An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution states citizens “enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” Authorities limited and did not respect these rights, however, especially when their exercise conflicted with CCP interests. Authorities continued to impose ever-tighter control of all print, broadcast, electronic, and social media and regularly used them to propagate government views and CCP ideology. Authorities censored and manipulated the press, social media, and the internet, particularly around sensitive anniversaries and topics such as public health.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens could discuss specific policies but often avoided discussing broader political issues, leaders, or “sensitive” topics for fear of official punishment. Authorities routinely took harsh action against citizens who questioned the legitimacy of the CCP or criticized President Xi’s leadership. Some independent think tanks, study groups, and seminars reported pressure to cancel sessions on sensitive topics. Many others confirmed authorities regularly warned them against meeting with foreign reporters or diplomats, and to avoid participating in diplomatic receptions or public programs organized by foreign entities.

Those who made politically sensitive comments in public speeches, academic discussions, or remarks to media, or who posted sensitive comments online, remained subject to punitive measures, as did members of their family. In addition an increase in electronic surveillance in public spaces, coupled with the movement of many citizens’ routine interactions to the digital space, signified the government was monitoring an increasing percentage of daily life. Conversations in groups or peer-to-peer on social media platforms and via messaging applications were subject to censorship, monitoring, and action from authorities. An increasing threat of peer-to-peer observation and possible referral to authorities further eroded freedom of speech.

The popular communication app WeChat remained heavily censored. Posts regarding sensitive topics such as PRC politics disappeared when sent to or from a China-registered account. Authorities continued to use the app to monitor political dissidents and other critics, some of whom were detained by police or sentenced to prison for their communications. Chinese citizens moving abroad who continued to use an account created in China were still subject to censorship.

On June 5, Gao Heng, a Christian, was detained by authorities for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” after taking a picture of himself on the Guangzhou Metro holding a small sign that read “June 4th: Pray for the Country.”

On July 6, multiple WeChat accounts run by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) societies at several universities were closed, with past posts scrubbed and replaced with a notice stating “All content has been blocked and the use of the account has been stopped” for violations of unspecified social media regulations.

On July 23, veteran petitioner Li Yufeng went on trial at the Jiaozuo City Central Station People’s Court on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Li was detained in 2019 after she accompanied a friend to Beijing to file a petition at the Supreme People’s Court.

Prominent poet Wang Zang and his wife Wang Li remained in detention on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” Wang Zang, taken from his home in May 2020, and Wang Liqin, detained in June 2020, were indicted by the Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture People’s Procuratorate in September 2020. Police “evidence” against Wang Zang included his poetry, performance art, and views expressed on social media.

In October veteran journalist Luo Changping and a social media user identified by the surname Zuo were detained for making critical comments online regarding The Battle of Changjin Lake, a state-sponsored film set during the Korean War. Since the new code took effect in March, reports indicated that the law has been used at least 15 times to punish those who questioned the party’s version of history.

Authorities arrested or detained countless citizens for “spreading fake news,” “illegal information dissemination,” or “spreading rumors online.” These claims ranged from sharing political views or promoting religious extremism to sharing factual reports on public health concerns, including COVID-19.

This trend was especially stark in Xinjiang, where the government ran a multifaceted system of physical and cyber controls to stop individuals from expressing themselves or practicing their religion or traditional beliefs. Beyond the region’s expansive system of internment camps, the government and the CCP operated a system to limit in-person and online speech. In Xinjiang police regularly stopped Muslims and members of non-Han ethnic minorities and demanded to review their cell phones for any evidence of communication deemed inappropriate.

During the year the government extensively used mobile phone apps, cameras, and other electronics to monitor all speech and movement. Authorities in Xinjiang employed a comprehensive database that tracked the movements, mobile app usage, and even electricity and gasoline consumption of inhabitants in the region.

The government also sought to limit criticism of their Xinjiang policies even outside the country, disrupting academic discussions and intimidating human rights advocates across the world. Government officials in Xinjiang detained the relatives of several overseas activists. In February the government blocked Clubhouse, a foreign software platform designed to promote open conversations, after only a few days of operation. Before Clubhouse was blocked, Chinese citizens had participated in discussions concerning topics the PRC considers sensitive, including Xinjiang and Taiwan.

Numerous ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakhs living overseas were intimidated into silence by threats from government officials against members of their family who lived in China, threats sometimes delivered in China to the relatives, and sometimes delivered by Chinese government officials in the foreign country. (See section 1.e., Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country.)

The government restricted the expression of views it found objectionable, even when those expressions occurred abroad. Online, the government expanded attempts to control the global dissemination of information while also exporting its methods of electronic information control to other nations’ governments. During the year there was a rise in reports of journalists in foreign countries and ethnic Chinese living abroad experiencing harassment by Chinese government agents due to their criticisms of PRC politics. This included criticisms posted on platforms such as Twitter that were blocked within China.

