Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and judiciary and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.
Violence and Harassment: In November, Dan McGarry, a Canadian citizen, long-time resident, and the editor of the country’s largest independent newspaper, the Daily Post, told media that the government had refused to renew his work permit. According to McGarry the government claimed this was in order to fill the position by somebody from the country, but McGarry said that in July the prime minister had summoned him and berated him for “negative reporting.” McGarry believed the prime minister was specifically displeased with Daily Post reporting in July about the government’s cooperation with China to deport six Chinese nationals, four of whom had recently acquired Vanuatu citizenship through a program designed to attract Chinese investment.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The country faced multiple volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, cyclones, and tsunami during the year. In August 2018 the prime minister ordered a mandatory evacuation of 10,000 persons threatened by a volcanic eruption on the island of Ambae and urged resettlement in evacuation centers on nearby islands. In January the Council of Ministers approved a plan to restore services in Ambae. As of March more than 4,000 individuals had returned to Ambae. Internally displaced persons complained that it was difficult to earn an income or access food and water in some evacuee camps. There were similar evacuations from the island in 2017, and those displaced were able to return to their homes after approximately one month.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government developed an ad hoc system for providing protection to refugees and granted temporary refugee status and asylum to those seeking it while awaiting resettlement by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The government cooperated with UNHCR in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the combination of laws and regulations governing libel and media content as well as legal harassment, physical intimidation of individuals and media, and executive influence on the judiciary resulted in significant repression of these freedoms. National and international groups, such as the IACHR, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Inter American Press Association, Reporters without Borders, and Committee to Protect Journalists, condemned former regime efforts throughout the year to restrict press freedom and create a climate of fear and self-censorship.
Freedom of Expression: The law makes insulting the president punishable by six to 30 months in prison without bail, with lesser penalties for insulting lower-ranking officials. In 2017 the illegitimate ANC gave final approval to the Constitutional Law against Hate, for Political Coexistence and Tolerance, which stipulates prison sentences of up to 20 years. While the former regime stated the purpose of the law was to “promote peace and tolerance,” NGOs observed the vaguely written law could be used to silence political parties, activists, and civil society leaders as well as media outlets and journalists. Comments exposing another person to public contempt or hatred are punishable by prison sentences of one to three years and fines. In April Espacio Publico reported 24 persons were arrested in 2018 for online criticism of the regime.
On June 1, members of the DGCIM arrested Karen Palacios Perez, a clarinetist, for “instigating hate.” Palacios posted tweets critical of the regime after losing her position with the National Philharmonic Orchestra for signing a petition in opposition to Maduro. On July 16, Palacios was released from prison, one month after a judge ordered her immediate release.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law provides that inaccurate reporting that disturbs the public peace is punishable by prison terms of two to five years. The requirement that media disseminate only “true” information was undefined and open to politically motivated interpretation.
The law prohibits all media from disseminating messages that incite or promote hate or intolerance for religious, political, gender-related, racial, or xenophobic reasons; incite, promote, or condone criminal acts; constitute war propaganda; foment anxiety in the population or affect public order; do not recognize legitimate government authorities; incite homicide; or incite or promote disobedience of the established legal order. Penalties range from fines to the revocation of licenses. The threat of nonrenewal of operating licenses systematically led to self-censorship on the part of several media outlets.
Despite such laws, Maduro and the regime-aligned United Socialist Party (PSUV) used the nearly 600 former regime-owned or -controlled media outlets to insult and intimidate the political opposition throughout the year. ANC president Diosdado Cabello continued to use his weekly television program to denounce individual journalists and media outlets.
The law declares telecommunications a “public interest service,” thereby giving the government authority to regulate the content and structure of radio, television, and audiovisual production sectors. The law provides that the government may suspend or revoke licenses when it judges such actions necessary in the interests of the nation, public order, or security. The law empowers the government to impose heavy fines and cancel broadcasts for violations of its norms; the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) oversees the law’s application.
The former Maduro regime continued legal actions against high-profile independent media outlets Tal Cual, El Nacional, El Nuevo Pais, La Patilla, El Pitazo, and Globovision. In June the TSJ ordered La Patilla to pay 30 billion bolivares ($1.4 million) to ANC president Cabello for “moral damage and injury” for reprinting an article by the Spanish newspaper ABC that indicated Cabello was under investigation in the United States for drug trafficking.
Espacio Publico reported 522 violations of freedom of expression between January and April, a 314 percent increase compared with the same period in 2018 and the second highest figure since the organization began tracking cases in 2002. The most common violations were aggressions against journalists and censorship. The former Maduro regime-owned and -influenced media provided almost continuous proregime programming. In addition, private and public radio and television stations were required to transmit mandatory nationwide broadcasts (cadenas) throughout the year, including a daily 15-minute news broadcast that provided reports and summaries of former regime activities. Media reported the GNB regularly barred journalists from accessing the AN to cover the legislative body’s debates and activities. NGOs noted that state regime-owned internet service provider CANTV also routinely blocked commercial streaming and web searches during Interim President Guaido’s speeches and during weekly AN sessions.
The former regime detained 39 journalists in the first three months of the year, up from 22 detentions during all of 2018, according to NGO Institute for Press and Society (IPYS). On March 11, SEBIN agents detained journalist Luis Carlos Diaz and confiscated equipment, following his reporting on nationwide blackouts that struck the country in early March, according to media reports. On his weekly television program, ANC president Cabello accused Diaz of being involved in a conspiracy to sabotage the country’s electrical system. After being charged with “instigating crimes,” Diaz was released, although he was prohibited from leaving the country or making public statements.
The law requires practicing journalists to have journalism degrees and be members of the National College of Journalists, and it prescribes jail terms of three to six months for those practicing the profession illegally. These requirements are waived for foreigners and opinion columnists.
Violence and Harassment: Senior national and state leaders of the former Maduro regime continued to harass and intimidate privately owned and opposition-oriented television stations, media outlets, and journalists by using threats, property seizures, administrative and criminal investigations, and prosecutions. The national journalists’ union reported 244 attacks on journalists from January to June. Former president Maduro and regime-aligned officials used regime-controlled media outlets to accuse private media owners, directors, and reporters of fomenting antiregime destabilization campaigns and coup attempts. Former Maduro regime officials also harassed foreign journalists working in the country.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: NGOs noted the former Maduro regime’s preference for using legal proceedings, financial sanctions, and administrative actions against unfavorable news outlets instead of shutting them down outright. Members of the independent media stated they regularly engaged in self-censorship due to fear of regime reprisals. This resulted in many journalists posting articles to their personal blogs and websites instead of publishing them in traditional media.
The former regime also exercised control over content through licensing and broadcasting requirements. CONATEL acted selectively on applications from private radio and television broadcasters for renewal of their broadcast frequencies. According to Nelson Belfort, former president of the Venezuelan Radio Chamber, and NGO reports, approximately 80 percent of radio stations were in “illegal” status throughout the country due to CONATEL’s not having renewed licenses for most radio stations since 2007.
According to the local journalists’ union (SNTP), print news outlets closed due to the former Maduro regime’s economic policies, which made it difficult for independent newspapers to access foreign currency, preventing many from purchasing critical supplies and equipment necessary for day-to-day business operations. National and regional newspapers went out of print for lack of supplies, especially newsprint, including national newspaper El Nacional, El Regional of Zulia, El Aragueno of Aragua, El Luchador of Bolivar, and Panorama of Zulia.
The former Maduro regime controlled a large portion of the country’s businesses and paid for advertising only with regime-owned or regime-friendly media.
Libel/Slander Laws: Regime-aligned officials engaged in reprisals against individuals who publicly expressed criticism of Maduro or regime policy. Maduro did not act on his 2017 announcement that he would use slander law to “defend his honor” in court against opposition leaders’ allegations that he was responsible for protest-related deaths.
National Security: The law allows the government to suspend or revoke licenses when it determines such actions necessary in the interests of public order or security. The former Maduro regime exercised control over the press through a public entity, the Strategic Center for Security and Protection of the Homeland (CESPPA), established in 2013, which is similar to the governmental entity Center for National Situational Studies (CESNA) established in 2010. CESNA and CESPPA have similar mandates and are responsible for “compiling, processing, analyzing, and classifying” both regime-released and other public information with the objective of “protecting the interests and objectives of the state.”
During the year former President Maduro renewed four times the “state of exception” he first invoked in 2016, citing a continuing economic emergency, and granted himself the power to restrict rights otherwise provided for in the constitution. The 60-day emergency decree, which by law is renewable only once and requires AN endorsement to be effective, allows the president to block any action he deems could “undermine national security” or could “obstruct the continuity of the implementation of economic measures for the urgent reactivation of the national economy.” The AN continued systematically to refuse to ratify each renewal, and the Supreme Court annulled each refusal, reasoning that the assembly’s “contempt” status made its failure to endorse the renewal “unconstitutional.” According to Human Rights Watch, the “state of exception” negatively affected the rights to freedom of association and expression.
Nongovernmental Impact: Widespread violence in the country made it difficult to determine whether attacks on journalists resulted from common criminal activity or whether criminals or others targeted media members.
The former Maduro regime restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. The former regime exercised broad control over the internet through the state-run CONATEL. Free Access, an NGO focused on freedom of expression and social justice, reported that CONATEL supported monitoring of private communications and repression of internet users who expressed dissenting opinions online. According to media reports, users of social networks accused CONATEL of monitoring their online activity and passing identifying information to regime intelligence agencies, such as SEBIN. According to Free Access, CONATEL provided information to SEBIN, including internet protocol addresses, which assisted former Maduro regime authorities in locating users.
The law puts the burden of filtering prohibited electronic messages on service providers, and it allows CONATEL to order service providers to block access to websites that violate these norms and sanctions service providers with fines for distributing prohibited messages. IPYS reported that in the first six months of the year, private and regime-controlled internet providers following CONATEL orders blocked access to 48 webpages. Seventy percent of the censored domains during this period belonged to social media platforms and news outlets, including NTN24, VIVOplay, El Pitazo, VPItv, El Nacional, Aporrea, and Noticia al dia.
