four sectors. As of November 14, the ministry appointed at least 213 female employees. On February 12, the PPO announced it would recruit women as lieutenant investigators for the first time. Furthermore, women lawyers were granted the right to obtain a notarization permit that allows them to assume some of the functions of public notaries effective March 12.

In August the General Authority of Civil Aviation issued five licenses to Saudi female pilots, permitting them to work as captains on Saudi Arabian Airlines aircraft.

On September 10, the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques appointed 41 female employees to leadership positions in the women’s public administration.

During the year the most senior position held by a woman in government was Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Development Tamadur Al-Rammah. She was also appointed supervisor of the Social Welfare and Family Agency.

The country had an increasing number of female diplomats. Bureaucratic procedures largely restricted women working in the security services to employment in women’s prisons, at women’s universities, and in clerical positions in police stations, where they were responsible for visually identifying other women, for example wearing niqabs, for law enforcement purposes.

In February the General Directorate of Public Security allowed women to apply to join the military in the enlisted ranks.

No laws prevent citizen males from minority groups from participating in political life on the same basis as other male citizens. Societal discrimination, however, marginalized the Shia population, and tribal factors and longstanding traditions continued to dictate many individual appointments to positions. Unofficially, government authorities will not appoint a Bedouin tribesman to a high-ranking cabinet-level position, and Bedouins can only reach the rank of major general in the armed forces. All cabinet members from tribal communities were members of urbanized “Hamael” tribes, rather than Bedouin tribes. While the religious affiliation of Consultative Council members was not known publicly, the council included an estimated seven or eight Shia members. In contrast with previous years, the cabinet contained one religious minority member. Multiple municipal councils in the Eastern Province, where most Shia were concentrated, had large proportions of Shia as members to reflect the local population, including a majority in Qatif and 50 percent in al-Ahsa. Eastern Province Shia judges dealing with intra-Shia personal status and family laws operated specialized courts.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption. Some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and perceptions of corruption persisted in some sectors. Government employees who accept bribes face 10 years in prison or fines up to one million riyals ($267,000).

Nazaha, established by former king Abdullah in 2011, is responsible for promoting transparency and combating all forms of financial and administrative corruption. The relationship between Nazaha and the newly established Supreme Anti-Corruption Committee was unclear. Nazaha’s ministerial-level director reported directly to the king. In 2015 the Shura Council criticized Nazaha for its failure to refer for investigation a sufficient number of corruption cases. The council also stated the public did not believe Nazaha could handle its responsibility to investigate and punish corruption. The Control and Investigation Board remains responsible for investigating financial malfeasance, and the PPO has the lead on all criminal investigations. The HRC also responded to and researched complaints of corruption.

Provincial governors and other members of the royal family paid compensation to victims of corruption during weekly majlis meetings where citizens raised complaints.

Corruption: Nazaha continued operations and referred cases of possible public corruption to the PPO. Nazaha reportedly received 15,000 reports during the year.

On January 28, local media reported that the Supreme Judicial Council had established two criminal units in the criminal courts of Riyadh and Jeddah to review cases of detainees arrested in the November 2017 anticorruption campaign who did not reach financial settlements with the government. On March 11, King Salman ordered the establishment of specialized departments in the PPO to investigate and prosecute corruption cases. According to the public prosecutor, corruption cases were handled by the PPO’s Public Office Crimes Circuit before the creation of the new criminal court units.

On March 5, local media reported that administrative investigation authorities arrested 8,874 suspects in administrative corruption cases in the previous year, including 6,374 Saudis and 2,473 foreigners. On February 5, local media reported that the PPO received 977 cases of misuse of public funds in a single week.

On July 10, authorities arrested a defense ministry official on charges of receiving a one million riyal ($267,000) bribe and abusing his position. The public prosecutor declared the official sought to facilitate irregular procedures for the disbursement of financial dues to a company, taking advantage of his professional influence. At year’s end there were no further updates.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials were not subject to financial disclosure laws.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The law provides that “the State shall protect human rights in accordance with Islamic sharia.” The government restricted the activities of domestic and international human rights organizations. The government did not allow international human rights NGOs to be based in the country and restricted access to the country for visits. International human rights and humanitarian NGOs reported that the government was at times unresponsive to requests for information and did not establish a clear mechanism for communication with NGOs on both domestic human rights issues and issues relating to the conflict in Yemen. There were no transparent standards governing visits by international NGO representatives. The HRC stated that the government welcomed visits by legitimate, unbiased human rights groups but added the government could not act on the “hundreds of requests” it received, in part because it was cumbersome to decide which domestic agencies would be their interlocutor.

The government often cooperated with and sometimes accepted the recommendations of the NSHR, the sole government-licensed domestic human rights organization. The NSHR accepted requests for assistance and complaints about government actions affecting human rights.

The government viewed unlicensed local human rights groups with suspicion, frequently blocking their websites and charging their founders with founding and operating unlicensed organizations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The HRC is part of the government and requires the permission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before meeting with diplomats, academics, or researchers with international human rights organizations. The HRC president has ministerial status and reports to the king. The well-resourced HRC was effective in highlighting problems and registering and responding to the complaints it received, but its capacity to effect change was more limited. The HRC worked directly with the Royal Diwan and the cabinet, with a committee composed of representatives of the Consultative Council and the Ministries of Labor and Social Development and Interior, and with Consultative Council committees for the judiciary, Islamic affairs, and human rights.

During the year the HRC and NSHR were more outspoken in areas deemed less politically sensitive, including child abuse, child marriage, prison conditions, and cases of individuals detained beyond their prescribed prison sentences. They avoided topics such as protests or cases of political activists or reformers that would require directly confronting government authorities. The HRC board’s 18 full-time members included four women and at least three Shia; they received and responded to complaints submitted by their constituencies, including problems related to persons with disabilities, religious freedom, and women’s rights. The Consultative Council’s Human Rights Committee also actively followed cases and included women and Shia among its members; a woman served as chairperson of the committee.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense under sharia with a wide range of penalties from flogging to execution. The law does not recognize spousal rape as a crime. The government enforced the law based on its interpretation of sharia, and courts often punished victims as well as perpetrators for illegal “mixing of genders,” even when there was no conviction for rape. Victims also had to prove that the rape was committed, and a woman’s testimony in court was not always accepted.

Due to these legal and social obstacles, authorities brought few cases to trial. Statistics on incidents of, and prosecutions, convictions, or punishments for rape were not available, but press reports and observers indicated rape was a serious problem. Moreover, most rape cases were likely unreported because victims faced societal and familial reprisal, including diminished marriage opportunities, criminal sanction up to imprisonment, or accusations of adultery or sexual relations outside of marriage, which are punishable under sharia.

The law against domestic violence provides a framework for the government to prevent and protect victims of violence in the home. The law defines domestic abuse broadly and criminalizes domestic abuse with penalties of one month to one year of imprisonment or a fine of 5,000 to 50,000 riyals ($1,330 to $13,300), unless a court provides a harsher sentence.

Researchers stated it was difficult to gauge the magnitude of the problem, which they believed to be widespread. The National Family Safety Program (NFSP), a quasi-governmental organization under the Ministry of National Guard, was founded in 2005 to spread awareness of and combat domestic violence, including child abuse, and continued to report abuse cases.

Officials stated the government did not clearly define domestic violence and procedures concerning cases, including thresholds for investigation or prosecution, and thus enforcement varied from one government body to another. Some women’s rights advocates were critical of investigations of domestic violence, claiming investigators were hesitant to enter a home without permission from the male head of household, who may also be the perpetrator of violence. Some activists also claimed that authorities often did not investigate or prosecute cases involving domestic violence, instead encouraging victims and perpetrators to reconcile in order to keep families intact regardless of reported abuse. There were reports of police or judges returning women directly to their abusers, most of whom were the women’s legal guardians.

On March 8, a woman from Sabya Governorate in the southwestern Jazan Province appeared in a video pleading for help after her older brother and his family allegedly beat her and threw her out of a house she shared with them, along with her ill mother and her two children. She explained that when she went to report the abuse to police, they asked her to bring her male guardian. When the video went viral on social media, the Ministry of Labor and Social Development announced its Social Protection Unit in Jazan intervened and was studying her case. At year’s end there were no known updates to this case.

The government made efforts to combat domestic violence. During the year the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue held workshops and distributed educational materials on peaceful conflict resolution between spouses and within families. The Ministry of Labor and Social Development administered government-supported family-protection shelters. The HRC received complaints of domestic abuse and referred them to other government offices. The HRC advised complainants and offered legal assistance to some female litigants. The organization provided services for children of female complainants and litigants and distributed publications supporting women’s rights in education, health care, development, and the workplace.

Saudi women reported that domestic abuse in the form of incest was common but seldom reported to authorities due to fears over societal repercussions, according to local contacts.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was not a common practice in the country, as the official government interpretation of sharia prohibits the practice.