The government sought to limit freedom of expression in online gaming platforms. The popular Chinese-made online game Genshin Impact continued to censor the words “Taiwan” and “Hong Kong” among others in its in-game chat program. Users noted the program’s censorship covered all users, regardless of the country of citizenship or where the game was being played.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The CCP and government continued to maintain ultimate authority over all published, online, and broadcast material. Officially, only state-run media outlets have government approval to cover CCP leaders or other topics deemed “sensitive.” While it did not dictate all content to be published or broadcast, the CCP and the government had unchecked authority to mandate if, when, and how particular issues were reported or to order they not be reported at all. The government’s propaganda department issued daily guidance on what topics should be promoted in all media outlets and how those topics should be covered. Chinese reporters working for private media companies confirmed increased pressure to conform to government requirements on story selection and content.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) directly manages internet content, including online news media, and promotes CCP propaganda. A CCP propaganda department deputy minister ran the organization’s day-to-day operations. It enjoyed broad authority in regulating online media practices and played a large role in regulating and shaping information dissemination online.

The CCP continued to monitor and control the use of non-Mandarin languages in all media within the country. Since January 1, Mongolian-language content, previously broadcast on state media, was replaced with Chinese cultural programs that promote a “strong sense of Chinese nationality common identity.”

All books and magazines continued to require state-issued publication numbers, which were expensive and often difficult to obtain. Nearly all print and broadcast media as well as book publishers were affiliated with the CCP or the government. There were a small number of print publications with some private ownership interest but no privately owned television or radio stations. The CCP directed the domestic media to refrain from reporting on certain subjects, and traditional broadcast programming required government approval.

Journalists operated in an environment tightly controlled by the government. Only journalists with official government accreditation were allowed to publish news in print or online. The CCP constantly monitored all forms of journalist output, including printed news, television reporting, and online news, including livestreaming. Journalists and editors self-censored to stay within the lines dictated by the CCP, and they faced increasingly serious penalties for crossing those lines, which could be opaque. While the country’s increasingly internet-literate population demanded interesting stories told with the latest technologies, government authorities asserted control over technologies such as livestreaming and continued to pressure digital outlets and social media platforms.

Because the CCP did not consider internet news companies “official” media, they were subject to debilitating regulations and barred from reporting on potentially “sensitive” stories.

Violence and Harassment: The government frequently impeded the work of the press, including citizen journalists. Journalists reported being subjected to physical attack, harassment, monitoring, and intimidation when reporting on sensitive topics. Government officials used criminal prosecution, civil lawsuits, and other punishment, including violence, detention, and other forms of harassment, to intimidate authors and journalists and to prevent the dissemination of unsanctioned information on a wide range of topics.

Family members of journalists based overseas also faced harassment, and in some cases detention, as retaliation for the reporting of their relatives abroad. Dozens of Uyghur relatives of overseas-based journalists working for Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service remained disappeared or detained in Xinjiang. In March, RFA reported that authorities had detained two brothers of Uyghur Service editor Eset Sulaiman since 2018.

Restrictions on domestic and foreign journalists by central and local CCP propaganda departments increased significantly.

Journalists faced the threat of demotion or dismissal for publishing views that challenged the government. In many cases potential sources refused to meet with journalists due to actual or feared government pressure. The scope of censorship was vast, with several Chinese journalists noting “an atmosphere of debilitating paranoia.” For example long-standing journalist contacts continued to decline off-the-record conversations, even concerning nonsensitive topics. So-called taboo topics included not only Tibet, Taiwan, and corruption, but also natural disasters and the #MeToo movement.

During the year authorities imprisoned numerous journalists working in traditional and new media. The government also silenced numerous independent journalists by quarantining them under the guise of pandemic response. Reporters Without Borders, in a report released on December 7, tallied at least 127 journalists (professional and nonprofessional) detained in the country. Of these, 71 – or more than one-half the journalists imprisoned – were Uyghur.

On January 7, investigative journalist Li Xinde, who founded and ran the China Public Watchdog Network anticorruption website, was convicted of “illegal business activity” and received a five-year prison sentence. He was initially detained in 2019 after publishing on his website a report that a court in Tianjin had wrongfully convicted a businessman.

On January 8, former journalist Zhang Jialong was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment by the Nanming District Court in Guiyang City on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Zhang, while a journalist with Tencent, met with then secretary of state John Kerry in 2014 and asked him to “tear down this great firewall that blocks the Internet.”

On May 11, citizen journalists Chen Mei and Cai Wei were put on trial at Beijing’s Chaoyang District Court, after more than a year in detention, on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” The two volunteered for a website archive, Terminus 2049, that documented censored COVID-19 outbreak information, among other topics. On August 13, Chen and Cai were convicted on the “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” charge but were then released on August 15 for time served.

A CCP organization in Henan Province issued a call on social media to confront a BBC journalist covering flooding in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China cited the incident as an example of the “growing hostility against foreign media in China,” thanks to rising Chinese nationalism sometimes “directly encouraged by Chinese officials and official entities.”