CONATEL’s director, Jorge Elieser Marquez Monsalve, reiterated the claims of his predecessors that CONATEL’s role is to enforce the law and prevent dissemination of illegal information or material unsuitable for children and adolescents. Nevertheless, the former Maduro regime continued to block internet sites that posted dollar- and euro-to-bolivar currency exchange rates differing from the former regime’s official rate. The former regime-owned internet service provider CANTV facilitated blockages. According to IPYS, the regime blocked websites during events of public interest. According to Reporters Without Borders, on January 21, shortly after an attempted uprising by a military unit in Zulia State that was widely covered on social networks and by online media outlets, there were several internet cuts in the region, affecting YouTube and Google Search users in particular, combined with restrictions on access to Twitter and Instagram. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Periscope services were all temporarily blocked, according to NetBlocks.
Regime-aligned intelligence agencies, which lacked independent oversight, conducted surveillance for political purposes. Courts relied on evidence obtained from anonymous patriotas cooperantes (cooperating patriots) to harass perceived opponents of the former regime, and senior former Maduro regime-aligned officials used personal information gathered by patriotas cooperantes to intimidate regime critics and human rights defenders. Users were arrested and criminally accused for actions such as tweeting information publicly available on webpages.
In February proregime Twitter accounts published a database of opposition sympathizers’ personal data, which was the result of a former regime-linked phishing operation.
There were no substantiated reports of former Maduro regime restrictions on cultural events, but the former regime imposed restrictions on academic freedom. Aula Abierta (Open Classroom), a local human rights NGO focused on academic freedom, reported the former regime retaliated against opposition-oriented autonomous universities by providing insufficient funding and failing to adjust budgetary allocations to inflation. According to media reports, universities ran deep deficits, receiving less than 10 percent of the funds they budgeted to cover operating costs. In 2017 the National University Council, the government’s regulating body for university education, relinquished its functions to the ANC, disregarding the law requiring university autonomy.
The former Maduro regime continued to increase its control over local universities, including the admissions process.
In August the TSJ ordered the Central University of Venezuela to hold university elections in six months. The ruling, which applied to eight other public and private universities as well, stipulates that the elected candidate must win in at least three of the five electoral sectors (teachers, students, graduates, administrative staff, and laborers) and must receive an absolute majority of votes. Students and university leaders called the ruling an attack on university autonomy, in violation of the constitution, and said it would lead to the installation of regime-aligned sympathizers at the heads of universities.
The former regime continued its practice, announced in 2018, of educational financial incentives for holders of the carnet de la patria (homeland card), a regime-issued social benefits card provided primarily to regime supporters (see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation).
The constitution provides for this right, but the former Maduro regime generally repressed or suspended it. The law regulates the right to assembly. Human rights groups continued to criticize the law as enabling the former regime to charge protesters with serious crimes for participating in peaceful demonstrations. Ambiguous language in the law also allowed the former regime to criminalize organizations that were critical of it. Protests and marches require authorization from the former regime in advance and are forbidden within designated “security zones.” Citizens organized sporadic and often spontaneous small-scale protests throughout the year to demand basic goods and services such as water, gasoline, and electricity. The political opposition and civil society organized marches to support Interim President Juan Guaido and demand a transitional government and new presidential elections. The Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict documented 10,477 protests in the first six months of the year, more than double the number in the same period of 2018. According to the OHCHR, between January and May, a total of 66 persons died during protests; some of these incidents were marked by an alleged excessive use of force by FAES, the GNB, PNB, and armed colectivos. Security forces detained more than 1,300 persons during protests between January and May, according to Foro Penal.
During a July 2 protest in Tachira State, 16-year-old Rufo Chacon was blinded after police forces fired 52 rubber pellets at his face. According to media reports, a police investigation found that security forces moved to repress the protest without warning when they fired rubber bullets into the crowd. Former Maduro regime attorney general Tarek William Saab announced that authorities charged two police officers with cruel treatment in the case.
The constitution provides for freedom of association and freedom from political discrimination, but the former Maduro regime did not respect these rights. Although professional and academic associations generally operated without interference, a number of associations complained that the TSJ and the National Electoral Council (CNE), which is responsible for convoking all elections and establishing electoral dates and procedures, repeatedly interfered with their attempts to hold internal elections.
A 2016 presidential decree called on the Foreign Ministry to suspend international funding to NGOs when “it is presumed” that the funding is used with “political purposes or for destabilization.”
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; however, the former Maduro regime did not respect these rights.
On February 22, the former regime closed its borders with Aruba, Brazil, and Colombia to prevent the entry of international aid. Media reported the borders with Aruba and Brazil were reopened on May 10 and partially reopened with Colombia one month later.
In July the former Maduro regime announced the deployment of a special migration police unit in Tachira State, on the border with Colombia. Although some NGOs expressed concern the former regime would use the unit to restrict international travel of select individuals, the former regime asserted the force would essentially be customs and border patrol units. The former regime declared the migration police would provide citizen security at migration points and established 72 points of control to monitor the border situation and dispel what it called myths regarding a supposed in-country migration crisis.
Security forces often used excessive force to control residents in states along the border with Colombia, with particular violence perpetrated by colectivos against Tachira State citizens in late February.
While no official statistics were available, a women’s shelter reported recurring problems with gender-based violence and trafficking of refugee women. NGOs reported Venezuelans crossing through informal border crossings controlled by armed groups faced significant protection risks, including gender-based violence. Individuals were often forced to pay a form of taxation at the informal border crossing or be indebted to those controlling them, exposing them to risks of exploitation, harassment, and sexual violence, as well as recruitment into drug trafficking and other armed groups.
See the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
In-country Movement: The former regime restricted the movement of certain opposition leaders, preventing them from traveling on former regime-controlled airlines and refusing to allow them to board some domestic flights.
Foreign Travel: Obtaining a passport became increasingly difficult during the year. Prospective applicants waited overnight in lines and often did not receive passports after years of delays. Some applicants reportedly paid several thousands of U.S. dollars to obtain a passport. The former regime repeatedly seized passports from journalists, members of the opposition, and AN deputies at ports of entry without explanation as they attempted to depart the country.
Exile: In contrast with 2018, there were no cases of citizens denied the right to return.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: With the refugee status determination process centralized at the National Refugee Commission (CONARE) headquarters in Caracas, asylum seekers often waited for years to obtain a final decision. During this period they had to continue renewing their documentation every three months to stay in the country and avoid arrest and deportation. While traveling to the commission, particularly vulnerable groups, such as women with young children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, faced increased personal risks, such as arrest and deportation, extortion, exploitation, and sexual abuse by authorities at checkpoints and other locations.
The former regime did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR, the vast majority of asylum seekers came from Colombia. The majority of such persons remained without any protection. Most of the Colombians had not accessed procedures for refugee status determination due to the inefficiency of the process. UNHCR reported that few persons in need of international protection were legally recognized as refugees.
Access to Basic Services: Colombian asylum seekers without legal residency permits had limited access to the job market, education, and health systems. The lack of documentation created significant difficulties to achieving sufficient protection and long-term integration. Former regime authorities permitted Colombian children to attend school but inconsistently granted them diplomas or certificates of completion without residency documentation, resulting in high dropout rates for Colombian children. In June CONARE announced the creation of a new border migration control card for refugees present in the country, similar to the carnet de la patria.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, in practice the government did not respect these rights, and several laws specifically encroach on freedom of expression. The government also continued to use broad national security and antidefamation provisions to restrict freedom of expression. Such laws establish the crimes of “sabotaging the infrastructure of socialism,” in addition to “sowing divisions between religious and nonreligious people” and “propagandizing against the state” as serious offenses against national security. It also expressly forbids “taking advantage of democratic freedoms and rights to violate the interests of the state or lawful rights and interests of organizations or individuals.”
Freedom of Expression: The government continued to restrict speech that criticized individual government leaders or the party, promoted political pluralism or multiparty democracy, or questioned policies on sensitive matters, such as human rights, religious freedom, or sovereignty disputes with China.
Representatives from state-run organizations and progovernment groups visited activists’ residences and attempted to intimidate them into agreeing the government’s policies were correct, according to social media and activists’ reports. Family members of activists also reported numerous incidents of physical harassment, intimidation, and questioning by Ministry of Public Security officials. Harassment also occurred at workplaces and included threatening telephone calls and insulting activists in local media and online and attacks on activists’ homes with rocks, shrimp paste, and gasoline bombs. There were reports such abuses caused injury and trauma requiring hospitalization.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: The CPV, government, and party-controlled mass media organizations exercised legal authority over all print, broadcast, online, and electronic media, primarily through the Ministry of Information and Communications under the overall guidance of the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission. The law requires editors in chief to be CPV members; many outlets apply this to additional managers as well. One of the leading newspapers, Thanh Nien, demoted 13 managing editors and deputy editors who were not party members in November 2018.
Many nongovernmental entities, however, produced and distributed publications by subcontracting, joint-publishing, or buying permits from government or other public publishing entities. State-run media reported private entities produced more than 90 percent of all publications in the country, although outright private ownership or operation of any media outlet or publishing house was prohibited. Media independent of government authority operated on a limited basis online, primarily via blogs and social media, but independent journalists faced government harassment.
By law the government may fine journalists and newspapers from five to 10 million Vietnamese dong (VND) ($220 to $440) for failing to cite their sources of information or for using “documents and materials from organizations and personal letters and materials from individuals.”
The law allows the government to punish publishers if they publish “untruthful information” in the fields of statistics; atomic energy; management of prices, charges, fees, and invoices; education; civil aviation; vocational training; hydrometeorology; cartography; and health.
In November 2018 the CPV publicly denounced Chu Hao, who at that time was director and editor in chief of the Tri Thuc Publishing House, for “disobeying the Party’s regulations” and “self-evolution.” Hao, a former vice minister of science and technology and a prominent intellectual, had directed Tri Thuc to publish books with themes of freedom and democracy, such as John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, which the CPV viewed as contrary to the official party line. Hao left the CPV, and as a result also lost his position at Tri Thuc.
The law limits satellite television access to senior officials, foreigners, luxury hotels, and the press, but persons throughout the country continued to access foreign programming via home satellite equipment or cable.
The government permitted activities of journalist employed by foreign-based media outlets. The law requires “live” foreign television programming to run on a 30- to 60-minute delay to enable content monitoring. In fact, such programming ran on a 10-minute delay. Viewers reported obstruction of various commentaries, documentaries, and movies on human rights incidents in the country, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Soviet era, or reports involving trade tensions between the United States and Vietnam.