Sexual Harassment: The extent of sexual harassment was difficult to measure, with little media reporting and no government data. The government’s interpretation of sharia guides courts on cases of sexual harassment. On May 29, the Council of Ministers passed the antisexual harassment law, which carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 300,000 riyals ($80,000). No statistics were available on the incidence of sexual harassment due to past reluctance to report violations. On August 8, the public prosecutor stated that the number of reported harassment cases was low and claimed the law was effective in limiting this crime. Employers in many sectors maintained separate male and female workspaces where feasible, in accordance with law.

On July 14, authorities arrested a young woman who jumped on stage to hug a male singer during a concert in the western city of Taif. Prosecutors announced that the woman would face charges pursuant to the antisexual harassment law, under which she could face two years in prison and a fine of up to 100,000 riyals ($26,700) if convicted.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women continued to face significant discrimination under law and custom, and many remained uninformed about their rights.

The law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, and since there is no codified personal status law, judges made decisions regarding family matters based on their interpretations of Islamic law. Although they may legally own property and are entitled to financial support from their guardian, women have fewer political or social rights than men, and they often are not treated as equal members in the political and social spheres. The guardianship system requires that every woman have a close male relative as her “guardian” with the legal authority to approve her travel outside of the country. In September a personal status court in Jeddah ordered a father to obtain a passport for his 24-year-old daughter so that she could resume her studies abroad. Women also require a guardian’s permission to exit prisons after completing their terms.

Women, however, can make their own determinations concerning hospital care. Women can work without their guardian’s permission, but some employers required women to have such permission, even though the law prohibits the practice. On February 15, the Ministry of Commerce and Investment announced women no longer need their male guardian’s permission to start a business.

On June 24, the government lifted its ban on women driving. The New York Times reported long delays in placement of female students in driving schools due to a limited number of teaching facilities and female staff for gender-segregated programs, and long delays obtaining driver’s licenses. On July 4, two men were arrested in Mecca for setting fire to a female motorist’s car. The motorist, Salma Al-Sherif, subsequently posted a widely circulated video on social media documenting the incident, claiming that her car was deliberately set alight by men “opposed to women drivers,” and that she had been repeatedly threatened and harassed by young men from her village of Samad in Mecca Province. On October 28, the Mecca Criminal Court acquitted the two defendants for lack of sufficient evidence. Al-Sherif appealed the verdict. On December 17, arsonists reportedly set fire to another car of a Jeddah woman, Nurhan Bassam, who was reportedly burned by arsonists.

Nationality law discriminates against women, who cannot directly transmit citizenship to their children, particularly if the children’s father is a noncitizen (see section 2.d. and section 6, Children). The country’s interpretation of sharia prohibits women from marrying non-Muslims, but men may marry Christians and Jews. Women require government permission to marry noncitizens; men must obtain government permission if they intend to marry citizens from countries other than Gulf Cooperation Council member states (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates). Regulations prohibit men from marrying women from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Chad, and Burma. The government additionally requires Saudi men wishing to marry a second wife who is a foreigner to submit documentation attesting to the fact that his first wife was disabled, had a chronic disease, or was sterile.

Widespread societal exclusion enforced by, but not limited to, state institutions restricted women from using many public facilities. The law requires women to sit generally in separate, specially designated family sections in public places. They frequently cannot consume food in restaurants that do not have such sections. Women risk arrest for riding in a private vehicle driven by a male who is not an employee (such as a hired chauffeur or taxi driver) or a close male relative. Cultural norms enforced by state institutions require women to wear an abaya (a loose-fitting, full-length cloak) in public. The CPVPV also generally expected Muslim women to cover their hair and non-Muslim women from Asian and African countries to comply more fully with local customs of dress than non-Muslim Western women.

In June a female television presenter, Shireen al-Rifaie, fled the country after authorities launched an investigation into claims that she wore an outfit deemed “indecent” by the Saudi General Commission for Audiovisual Media. Al-Rifaie was reporting on the end of the ban on women driving when her white abaya was blown open by the wind, revealing her clothes underneath.

Women also faced discrimination in courts, where in some cases the testimony of one man equals that of two women. All judges are male, and women faced restrictions on their practice of law (see section 3, Participation of Women and Minorities). In divorce proceedings women must demonstrate legally specified grounds for divorce, but men may divorce without giving cause, citing “irreconcilable differences.” In doing so, men must pay immediately an amount of money agreed at the time of the marriage that serves as a one-time alimony payment. Men may be forced, however, to make subsequent alimony payments by court order. The government began implementing an identification system based on fingerprints designed to provide women, such as those wearing a niqab, more access to courts.

Women faced discrimination under family law. For example, a woman needs a guardian’s permission to marry or must seek a court order in the case of adhl (male guardians refusing to approve the marriage of women under their charge). In such adhl cases, the judge assumes the role of the guardian and may approve the marriage. During the year courts adjudicated as many as 72 adhl cases and executed marriage contracts for women whose male custodians refused to approve their marriage, according to informed judicial sources quoted by local media.

Courts often award custody of children when they attain a specified age (seven years for boys and nine years for girls) to the divorced husband or the deceased husband’s family. In numerous cases former husbands prevented divorced noncitizen women from visiting their children. In March Justice Minister Sheikh Walid Al-Samaani directed all courts to drop the requirement for divorced women to file a lawsuit in order to gain custody of their children. Provided there were no disputes between the parents, mothers may now simply submit a request to the relevant court, without the need for legal action.

Inheritance laws also discriminate against women, since daughters receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers.

According to recent surveys, women constituted 52 percent of public education and higher education students. Segregated education through university level was standard. The only exceptions to segregation in higher education were medical schools at the undergraduate level and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, a graduate-level research university, where women worked jointly with men, were not required to wear an abaya, and drove cars on campus. Other universities, such as al-Faisal University in Riyadh, offered partially segregated classes with students receiving instruction from the same teacher and able to participate together in class discussion, but with the women and men physically separated by dividers.

On March 12, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women urged the country to end discriminatory practices against women, including its system of male guardianship, and give women full access to justice.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from the father, and only the father may register a birth. There were cases of authorities denying public services to children of citizen parents, including education and health care, because the government failed to register the birth entirely or had not registered it immediately, sometimes because the father failed to report the birth or did not receive authorization to marry a foreigner. Children of women who were married to foreign spouses receive permanent residency, but their residency status is revocable in the event of the death of the Saudi mother (see section 2.d., Stateless Persons).

Child Abuse: Abuse of children occurred. In 2016 the NFSP started a Child Helpline dedicated to assisting children in matters ranging from bullying to abuse. The helpline provided counseling, tracking, and referrals to social services. In January NFSP official Maha al-Muneef reported that the child helpline received 270,000 calls annually, including 2,990 cases of abuse and neglect, 2,589 cases related to family violence, and 1,050 cases of school violence. The Ministry of Labor and Social Development had 17 Social Protection Units across the country providing social protection to children younger than 18 and vulnerable populations suffering domestic violence and abuse.

On July 17, authorities arrested a Saudi-based Yemeni mother who beat and tortured her six-month-old twin girls on camera for money. Video footage of the two babies being slapped and strangled went viral and sparked outrage.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law does not specify a minimum age for marriage, although Ministry of Justice guidelines referred marriage applications to sharia courts to determine the validity of a marriage when the bride was younger than 16. Families sometimes arranged such marriages to settle family debts without the consent of the child. The HRC and NSHR monitored cases of child marriages, which they reported were rare or at least rarely reported, and took steps to prevent consummation of the marriage. Media reports quoted judges as saying the majority of child marriage cases in the country involved Syrian girls, followed by smaller numbers of Egyptians and Yemenis. There were media reports that some men who traveled abroad to find brides sought to marry minors. The application for a marriage license must record the bride’s age, and registration of the marriage is a legal prerequisite for consummation. The government reportedly instructed marriage registrars not to register marriages involving children.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The anti-cybercrimes law stipulates that punishment for such crimes, including the preparation, publication, and promotion of material for pornographic sites, may be no less than two and one-half years’ imprisonment or a fine of 1.5 million riyals ($400,000) if the crime includes the exploitation of minors. The law does not define a minimum age for consensual sex.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no known data on Jewish citizens and no statistics available concerning the religious denominations of foreigners.

Cases of government-employed imams using anti-Jewish language in their sermons were rare and occurred without authorization by government authorities. The law requires government-employed imams to give all sermons delivered in mosques in the country. They must deliver sermons vetted and cleared by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. During the year the ministry issued periodic circulars to clerics and imams in mosques directing them to include messages on the principles of justice, equality, and tolerance and to encourage rejection of bigotry and all forms of racial discrimination in their sermons.

Anti-Semitic material remained in school textbooks and online in private web postings, and some journalists, academics, and clerics made anti-Israel comments that sometimes strayed into anti-Semitism.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services or other areas. The law does not require public accessibility to buildings, information, and communications. Newer commercial buildings often included such access, as did some newer government buildings. Children with disabilities could attend government-supported schools.

Persons with disabilities could generally participate in civic affairs, and there were no legal restrictions preventing persons with disabilities from voting in municipal council elections. The Ministry of Labor and Social Development was responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Vocational rehabilitation projects and social care programs increasingly brought persons with disabilities into the mainstream. Persons with disabilities were elected and appointed to municipal councils in 2015, and two individuals with disabilities served on the consultative Shura Council, which was reconstituted in 2016.