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China’s annual report on media freedoms, released in March, found that authorities and the CCP used “all arms of state power” – including surveillance systems introduced to curb COVID-19 – to harass and intimidate journalists, their Chinese colleagues, and those whom the foreign press sought to interview. For the third consecutive year, not a single correspondent said that working conditions improved.

The survey reported 88 percent of correspondents had requests for interviews declined because subjects needed prior permission to speak to a foreign journalist or because they were not permitted to speak to foreign journalists at all, an increase from 76 percent in 2019. Nearly 40 percent of correspondents said they were aware of sources being harassed, detained, called in, or questioned for interacting with a foreign journalist, an increase from 25 percent in 2019. Nearly one-half the correspondents said the fear of digital or in-person surveillance regularly affected their ability to adequately interview and communicate with sources or carry out their reporting. Almost 60 percent said their Chinese colleagues were subject to intimidation, compared with 44 percent in 2019.

Authorities used the visa renewal process to challenge journalists and force additional foreign reporters out of the country.  A Reporters Without Borders report released December 7 tallied 18 foreign reporters who were forced to leave the country in 2020 due to surveillance and visa blackmail.

In March, BBC journalist John Sudworth left the country following threats of legal action, obstruction, and intimidation. A state-sponsored propaganda campaign targeted the BBC and Sudworth to discredit them and push back against international criticism regarding issues such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong. According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the government’s targeting of the BBC began after the BBC published a report detailing allegations of systematic rape in internment camps where Muslims were detained in Xinjiang.

Local employees working for foreign press outlets reported increased harassment and intimidation, in addition to authorities’ continued tight enforcement of restrictions on these employees. Foreign news bureaus are prohibited by law from directly hiring Chinese citizens as employees and must rely on personnel hired by the Personnel Service Corporation, a subordinate unit of the Diplomatic Service Bureau affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The code of conduct threatens dismissal and loss of accreditation for those citizen employees who engage in independent reporting. It instructs them to provide their employers with information that projects “a good image of the country.” Multiple foreign outlets reported a continuing inability to hire the number of local staff members that they wished, saying authorities continued to impose an unofficial cap of one local researcher per foreign correspondent from media outlets out of favor with authorities. Some outlets even reported trouble getting the Diplomatic Service Bureau’s permission to hire a single local researcher per correspondent. New staff were wary of taking on responsibilities that might be considered politically sensitive, limiting their portfolios and contributions.

Government harassment of foreign journalists was particularly aggressive in Xinjiang. According to the 2020 Foreign Correspondents’ Club report, all foreign reporters who traveled to Xinjiang were openly followed, denied access to public places, and were asked or forced to delete photographs and other data from devices. Reporters documented cases of staged traffic accidents, road blockages, hotel closures, and cyberattacks. They reported constant surveillance while they worked in Xinjiang, with government agents stepping in to block access to some areas, intimidating local inhabitants from talking to the journalists, and stopping the journalists – sometimes many times per day – to seize their cameras and force them to erase pictures. Reporters noted local contacts warned them any resident seen talking to foreigners would almost certainly be detained, interrogated, or sent to a “re-education camp.”

Government officials also sought to suppress journalism outside their borders.  While in past years these efforts largely focused on Chinese-language media, during the year additional reports emerged of attempts to suppress media critical of China regardless of language or location.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Regulations grant broad authority to the government at all levels to restrict publications based on content, including mandating if, when, and how particular issues are reported.

According to Freedom House, on February 5, the China Association of Performing Arts (an industry association under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism) released new restrictions that required performances to promote the “party line,” not “undermine national unity,” nor “endanger national security.” Performers who violated the rules would face suspensions or a permanent ban from the industry.

Official guidelines for domestic journalists were often vague, subject to change at the discretion of propaganda officials, and enforced retroactively. Propaganda authorities forced newspapers and online media providers to fire editors and journalists responsible for articles deemed inconsistent with official policy and suspend or close publications. Self-censorship was prevalent among journalists, authors, and editors, particularly with post facto government reviews carrying penalties.

The CCP Central Propaganda Department ordered media outlets to adhere strictly to the information provided by official departments. Directives warned against reporting on issues related to COVID-19 outbreaks, the official response, and international inquiries, as well as party and official reputation, health and safety in general, and foreign affairs.

The government sought to exercise complete control over public and private commentary regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, undermining local and international efforts to report on the virus’s spread. COVID-19 information on Chinese social media was closely guarded from the outbreak’s earliest manifestation. Popular livestreaming and messaging platforms WeChat and YY continued censorship protocols, including on words related to the virus causing COVID-19, SARS, and potential disease vectors.

In the run-up to the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding on July 1, the government sought to tighten control over how citizens discuss history on the country’s heavily censored internet, releasing legal amendments stipulating that persons who “insult, slander or infringe upon” the memory of the country’s national heroes and martyrs faced jail time of up to three years.

In April the CAC vowed to crack down on “historical nihilists” and launched a hotline for internet users to report “illegal” comments that “distorted” the CCP’s historical achievements and attacked the country’s leadership. The tip line allowed individuals to report fellow citizens who “distort” the party’s history, attack its leadership and policies, defame national heroes, and “deny the excellence of advanced socialist culture” online.