Major foreign media outlets reported the government delayed or refused to issue visas for reporters who previously covered sensitive political topics, particularly reporters for the overseas Vietnamese-language press. In May an international journalist was refused a visa request to report on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Hamburger Hill. This same reporter had previously written an article likely seen by the government as unfavorable.
The information ministry may revoke the licenses of foreign publishers; foreign publishers must renew their licenses annually.
The government also sought to impede criticism by monitoring meetings and communications of journalists.
Violence and Harassment: There continued to be a significant number of reports of security officials attacking, threatening, or arresting journalists because of their coverage of sensitive stories. Independent journalists faced restrictions on freedom of movement, various forms of harassment, and even physical attacks in the form of staged motorbike accidents if they reported on sensitive topics.
Foreign journalists required formal permission to travel outside Hanoi for reporting. When foreign journalists requested access to an area considered sensitive, such as the Northwest or Central Highlands, or report a story the government might consider sensitive, authorities often either intentionally delayed their response or denied permission to travel.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministry of Information and Communications and the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission frequently intervened directly with media to dictate or censor a story.
Propaganda officials forced editors of major media outlets to meet regularly to discuss what topics were off-limits for reporting. More often, pervasive self-censorship, including among independent journalists and bloggers, due to the threat of dismissal and possible arrest, enabled the party and government to control media content. The government punished journalists for failing to self-censor, including by revoking journalists’ press credentials.
In August, two protests against Beijing’s maritime survey seeking information on petroleum reserves in an offshore area in the country ‘s exclusive economic zone took place in front of the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi and a third protest near a site popular with Chinese tourists in Danang received no local media coverage.
National Security: The law stipulates administrative fines of 20 million to 30 million VND ($880 to $1,330) for journalists, newspapers, and online media that publish or broadcast information deemed harmful to national interests and up to 50 million dong ($2,200) for information considered to be distorting history and the revolution’s achievements. In some cases, these “violations” may lead to criminal proceedings.
Citing laws protecting national security, police arrested and ordered journalists to restrict criticism of government policies or officials.
The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, censored online content, and monitored private online communications without legal authority. The limited number of licensed internet service providers (ISPs) were fully or substantially state-controlled companies. The government monitored Facebook posts and punished those who used the internet to organize protests or publish content critical of the government. On September 22, in separate trials, the People’s Court of Cai Rang district, Can Tho City, convicted Facebook users Nguyen Hong Nguyen and Truong Dinh Khang of “abusing democratic freedoms,” and sentenced them to two years’ and one year’ imprisonment, respectively. According to NGO reporting, Nguyen reportedly used his Facebook account to read articles, watch videos, and view pictures with “antistate” content. Khang reportedly posted and shared articles on Facebook that reportedly “defamed the party, state, and Ho Chi Minh.”
The government sometimes blocked websites it deemed politically or culturally inappropriate, including sites operated by overseas Vietnamese political groups in addition to the websites of Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, and the BBC Vietnamese news service. State-owned internet service providers (ISPs) routinely blocked domestic Vietnamese-language websites that contained content criticizing the CPV or promoting political reform.
An administrative rule compels owners of all websites and social networking sites to cooperate with the Ministry of Information and Communications to prevent the spread of “bad, toxic news.” The government has used this tool to remove nearly 8,000 video clips from YouTube since 2017, according to the ministry.
Another rule requires all companies and organizations operating websites providing content on “politics, economics, culture, and society” or social networks, including blogging platforms, to register with the government. The government also requires such owners to submit detailed plans of their content and scope for approval. Such companies and organizations must locate at least one server in the country to facilitate government requests for information and must store posted information for 90 days and certain metadata for up to two years.
The government forbids direct access to the internet through foreign ISPs and requires ISPs to provide technical assistance and workspace to public security agents to allow them to monitor internet activities. The Ministry of Public Security has long required “internet agents,” including cyber cafes, to register the personal information of their customers, to store records of internet sites visited by customers, and to participate in government investigations of online activity. Internet cafes continued to install and use government-approved software to monitor customers’ online activities. The Ministry of Public Security enforced these and other requirements and monitored selectively.
The Law on Cybersecurity, scheduled for implementation in January, had not as of December gone into effect, as discussions continued on the implementing decree.
The government continued to pressure firms such as Facebook and Google to eliminate “fake accounts” and content deemed “toxic,” including antistate materials. On July 9, the Ministry of Information and Communications announced Google removed nearly 6,700 video clips, YouTube blocked six YouTube channels, and Facebook blocked nearly 1,000 links, 107 fake accounts, and 137 accounts that defamed the CPV and government.
Force 47, a special unit within the Ministry of National Defense, monitored the internet for misinformation and antistate propaganda.
Authorities also suppressed online political expression by direct action against bloggers, such as arrests, short-term detentions, surveillance, intimidation, and the illegal confiscation of computers and cell phones of activists and family members. The government continued to use national security and other vague provisions of the penal code against activists who peacefully expressed their political views online. Political dissidents and bloggers reported the Ministry of Public Security routinely ordered disconnection of their home internet service. In September 2018 the People’s Court of Tu Son town convicted citizen journalist Do Cong Duong of “disrupting public order” for filming a forced eviction, according to an NGO. He was sentenced to four years in prison. Duong was subsequently convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms” and sentenced in October to an additional five years in prison, reduced on appeal to four. On November 28, a brother and sister and another activist were sentenced to a combined 23 years in prison for posting articles on Facebook criticizing the government’s weak response to Chinese actions in the South China Sea, corruption, and environmental degradation.
Social network and blog users are required to provide their full name, national identification number, and address before creating an account. In-country website and social network operators must allow authorities to inspect local servers upon request and must have a mechanism to remove prohibited content within three hours of detection or notification by authorities.
Despite this restrictive environment, numerous groups and individuals criticized current and former local and national officials or members of government affiliates on social media, particularly Facebook. In response to reports from the Ministry of Information and Communications alleging that content violated certain laws, Facebook drastically increased the amount of content restricted in Vietnam. According to Facebook’s Transparency Report, from July to December 2018, it restricted access to 1,553 posts based on local law, compared to 265 content restrictions in the first half of 2018 and only 22 restrictions in the second half of 2017.
The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Foreign academic professionals temporarily working at universities in the country could discuss nonpolitical topics widely and freely in classes, but government observers regularly attended classes taught by both foreigners and nationals. The government continued to require international and domestic organizations to obtain advance approval for conferences involving international sponsorship or participation. The government allowed universities more autonomy over international exchanges and cooperation programs, but visa requirements for visiting scholars and students remained onerous.
The government continued to prohibit any public criticism of the CPV and state policy, including by independent scientific and technical organizations, even when the criticism was for a purely academic audience.
The government exerted influence over art exhibits, music, and other cultural activities by requiring numerous authorizations.
Many activists reported Ministry of Public Security officials threatened university leaders if they did not expel activists engaged in peaceful activities from their respective universities and pressured them and their family members not to attend certain workshops. Multiple activists also reported academic institutions refused to allow them or their children to graduate due to their advocacy of human rights.
The government restricted freedom of peaceful assembly. Laws and regulations require persons wishing to gather in a group to apply for a permit, which local authorities issued or denied without explanation. Only those arranging publicized gatherings to discuss sensitive matters appeared to require permits, however, and persons routinely gathered in informal groups without government interference. The government generally did not permit any demonstrations that could be perceived as political. The law permits security forces to detain individuals gathering or protesting outside of courthouses during trials.
The Ministry of Public Security and local police routinely prevented activists from peacefully assembling. There were numerous reports of police dispersing gatherings of environmental activists, anti-China activists, land rights advocates, human rights defenders, bloggers and independent journalists, and former political prisoners.
Police and plainclothes authorities routinely mistreated, harassed, and assaulted activists and those demonstrating against the government. On June 25, approximately 20 family members of prisoners and activists were beaten by individuals in plain clothes outside Prison No. 6 in Nghe An province while attempting to visit prisoners engaged in a 30-day hunger strike to protest maltreatment in the facility. Activists identified a number of Nghe An police officials and prisoners detained on drug offenses among the attackers. Some family members were severely beaten with wooden sticks and metal rods. The attackers also stole personal papers, money, and cell phones.
In February more than 1,500 H’mong residing in the northern provinces were physically prevented from attending traditional spring festivals. Two of the H’mong were reportedly physically assaulted by local authorities, who told festivalgoers they had been ordered to prevent them from reaching the festival location.
The constitution affords individuals the right of association, but the government severely restricted freedom of association. Seeking to suppress unwelcome political and religious activities, the country’s legal and regulatory framework includes mechanisms particularly aimed at restricting the freedom of NGOs, including religious organizations, to organize and act. The government generally prohibited the establishment of private, independent organizations, insisting that persons work within established, party-controlled mass organizations, usually under the aegis of the VFF.
Laws and regulations governing NGOs restrict their ability to engage in policy advocacy or conduct research outside of state-sanctioned topics and prohibit organizations focused on social science and technology from operating in fields such as economic policy, public policy, political issues, and a range of other areas considered sensitive. Authorities also did not permit them to distribute policy advocacy positions publicly.
The 2018 Law on Belief and Religion requires religious groups to register with authorities and to obtain official approval of their activities. Some unregistered religious groups reported an increase in government interference.
According to some recognized groups and others attempting to register, implementation of the law varied from province to province. Some registered organizations, including governance, women’s rights, and environment-focused NGOs, reported increased scrutiny of their activities.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government imposed some limits on the movement of individuals, especially those convicted under national security or related charges or outspoken critics of the government.
In-country Movement: Several political activists on probation or under house arrest, along with others not facing such legal restrictions, were officially restricted in their movements. Authorities continued to monitor and selectively restrict the movement of many prominent activists and religious leaders, including Nguyen Dan Que, Pham Chi Dung, Pham Ba Hai, Nguyen Hong Quang, Thich Khong Tanh, Le Cong Cau, and Duong Thi Tan. Several activists reported authorities had confiscated their national identification cards, preventing them from traveling domestically by air or conducting routine administrative matters.
Religious leaders are required to specify no more than two to three geographical areas where they will be preaching. They reported that preaching outside of the approved areas was illegal, although enforcement of the law was inconsistent.