On June 12, Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Development Tamadur al-Rammah stated the government was working on a national strategy for persons with disabilities, including 23 initiatives designed to serve them, adding that a special commission was established to oversee the affairs of persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although racial discrimination is illegal, societal discrimination against members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities was a problem. There was also discrimination based on tribal or nontribal lineage. Descendants of former slaves in the country, who have African lineage, faced discrimination in both employment and society. There was formal and informal discrimination, especially racial discrimination, against foreign workers from Africa and Asia. On February 5, the NSHR said it had noted several instances of racial discrimination on the basis of nationality at some service facilities where some customers were denied services based on their nationality. A tolerance campaign by the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue sought to address some of these problems, and it provided training during the year to combat discrimination against national, racial, or ethnic groups.

The government’s multi-year Tatweer project to revise textbooks, curricula, and teaching methods to promote tolerance and remove content disparaging religions other than Islam began in 2007. In November the Anti-Defamation League issued a report asserting that Saudi textbooks still contained anti-Semitic language.

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

Under sharia as interpreted in the country, consensual same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by death or flogging, depending on the perceived seriousness of the case. It is illegal for men “to behave like women” or to wear women’s clothes, and vice versa. Due to social conventions and potential persecution, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizations did not operate openly, nor were there LGBTI rights advocacy events of any kind. There were reports of official and societal discrimination, physical violence, and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, and health care. Stigma or intimidation acted to limit reports of incidents of abuse.

There were no government efforts to address discrimination. In 2016 newspapers quoted PPO officials as stating the bureau would seek death sentences for anyone using social media to solicit homosexual acts. There were no reports, however, that the PPO sought death sentences in LGBTI cases during the year (see section 1.a.).

On January 8, police reported they arrested and referred to prosecutors several young men who appeared in a video described as a “gay wedding scene.” No updates on the case were publicly available.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. By law the government deported foreign workers who tested positive for HIV/AIDS upon arrival or who tested positive when hospitalized for other reasons. There was no indication that HIV-positive foreigners failed to receive antiretroviral treatment or that authorities isolated them during the year. The Ministry of Health’s HIV/AIDS program worked to fight stigma and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Social, legal, economic, and political discrimination against the country’s Shia minority continued. HRW claimed that some state clerics and institutions “incited hatred and discrimination against religious minorities, including the country’s Shia Muslim minority.”

To address the problem, the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the National Guard included antidiscrimination training in courses run by the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue for police and other law enforcement officers (see section 6, Other Societal Violence and Discrimination).

In August the public prosecutor ordered the arrest of a Saudi man who appeared in a video carrying machine guns and threatening to kill Shia citizens in the southern city of Najran.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions. The law does not provide for the right to collective bargaining or the right to conduct legal strikes. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The government did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. There were no labor unions in the country, and workers faced potential dismissal, imprisonment, or, in the case of migrant workers, deportation for union activities.

The government allowed citizen-only labor committees in workplaces with more than 100 employees, but it placed undue limitations on freedom of association and was heavily involved in the formation and activities of these committees. For example, the ministry approves the committee members and authorizes ministry and employer representatives to attend committee meetings. Committee members must submit the minutes of meetings to management and then transmit them to the minister; the ministry can dissolve committees if they violate regulations or are deemed to threaten public security. Regulations limit committees to making recommendations to company management regarding only improvements to working conditions, health and safety, productivity, and training programs. In October 2017 the NSHR said it registered 289 labor-related complaints in 2016-17 that it sought to resolve through settlements.

On April 15, Riyadh Governor Prince Faisal bin Bandar Al Saud warned against illegal assemblies by workers to protest delayed salaries. He advised that foreign workers should seek recourse from the offices of provincial governors and legal processes, and he reiterated the importance of both employers’ and employees’ abiding by their contractual obligations.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce legal protections for migrant workers. Forced labor occurred, especially among migrant workers–notably domestic servants. Conditions indicative of forced labor experienced by foreign workers included withholding of passports, nonpayment of wages, restrictions on movement, and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Labor law prohibits the confiscation of passports and nonpayment of wages. Violations of labor laws resulted in fines of up to one million riyals ($267,000), prison terms up to 15 years, and restrictions on the entity’s ability to recruit foreign workers. Many noncitizen workers, particularly domestic employees not covered under the labor law, were unable to exercise their right to end their contractual work. An employer may require a trainee to work for him or her upon completion of training for a period not to exceed twice the duration of the training or one year, whichever is longer.

Restrictive sponsorship laws increased workers’ vulnerability to forced labor conditions and made many foreign workers reluctant to report abuse. The contract system does not allow workers to change employers or leave the country without the written consent of the employer under normal circumstances. If wages are withheld for 90 days, a ministerial decree permits an employee to transfer his or her sponsorship to a new employer without obtaining prior approval from the previous employer. There were reports, however, that the Ministry of Labor and Social Development did not always approve petitions to transfer sponsorship due to withheld wages, including some cases in which wages had been withheld for more than three months. During the year numerous migrant workers reported being laid off, sometimes after months of nonpayment of salaries. Some remained stranded in the country because they were unable to pay required exit visa fees. A few countries that previously allowed their citizens to migrate to the country for work prohibited their citizens from seeking work there after widespread reports of worker abuse.

The government continued implementation of the Wage Protection System (WPS), which requires employers to pay foreign workers through bank transfers, thereby allowing the ministry to track whether workers were paid appropriately. All employers with more than 10 employees were required to comply with WPS regulations as of August 2017. WPS covers 6.4 million employees. The Ministry of Labor and Social Development fined companies 3,000 riyals ($800) for delaying payment for employees’ salaries on the first occurrence and blocked companies from accessing government services if a company delayed salaries for two or more months.

Throughout the year the government strictly implemented measures to limit the number of noncitizen workers in the country. The government also penalized Hajj tourist agencies that engaged in human trafficking and local companies that abused the country’s visa laws to bring individuals into the country for reasons other than to employ them directly. A smaller number came as religious pilgrims and overstayed their visas. Because of their undocumented status, many persons in the country were susceptible to forced labor, substandard wages, and deportation by authorities.

On February 17, the public prosecutor warned that involvement in trafficking-in-persons crimes carries a fine of up to one million riyals ($267,000), a prison term up to 15 years, or both.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law provides that no person younger than 15 may legally work unless that person is the sole source of support for the family. Children between the ages of 13 and 15 may work if the job is not harmful to health or growth and does not interfere with schooling. The law provides that hazardous operations or harmful industries may not employ legal minors, and children younger than 18 may not be employed for shifts exceeding six hours a day. There is no minimum age for workers employed in family-owned businesses or other areas considered extensions of the household, such as farming, herding, and domestic service.

The HRC and NSHR are responsible for monitoring enforcement of child labor laws. There was little information on government efforts to enforce relevant laws or actions to prevent or eliminate child labor during the year. Authorities most commonly enforced the law in response to complaints of children begging on the streets.

Most child labor involved children from other countries, including Yemen and Ethiopia, forced into begging rings, street vending, and work in family businesses.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations do not prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, or HIV-positive status. Discrimination with respect to employment and occupation occurred with respect to all these categories.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Development explicitly approved and encouraged the employment of women in specific sectors, particularly in government, but women faced many discriminatory regulations. The first-quarter Labor Market Report by the General Authority for Statistics found that Saudi girls and women (15 years of age and above) constituted 8 percent of the country’s total labor force (Saudi and non-Saudi, 15 years of age and above). The same report estimated that women and girls, both Saudi and foreign, represented 21 percent of all employed persons (15 years of age and above) in the country. Most non-Saudi women were employed as domestic workers. Rules limited the type of work women were allowed to perform and required them to wear a veil. In practice gender segregation continued to take place in the workplace.

There is no regulation requiring equal pay for equal work. In the private sector, the average monthly wage of Saudi women workers was 58 percent of the average monthly wage of Saudi men. Labor dispute settlement bodies did not register any cases of discrimination against women.

Regulations ban women from 24 professions, mostly in heavy industry, but create guidelines for women to telework. Nevertheless, some factories and manufacturing facilities, particularly in Eastern Province, employed men and women, who worked separate shifts during different hours of the day. The law grants women the right to obtain business licenses without the approval of their guardians, and women frequently obtained licenses in fields that might require them to supervise foreign workers, interact with male clients, or deal with government officials. It is illegal for a potential employer to ask a female applicant for her guardian’s permission when she applies for a job. In medical settings and the energy industry, women and men worked together, and in some instances women supervised male employees. Women who work in establishments with 50 or more female employees have the right to maternity leave and child care.

Discrimination with respect to religious beliefs occurred in the workplace. Members of the Shia community complained of discrimination based on their religion and had difficulty securing or being promoted in government positions. Shia were significantly underrepresented in national security-related positions, including the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the National Guard. In predominantly Shia areas, Shia representation was higher in the ranks of traffic police, municipalities, and public schools. A very small number of Shia occupied high-level positions in government-owned companies and government agencies (see section 3, Participation of Women and Minorities). Shia were also underrepresented in employment in primary, secondary, and higher education.