Also in April authorities in Jiangsu Province detained a 19-year-old man after he made “insulting” comments online regarding Japan’s 1937 occupation of Nanjing.

In early May a regulatory official reported authorities had dealt with a large number of accounts deemed to be propagating “historical nihilism” and that they directed online platforms to clean up more than two million posts the CAC deemed illegal.

Some private companies censored content without explicit orders from authorities. In late March streaming platforms in the country began to censor the logos and symbols of brands such as Adidas that adorn items worn by contestants performing dance, singing, and standup-comedy routines, following a feud between the government and international companies that said they would avoid using cotton produced in Xinjiang. Although government officials may not have ordered the shows to obscure the brands, the video streaming sites apparently felt pressured or obliged to publicly distance themselves from Western brands involved in the feud.

In May, Chinese video platforms censored a Friends reunion television special, removing appearances by music stars Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and the K-pop group BTS, all of whom had previously engaged in activity that reportedly angered the Chinese government.

The government increased efforts to screen out unsanctioned information and align online content with the state’s agenda. In August the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department, along with the state-backed bodies for state-approved artists and authors, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and State Administration of Radio and Television, as well as the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles and Chinese Writers Association, issued policy guidelines urging better “culture and art reviews,” partly by limiting the role of algorithms in content distribution. Under the guidelines, all domestic content creators and distributors are told to “adhere to the correct direction, strengthen Marxist literary theory and criticism, and pay attention to the social effects of literary criticism … and not to contribute to the spread of low, vulgar and pandering content or quasi-entertainment content.”

Citizen journalists faced an increasingly difficult climate, with the CAC and other authorities seeking to strengthen control over content published through social media, including “self-media” accounts. Also known as “we-media,” these accounts are typically blogs operated independently on social media without official backing from established outlets. Self-media had become one of the biggest emerging trends, with a report by the State Information Center noting that in 2020 online media accounted for 80 percent of the country’s media market. The tightened restrictions online had the effect of further clamping down on self-employed reporters, who also could not be accredited by the National Press and Publication Administration, which administers tests and grants the licenses required for citizens to work in the profession. Unaccredited reporters can face legal fallout or even criminal charges. The campaign to clean up self-media accounts also targeted social media trending charts, push notifications, and short-video platforms. The CAC was also exploring measures to control the distribution of information across all internet platforms to end “disruption to the order of internet broadcasts.”

In January the National Press and Publication Administration announced that it had made it a priority to stop reporters from running their own self­media accounts, as part of its annual review of journalists’ accreditation.

In February the CAC implemented new rules on managing public internet accounts, the first change since 2017. The rules specified the type of content platforms should ban, including those deemed to be engaged in fabricating information, inciting extreme emotions, plagiarism, cyberbullying, blackmailing, and artificially inflating the number of clicks. This represented a fresh crackdown on “fake news” and other online activities perceived to be harmful. The new rules to “protect the security of content and maintain a healthy cyberspace” aimed to curb independent reporting and reposting of information considered illegal while promoting government-sanctioned stories.

The new rules also broadened the definition of harmful online information. In addition to information that authorities considered to endanger national security, leak state secrets, or subvert state power, the new rules banned online information that “disrupts financial market order.” False information regarding disasters, epidemics, emergencies, and food and drug safety was also banned. On top of possible criminal charges and other punishments, websites spreading such information could be shut down, and individuals working for such sites could be held liable and subject to heavy fines.

In July the government launched a campaign to crack down on “fake news” and clean up online content. The CCP’s Central Propaganda Department announced the campaign would target “illegal news activities” by news organizations and staff, internet platforms and public accounts, as well as unaccredited social organizations and individuals.

Control over public depictions of President Xi was severe, with censors aggressively shutting down any depiction that varied from official media storylines. Censors continued to block images of the Winnie the Pooh cartoon character on social media because internet users used it to represent Xi. Social media posts did not allow comments related to Xi Jinping and other prominent Chinese leaders.

Domestic films were subject to government censorship. The CCP continued to call for films to highlight Chinese culture and values and promote the country’s successful growth. On October 9, former news editor and journalist Luo Chang Ping was detained in Hainan for a post on Weibo critical of a film’s depiction of the country’s role in the Korean War on suspicion of “impeaching the reputation of heroes and martyrs.”

Foreign movies shown in the country were also subject to censorship. The scheduled PRC release of Nomadland, a foreign movie directed by China-born filmmaker Chloe Zhao, was postponed following a controversy concerning comments Zhao made in 2013 regarding censorship in China; many online mentions of Nomadland were censored by authorities.

In October, Chinese broadcaster Tencent blocked Boston Celtics (National Basketball Association) games from its platform after a member of the team, Enes Kanter, posted social media posts critical of the PRC’s policies in Tibet.