Government restrictions required citizens and resident foreigners to obtain a permit to visit border areas, defense facilities, industrial zones involved in national defense, areas of “national strategic storage,” and “works of extreme importance for political, economic, cultural, and social purposes.”
Citizens must register with local police when staying overnight in any location outside of their own homes; the government appeared to enforce these requirements more strictly in some Central and Northern Highlands districts. Foreign passport holders also needed to register to stay in private homes, although there were no known cases of local authorities refusing to allow foreign visitors to stay with friends or family. There were multiple reports of police using the excuse of “checking on residency registration” to intimidate and harass activists and prevent them from traveling outside of their place of registration (see sections 1.d. and 1.f.).
Authorities did not strictly enforce residency laws for the general population, and migration from rural areas to cities continued unabated. Moving without permission, however, hampered persons from obtaining legal residence permits, public education, and health-care benefits.
Foreign Travel: Prospective emigrants occasionally encountered difficulties obtaining a passport or exit permission, and authorities regularly confiscated passports of activists, at times indefinitely. There were multiple reports of individuals crossing the land borders with Laos or Cambodia illegally because they were unable to obtain passports or exit permission; in some cases, this included persons wanted for crimes and political or other activism.
The Ministry of Public Security continued to use foreign travel prohibitions against certain activists and religious leaders, including seven Catholic priests. Authorities banned and prevented dozens of individuals from traveling overseas, withheld their passports on vague charges, or refused to issue passports to certain activists or religious leaders without clear explanation although activists believed that international travel authorization was denied to reduce those activists’ opportunities to speak out against the Vietnamese government. Authorities also refused to issue passports to the family members of certain activists.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.
According to 2018 UNHCR statistics, there were approximately 29,500 recognized stateless persons and persons of undetermined nationality living in the country. No updated statistics were available for the year. This was a substantial increase from the estimated 11,000 stateless persons acknowledged in 2016, due to increased government effort to identify such persons. The bulk of this population are ethnic H’mong living in border areas, but it also included a number of women who lost their citizenship after marrying a foreigner but then lost their foreign citizenship, primarily because of divorce. In the past the government naturalized stateless ethnic Vietnamese who had lived in Cambodia, but there was no information on naturalization efforts or options for those identified as stateless persons during the year.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
Moroccan law and practice apply. The Moroccan constitution and Moroccan law generally provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, although they criminalize and restrict some freedom of expression in the press and social media–specifically, criticism of Islam, of the institution of the monarchy, and of the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. Such criticism may result in prosecution under the law, with punishments ranging from fines to jail time, despite the freedom of expression the law stipulates. The law applies only to journalists accredited by the Ministry of Communication for speech or publications in the line of work; private speech by accredited journalists remains punishable under the law. Authorities were sensitive to any reporting not in line with the state’s official position on the status of Western Sahara, and they continued to expel, harass, or detain persons who wrote critically on the subject. According to the April UN secretary-general’s report on Western Sahara, the OHCHR continued to be concerned by reports alleging excessive surveillance of human rights defenders and journalists in Western Sahara. The October UN secretary-general’s report on Western Sahara also added that the OHCHR continued to receive reports of harassment and arbitrary arrests of journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders covering human rights violations. Amnesty International stated Sahrawi human rights activists remained subject to intimidation, questioning, arrest, and intense surveillance that occasionally amounted to harassment.
Freedom of Expression: Moroccan law criminalizes criticism of Islam, of the legitimacy of the monarchy, of state institutions, of officials such as those in the military, and of the Moroccan government’s position regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. Sahrawi media outlets and bloggers with opposing views to those of the government often practiced self-censorship on these topics.
Amnesty International and other NGOs reported that on April 11, Moroccan Security Forces arrested Saharawi activist Ali al-Saadouni after he posted a video of himself displaying POLISARIO flags during a demonstration the previous day in Laayoune. On April 29, a Laayoune Court of First Instance sentenced Saadouni to seven months in prison and a fine of 5,000 MAD ($500) for assault and drug charges. AdalaUK NGO reported the public prosecutor did not present evidence to substantiate the charges. On June 13, the Laayoune Court of Appeals reduced the prison sentence to five months.
For more information, see the Department of State’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Morocco.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Moroccan government practices concerning press and media freedom, violence and harassment, libel or slander, and national security topics were the same as those in internationally recognized Morocco.
On February 16, Ana Cortes, a journalist working for a Spanish news outlet, was expelled from Western Sahara to Agadir after police interrupted her meeting with members of the al-Kassam Association of Laayoune, according to Reporters without Borders (RSF).
Nazha Khalidi, a citizen journalist affiliated with Equipe Media, a Sahrawi online news agency not registered with the government of Morocco, was arrested in December 2018 as she attempted to livestream on Facebook security forces dispersing a demonstration in Laayoune. Police confiscated the cellphone Khalidi used to record the footage. Human Rights Watch denounced the charges filed against Khalidi for falsifying professional credentials by engaging in journalistic activities without state-issued accreditation as a journalist. On May 19, Moroccan authorities denied entry into the territory for five Spanish lawyers and two Norwegian human rights activists attempting to observe the Court of First Instance hearing initially scheduled for May 20. On July 8, the Laayoune Court of First Instance convicted Khalidi of falsifying professional credentials as a journalist and fined her 4,000 MAD ($400).
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Moroccan law and practice apply. Self-censorship and government restrictions remained serious hurdles to the development of a free, independent, and investigative press. Publications and broadcast media require government accreditation, and the government may deny and revoke accreditation as well as suspend or confiscate publications. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Morocco.
The government of Morocco enforced strict procedures governing journalists’ meetings with NGO representatives and political activists. Foreign journalists needed, but did not always receive, approval from the Ministry of Communication before meeting with political activists.
Local and international media, including satellite television and POLISARIO-controlled television and radio from the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria, were available in the territory.
For more information on these subheadings, see the Department of State’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Morocco.
Moroccan law and practice apply. According to a June RSF report, Sahrawi citizen journalists’ and bloggers’ social media accounts were frequently hacked. In the same report, Equipe Media cited constant cyber-attacks against its Facebook page. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Morocco.
Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Morocco.
Moroccan law applies. As in internationally recognized Morocco, the Moroccan government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
Moroccan law provides for the right of peaceful assembly. The government generally permitted authorized and unauthorized peaceful demonstrations to occur. According to Moroccan law, groups of more than three persons require authorization from the Ministry of Interior to protest publicly. As in internationally recognized Morocco, some NGOs complained that the government used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. Security forces intervened on occasion to disband both authorized and unauthorized protests when officials deemed the demonstration a threat to public security. On April 26, Amnesty International reported continued arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, particularly of individuals supporting self-determination for Western Sahara.
Several proindependence organizations and some human rights NGOs stated that in recent years the submission of applications for permits to hold demonstrations declined because police rarely granted them. In most cases the organizers proceeded with planned demonstrations in the absence of authorization, and there was no discernable difference in security forces’ reaction to authorized or unauthorized protests. Violent confrontations between security forces and protesters were less common than in previous years, according to several local NGOs, although violent dispersals occurred on occasion. Security force practices were similar to those in internationally recognized Morocco; however, in Western Sahara there was often a higher ratio of members of security forces to protesters.
The CNDH’s Laayoune and Dakhla regional commissions monitored 40 demonstrations from January to July. Security forces dispersed several demonstrations by force, with clashes resulting in injuries on both sides.
Amnesty International published video footage and witness testimonies indicating that, on July 19, security forces used excessive force to disperse demonstrators after some participants at a street gathering in Laayoune–celebrating an Algerian soccer victory–began waving the Saharan flag. During the clash two Moroccan Auxiliary Forces vehicles ran over Sabah Othman Ahmida, an English teacher, who died at a local hospital. On July 29, the Court of First Instance initiated legal proceedings against 11 Sahrawis who were arrested and charged with sabotage, obstruction of a public road, and insulting public authorities. The CNDH visited the detainees at the local prison in Laayoune. At the third and final hearing on September 4, the court sentenced five defendants to two and one-half years in prison, five other defendants to five years in prison, and another defendant to a one-year suspended sentence. Each of the 11 individuals was also fined 30,000 MAD ($3,000) in damages. The specific charges for which each individual was convicted were unknown. The defendants appealed the sentences, and the date of the Appeals Court trial was unknown at year’s end.
Moroccan law and practice apply. Generally, the government denied official recognition to NGOs that it considered advocates against Islam’s status as the state religion, the legitimacy of the monarchy, or Morocco’s territorial integrity. Amnesty International reported that Moroccan authorities routinely rejected the registration applications of Sahrawi human rights groups. Organizations engaged in other activities did not report problems in registering with the government. The CNDH’s Laayoune branch reported one complaint from an organization that was denied registration during the year.
The government tolerated activities of several unregistered organizations.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
Moroccan law and practice apply. Moroccan law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. NGOs and activists alleged that Moroccan authorities sometimes restricted access to Western Sahara for foreign visitors, including journalists and human rights defenders (see section 2.a. and section 5). The government of Morocco claimed it only restricted access when such visits challenged Morocco’s territorial integrity or were perceived to be a threat to internal security and stability. According to the government, authorities granted access to 91,575 foreigners traveling to Western Sahara through Laayoune and Dakhla airports from January to October.
The government continued to make travel documents available to Sahrawis. There were some reported cases of authorities preventing Sahrawis from traveling. The government of Morocco encouraged the return of Sahrawi refugees from abroad if they acknowledged the government’s authority over Western Sahara. Those refugees wishing to return must obtain the appropriate travel or identity documents at a Moroccan consulate abroad, often in Mauritania.
On January 15, Moroccan authorities denied entry to Spanish lawyer Louise Magrane upon her arrival to the airport in Laayoune. Magrane intended to observe Dehani’s Court of Appeals hearing initially scheduled for January 16 (see section 1.d.).
On May 19, Moroccan authorities denied five Spanish lawyers and two Norwegian human rights activists entry into Laayoune for attempting to observe a court of first instance hearing for Nezha Khalidi (see section 2.a.).
Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Morocco.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press “within the limits of the law,” the Press and Publications Law calls for journalists to uphold national unity and prohibits criticism of the head of state. The Houthis did not respect the rights as provided in the constitution, and the government was unable to enforce them.