Discrimination against Asian and African migrant workers occurred (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities). The King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue continued programs that sought to address some of these problems and provided training during the year to combat discrimination against national, racial, or ethnic groups. There were numerous cases of assault on foreign workers and reports of worker abuse.

Informal discrimination in employment and occupation occurred on the basis of sex, gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation or gender identity.

In November 2017 the Ministry of Interior’s General Directorate of Passports announced a national campaign to identify, arrest, fine, and deport individuals found in violation of the country’s residency laws under the title of “Nation Without Violators.” The campaign began with a 90-day grace period or general amnesty to allow irregular migrants to depart the country “without penalty,” after which authorities extended the grace period in coordination with international organizations. In September the Ministry of Interior stated more than 1.77 million foreign nationals were arrested between November 2017 and September 2018 for violating work, residence, and entry rules. Approximately 449,220 violators were deported during the cited period, according to the ministry. The Human Rights Committee reported that law enforcement agencies had been trained in screening vulnerable populations for human trafficking indicators and the campaign was being carried out in accordance with protections against trafficking in persons.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage for public-sector employees was 3,000 riyals ($800) which is above the estimated poverty income level. There was no private-sector minimum wage for foreign workers; as of November 2017, the government did not mandate a general minimum private-sector wage for citizens.

By law a standard workday is eight hours. A standard workweek is 48 hours but can extend to 60 hours, subject to payment of overtime, which is 50 percent more than the basic wage.

An estimated 10 million noncitizens, including approximately 947,000 noncitizen women, made up approximately 76 percent of the labor force, according to the General Authority for Statistics first-quarter Labor Market Report. Legal workers generally negotiated and agreed to work conditions prior to their arrival in the country, in accordance with the contract requirements contained in the labor law.

The law provides penalties of between 500 and 1,000 riyals ($133 and $267) for bringing foreigners into the country to work in any service, including domestic service, without following the required procedures and obtaining a permit.

The labor law provides for regular safety inspections and enables ministry-appointed inspectors to examine materials used or handled in industrial and other operations and to submit samples of suspected hazardous materials or substances to government laboratories. The Ministry of Health’s Occupational Health Service Directorate worked with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development on health and safety matters. Regulations require employers to protect some workers from job-related hazards and disease, although some violations occurred. These regulations did not cover farmers, herdsmen, domestic servants, or workers in family-operated businesses. Foreign nationals privately reported frequent failures to enforce health and safety standards. The ministry employed nearly 1,000 labor inspectors.

The law requires that a citizen or business must sponsor foreign workers in order for them to obtain legal work and residency status, although the requirement exempts Syrian and Yemeni nationals who overstayed their visas. On May 9, however, IOM said 17,000 Yemenis were turned back between January and May due to their immigration status. The ministry-implemented measures allowing noncitizen workers to switch their employer to a new employer or company that employed a sufficient quota of Saudi nationals. Despite these revised measures, some workers were unaware of the new regulations and had to remain with their sponsor until completion of their contract or to seek the assistance of their embassy to return home. There were also instances in which sponsors bringing noncitizen workers into the country failed to provide them with a residency permit, which undermined the workers’ ability to access government services or navigate the court system in the event of grievances. Sponsors with commercial or labor disputes with foreign employees also could ask authorities to prohibit employees from departing the country until the dispute was resolved; however, authorities would not jail or forcibly return fleeing workers who sought to exit the country within a 72-hour period or to coordinate with their embassy for repatriation as long as the employees did not have criminal charges or outstanding fines pending against them.

Bilateral labor agreements set conditions on foreign workers’ minimum wage, housing, benefits including leave and medical care, and other topics. These provisions were not drafted in line with international standards, and they varied depending on the sending country’s relative bargaining power. The labor law and the law against trafficking provide penalties for abuse of such workers.

The government engaged in news campaigns highlighting the plight of abused workers, trained law enforcement and other officials to combat trafficking in persons, and worked with the embassies of labor-sending countries to disseminate information about labor rights to foreign workers. As in previous years, during Ramadan the HRC broadcast a public awareness program on television emphasizing the Islamic injunction to treat employees well.

The government did not always enforce the laws protecting migrant workers effectively. There were credible reports that some migrant workers were employed on terms to which they had not agreed and experienced problems, such as delays in the payment of wages, changes in employer, or changed working hours and conditions. Migrant workers, especially domestic workers, were vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and conditions contravening labor laws, including nonpayment of wages, working for periods in excess of the 48-hour workweek, working for periods longer than the prescribed eight-hour workday, and restrictions on movement due to passport confiscation. There were also reports of physical and verbal abuse. On July 15, local media reported that approximately 50 percent of the companies in the construction sector, which employs an estimated 3.5 million expatriates, failed to pay salaries due to stalled projects dating back to 2016, in addition to the government’s failure to pay money it owed to the companies working on government projects.

There were credible reports that some noncitizen workers, particularly domestic employees, were unable to exercise their right to remove themselves from dangerous situations. Some employers physically prevented workers from leaving or threatened them with nonpayment of wages if they left. Sponsoring employers, who controlled foreign workers’ ability to remain employed and in the country, usually held foreign workers’ passports, a practice prohibited by law. In some contract disputes, a sponsor asked authorities to prevent the employee from leaving the country until resolution of the dispute to coerce the employee into accepting a disadvantageous settlement or risking deportation without any settlement.

On July 18, the ESOHR called on authorities to resolve a five-year labor dispute between Tunisian citizen Jannat bint Shubail bin Nahila and the Ministry of Health and allow her and her family to leave the country. According to ESOHR, the ministry arbitrarily fired Bin Nahila from her job as a nurse at a government health-care center in al-Baha Province, withheld her passport, and banned her from travel until the labor dispute was resolved.

Foreign workers could contact the labor offices of their embassies for assistance. During the year hundreds of domestic workers, the majority of whom were female, sought shelter at their embassies, some fleeing sexual abuse or other violence by their employers. Some embassies maintained safe houses for citizens fleeing situations that amounted to bondage. The workers usually sought legal help from embassies and government agencies to obtain end-of-service benefits and exit visas.

In addition to their embassies, domestic servants could contact the NSHR, HRC, governmental Inter-ministerial General Secretariat to Combat Human Trafficking, and Migrant Workers’ Welfare Department, which provided services to safeguard migrant workers’ rights and protect them from abuse. Workers could also apply to the offices of regional governors and lodge an appeal with the Board of Grievances against decisions by those authorities.

United Arab Emirates

Executive Summary

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven semiautonomous emirates with a resident population of approximately 9.4 million, of whom an estimated 11 percent are citizens. The rulers of the seven emirates constitute the Federal Supreme Council, the country’s highest legislative and executive body. The council selects a president and a vice president from its membership, and the president appoints the prime minister and cabinet. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi emirate, is president, although Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi exercises most executive authority. The emirates are under patriarchal rule with political allegiance defined by loyalty to tribal leaders, leaders of the individual emirates, and leaders of the federation. A limited, appointed electorate participates in periodic elections for the partially elected Federal National Council (FNC), a consultative body that examines, reviews, and recommends changes to legislation and may discuss topics for legislation. The FNC consists of 40 representatives allocated proportionally to each emirate based on population; half are elected members while the remainder are appointed by the leaders of their emirates. There are no political parties. The last election was in 2015, when appointed voters elected 20 FNC members. Citizens may express their concerns directly to their leaders through traditional consultative mechanisms such as the open majlis (forum).

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included allegations of torture in detention; arbitrary arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention, by government agents; political prisoners; government interference with privacy rights; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including criminalization of libel, censorship, and internet site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; the inability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections; and criminalization of same sex sexual activity, although no cases were publicly reported during the year. The government did not permit workers to join independent unions and did not effectively prevent physical and sexual abuse of foreign domestic servants and other migrant workers.

The government investigated, prosecuted, and brought to conviction cases of official corruption.

The United Nations, human rights groups, and others alleged UAE military operations as part of the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen killed civilians, damaged civilian infrastructure, and obstructed delivery of humanitarian aid. Further, human rights groups alleged UAE-backed security forces in Yemen committed torture, sexual assault, and mistreatment against detainees. The government rejected allegations that members of its security forces serving in Yemen had committed human rights abuses, and there was no publicly available information on whether the government carried out any investigations into these reported incidents.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, but there were some reports of occurrences during the year. Based on reports of released prisoners and their family members, diplomatic observers, and human rights organizations, UN human rights experts believed that some individuals imprisoned for suspected state security and nonstate security violations were subjected to severe abuse or mistreatment. Human rights groups alleged mistreatment took place during interrogations and as inducement for signed confessions. UN human rights experts and those released from detention in recent years alleged that authorities used techniques including beatings, forced standing, and threats to rape or kill, including by electrocution. In some cases judges ordered investigations, including medical examinations by state-appointed doctors, into allegations of torture or mistreatment.