Newscasts from overseas news outlets, largely restricted to hotels and foreign residence compounds, were subject to censorship. Individual issues of foreign newspapers and magazines were occasionally banned when they contained articles deemed too sensitive. Articles on sensitive topics were removed from international magazines. Television newscasts were often blacked out during segments on sensitive subjects. For example in February, authorities banned the BBC World News television channel in apparent retaliation after the United Kingdom revoked the license of the state-owned Chinese broadcaster CGTN.

Government regulations restrict and limit public access to foreign television shows, which are banned during primetime, and local streamers had to limit the foreign portion of their program libraries to less than 30 percent.

Authorities continued to ban books with content they deemed inconsistent with officially sanctioned views. The law permits only government-approved publishing houses to print books. Newspapers, periodicals, books, audio and video recordings, or electronic publications may not be printed or distributed without the approval of central authorities and relevant provincial publishing authorities. Individuals who attempted to publish without government approval faced imprisonment, fines, confiscation of their books, and other punishment. The CCP also exerted control over the publishing industry by preemptively classifying certain topics as state secrets.

Government rules ban the sale of foreign publications without an import permit. This includes sales on online shopping platforms, which are banned from offering “overseas publications,” including books, movies, and games that do not already have government approval.  The ban also applies to services related to publications.

New rules from the Ministry of Education went into effect April 1, banning from libraries books that favored the “West” at the expense of China. Nikkei Asia reported that the order would impact 240 million primary and secondary school students and also require students to begin studying “Xi Jinping Thought.” According to Nikkei Asia, books that conveyed political, economic, and cultural ideas from democratic nations could be banned.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law defamation can be punished by up to three years’ imprisonment; truth is not a defense.

In February police in the Shapingba District of Chongqing issued a criminal detention warrant for a 19-year-old Chinese citizen living overseas in connection for his posts on the Sina Weibo microblogging platform. Police claimed the blogger posted a comment defaming People’s Liberation Army (PLA) martyrs that had a “severe negative social impact.” Official state media reported that at least six other Chinese domestic internet users had been under criminal or administrative detention for “stirring up trouble” by publishing defamatory comments concerning PLA martyrs on social media platforms.

In May at least seven citizens were detained for “defaming” Yuan Longping, revered as the “Father of Hybrid Rice” in China, who died on May 22. Media reports noted that local police had responded to complaints of insulting remarks regarding Yuan on social media and determined the posts had caused a “seriously bad” impact on the society. Five of the detained faced criminal investigations; two were detained under administrative procedures. Sina Weibo announced on May 24 that it would permanently close the accounts of 64 users who were found to have spread insults and attacks on Yuan.

In October a woman identified in court only by her last name, Xu, was sentenced to seven months in prison for violating a newly amended criminal code that makes “impeaching the reputation of heroes and martyrs” a crime. Xu had mocked online some internet users who had imagined themselves as Dong Cunrui, a war hero who died during China’s civil war in 1949.

National Security: Authorities often justified restrictions on expression on national security protection grounds. Government leaders cited the threat of terrorism to justify restricting freedom of expression by Muslims and other religious minorities. These justifications were a baseline rationale for restrictions on press movements, publications, and other forms of repression of expression.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

While the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government severely restricted this right. The law stipulates such activities may not challenge “party leadership” or infringe upon the “interests of the state.” Protests against the political system or national leaders were prohibited. Authorities denied permits and quickly suppressed demonstrations involving expression of dissenting political views. For example police in Huizhou continued to hold human rights activist Xiao Yuhui, detained in July 2020 after repeating a WeChat post calling for individuals to save Hong Kong.

Citizens throughout the country continued to gather publicly to protest evictions, forced relocations, and inadequate compensation, often resulting in conflict with authorities or formal charges. Media reported thousands of protests took place during the year across the country. Although peaceful protests are legal, public security officials rarely granted permits to demonstrate. Despite restrictions, many demonstrations occurred, but authorities quickly broke up those motivated by broad political or social grievances, sometimes with excessive force.

In August, Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong were indicted on charges of subversion after two rounds of investigation by the Linyi Municipal Public Security Bureau and 21 months in detention. Ding and Xu were arrested in December 2019 after they met earlier that month in Xiamen, Fujian, to organize civil society and plan nonviolent social movements in the country. They were charged with “incitement to subvert state power” and “subversion of state power;” the latter crime carries a minimum 10-year prison sentence. Authorities continued to deny the families and their lawyers access to Xu and Ding.

Concerts, sports events, exercise classes, and other meetings of more than 200 persons require approval from public security authorities. Mass-gathering events were canceled during the year due to COVID-19 controls.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. CCP policy and government regulations require that all professional, social, and economic organizations officially register with and receive approval from the government. These regulations prevented the formation of autonomous political, human rights, religious, spiritual, labor, and other organizations that the government believed might challenge its authority in any area. The government maintained tight controls over civil society organizations and, in some cases, detained or harassed NGO workers. Propaganda targeted NGOs, smearing them for any affiliation with foreign governments.