Freedom of Expression: All parties to the conflict severely restricted the right to freedom of expression, and female human rights defenders, journalists, and activists faced specific repression on the basis of gender. Local human rights defenders faced harassment, threats, and smear campaigns from the government, Saudi-led coalition, and Houthi forces. In multiple instances Houthis went to the homes of activists, journalists, and political leaders opposed to the Houthis and used the threat of arrest and other means to intimidate perceived opponents and to silence dissent.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Prior to the outbreak of conflict, the transitional government approved legislation to regulate broadcasting and television channels. A number of domestic private stations operated under media production company permits, and several stations broadcast from abroad for domestic audiences.
Violence and Harassment: The government was unable to take any substantive steps to protect journalists from violence and harassment. Progovernment popular resistance forces, Houthis, and tribal militias were responsible for a range of abuses against media outlets.
In May, Amnesty International reported the Houthis had detained 10 journalists since 2015 on false charges, and subjected the journalists to torture and other forms of abuse.
In August the CPJ documented that military authorities detained three journalists, Munir Talal, Mahfouz al-Baaithi, and Yahya al-Baaithi, at a hotel in the city of Taiz, accusing them of belonging to a militia. Authorities released them after making them pledge not to write or publish anything on their detention.
Progovernment forces, including Security Belt and Hadrami forces, harassed media and monitors by raiding civil society organizations, and detaining journalists and demonstrators for publicizing complaints about detention practices and military operations. The CPJ reported in 2018 an armed raid in March of that year on the offices of al-Shomou Foundation, believed to be pro-ROYG. The men set fire to the presses used to print the weekly al-Shomou and daily Akhbar al-Youm newspapers. The president of al-Shomou Foundation told the CPJ the attackers arrived in vehicles and wore uniforms consistent with the Security Belt forces that operate in and around Aden. Three weeks later, Security Belt forces abducted seven Akhbar al-Youm staff from the same location and released them after one month.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Houthis controlled several state ministries responsible for press and communications, including the Ministry of Telecommunications. In that capacity they selected items for formerly government-run broadcast and print media and did not allow reports critical of themselves. The Ministry of Telecommunications and internet service providers reportedly blocked websites and domains authorities deemed critical of the Houthi agenda. OHCHR reported Houthi forces censored television channels and banned newspapers from publication.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes criticism of the “person of the head of state;” the publication of “false information” that may spread “dissent and division among the people;” materials that may lead to “the spread of ideas contrary to the principles of the Yemeni revolution;” and “false stories intended to damage Arab and friendly countries or their relations.” There was no information during the year whether the ROYG or the Houthis used these laws to restrict public discussion or retaliate against journalists or political opponents.
Nongovernmental Impact: International media and human rights organizations said their personnel were unable to obtain coalition permission to use UN flights into and out of Sana’a since 2017. Independent observers must take commercial flights to government-controlled areas in the south and then travel by land across dangerous front lines to other areas. See section 1.g. for reports of abductions of journalists by unidentified armed men.
Censorship affected internet freedom, and there were notable cases of Houthi intrusion into cyberspace. The Houthi-controlled Public Telecommunications Corporation systematically blocked user access to websites and internet domains it deemed dangerous to the rebel actors’ political agenda.
The NSB maintained permanent offices on campuses, reflecting continued government concern about security and, in some cases, controversial speech. Party-affiliated officials at the Ministry of Higher Education and academic institutions reviewed prospective university professors and administrators for political acceptability before hiring them and commonly showed favoritism toward supporters of specific political parties. There were no reported instances of censored curriculums or sanctioned professors or students; however, after their takeover, Houthi and other actors’ incursions onto campuses and detentions of academics appeared designed to intimidate them as perceived opponents.
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but these rights were not respected in the majority of the country, i.e., areas which the government did not control.
The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly. The Houthis and their affiliates responded to demonstrations and protests in various parts of the country with excessive force.
While the law provides for freedom of association, there were reports Houthis harassed and shut down NGOs. Houthi authorities closed numerous NGOs during the year without proper due process, citing treason or conspiring with foreign powers. Houthi authorities created a new body known as the “Executive Office for Monitoring Operations of International Organizations” that oversees the work of NGOs, reportedly polices NGO activity, and has arbitrary detained activists and shut down NGOs in Houthi-controlled areas.
The law regulates associations and foundations and outlines the establishment and activities of NGOs. Authorities required annual registration. The law exempts registered NGOs from taxes and tariffs and requires the government to provide a reason for denying an NGO registration, such as deeming an NGO’s activities “detrimental” to the state. It forbids NGO involvement in political or religious activities. It permits foreign funding of NGOs. The law requires government observation of NGO internal elections. There were no known attempts by NGOs to register during the year.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.
In-country Movement: Rebel forces, resistance forces, security forces, and tribes maintained checkpoints on major roads. In many regions, especially in areas outside effective central security control, armed tribesmen frequently restricted freedom of movement, operating their own checkpoints, sometimes with military or other security officials, and often subjected travelers to physical harassment, extortion, theft, or short-term kidnappings for ransom. Damage to roads, bridges, and other infrastructure from the conflict also hindered the delivery of humanitarian aid and commercial shipments (see section 1.g.).
Women in general did not enjoy full freedom of movement, although restrictions varied by location (see section 6, Women). Some observers reported increased restrictions on women in conservative locations, such as Safadi. Oxfam reported that in areas controlled by radical Islamic groups such as AQAP, men at checkpoints increasingly insisted on adherence to the “mahram” system, the cultural obligation of women to be accompanied by male relatives in public.
Local observers reported Yemenis from Houthi-controlled areas faced increasing discrimination and difficulties when traveling in the southern portion of the country.
Foreign Travel: The Houthi takeover of Sana’a in 2014 and the government relocation to Aden in 2015 left no official government authority in control of Sana’a airport customs or immigration functions. In 2016 the coalition closed Sana’a International Airport to commercial traffic, permitting only UN humanitarian flights, thereby preventing thousands of local citizens from traveling abroad. Those who needed to leave the country attempt alternative routes that require long journeys across active front lines at high risk and cost.
In the past women needed the permission of a male guardian, such as a husband, before applying for a passport or leaving the country. A husband or male relative could bar a woman from leaving the country by placing a woman’s name on a “no-fly list” maintained at airports. Prior to the conflict, authorities strictly enforced this requirement when women traveled with children, but there were no reports of government authorities enforcing this requirement during the year. There were attempts, however, by the Houthis to impose similar restrictions on women’s international travel. Given the deterioration of infrastructure and lack of security due to the conflict, many women reportedly declined to travel alone (see section 6, Women).
Prior to 2014 the transitional government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees (see section 2.f.), returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
The Houthi takeover, coalition airstrikes, and active fighting made it difficult for humanitarian organizations to reach many areas of the country due to security concerns (see section 1.g. Other Conflict-related Abuse).
According to UNHCR’s November 8 operational update, there were approximately 3.6 million IDPs, of whom 80 percent were displaced for more than one year, and more than 63,080 were displaced since the beginning of the year. There were approximately 1.28 million IDP returnees. The government’s IDP registration system has been inactive since the escalation of the conflict in 2015.
Humanitarian organizations’ access to IDPs and other vulnerable populations was generally limited and unpredictable due to the continuing conflict; however, many humanitarian organizations maintained a presence in multiple locations throughout the country. According to the United Nations, humanitarian organizations, local NGOs, and charities that still functioned in the capital supported IDPs and other conflict-affected Yemenis in Sana’a and other parts of the country with food, shelter, and nonfood items, among other support. IDPs from Saada reported limited access to cash for purchasing basic household items.
The IOM reported IDPs largely sought refuge with relatives or friends or rented accommodations where many faced frequent threats of eviction due to late payments of rent. Others were housed in unconventional shelters in public or private buildings, such as schools, health facilities, or religious buildings, primarily in Taiz and Lahj. NGOs reported shelter continues to be a primary concern for IDPs. The shifting nature of the conflict displaced many IDPs multiple times as front lines of the conflict change, requiring individuals to seek new shelter with every subsequent displacement. In the first six months of the year, UNHCR and its partners distributed a total of 39,754 basic household items and nonfood-item kits, 10,156 emergency shelter kits, and 513 transitional shelter kits.
OHCHR reported SBF committed rape and other forms of serious sexual violence targeting IDPs (see section 1.c.). The OHCHR condemned retaliatory attacks against and deportations of northerners by the STC in Aden and other southern governorates following the takeover by UAE-funded Security Belt Forces in August.
UNHCR’s Head of Sub Office Aden acknowledged the efforts and hospitality of the government and its people, who have continued to host some 275,000 refugees and asylum-seekers despite the conflict. UNHCR reported more than 97,000 new arrivals of migrants and refugees to the country in the first eight months of the year, marking a 48 percent increase over the previous year, with expectations up to 160,000 could arrive by the end of the year. The IOM estimated 20,000 migrants, a majority of whom were fleeing conflict in the Horn of Africa, traveled by boat to Yemen each month.
The country received refugees from a variety of countries during the conflict. Many refugees became increasingly vulnerable due to the worsening security and economic situation in the country. Somali, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and other refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants shared in the general poverty and insecurity of the country.
According to UNHCR’s November Operational Update, there were approximately 276,800 refugees and asylum seekers in the country, mostly from Somalia and Ethiopia. Many were attempting to reach or return to Saudi Arabia for work and had entered the country based on false information from smugglers that the conflict in the country was over, according to UNHCR and the IOM. Due to the fighting, many took refuge at the Kharaz camp and towns in the south. The ROYG could not provide physical protection to refugees; many were held in detention centers operated by Houthis in the north and the government in the south. UNHCR claimed there were reports of refugees and migrants facing physical and sexual abuse as well as torture and forced labor, in both Houthi and ROYG-controlled facilities, and that many refugees and migrants were susceptible to trafficking.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: OHCHR reported SBF committed rape and other forms of serious sexual violence targeting foreign migrants and other vulnerable groups (see sections 1.c. and 1.g.).
Multiple NGOs and the media continued to report that criminal smuggling groups built a large number of “camps” near the Yemen-Saudi border city of Haradh and in other parts of the country, where militants held migrants for extortion and ransom.