Sharia courts, which adjudicate criminal and family law cases, may impose flogging as punishment for adultery, prostitution, consensual premarital sex, pregnancy outside marriage, defamation of character, and drug or alcohol charges. Reports of flogging were rare and tended to be confined to only a few jurisdictions.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions varied widely among the individual emirates and between regular prisons, which housed those accused of nonpolitical crimes such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and killings, and state security detention facilities, which hold political activists or those the government defines to be terrorists. There were instances of overcrowding, long waits for health care access, and poor sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: The government did not release statistics on prison demographics and capacity. Diplomatic observers reported that in Abu Dhabi some prisoners complained of overcrowding, poor temperature control, retaliation for raising complaints to their embassies, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

There were reports that individuals within state security detention facilities were mistreated, abused, and tortured. Prisoners complained to Western diplomatic missions that they witnessed routine abuse of fellow prisoners, stating that prison guards claimed they were able to erase footage from security cameras.

There were reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence that led to injury and death. There were also allegations of inmate suicide attempts.

Overcrowding was a major problem in Abu Dhabi, especially in drug units. In one example prisoners complained that most detainees had to share beds or sleep on the concrete floor due to lack of mattresses. There were reports that cellblocks built to hold 148 inmates held 220 and had only two functioning toilets.

According to Western diplomatic missions, overcrowding was at times a problem in prisons in Dubai and the northern Emirates. In particular prisoners awaiting transfer to Abu Dhabi for federal prosecution experienced longer stays in police holding cells equipped only for short-term incarceration. In Dubai several procedural and judicial reforms were recently implemented with the aim of reducing overcrowding. The Smart Bail initiative, jointly piloted by Dubai Police and Dubai Public Prosecution, allowed those charged with misdemeanors and some minor financial crimes to obtain bail online without being incarcerated.

Some prisoners were not permitted exercise or reading materials. There were reports some prisoners did not have access to outside areas and exposure to sunlight. In Abu Dhabi there were also reports of dangerously hot conditions when air conditioners broke during periods of extreme temperatures.

In drug units there were reports of insects in food, poor food handling, and inadequate general hygiene.

Medical care was generally adequate in regular prisons, although some prisoners reported delays of up to six weeks in receiving medical treatment and difficulty obtaining necessary medication, including insulin for diabetics. Media reports and nongovernmental organizations stated some detainees in State Security Department custody did not receive adequate access to medical care.

Prisons attempted to accommodate persons with disabilities based on their specific needs, such as placing wheelchair users on a lower floor. Some reports alleged inconsistencies in providing support for prisoners with mental disabilities. In Dubai and to some extent in Abu Dhabi, prison officials worked with mental health professionals to provide support and administer needed medication. Training and capabilities to accommodate prisoners with mental health disabilities were allegedly less well developed in the other emirates. It was reportedly common for authorities to grant a humanitarian pardon in cases where a person with a disability had been convicted of a minor offense.

Within prisons the authorities required Muslims to attend weekly Islamic services, and non-Muslims reported some pressure to attend ostensibly nonmandatory lectures and classes about Islam. In some of the emirates, Christian clergy were not able to visit Christian prisoners.

Administration: Some state security detainees did not have access to visitors or had more limited access than other prisoners. Although prisoners had a right to submit complaints to judicial authorities, details about investigations into complaints were not publicly available, and there were no independent authorities to investigate allegations of poor conditions. Inmates reported retaliation from authorities after raising issues about prison conditions with diplomatic missions. There was also no publicly available information on whether authorities investigated complaints about prison conditions. Dubai maintained a website where individuals could obtain basic information about pending legal cases, including formal charges and upcoming court dates. Western embassies reported a similar website in Abu Dhabi but said, in many instances, cases could not be located in the system or the site would not function. There were standard weekly visiting hours in regular prisons, but unmarried and unrelated visitors of the opposite sex had to receive permission from a prosecutor.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted charitable nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to visit prisons and provide material support on a limited basis. Members of the government-sanctioned Emirates Human Rights Association (EHRA) met with prisoners during regular visits to detention facilities and reported their findings to federal Ministry of Interior officials. Their reports were not publicly available. Authorities did not grant regular consular access for State Security Department detainees.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. The government, however, reportedly often held persons in custody for extended periods without charge or a preliminary judicial hearing. The law permits indefinite detention, including incommunicado detention, without appeal. In some cases authorities did not allow detainees contact with attorneys, family members, or others for indefinite or unspecified periods.

In cases of foreign nationals detained by police, which in view of the country’s demographic breakdown were the vast majority of cases, the government often did not notify the appropriate diplomatic missions. For state security detainees, notification was exceptionally rare, and information about the status of these detainees was very limited.

Authorities treated prisoners arrested for political or security reasons differently from other prisoners, including placing them in separate sections of a prison. A specific government entity, the State Security Department, handled these cases and, in some cases, held prisoners and detainees in separate undisclosed locations for extended periods prior to their transfer to a regular prison.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Each emirate maintained a local police force called a general directorate, which was officially a branch of the federal Ministry of Interior. All emirate-level general directorates of police enforced their respective emirate’s laws autonomously. They also enforced federal laws within their emirate in coordination with each other under the federal ministry. The federal government maintained federal armed forces for external security.

There were no public reports of impunity involving security forces, but there was also no publicly available information on whether authorities investigated complaints of police abuses including prison conditions and mistreatment (see section 1.c., Administration).

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police stations received complaints from the public, made arrests, and forwarded cases to the public prosecutor. The public prosecutor then transferred cases to the courts. The law prohibits arrest or search of citizens without probable cause. Within 48 hours police must report an arrest to the public prosecutor, and police usually adhered to the deadline. The public prosecutor must then question the accused within 24 hours of initial arrest. Authorities did not consistently provide consular notification for arrests.

Police investigations can regularly take up to three months, during which time detainees are often publicly unaccounted. The law requires prosecutors to submit charges to a court within 14 days of police report and to inform detainees of the charges against them. Judges may grant extensions to prosecutors, sometimes resulting in extended periods of detention without formal charges. Multiple detainees complained that authorities did not inform them of the charges or other details of their case for months at a time. Noncitizen detainees reported that when the prosecutor presented the charges, they were written in Arabic with no translation, and no translator was provided. There were also reports of authorities pressuring or forcing detainees to sign documents before they were allowed to see attorneys.

Public prosecutors may order detainees held as long as 21 days without charge and this can be extended by court order. Judges may not grant an extension of more than 30 days of detention without charge; however, with charge, they may renew 30-day extensions indefinitely. As a result pretrial detention sometimes exceeded the maximum sentence for the crime charged. Public prosecutors may hold suspects in terrorism-related cases without charge for six months. Once authorities charge a suspect with terrorism, the Federal Supreme Court may extend the detention indefinitely. Diplomatic sources reported nonstate security detentions of more than two years without charges.

Authorities may temporarily release detainees who deposit money, a passport, or an unsecured personal promissory statement signed by a third party. In April Dubai Public Prosecution announced that it would no longer keep passports of residents or tourists charged with certain misdemeanors in exchange for bail, instead issuing an electronic travel ban. Law enforcement officials often held detainees’ passports. Authorities may deny pretrial release to defendants in cases involving loss of life, including involuntary manslaughter. Authorities released some prisoners detained on charges related to a person’s death after the prisoners completed “diya” (blood money) payments. Once an accused is found guilty of death under criminal procedure, judges may grant diya payments as compensation to the victim’s family in an amount determined to be in accordance with sharia.

A defendant is entitled to an attorney after authorities complete their investigation. Authorities sometimes questioned the accused for weeks without permitting access to an attorney. The government may provide counsel at its discretion to indigent defendants charged with felonies punishable by provisional imprisonment. The law requires the government to provide counsel in cases in which indigent defendants face punishments of life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Authorities held some persons incommunicado, particularly in cases involving state security.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports the government committed arrests without informing the individual of the charge, notably in cases of alleged violations of state security regulations. In these cases authorities did not give notice to the individual or to family members regarding the subject of the inquiry or arrest.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention occurred, especially in cases involving state security. The speed at which these cases were brought to trial increased, as it did the previous year, with a higher number of State Security Court acquittals and convictions in comparison with recent years. There was no estimate available of the percentage of the prison population in pretrial status. On December 31, the State Security Court at the Federal Supreme Court upheld a 10-year prison sentence and fine of one million dirhams ($272,000) issued in May against citizen and human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor. Mansoor spent more than a year in pretrial detention leading to the initial verdict. Mansoor was convicted under the cybercrime law for insulting the “status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols” and seeking to damage the country’s relationship with its neighbors by publishing false information on social media. According to human rights organizations, Mansoor was held in solitary confinement without access to lawyers and granted only a limited number of family visits pretrial.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: There were reports authorities sometimes delayed or limited an individual’s access to an attorney and did not give prompt court appearances or afford consular notification, both for the average prisoner and in state security cases. There were no reports of courts finding individuals to have been unlawfully detained and eligible for compensation. Diplomatic observers reported that this was a particular problem for foreign residents who were vulnerable to loss of job, home, and accrual of debt due to unlawful detention.