The regulatory system for NGOs was highly restrictive, but specific requirements varied depending on whether an organization was foreign or domestic. Domestic NGOs were governed by charity law and a host of related regulations. Domestic NGOs could register in one of three categories: as a social group, a social organization, or a foundation. All domestic NGOs are required to register under the Ministry of Civil Affairs and find an officially sanctioned sponsor to serve as their “professional supervisory unit.” Finding a sponsor was often challenging, since the sponsor could be held civilly or criminally responsible for the NGO’s activities and sponsorship included burdensome reporting requirements. All organizations are required to report their sources of funding, including foreign funding.

All domestic NGOs are supposed to have a CCP cell, although implementation was not consistent. According to authorities, these CCP cells were to “strengthen guidance” of NGOs in areas such as “decision making for important projects, important professional activities, major expenditures and funds, acceptance of large donations, and activities involving foreigners.” Authorities are to conduct annual “spot checks” to ensure compliance on “ideological political work, party building, financial and personnel management, study sessions, foreign exchange, acceptance of foreign donations and assistance, and conducting activities according to their charter.”

The law requires foreign NGOs to register with the Ministry of Public Security and to find a state-sanctioned sponsor for their operations or for one-time activities. NGOs that fail to comply face possible civil or criminal penalties. The law provides no appeal process for NGOs denied registration, and it stipulates NGOs found to have violated certain provisions could be banned from operating in the country. The law also states domestic groups cooperating with unregistered foreign NGOs will be punished and possibly banned.

Some international NGOs reported it was more difficult to work with local partners, including universities, government agencies, and other domestic NGOs, as the NGO law codified the CCP’s perception that foreign NGOs were a “national security” threat. Many government agencies still had no unit responsible for sponsoring foreign NGOs. The vague definition of an NGO, as well as of what activities constituted “political” and therefore illegal activities, left many business organizations and alumni associations uncertain whether they fell within the purview of the law. The lack of clear communication from the government, coupled with harassment by security authorities, caused some foreign NGOs to suspend or cease operations in the country. According to the Ministry of Public Security, as of November 2, approximately 622 foreign NGO representative offices had registered under the Foreign NGO Management Law, with more than one-half of those focusing on industry or trade promotion activities.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, by the end of the year, there were more than 900,000 registered social organizations, public institutions, and foundations. Many experts believed the actual number of domestic NGOs to be much higher. NGOs existed under a variety of formal and informal guises, including national mass organizations created and funded by the CCP that are organizationally prohibited from exercising any independence, known as government-operated NGOs, or GONGOs.

For donations to a domestic organization, foreign NGOs must maintain a representative office in the country to receive funds, or to use the bank account of a domestic NGO when conducting temporary activities. By law foreign NGOs are prohibited from using any other method to send and receive funds, and such funding must be reported to the Ministry of Public Security. Foreign NGOs are prohibited from fundraising and “for-profit activities” under the law.

Although all registered organizations came under some degree of government control, some NGOs, primarily service-oriented GONGOs, were able to operate with less day-to-day scrutiny. Authorities supported the growth of some NGOs that focused on social problems, such as poverty alleviation and disaster relief. Law and regulations explicitly prohibit organizations from conducting political or religious activities, and organizations that did not comply faced criminal penalties.

Authorities continued to restrict, evict, and investigate local NGOs that received foreign funding and international NGOs that provided assistance to Tibetan communities in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Almost all were forced to curtail their activities altogether due to travel restrictions, official intimidation of staff members, and the failure of local partners to renew project agreements.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

The government, often preemptively, harassed and intimidated individuals and their family members by denying them permission to travel, both internationally and domestically, keeping them under house arrest or submitting them to “forced travel” during politically significant holidays.

In-country Movement: Authorities continued to maintain tight restrictions on freedom of movement, particularly to curtail the movement of individuals deemed politically sensitive before key anniversaries, or during foreign country national days, visits by foreign dignitaries, or major political events, as well as to forestall demonstrations. Uyghurs faced draconian restrictions on movement within Xinjiang and outside the region. Although the use of “domestic passports” that called for local official approval before traveling to another area was discontinued in 2016, authorities still made identification checks for individuals entering or leaving cities and on public roads. In Xinjiang, security officials operated checkpoints managing entry into public places, including markets and mosques, that required Uyghurs to scan their national identity card, undergo a facial recognition check, and put baggage through airport-style security screening. Such restrictions were not applied to Han Chinese in these areas.

The government operated a national household registration system (hukou) and maintained restrictions on the freedom to change one’s workplace or residence, although many provinces and localities eased restrictions. While many rural residents migrated to the cities, where per capita disposable income was approximately three times the rural per capita income, they often could not change their official residence or workplace within the country. Most cities had annual quotas for the number of new temporary residence permits they could issue, and all workers, including university graduates, had to compete for a limited number of such permits. It was particularly difficult for rural residents to obtain household registration in provincial capitals, but outside those cities many provinces removed or lowered barriers to move from a rural area to an urban one.