In August, HRW reported migrants from the Horn of Africa were met and captured by traffickers upon arrival of the former in the country. The report stated five migrants who were interviewed said the traffickers physically assaulted them to extort payments from family members or contacts in Ethiopia or Somalia. While camps where migrants were held were run by Yemenis, Ethiopians often reportedly carried out the abuse. In many cases, relatives said they sold assets such as homes or land to obtain the ransom money. After paying the traffickers or escaping, many migrants claimed to have made their way north to the Saudi-Yemen border, crossing in rural, mountainous areas. The Associated Press reported in October hundreds of migrants were held in deplorable conditions and experienced rape, torture, and other abuse at the hands of smugglers.
Refoulement: Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Somali detainees in the Bureiqa migrant detention center near Aden alleged they were not allowed to claim refugee status and that hundreds of fellow detainees were sent back out to sea in overloaded boats. HRW reported in 2018 these deportations resulted in the deaths of dozens of asylum seekers. Information was not available for deportations during the year.
Access to Asylum: No law addresses the granting of refugee status or asylum, and there was no system for providing protection to asylum seekers. In past years, the government provided automatic refugee status to Somalis who entered the country. The Houthis attempted to take over the refugee status determinations process in areas under their control, leading many refugees to have lapsed documentation. UNHCR was generally able to access populations to provide assistance and was working with the Houthis to come to a resolution on registration of refugees. UNHCR continued to conduct refugee status determination in southern territory under government control, in coordination with the government.
In 2018 numerous first-hand accounts corroborated that asylum seekers who registered with UNHCR as refugees had their documentation confiscated upon arrival to Buraika, according to HRW.
Freedom of Movement: Freedom of movement remained difficult for all in the country, including refugees, given the damage to roads, bridges, and other basic infrastructure caused by the conflict. Most of the country’s airports incurred significant damage or were closed to commercial traffic, making travel difficult for all, including refugees. In areas controlled by Houthis unofficial checkpoints blocked or delayed the movement of individuals or goods.
The IOM reported both the ROYG and Houthis detained migrants due to concerns they could be recruited by the other party. UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations continued to face challenges accessing detention centers to monitor detained refugees and asylum seekers.
While the government generally deported migrants back to their country of origin, the Houthis frequently detained migrants for indefinite periods. In April, ROYG authorities began detaining large groups of migrants in Abyan, Aden, and Lahj governorates. At the peak of the campaign, approximately 5,000 migrants, including children and women, were held across three sites unfit to accommodate people, such as conflict-damaged sports stadiums. In coordination with partners, the IOM immediately began an emergency response for those detained, providing food, water supply, latrines, and health care. The IOM began assisting migrants detained in the 22nd of May Stadium to return to Ethiopia under its voluntary returns program, prioritizing women, children, and persons with specific vulnerabilities. Through 22 flights, the IOM returned home 2,742 stranded migrants. As of September the IOM had assisted with more than 3,784 refugee and migrant returns to the Horn of Africa.
During the year Houthi armed groups also continued arbitrarily to detain migrants in poor conditions and failed to provide access to asylum and protection procedures in a facility near the western port of Hudaydah. HRW reported overcrowding, lack of access to medical care, and physical abuse, with detainees showing signs of sores and festering wounds.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees lacked access to basic services due to the ongoing conflict. The United Nations estimated only approximately half of the country’s public-health facilities remained functional during the year. Many were closed due to damage caused by the conflict, some were destroyed, and all facilities faced shortages in supplies, including medications and fuel to run generators.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, it has provisions that permit restrictions of these fundamental rights and freedoms in certain circumstances. In particular, Article 22(3) allows the restriction of freedom of expression in the interests of national defense, public safety, public order, and public health, or for the purpose of protecting the reputations, rights, and freedoms of others and maintaining the authority and independence of the courts. Based on these provisions, the government can restrict these freedoms using subsidiary laws such as the penal code, Public Order Act, Preservation of Public Security Act, and Emergency Powers Act.
Freedom of Expression: The government remained sensitive to criticism in general, particularly by the political opposition and civil society, and restricted the ability of individuals to criticize it freely or discuss matters of general public interest. In December 2018 the Supreme Court convicted and sentenced New Vision newspaper editor Derrick Sinjela to 18 months’ imprisonment for contempt of court for his public criticism of senior judges’ handling of the Savenda v. Stanbic case. President Lungu pardoned Sinjela in November. Gregory Chifire, director of the Southern Africa Network against Corruption, whom the court had convicted and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in November 2018 for similar charges, remained in exile at year’s end.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, but not without some restrictions. The government published two of the country’s four most widely circulated newspapers. One of the two privately owned newspapers opposed the ruling PF party, while the other supported the party and the government. Opposition political parties and civil society organizations contended government-run media failed to report objectively. Although state media covered government-sponsored and nongovernmental events, coverage was not fair; state media did not educate and inform citizens in an objective, balanced, and clear way, civil society organizations reported.
In addition to a multichannel government-controlled radio station that broadcasts nationwide, 73 private and community radio stations broadcast locally. Some radio stations experienced political pressure. Although some local private stations broadcast call-in and other talk programs on which diverse and critical viewpoints were expressed freely, media bodies claimed journalists who appeared on such programs received threats from senior government officials and politicians if seen as too critical. Independent, private media outlets also often received threats from the government for providing airtime to the opposition. For example, on April 30, a group of PF supporters, locally known as “cadres,” attacked opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) leader Chishimba Kambwili in Kabwe during a live radio broadcast on Power FM radio station, disrupting the program and damaging property as they forcibly entered the station.
According to media watchdog organizations, independent media did not operate freely due to restrictions imposed by government authorities. Police reportedly did not sufficiently investigate journalists’ assault cases, and some media houses were threatened with closure for unfavorable or insufficient coverage of the president. On several occasions, police used force to interrupt broadcasts.
Violence and Harassment: While the government broadly tolerated negative articles in newspapers and magazines, there were numerous reports of government, ruling party, and some opposition officials and supporters physically and verbally attacking or threatening journalists. For example, on May 1, a group of PF “cadres” forcibly entered Radio Maria, a Roman Catholic-run station in Chipata, Eastern Province. They harassed journalists and threatened to burn down the station for featuring a rival candidate for provincial leadership. President Lungu condemned the attack and ordered police to arrest perpetrators; authorities later arrested two PF members. Involved parties later resolved the matter outside of court, and authorities released the arrested individuals.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government remained sensitive to media criticism and indirectly censored publications or penalized publishers. Numerous media watchdog organizations reported that harassment and arrest of journalists, threats by the government to introduce punitive legislation against media personnel, restriction of their access to public places, and undue influence, among other restrictions, compromised media freedom and resulted in self-censorship. For example, on March 4, the government Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) suspended private media Prime TV’s broadcasting license for almost a month, for alleging the station had failed to comply with IBA regulations. The IBA investigated the station after ruling PF Party Secretary General Davies Mwila accused Prime TV of “biased coverage and unethical reporting” and insufficient coverage of ruling party events during a parliamentary by-election. The IBA concluded that Prime TV, which at times showed programing critical of the government, had “exhibited unprofessional elements in its broadcasting through unbalanced coverage, opinionated news, material likely to incite violence, and use of derogatory language.” The IBA recommended that Prime TV should conduct in-house journalism ethics training and news writing for its journalists during the period of suspension.
Libel/Slander Laws: The government and individual public figures used laws against libel, slander, or defamation against critics to restrict public discussion or retaliate against political opponents. The government also often used sedition laws against those critical of the government. For example, on March 23, police arrested and charged opposition Patriots for Economic Progress leader Sean Tembo with defamation of the president after Tembo alleged on social media that President Lungu was possibly suffering from a mental illness that led him to make “irrational national decisions,” such as purchasing a new presidential jet. The charges remained pending at year’s end.
Although government generally did not restrict access, and individuals and groups could freely express their views via the internet, the government threatened individuals using online fora with arrest and online media with closure. On August 14, the Wall Street Journal alleged that a government cybercrime “crack” squad intercepted encrypted communications and used mobile phone data to track some opposition bloggers who had repeatedly criticized President Lungu. Senior ruling party officials dismissed the allegation as “fake news.”
Government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events continued. For example, on August 13, police blocked PF presidential contender Kelvin Bwalya Fube from addressing students at “an entrepreneurship and academic motivational talk” organized by the Student Impact and UNZA Sociology Association.
Although there were no reports of censorship of academic teaching, writing, or research, university staff working in management had little autonomy to manage their institutions without government interference. In a letter dated September 4, the UNZA Lecturers and Researchers Union advised Higher Education Minister Brian Mushimba against interfering in the affairs of public universities and urged him to leave the running of the institutions to university managements and councils.
There were restrictions on artistic presentations or other cultural activities, including music lyrics and theatrical performances. For example, authorities banned the music of hip-hop artist Fumba Chama, professionally known as “Pilato,” on the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation and other state media. Private radio stations continued to play his music, except for two of his songs that criticized the president.
The government at times restricted peaceful assembly, while generally respecting freedom of association.
The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the government at times restricted this right, and police and progovernment groups disrupted meetings, rallies, and other activities of opposition political parties and civil society organizations. While authorities allowed protests and rallies, police at times delayed authorization or forced organizers to hold events at less favorable locations and times, especially for opposition party events or events seen as critical of the government. On November 3, police rescinded authorization for a Democratic Party rally in Samfya after initially granting it. Police later used tear gas to disperse a crowd that had gathered despite the revocation.
The Public Order Act requires political parties and other groups to notify police in advance of any rallies but does not require a formal approval or permit. In 1995 the Supreme Court declared provisions in the act that previously gave police the power to regulate assemblies, public meetings, or processions unconstitutional. Police, however, continued to disregard this landmark ruling and stopped opposition and civil society groups from holding public gatherings. For example, on August 6, police arrested and charged 27 UPND members in Kitwe for unlawful assembly. According to the newspaper Zambia Daily Mail, the members had gathered for a political meeting without notifying police as required by law. UPND officials claimed the meeting took place in a private residence; authorities released all the arrestees after they paid an “admission of guilt” fine. On September 24, police blocked opposition UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema’s visit to the town of Kafue, where he intended to visit local residents experiencing food insecurity, despite Hichilema having notified authorities under the Public Order Act.