Osama al-Najjar, convicted in 2014 of making unlawful postings on social media and having links to al-Islah, an organization with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and designated by the government as a terrorist organization, was scheduled to be released in March 2017 after completing a three-year prison sentence and paying a 500,000 AED ($136,000) fine. The Federal Supreme Court, however, issued an order in 2017 to keep him in detention on grounds that he still represented a danger to society and required additional guidance; he remained imprisoned throughout the year.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, court decisions remained subject to review by the political leadership. Authorities often treated noncitizens differently from citizens. The judiciary consisted largely of contracted foreign nationals subject to potential deportation, further compromising its independence from the government.

A diplomatic observer reported that in Abu Dhabi a doctor, without receiving notification of a trial, was charged and convicted in his absence of criminal medical malpractice before police attempted arrest. The doctor was sentenced to one year in prison, ordered to pay 200,000 AED ($54,447) in diya or compensation to the victim’s family, and 300,000 AED ($81,670) in fines.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right.

The law presumes all defendants innocent until proven guilty. By law a defendant enjoys the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges. The law requires all court proceedings be conducted in Arabic. Despite the defendant’s procedural right to an interpreter, there were reports authorities did not always provide an interpreter or that quality was sometimes poor. In June the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department began issuing court summons in Arabic, English, and Urdu.

Defendants’ rights were circumscribed in national security cases or cases the judge deemed harmful to public morality. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and have a right to legal counsel in court for cases that carry punishment other than a fine. While awaiting a decision on official charges at a police station or the prosecutor’s office, a defendant is not entitled to legal counsel. In cases involving a capital crime or possible life imprisonment, the defendant has a right to government-provided counsel after charges have been filed. The government may also provide counsel, at its discretion, to indigent defendants charged with felonies punishable by provisional imprisonment. The law provides prosecutors discretion to bar defense counsel from any investigation. Defendants and their attorneys may present witnesses and question witnesses against them. Defendants may not to be compelled to testify or confess. Some defendants said they did not have adequate time to prepare a defense, sometimes due to limited phone access, and requested additional time. Diplomatic observers noted cases where the time defendants spent waiting for a court date surpassed the maximum sentence for the crime. Verdicts were announced in open court, even if the case was heard in a closed session.

Both local and federal courts have an appeals process; cases under local jurisdiction are appealed to the Court of Cassation and federal cases to the Federal Supreme Court. Dubai has its own Court of Cassation. With the additional exception of Ras al-Khaimah, appeals in all other emirates are heard before the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi. Convicted defendants may also appeal death sentences to the ruler of the emirate in which the offense was committed or to the president of the federation. In murder cases the victim’s family must consent to commute a death sentence. The government normally negotiated with victims’ families for the defendant to offer diya payment, compensation in accordance with sharia, in exchange for forgiveness and a commuted death sentence. The prosecutor may appeal acquittals and provide new or additional evidence to a higher court. An appellate court must reach unanimous agreement to overturn an acquittal.

In May Dubai Courts announced a judicial reform aimed at reducing overall trial duration and curbing jail overcrowding. Under the C3 Court initiative, Dubai’s courts of first instance, appeal, and cassation will all be integrated into one court with three departments, each with a judge.

State security cases are heard at the Federal Court of Appeal and may be appealed to the higher Federal Supreme Court.

On November 25, president Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan issued a pardon for British academic Matthew Hedges, who was released the following day and returned to the United Kingdom. Authorities arrested Hedges on May 5 at the Dubai airport on suspicion of spying for the UK government, and a court sentenced him to life in prison on November 21. Hedges said he was in the country doing academic research on the UAE security sector. Advocates for Hedges said he was not allowed access to a lawyer and was mistreated in detention. The government denied the allegations and stated he was treated in accordance with the law.

When authorities suspected a foreigner of crimes of “moral turpitude,” authorities sometimes deported the individual without recourse to the criminal justice system. At the judge’s discretion, foreigners charged with crimes may be permitted to defend themselves while on bail.

The penal code also requires all individuals to pay diya to victims’ families in cases where accidents or crimes caused the death of another person, and media reported multiple cases of courts imposing this punishment. Diya was granted by the judge in criminal cases at the time of sentencing. Standard diya for the death of a man was 200,000 AED ($54,500) and 100,000 AED ($27,225) for the death of a woman. In some cases sharia courts imposed more severe penalties during the month of Ramadan.

Women faced legal discrimination because of the government’s interpretation of sharia (see section 6).

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

During the year there were reports of persons held incommunicado and without charge because of their political views or affiliations, which often involved alleged links to Islamist organizations. Since 2011 the government has restricted the activities of organizations and individuals allegedly associated with al-Islah, a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate and government-designated terrorist organization, and others critical of the government. Similar restrictions were placed on Osama al-Najjar (see section 1.d.).

As part of its security and counterterrorism efforts, the government issued or updated restrictive laws–such as the 2014 antiterrorism law and the 2012 cybercrimes law–and monitored and blocked activities, including the use of the internet and social media. Numerous observers criticized these laws as extending beyond security concerns by also outlawing activities and speech of a political nature.

In March security officers reportedly pulled over Loujain al-Hathloul, a Saudi women’s rights activist, while she was driving in Abu Dhabi. She was subsequently extradited to Saudi Arabia.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens and noncitizens had access to the courts to seek damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. The civil courts, like all courts, lacked full independence. In some cases courts delayed proceedings.

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

The constitution prohibits entry into a home without the owner’s permission, except when police present a lawful warrant. Officers’ actions in searching premises were subject to review by the Ministry of Interior, and officers were subject to disciplinary action if authorities judged their actions irresponsible.

The constitution provides for free and confidential correspondence by mail, telegram, and all other means of communication. There were reports, however, that the government monitored and in some cases censored incoming international mail, wiretapped telephones, and monitored outgoing mail and electronic forms of communication without following appropriate legal procedures. A 2016 study by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab reported that since 2012 local journalists, activists, and dissidents were targeted by sophisticated spyware attacks, which the researchers found may be linked to the government (see also section 2.a., Internet Freedom).

Local interpretation of sharia prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims and Muslim men from marrying women “not of the book,” generally meaning adherents of religions other than Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

The country employs judicial supervision for individuals considered at risk from relatives threatening to commit honor crimes against or otherwise harming them. Judicial supervision typically included providing housing to individuals for their safety and well-being and family mediation and reconciliation.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides limited freedom of assembly and the government imposed restrictions.

The law requires a government-issued permit for organized public gatherings. Authorities dispersed impromptu protests such as labor strikes and at times arrested participants. While there was no uniform standard for the number of persons who could gather without a permit, civil society representatives in the past have reported authorities could ask groups of four or more to disperse if they did not have a permit. The government did not interfere routinely with informal, nonpolitical gatherings held without a government permit in public places unless there were complaints. The government generally permitted political gatherings that supported its policies. Hotels, citing government regulations, sometimes denied permission for groups such as unregistered religious organizations to rent space for meetings or religious services.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides limited freedom of association. The government imposed some restrictions.

Political organizations, political parties, and trade unions are illegal. All associations and NGOs are required to register with the Ministry of Community Development (formerly Social Affairs), and many that did received government subsidies. Domestic NGOs registered with the ministry were mostly citizens’ associations for economic, religious, social, cultural, athletic, and other purposes. Registration rules require that all voting organizational members, as well as boards of directors, must be local citizens. This requirement excluded almost 90 percent of the population from fully participating in such organizations. In Dubai volunteer organizations were required to register with the Community Development Authority (CDA) and were required to obtain approval from the CDA before conducting fundraising activities.

Associations must follow the government’s censorship guidelines and receive prior government approval before publishing any material. In Abu Dhabi exhibitions, conferences, and meetings require a permit from the Tourism and Culture Authority. To obtain a permit, the event organizer must submit identification documents for speakers along with speaker topics. The government denied permits if it did not approve of the topic or speaker. If the event or speaker continued without an approved permit, the government imposed fines.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law generally provided for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation. While the government generally respected these rights, it imposed certain legal restrictions on foreign travel. The lack of passports or other identity documents restricted the movement of stateless persons, both within the country and internationally. The government allowed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Foreign Travel: Authorities generally did not permit citizens and residents involved in legal disputes under adjudication, and noncitizens under investigation to travel abroad. Additionally, authorities sometimes arrested individuals with outstanding debts or legal cases while in transit through an airport.

At the sole discretion of emirate-level prosecutors, foreign nationals had their passports taken or travel restricted during criminal and civil investigations. Some individuals were also banned from foreign travel. These measures posed particular problems for noncitizen debtors, who in addition to being unable to leave the country, were usually unable to find work without a passport and valid residence permit, making it impossible to repay their debts or maintain legal residency. In some cases family, friends, local religious organizations, or other concerned individuals helped pay the debt and enabled the indebted foreign national to depart the country. According to media reports, the president pardoned 704 prisoners ahead of Eid al-Adha and pledged to settle financial obligations of released prisoners. Rulers across the emirates pardoned nearly 2,000 prisoners ahead of national day. In April a Dubai-based businessperson cleared the debts of 560 prisoners held across the country.

Travel bans were placed on citizens. For example, citizens of interest for reasons of state security, including former political prisoners, encountered difficulties renewing official documents, resulting in implicit travel bans. Authorities did not lift travel bans until the completion of a case in the judicial system.