The household registration system added to the difficulties faced by rural residents, even after they relocated to urban areas and found employment. According to the Statistical Communique of the Peoples Republic of China on 2019 National Economic and Social Development, published in February 2020 by the National Bureau of Statistics of China, 280 million individuals lived outside the jurisdiction of their household registration. Migrant workers and their families faced numerous obstacles regarding working conditions and labor rights. Many were unable to access public services, such as public education for their children or social insurance, in the cities where they lived and worked because they were not legally registered urban residents.

Under the “staying at prison employment” system applicable to recidivists incarcerated in administrative detention, authorities denied certain persons permission to return to their homes after serving their sentences. Some released or paroled prisoners returned home but did not have freedom of movement.

Foreign Travel: The government controlled emigration and foreign travel. Government employees and retirees, especially from the military, faced foreign travel restrictions. The government denied passport applications or used exit controls for departing passengers at airports and other border crossings to deny foreign travel to some dissidents and persons employed in government posts. Throughout the year many lawyers, artists, authors, and activists were at times prevented from exiting the country. Authorities also blocked the travel of some family members of activists, including foreign family members.

Border officials and police sometimes cited threats to “national security” as the reason for refusing permission to leave the country, although often authorities provided no reason for such exit bans. Authorities stopped most such persons at the airport at the time of their attempted travel.

Most citizens could obtain passports, although individuals the government deemed potential political threats, including religious leaders, political dissidents, petitioners, as well as their family members and members of ethnic minorities, routinely reported being refused passports or otherwise being prevented from traveling overseas.

Disbarred lawyers, rights activists, and families of “709” lawyers faced difficulties applying for passports or were barred from leaving the country. For example disbarred human rights lawyers Wang Yu (also a 709 lawyer) and Tang Jitian remained under exit bans. Yang Maodong, whose pen name is Guo Feixiong, was banned from boarding a flight out of Shanghai in January, was denied authorization to travel abroad throughout the year, and was detained by authorities in December. Family members of some 709 lawyers, such as Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang, had passport applications denied.

Uyghurs, particularly those residing in Xinjiang, reported great difficulty in getting passport applications approved. They were frequently denied passports to travel abroad. Since 2016 authorities ordered Xinjiang residents to turn in their passports or told residents no new passports were available. Foreign national family members of Uyghur activists living overseas were also denied visas to enter the country, in part due to COVID-19 travel restrictions although restrictions predated the pandemic. Authorities refused to renew passports for Uyghurs living abroad.

Exile: The law neither provides for a citizen’s right to repatriate nor addresses exile. The government continued to refuse re-entry to numerous citizens considered dissidents, Falun Gong activists, or “troublemakers.” Although in previous years authorities allowed some dissidents living abroad to return, dissidents released on medical parole and allowed to leave the country often were effectively exiled. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities greatly reduced the total number of travelers who could enter the country, including citizens.

Not applicable.

Although it restricted access to border areas, the government regularly cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which maintained an office in Beijing.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of refugee or asylum status. The government did not have a system for providing protection to refugees but generally recognized UNHCR-registered refugees in China. Asylum applicants and refugees remained in the country without access to education or social services and were subject to deportation at any time.

UNHCR reported that officials continued to restrict UNHCR access to border areas. Authorities sometimes detained and prosecuted citizens who assisted North Korean refugees and asylum seekers, as well as those who facilitated illegal border crossings.

Refoulement: The government continued to consider North Koreans as illegal “economic migrants” rather than refugees or asylum seekers and forcibly returned many of them to North Korea, where such migrants would face harsh punishments including torture, forced abortions, forced labor, sexual violence, or death. Entries of such migrants were reduced during the year due to border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of July advocacy organizations believed PRC authorities detained 1,170 North Koreans, the majority of whom were refugees and asylum seekers. In July, PRC authorities forcibly returned approximately 50 North Korean refugees, resuming forcible repatriations which had been on hold since early 2020 after the North Korean government shut its borders due to COVID-19.

North Koreans detained by PRC authorities faced forcible repatriation unless they could pay bribes to secure their release. Family members wanting to prevent forced returns of their North Korean relatives were required to pay fees to Chinese authorities, purportedly to cover expenses incurred while in detention. While detained North Koreans were occasionally released, they were rarely given the necessary permissions for safe passage to a third country.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees generally did not have access to public health care, public education, or other social services due to lack of legal status.

Durable Solutions: The government largely cooperated with UNHCR when dealing with the local settlement in China of Han Chinese or members of ethnic minorities from Vietnam and Laos living in the country since the Vietnam War era. The government and UNHCR continued discussions concerning the granting of citizenship to these long-term residents and their children, many of whom were born in China.

According to international media reports, as many as 30,000 children born to North Korean women in China, most of whom were trafficked and married to Chinese spouses, had not been registered because their North Korean parent was undocumented, leaving the children de facto stateless. These children were denied access to public services, including education and health care, despite provisions in the law that provide citizenship to children with at least one PRC citizen parent. Chinese fathers reportedly sometimes did not register their children to avoid exposing the illegal status of their North Korean partners.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for members of the press and other media, and the government’s general respect for this right deteriorated, especially in response to the conflict in the northern part of the country. International organizations, including the International Federation of Journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Journalists Without Borders, and Freedom House, reported a decline in press freedoms.