The constitution provides for freedom of association. While the government generally respected the right to freedom of association, it placed some limits on this right through various mechanisms. For example, although it generally went unenforced, the NGO Act requires all organizations to apply for registration from the registrar of societies. The registration process is stringent, long, and gives the registrar considerable discretion. The law also places restrictions on funding from foreign sources. For this reason, donors, including some UN agencies, required all organizations to register under the NGO Act before receiving funding. According to the Southern African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, uncertainties surrounding the implementation of the NGO Act and NGO policy affected the operations of civil society organizations.
Despite these restrictions, the government liberally allowed civil society organizations to hold meetings in which they criticized it.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: The government intermittently restricted freedom of internal movement for internally displaced persons, refugees, and stateless persons. Although police generally used roadblocks to control criminal activity, enforce customs and immigration controls, check drivers’ documents, and inspect vehicles for safety compliance, there were reports police used such interventions to limit participation in political gatherings, especially during parliamentary and local government by-elections.
There were not large numbers of internally displaced persons. The government promoted the safe resettlement of the few groups displaced for construction or other government-sanctioned activities.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in October, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) remained the greatest protection risk in refugee locations, both urban and camp settings. Authorities provided some physical protection, including by the provision of temporary police posts, but efforts were insufficient. UNHCR supported government efforts with counselling services, access to medical facilities, and access to justice for survivors of SGBV. The most commonly reported forms of SGBV included sex in exchange for basic needs, rape, sexual harassment, and underage marriage. Gender inequality, lack of livelihood opportunities, substance abuse, and impunity of perpetrators were among the key structural causes.
The government cooperated with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR, although the law provides for the granting of asylum, it also gives the minister of home affairs wide discretion to deport refugees without appeal or to deny asylum to applicants holding asylum from other countries or those coming from stable democratic states. The government was responsible for conducting refugee status determinations.
Freedom of Movement: Zambia has made a number of reservations to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, including the freedom of movement. For example, the established encampment policy requires recognized refugees to reside in one of three designated refugee settlements. Only refugees who have received a permit for work, study, health, or protection reasons can legally stay in urban areas. Refugees in the settlements can obtain passes to leave the settlements for up to 60 days, but police officers’ unfamiliarity with different permits and passes put them at risk of administrative detention.
Employment: The law requires refugees to obtain work permits before they can engage in employment, including self-employment activities. Issuance of employment permits is subject to normal immigration procedures, including the application of a government policy that requires the immigration department to ascertain that there is no Zambian citizen who can perform the job.
Access to Basic Services: The government provided basic social services, including education, housing, and health care to refugees without discrimination. The government provided primary and secondary education in refugee settlements, and secondary school for refugees living in urban areas, but required a study permit and the payment of school fees.
Durable Solutions: The government promoted safe, voluntary return, resettlement, and local integration of refugees and stateless persons. According to the government’s Office of the Commissioner for Refugees, 210,000 refugees–mainly from Angola, Mozambique, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)–over time voluntarily returned to their countries of origin as conflicts there waned. The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees reported that of 20,000 Angolan and 4,000 Rwandan refugees accepted for naturalization, the government issued residence permits to more than 3,000 and offered them land in a local resettlement and integration program. Delayed passport issuance for both Angolans and Rwandans by their respective nations’ diplomatic and consular representatives kept several thousand in legal limbo.
In a joint effort by the government, UNHCR, and international and local NGOs, settlement areas in Mantapala, Mayukwayukwa, and Meheba provided refugees from the DRC an opportunity to settle permanently in Zambia. Refugees were provided land for agricultural use as well as space for housing near social services. The areas also include already established villages as a way to promote local integration of refugees.
Temporary Protection: The government provided protection to 4,179 individuals who may not qualify as refugees from January 1 to September 30, and the recognition rate of asylum claims was high. Those rejected could appeal via the Ministry of Home Affairs. The government continued to provide temporary protection to stateless persons.
According to UNHCR, the country has no provision for maintaining statistical information regarding stateless persons. The Ministry of Home Affairs reported a relatively small number of undocumented habitual residents–mainly hunters and gatherers– were integrated into local rural communities following the destruction of their natural habitat due to development activities. The government was in the process of issuing them national identity documents. The Department of Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit, under the Office of the Vice President, assists stateless persons.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedoms of expression and of the media, but the law limits these freedoms in the “interest of defense, public security or professional confidentiality, to the extent that the restriction is fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality and freedom.” The government continued to arrest, detain, and harass critics, and journalists practiced self-censorship.
Freedom of Expression: There were no official restrictions on individuals criticizing the government or discussing matters of general public interest. Authorities, however, remained sensitive to criticism in general, particularly when directed at President Mnangagwa. Persons accused of insulting the president and his office are charged under section 33 (2) (b) of the criminal law (Codification and Reform Act), undermining authority of or insulting a president, but this was contested in the Supreme Court on the basis that the section infringed on the right to freedom of expression. The court did not make a final determination on its constitutionality, however, and the law remained in force. On August 28, the ZLHR reported assisting 10 individuals charged under the law since January. Additionally, 22 activists or government critics were charged with violating other sections of the same law for attempting to subvert a constitutionally elected government or criminal nuisance.
In February, Tendai Biti, former finance minister and senior official of the MDC, the largest opposition party, was convicted and fined 200 RTGS ($15) for unlawfully announcing that MDC leader Nelson Chamisa had won the 2018 presidential election over ZANU-PF candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa. According to the decision, Biti’s announcement was “false and unlawful.”
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent newspapers and commercial radio stations were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although with some restrictions. State-sponsored media, however, were the most prevalent. The Ministry of Media, Information, Publicity, and Broadcasting Services exercised control over state-run media.
Independent newspapers continued to operate freely, although journalists reported practicing self-censorship.
On April 4, police intentionally shot three teargas canisters into the offices of a local media organization, @263Chat, in Harare and then barricaded the doors, preventing staff from exiting. Lovejoy Mutongwiza, a reporter with @263Chat, had been filming the police arresting vendors. Police officers chased him to the media outlet’s offices and then fired a teargas canister directly at Mutongwiza, striking him in the abdomen. Two other canisters were thrown into the offices while police officers barricaded the doors. The @263Chat staff fled the offices through second floor windows. Police also confiscated a mobile phone used to record the attack.
On March 21, police arrested documentary filmmaker Zenzele Ndebele and charged him with “possession of offensive weapons at public gatherings.” Security officers claimed they found an empty tear gas canister in the journalist’s car when he arrived for a meeting between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and civil society organizations in Bulawayo.
The government used accreditation laws to monitor international media journalists’ entry into the country. The government required foreign journalists to obtain permits 60 days before travelling to the country in order to report from the country.
Foreign reporters paid more for permits and accreditation than did their local counterparts. The Zimbabwe Media Commission charged 200 RTGS ($15) for a foreigner’s 60-day accreditation, while local journalists paid 10 RTGS dollars ($0.63) for a one-year accreditation.
On January 29, state media criticized foreign media after President Mnangagwa stated he was “appalled” by an attack by the British station Sky News broadcast of Zimbabwe security officials attacking a protester. The Herald newspaper reported authorities were worried about “surreptitious reporting by Sky News and company.” It alleged a Western embassy was working with local media to besmirch the country and accused the television station of “manufacturing” stories about police brutality. It quoted Information Ministry Permanent Secretary Nick Mangwana as stating the journalist who reported the story did not have accreditation to work in the country.
International media outlets such as al-Jazeera and the BBC continued to operate in the country.
Radio remained the principal medium of public communication, particularly for the rural majority. All urban commercial radio stations licensed in 2015 were operating during the year. Despite their perceived allegiance to ZANU-PF, these stations included independent voices in their programming. The government did not license any community radio stations during the year.
The government-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC)–the country’s only domestically based television broadcasting station–operated one channel. International satellite television broadcasts were available through private firms but were too expensive for most citizens.
On July 23, High Court Judge Justice Joseph Mafusire ruled the state-controlled ZBC and Zimbabwe Newspapers Group (also known as Zimpapers) had, during the 2018 election campaign, “conducted themselves in material breach of section 61 of the constitution,” which governs freedom of expression and freedom of the media. The judge ordered the two organizations to produce impartial and independent broadcasts and ensure communications did not favor any political party or candidate over another.
Violence and Harassment: Security forces, officials, and supporters from the majority political party routinely harassed journalists.
On January 17, police arrested and detained Gift Phiri, an editor with the Daily News newspaper, for reporting that members of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) assaulted delivery drivers as they left Harare to distribute the newspaper. The ZNA accused them of writing negative stories about the government. The incident occurred after the government crackdown on the public, following protests in Harare and Bulawayo the same week.
On August 16, police assaulted local journalist Talkmore Fani Mapfumo for filming police officers dispersing protesters in Harare. Video footage showed officers in full antiriot gear charging toward Mapfumo and demanding that he stop filming. The journalist produced his accreditation card, but the officers took turns assaulting him with batons.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government maintained censorship through media registration and accreditation laws, although many provisions of the law are inconsistent with the constitution. The law provides the government with extensive powers to control media and suppress free speech by requiring the registration of journalists and prohibiting the “abuse of free expression.” Government-controlled media practiced self-censorship and bias in favor of the ruling party.
In February independent media research organization Media Monitors published a report, Change of Guard, alleging the country’s military takeover of ZBC in 2017 still had a chilling effect on ZBC operations, a government-controlled broadcaster.
Libel/Slander Laws: The Constitutional Court ruled the constitution prohibits criminal defamation. Civil defamation laws remained in force.
Newspapers exercised self-censorship due to government intimidation and the prospect of prosecution under civil libel laws.
On March 12, police detained Tinashe Jonasi, leader of Ideal Zimbabwe political party, for undermining the authority of or insulting President Mnangagwa. On April 3, the High Court freed him on 500 RTGS dollars ($30) bail and ordered him to report twice a week at a police station.
National Security: The law grants the government a wide range of legal powers to prosecute persons for political and security crimes that are not clearly defined. For example, the extremely broad Official Secrets Act criminalizes the divulging of any information acquired by government employees in the course of official duties. Authorities used these laws to restrict publication of information critical of government policies or public officials.
The law permits the government to monitor all communications in the country, including internet transmissions. Internet and mobile phone communication in the country was widely available. The government, however, regulated internet and mobile phone communication to curb dissent and increased its share of the information and communications technology market and international gateways.