In June 2017 the government and several other regional countries severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and enacted a blockade on air, sea, and land traffic to and from Qatar. Qatari citizens were given two weeks to leave the UAE and were banned from traveling to and transiting the UAE. Emirati citizens were banned from visiting or transiting through Qatar. The UAE Ministry of Interior established a hotline to assist blended Qatari-Emirati families, allowing them to remain in the UAE on a case-by-case basis. Qatar filed a case in the International Court of Justice against the UAE for having violated the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination when it ordered all Qatari citizens to leave the country. In July the International Court of Justice ruled that the government should take three provisional measures: ensure that all families that included a Qatari were reunited; give Qatari students who were studying in the UAE at the time of the expulsion the opportunity to complete their education in the UAE, or obtain their educational records if they chose to study elsewhere; and allow Qataris access to the UAE’s judicial system. In response the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation issued a statement that the government had already taken those measures.

Custom dictates that a husband may prevent his wife, minor children, and adult unmarried daughters from leaving the country by taking custody of their passports.

Citizenship: The government may revoke naturalized citizens’ passports and citizenship status for criminal or politically provocative actions.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

UNHCR lacked formal legal status in the country separate from the UN Development Program. The government nevertheless worked with UNHCR on a case-by-case basis to address refugee issues. The government did not formally grant refugee status or asylum to aliens seeking protection, but it allowed some refugees to remain in the country temporarily on an individual basis. This nonpermanent status often presented administrative, financial, and social hardships, including the need frequently to renew visas and the inability to access basic services such as health care and education for children. In June the government announced that citizens of war-torn countries who were living in the UAE and had overstayed their visas would be permitted to apply from August 1 to October 31 for a permit to legally remain in the UAE for a year. These applicants were to be exempted from immigration fines and their permits extendable, although the duration of the extension was unknown.

Refoulement: The family of Abudujilili Supi, a Uighur man from China legally residing in the UAE, reported to media that Supi was detained by local police in September after he left afternoon prayers at the Abdullah bin Rawaha mosque in Sharjah. Supi’s wife, who witnessed the arrest, was given no explanation why he was arrested. Supi called her from detention three days later informing her that he was told he would be forced to return to China involuntarily by UAE authorities. His whereabouts remained unknown.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government had not established a transparent, codified system for providing protection to refugees. While the government extended informal protection from return to refugees in some cases, any persons lacking legal residency status were technically subject to local laws on illegal immigrants, and authorities could detain them. In some cases authorities confined individuals seeking protection at an airport to a specific section of the airport while they awaited resettlement in another country.

Employment: Access to employment was based on an individual’s status as a legal resident, and persons with a claim to refugee status but who lacked legal residency status, including those with either short-term visitor visas or expired visas, were generally not eligible for employment.

Access to Basic Services: Access to education and other public services, including health care, is based on an individual’s status as a legal resident. As a result some families, particularly from Iraq and Syria, reportedly did not have access to healthcare or schools. The government provided or allowed access to some services on a case-by-case basis, often after the intervention of UNHCR representatives. Some hospitals were willing to see patients without the mandatory insurance, but required full payment up front.

STATELESS PERSONS

Informal estimates suggested 20,000 to 100,000 Bidoon, or persons without citizenship, resided in the country. Government statistics estimated the population at 10,000. Most Bidoon lacked citizenship because they did not have the preferred tribal affiliation used to determine citizenship when the country was established. Others entered the country legally or illegally in search of employment. Because children derive citizenship generally from the father, Bidoon children born within the country’s territory remained stateless. Without passports or other forms of identification, the movement of Bidoon was restricted, both within the country and internationally. In recent years the government purchased a number of passports from Comoros and issued them to Bidoon. The documents conferred economic Comoran citizenship on the recipients and legalized their status in the UAE.

The government has a naturalization process, and individuals may apply for citizenship. Children of female citizens married to noncitizens do not acquire citizenship automatically at birth, but their mothers may obtain citizenship for the children after submitting an application, which a government committee reviews and generally accepts, once the child is 18 years old. A foreign woman may receive citizenship after 10 years of marriage to a citizen. Anyone may receive a passport by presidential fiat.

The committee that reviews mothers’ citizenship applications for their children also reviews citizenship applications from Bidoon who could satisfy certain legal conditions to be eligible for naturalization and subsequently could gain access to education, health care, and other public services. There were no reports, however, of stateless persons receiving Emirati citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage. Federal executive and legislative power is in the hands of the Federal Supreme Council, a body composed of the hereditary rulers of the seven emirates. It selects from its members the country’s president and vice president. Decisions at the federal level generally are by consensus among the rulers, their families, and other leading families. The ruling families, in consultation with other prominent tribal figures, also choose rulers of the emirates.

Citizens could express their concerns directly to their leaders through an open majlis, a traditional consultative mechanism. On occasion women attended a majlis. If a majlis was closed to women, men sometimes voiced concerns as proxies on behalf of women. Additionally, authorities sometimes held a women-only majlis or a majlis focused specifically on women’s issues.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: There were no democratic general elections. In 2015 an appointed electorate of more than 224,000 members, representing approximately one-fifth of the total citizen population, elected 20 members of the Federal National Council (FNC), a 40-member consultative body with some legislative authority. Each emirate receives seats in the FNC based on population. Each emirate’s ruler appoints that emirate’s portion of the other 20 FNC members. The electorate appointment process lacked transparency. Approximately 35 percent of eligible voters participated, electing one woman among the 20 FNC members, with another eight women appointed by their respective rulers. The current speaker of the FNC is the first woman to lead the FNC. In December the president decreed that women’s representation in the FNC will be raised to 50 percent during the 2019 election cycle.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Citizens did not have the right to form political parties.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Although some traditional practices discouraged women from engaging in political life, no laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process. The government prioritized women’s participation in government. There were nine female ministers in the 31-member cabinet, an increase of two women from the previous cabinet, and nine women in the FNC (one elected, who was appointed speaker).

Except in the judiciary and military, religious and racial minorities (including Shia) did not serve in senior federal positions. Many judges were contracted foreign nationals.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption.

Nepotism and conflict of interest in government appointments and contract allocations existed. The Ministries of the Interior and Justice and the state audit institutions are responsible for combating government corruption.

Corruption: In February a local public prosecution employee and four Indian paralegals were sentenced by the Dubai Court of First Instance to 10 years in prison and fines of 50,000 AED ($13,600) each, on top of an additional payment of 154,000 AED ($42,000) to the public prosecution office, for accepting bribes to alter 103 criminal rulings issued in absentia. The Indian defendants were also sentenced to deportation following their prison time.

Authorities also prosecuted cases of police corruption. In July a Dubai police officer was sentenced for two years in prison and a 2,000 AED ($540) fine for accepting bribes in return for inappropriately running police checks into the criminal status of 17 individuals.

Financial Disclosure: There are no financial disclosure laws, regulations, or codes of conduct requiring officials to disclose their income and assets. The operating instructions for the FNC elections did require all candidates to disclose sources of funding for their campaigns.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The government generally did not permit organizations to focus on domestic political or human rights issues.

The government directed, regulated, and subsidized participation by all NGO members in events outside the country. All participants had to obtain government permission before attending such events. The government also restricted entry to the country by members of international NGOs. The 2015 Antidiscrimination Law, which prohibits multiple forms of discrimination and criminalizes acts the government interprets as provoking religious hatred or insulting religion through any form of expression, provides a legal basis for restricting events such as conferences and seminars. The law also criminalizes the broadcasting, publication, and transmission of such material by any means, including audio/visual or print media, or via the internet, and prohibits conferences or meetings the government deems promote discrimination, discord, or hatred.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not allow international human rights NGOs to be based in the country but, on a limited basis, allowed representatives to visit. There were no transparent standards governing visits from international NGO representatives.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Two recognized local human rights organizations existed: the government-supported the EHRA, which focused on human rights problems and complaints on matters such as labor conditions, stateless persons’ rights, and prisoners’ well-being and treatment; and the Emirates Centre for Human Rights Studies, which focused on human rights education for lawyers and legal consultants. Several EHRA members worked in the government and the organization received government funding. The EHRA claimed it operated independently without government interference, apart from requirements that apply to all associations in the country. In January the EHRA accused HRW and AI of obtaining incorrect and misleading information to spread rumors regarding the human rights situation in the country.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, which is punishable by death under the penal code. The penal code does not address spousal rape.

The penal code allows men to use physical means, including violence, at their discretion against female and minor family members. Punishments issued by courts in domestic abuse cases were often minimal. In some cases police shared a victim’s contact information with her/his family, which sometimes reached the assailant.

In general the government did not enforce domestic abuse laws effectively, and domestic abuse against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem. For example, in July local media reported a case of domestic abuse of a woman in Ajman. Her husband reportedly beat her, starved her, and forced her to work for his business without pay. There were reports employers raped or sexually assaulted foreign domestic workers. These cases rarely went to court, and those that did led to few convictions. In one such conviction in January, a man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for repeatedly raping his maid. In sharia courts, which are primarily responsible for civil matters between Muslims, the extremely high burden of proof for a rape case contributed to a low conviction rate. Additionally, female victims of rape or other sexual crimes faced the possibility of prosecution for consensual sex outside marriage instead of receiving assistance from authorities. For example, the Dubai Court of Cassation reduced a one-year prison sentence to a six-month prison sentence against a Gulf woman accused of consensual sex after accusing a Gulf man of raping her.