In mid-January the government used the Interception of Communications Act to suspend internet access for three days. On January 21, a High Court ruling declared the directive illegal. The government allowed internet service providers to increase fees, which limited internet access.
The government regularly monitored and interfered with use of social media. On August 15, police arrested human rights activist Pride Mkono for tweeting “Fellow Zimbabweans, let us all join hands and fight the regime head on…until the government concedes to our demands or leaves office.” Mkono was charged with subverting a constitutional government. On August 23, a High Court justice freed Mkono on 200 RTGS dollars ($15) bail with reporting conditions. The case remained pending as of year’s end.
The communications laws facilitated eavesdropping and call interception by state security personnel. The law allows law enforcement officers to apply to the responsible minister for a warrant authorizing them to intercept communications, including calls, emails, and other messages. Regulations permit officers to apply for interception warrants if they know the identities of individuals whose calls and messages they want to intercept.
The government did not restrict academic freedom during the year; however, the law restricts the independence of universities, subjecting them to government influence and providing disciplinary powers over staff and students to university authorities. The country’s president is the chancellor of all eight state-run universities and appoints their vice chancellors. The government has oversight of higher education policy at public universities through the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education.
On June 27, Harare Polytechnic suspended Amos Dauzeni, a lecturer in the tourism department, for criticizing the president, according to ZLHR. The lecturer was accused of “misconduct for allegedly denigrating President Mnangagwa by stating he had mismanaged the country’s economy, resulting in the payment of poor salaries to government workers.”
The Censorship and Entertainment Controls Board (CECB) approves scripts by playwrights. Artists who violated provisions of the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act (CECA) received fines and prison sentences.
On July 27, police raided the offices of Rooftop Promotions; on July 28, they arrested director Daves Guzha, theater manager Peter Churu, producer Tendai Humbasha Maduwa, and scriptwriter Kudakwashe Brian Bwititi after they showed the film The Lord of Kush without CECB approval, allegedly in contravention of the CECA. Magistrate Barbra Mateko freed each artist on bail of 200 RTGS dollars ($15) and postponed the case repeatedly. The next hearing was set for January 6, 2020. Information Ministry Permanent Secretary Nick Mangwana told media the film, which is set in Pakistan and deals with religious fundamentalism, had “security implications for a foreign power.”
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted these rights.
The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, or both. In August parliament passed the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act (MOPA) to replace the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), and President Mnangagwa signed it into law in November. MOPA, like POSA, requires organizers to notify police of their intention to hold a public gathering, defined as 15 or more individuals, seven days in advance. Failure to do so may result in criminal prosecution as well as civil liability. The law allows police to prohibit a gathering based on security concerns but requires police to file an affidavit in a magistrate’s court stating the reasons behind the denial. MOPA stipulates the government must respond to notifications to demonstrate within three days, whereas POSA provided no time limit. By year’s end MOPA had been invoked to restrict free peaceful assembly in a manner similar to POSA.
Although many groups did not seek permits, other groups informed police of their planned events, and police either denied permission or gave no response. Police issued prohibition orders against dozens of planned, nationwide MDC demonstrations in August, citing reasonable suspicion the protests would result in violence and property damage. Police also charged the MDC national organizing secretary and deputy secretary for violating POSA’s clause about complying with a prohibition order when protesters gathered in downtown Harare on August 16, despite the ZRP’s last-minute prohibition.
Authorities often denied requests by civil society, trade unions, religious groups, or political parties other than ZANU-PF to hold public events if the agenda conflicted with government policy positions. A small group of persons, however, protesting U.S. sanctions received a permit to camp in front of the U.S. embassy in Harare from March to September.
On August 23, police forcibly dispersed a small protest by the ARTUZ at the Ministry of Finance building in Harare. The ZRP arrested the union’s president, Obert Masaraure, and seven other members, as well as ARTUZ attorney Doug Coltart, after he protested the arrests and filmed police actions.
In late November police used batons and tear gas to disperse groups of citizens who had gathered downtown to listen to a speech by MDC leader Nelson Chamisa.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. Although the government did not restrict the formation of political parties or unions, ZANU-PF supporters, sometimes with government support or acquiescence, intimidated and harassed members of organizations perceived to be associated with other political parties. For example, a Bulawayo-based NGO reported that on August 30, police used tear gas to break up a training session it held for its members, claiming it was “unsanctioned.” Local NGOs provided multiple similar reports.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted these rights.
In-country Movement: Police interrupted freedom of movement with checkpoints less frequently than in 2018 but continued to operate regular checkpoints nationwide along most major routes. They used these checkpoints to screen vehicle occupants for potential participation in antigovernment protests.
Foreign Travel: The constitution provides the right for citizens to enter and leave the country and the right to a passport or other travel documents. In July the government announced a shortage of special imported paper and ink supplies used to make passports. The Office of the Registrar General reported a 50,000-passport shortage in July, and applicants reported the office advised them to reapply in 2022.
In February the cabinet approved amendments to the Zimbabwe Citizenship Bill to allow dual citizenship as prescribed in the constitution. There were reports the Office of the Registrar General sometimes imposed administrative obstacles in the passport application process for dual citizens, particularly Malawian, Zambian, and Mozambican citizens.
In September the ZRP prohibited alleged abduction victim Peter Magombeyi from departing the country to seek medical care in South Africa. Magombeyi’s relatives obtained a High Court order allowing him to depart; ZRP officials defied this ruling and filed a petition to find the order erroneous. The High Court dismissed the ZRP’s petition. Magombeyi departed the country on September 26.
Exile: The constitution prohibits expulsion from the country for all citizens. A number of persons, including former government officials, prominent businessmen, human rights activists, opposition party members, and human rights lawyers, left the country and remained in self-imposed exile due to fear of persecution.
Citizenship: The 2013 constitution provides for three different classes of citizenship: by birth, by descent, or by registration. The government deprived some sections of the population of citizenship rights based on the law, which revokes the citizenship of persons who fail to return to the country in any five-year period.
Despite a constitutional provision of citizenship and having voted previously, some persons were denied the right to vote during the by-elections throughout the year because they could not adequately demonstrate their citizenship. An amendment to the Citizenship Act aligned the law with the 2013 constitution to allow dual citizenship beginning February 27.
According to international organizations, approximately 113,000 households were displaced and more than 250 groups of identified internally displaced persons (IDPs) lived throughout the country. The primary causes of displacement were rural evictions (45.7 percent), natural disasters (27.7 percent), localized conflict (13.3 percent), and urban evictions (13.1 percent). The most significant historical events that created internal displacement included state-sponsored election-related violence, land reform, and the government’s eviction of citizens from nonfarming areas in 2005, known as Operation Murambatsvina. According to one NGO, Operation Murambatsvina resulted in the destruction of homes and livelihoods affecting an estimated 700,000 persons. Until 2009 the government denied the existence of any IDPs.
In March, Cyclone Idai displaced hundreds of persons in Chimanimani. Approximately 800 were housed in three IDP camps, where shelter, security, and cooking facilities were inadequate. Government officials anticipated the camps would remain in place until April 2021.
In 2014 approximately 15,000 persons were displaced from the vicinity of the Tokwe-Mukosi dam in Masvingo Province. Other documented displacements were from disputed farming areas. At year’s end several thousand households in disputed farming areas were at risk of displacement due to verifiable threats or eviction notices. Most of the persons displaced had resided on their land for years without formal offer letters or title deeds. The government provided no resettlement assistance to evicted families and depended primarily on international organizations to do so.
IDPs from previous years remained in near-emergency conditions, with an overwhelming majority living without basic sanitation. IDPs were among the populations at greatest risk of food insecurity. In addition to improved living conditions, IDPs required regularization of their status. Without needing any official documentation, several generations of farm workers originally from neighboring countries previously resided in insular commercial farming communities. With the eviction of farm owners, these farm workers were forced to move to adjacent communal lands and left without employment or health and education services.
Contractors and NGOs independent of the government that carried out food security and other assessments faced problems in accessing certain rural districts. In isolated cases local authorities advised organizations against traveling to farms involved in ownership disputes, where aid workers might be at risk.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Security forces detained irregular migrants in prisons with convicted criminals. Prolonged detention for migrants was common. Migrants complained of mistreatment by other prisoners. The government sometimes worked with international organizations to assist the voluntary repatriation of migrants, primarily Mozambicans settled on the border between the two countries.
There were no reports of physical abuse or violence directed specifically at migrants, refugee or asylum seekers, or stateless persons. 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.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR, the country hosted approximately 21,000 refugees and asylum seekers during the year. The Tongogara refugee camp hosted approximately 13,700 refugees and asylum seekers, with an estimated 100 arrivals each month, primarily from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, and Burundi.
Freedom of Movement: The government maintained a formal encampment policy requiring refugees to live at the Tongogara refugee camp. Nevertheless, at year’s end more than 840 refugees lived in urban areas, including Harare and Bulawayo, and more than 8,080 Mozambican asylum seekers lived among host communities along the border with Mozambique.
Employment: Refugees in the informal sector had limited employment options due to the encampment policy requiring all refugees to reside in the Tongogara refugee camp. UNHCR partners and Julia Taft Fund grant recipients continued to set up banana farming, livestock production, and soap production for livelihood activities in the camp.
Durable Solutions: While the government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement, it facilitated the voluntary repatriation of refugees to their home countries by recognizing the Voluntary Repatriation Declaration Form as a valid document for travel purposes. The government also allowed Rwandan refugees, who lost prima facie refugee status following implementation of the 2013 Rwandan cessation clause, to remain in the country pending final arrangements by the government. Additionally, the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees stated that Rwandans with Zimbabwean spouses would be permitted to regularize their stay in the country. Many refugees were unwilling to return to their home countries voluntarily, and resettlement remained the only viable solution for many of them.
The country has a significant number of habitual residents who are legally or de facto stateless. In 2015 international organizations estimated a minimum of 300,000 persons in the country were stateless. No more recent data was available. Migration patterns, strict nationality transmission regulations, and failure to register births contributed to the country’s stateless population. (Children born between 1980 and 1996 to a Zimbabwean mother but a father without Zimbabwean citizenship cannot claim Zimbabwean citizenship unless they were born out of wedlock. The United Nations estimated only 74 percent of births were registered in the country.)