Victims of domestic abuse may file complaints with police units stationed in major public hospitals. Social workers and counselors, usually female, also maintained offices in public hospitals and police stations. There were domestic abuse centers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah, and Sharjah.

The government, in coordination with social organizations, sought to increase awareness of domestic violence, conducting seminars, educational programs, symposiums, and conferences. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children increased awareness of domestic violence through social media, television, radio programming, and advertising; by hosting workshops; and sponsoring a hotline.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not address FGM/C, although the Ministry of Health prohibits hospitals and clinics from performing the procedure. FGM/C is practiced by some tribal groups and is reportedly declining as a traditional custom, yet little information was available. Foreign residents from countries where FGM/C is prevalent undertook the practice.

Sexual Harassment: The government prosecutes harassment via the penal code. Conviction of “disgracing or dishonoring” a person in public is punishable by a minimum of one year and up to 15 years in prison if the victim is younger than age 14. Conviction for “infamous” acts against the rules of decency is punishable by a penalty of six months in prison, and “dishonoring a woman by word or deed on a public roadway” is also a punishable offense. The government generally enforced this law.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods.

Discrimination: Women in general faced legal and economic discrimination, with noncitizen women at a particular disadvantage.

The government’s interpretation of sharia applies in personal status cases and family law. Muslim women must have the consent of their guardians to marry. Local interpretation of sharia forbids Muslim women to marry non-Muslims.

Additionally, the law permits a man to have as many as four wives, women normally inherit less than men, and a son’s inheritance may be double that of a daughter.

For a woman to obtain a divorce with a financial settlement, she must prove her husband inflicted physical or moral harm upon her, abandoned her for at least three months, or had not provided for her or their children’s upkeep. Physical abuse claims require medical reports and two male witnesses. It is up to the judge’s discretion to consider women as full witnesses or half witnesses. Alternatively, women may divorce by paying compensation or surrendering their dowry to their husbands.

The strict interpretation of sharia does not apply to child custody cases, and courts have applied the “the best interests of the child” standard since 2010. According to sharia a divorced woman may lose custody of her children to their father once daughters reach 13 years of age and sons 11 years of age. Women are permitted to file for continued custody until a daughter is married or a son finishes his education. Under federal law fathers are permitted to seek custody of an under-11 year old son if they feel the child has become “too soft.”

The law provides for corporal punishment for sexual relations and pregnancy outside of marriage. In January the Dubai Court of Misdemeanors sentenced an unwed mother and father to a suspended one-month jail term and deportation for having sexual relations outside of marriage. The government may imprison and deport noncitizen women if they bear children out of wedlock.

Women who worked in the private sector, and especially nonnationals, regularly did not receive equal benefits and reportedly faced discrimination in promotions and pay (see section 7.d.). Labor law prohibits women from working in hazardous, strenuous, or physically or morally harmful jobs. In February Sharjah Civil Defense hired 15 female firefighters, joining the country’s first “Women’s Firefighting Unit.”

While foreign men working in the country and earning a salary above a certain level could obtain residency permits for their families for three years, a foreign woman could obtain a one-year, renewable permit for her family only if she was working in a job deemed rare or with a specialty such as health care, engineering, or teaching.

While education is equally accessible, federal law prohibits coeducation in public universities, except in the United Arab Emirates University’s Executive MBA program and in certain graduate programs at Zayed University. A large number of private schools, private universities, and institutions, however, were coeducational. According to officials local women represent more than 60 percent of national higher education students.

The government excluded women from certain social and economic benefits, including land grants for building houses because tribal family law often designates men as the heads of families.

The government has a Gender Balance Council to promote a greater role for female citizens, but not noncitizens, who were working outside the home.

Children

Birth Registration: Children generally derive citizenship from their parents. As noted above the children of local mothers married to foreigners did not receive citizenship automatically. The government registered noncitizen births, including of Bidoon. The criminalization of sexual relations outside of marriage prevented the registration of children born out of wedlock and, as a result, access to travel documents.

Education: Education is compulsory through the ninth grade; however, the law was not enforced, and some children did not attend school, especially children of noncitizens. The government provided free primary education only to citizens. Noncitizen children could enroll in public schools only if they scored more than 90 percent on entrance examinations, which authorities administered only in Arabic. In September the Ministry of Education made all public schools coeducational from the first to fifth grades, starting with this year’s first grade class.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, and the government has taken steps to increase awareness of the issue, including the Child Safety Campaign, which reinforced the role of media in protecting the rights of children. The government provided shelter and help for child victims of abuse or sexual exploitation. In February the Community Development Authority began creation of a database of child abuse reports as part of its child protection system. In April Dubai Police inaugurated an interrogation center specifically designated for child abuse victims.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage for both men and women is 18, unless a judge gives approval for an earlier marriage. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women noted a reported persistence of unregistered child marriages.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes the sexual exploitation of children, with a minimum penalty for conviction of 10 years in prison. Consensual sex is illegal outside of marriage, carrying a minimum penalty of one year in prison. The penalty for conviction of sex with children younger than age 14 is life imprisonment. Distribution and consumption of child pornography is illegal.

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

Anti-Semitism

There is no indigenous Jewish community. There were no synagogues and no formal recognition of the very small foreign Jewish population (which constituted less than 1 percent of the population); the foreign Jewish community could conduct regular prayer services in rented space. In December Bloomberg published an article featuring Dubai’s Jewish community, entitled “As the Gulf Warms to Israel, a Synagogue Grows in Dubai.” Occasionally, social media contained anti-Semitic remarks and local Arabic print media featured anti-Semitic caricatures in political cartoons. There was anti-Semitic material available at some book fairs, including a few that operated with government oversight.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services.

Public and private facilities provided education, health services, sports, and vocational rehabilitation for persons with disabilities. Many of the facilities were reserved for citizens.

The Ministry of Community Development (formerly Social Affairs) is the central body responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and raising awareness at the federal and local level. In accordance with the law, most public buildings provided some form of access for persons with disabilities.

Government entities, including the Ministry of Community Development, the Services for Educational Development Foundation for Inclusion, and the Sports Organizations for Persons with Disabilities, sponsored conferences and workshops emphasizing the inclusion and integration of persons with disabilities into schools and workplaces. The government continued to raise public awareness of societal inclusivity through its National Strategy for Empowering People with Special Needs. The policy includes investment in research and development for health and rehabilitation, an integrative education system, vocational rehabilitation and employment, creation of unified criteria for building requirements, social protection, and societal integration through cultural, sports, and social activities. In December Dubai police launched a smart application to teach people how to communicate through Emirati sign language.

Various departments within the Ministries of Human Resources and Emiratization (formerly Labor), Education, and Community Development are responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and the government enforced these rights in employment, housing, and entitlement programs. While enforcement was effective for jobs in the public sector, the government did not sufficiently encourage hiring in the private sector. Some emirates and the federal government included statements in their human resources regulations emphasizing priority for hiring citizens with disabilities in the public sector and actively encouraged the hiring of persons with disabilities. Public sector employers provided reasonable accommodations, defined broadly, for employees with disabilities. The employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector remained a challenge due to a lack of training and opportunities, and societal discrimination. A survey of 75 human resources managers from the government and private sectors released in July showed that local employers do not hire persons with disabilities because they were perceived as “too expensive” and unable to perform well.

The government sponsored several initiatives to host international conferences for persons with disabilities emphasizing rights, opportunities, and the importance of social inclusion. The government also improved accessibility of public facilities. In March Abu Dhabi hosted the Special Olympics MENA Games and will host the Special Olympics World Games in 2019.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Approximately 90 percent of the country’s residents were noncitizens, more than half of whom originated from the Indian subcontinent. Societal discrimination against noncitizens was prevalent and occurred in most areas of daily life, including employment, education, housing, social interaction, and health care.

The law allows for criminalizing commercial disputes and bankruptcy, which led to discrimination against foreigners. Authorities enforced these laws selectively and allowed citizens to threaten noncitizen businesspersons and foreign workers with harsh prison sentences to assure a favorable outcome in commercial disputes.

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

Both civil law and sharia criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Under sharia individuals who engage in consensual same-sex sexual conduct could be subject to the death penalty. Dubai’s penal code allows for up to a 10-year prison sentence for conviction of such activity, while Abu Dhabi’s penal code allows for up to a 14-year prison sentence. There were no reports of arrests or prosecutions for consensual same-sex activity.

The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination.

By law wearing clothing deemed inappropriate for one’s sex is a punishable offense. The government deported foreign residents and referred the cases of individuals who wore clothing deemed inappropriate to the public prosecutor.

The law permits doctors to conduct sex reassignment surgery when there are “psychological” and “physiological” signs of gender and sex disparity. The penalty for performing an unwarranted “sex correction” surgery is three to 10 years in prison. The Abu Dhabi Federal Court of First Instance denied a January request for legal gender recognition by three local transgender persons who sought legally to ch