Freedom of Expression: Upon taking office Prime Minister Abiy stated that freedom of speech was essential to the country’s future. NGOs subsequently reported that practices such as arrests, detention, abuse, and harassment of persons for criticizing the government diminished significantly. During the year, however, the government demonstrated a limited willingness to accept criticism, which was reflected in restrictive measures on freedom of speech.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active, reports of harassment, intimidation, and other restrictions of journalists critical of the government – especially its response to the conflict and humanitarian crisis in the northern part of the country – were widespread. In April the government reformed and rebranded the Ethiopian Broadcast Authority – the entity that monitored, licensed, and issued proclamations on all media outlets – as the Ethiopian Media Authority (EMA). Although some reports characterized the changes as a continuation of a positive trajectory for media freedom reform, the EMA restricted some press freedoms.

According to the EMA, there were 20 public media, 38 commercial broadcast, 58 community broadcast, and three subscriptions (cable channels). There were eight newspapers published in Amharic and English and 31 mostly independent television stations representing national and regional interests. Community radio stations were widespread. Radio remained the most popular and accessible form of media in the country.

The still-developing media landscape faced persistent challenges. Many reporters were untrained, and most private stations reflected the political views of their owners. Regional news agencies and social media influencers amplified messages that led to “echo chambers,” which often were biased towards ethnic interests. News agencies withheld, underreported, downplayed, or discredited reports of abuses against rival ethnic groups.

Violence and Harassment: On January 19, government security forces in Tigray’s capital Mekele shot and killed Tigray TV journalist Dawit Kebede and his friend Bereket Berhe for allegedly violating the dusk-to-dawn curfew in the city. The government had previously detained Dawit without charge in November 2020 before eventually charging him with publishing false information and damaging the government’s image. Some reports alleged the killing was in response to Dawit’s reporting on Tigray.

On February 10, three armed intruders entered the Addis Ababa home of Los Angeles Times and al-Jazeera journalist Lucy Kassa, accusing her of spreading lies in support of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. The intruders stole Kassa’s computer and flash drive of photographs showing evidence of Eritrean soldiers in Tigray. Following the raid of her home, Kassa reported targeted harassment and verbal abuse via aggressive drivers in public and private transportation.

On February 27, the ENDF arrested two translators, Fitsume Berhanu from Agence France Presse, and Alula Akalu from Financial Times. Fitsume reported a soldier threatened to claim the journalists had broken the dusk-to-dawn curfew in Mekelle and kill them. While there was no official reason given for the arrest, the ENDF later claimed Fitsume was a journalist working for the “Tigray Media House.”

In March the government cancelled media credentials for New York Times journalist and Irish national Simon Marks after his return from a reporting trip in Tigray. On May 20, the government detained Marks, took him to the airport where they held him for eight hours, and deported him without explanation, although his residence permit was valid until October. Some reports accused the government of deporting Marks for his critical reporting on Tigray.

Libel/Slander Laws: According to the NGO End Blasphemy Laws, the law provides criminal sanctions for blasphemy or scoffing at religious places or ceremonies.

National Security: The government charged some journalists on national security grounds.

Between June 30 and July 2, federal police arrested 12 journalists from Awlo Media Center and Ethio-Forum and six staff members from Awlo Media Center for alleged affiliation with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. On August 9, police released 10 employees of Awlo Media Center after 41 days of imprisonment in the Afar Region. Police retained four journalists in custody: Abebe Bayu, Bekalu Alamrew, Fanuel Kinfu and Yayesew Shimeles. On August 17, police released the journalists on a 5,000-birr ($116) bail. Authorities in this case neither followed due process, nor did they make formal charges. Awlo Media and Ethio Forum had both reported extensively on abuses against Tigrayans.

In July the EMA suspended the national news magazine Addis Standard concerning its use of the name “Tigray Defense Forces” in its reporting. The EMA justified its suspension by claiming Addis Standard supported the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. EMA deputy director general Yonatan Tesfaye told the Committee to Protect Journalists they had suspended the license because the outlet was endangering the country’s national security by publishing content that was illegal and “legitimizes terrorist groups.”

Nongovernmental Impact: The rebel faction OLA-Shane controls an area that was considered a nonpermissive environment for journalists. On May 9, a hit squad affiliated with OLA-Shane – the Aba Torbe – allegedly shot and killed Sisay Fida, a reporter and coordinator for the Oromia Broadcasting Network, while he was walking home. While a motive was never identified, reports blamed OLA-Shane and its affiliates for the killing. A spokesperson for OLA-Shane’s Western Zone blamed the federal government. Both OLA-Shane and the government denied responsibility for the killing.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Permission to hold peaceful rallies is required. Holding unrecognized rallies may result in legal liability.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The Armed Conflict Location and Event Database (ACLED) reported that the country had an average of more than three weekly demonstrations. While the majority were peaceful, ACLED assessed security forces responded to five demonstrations with excessive force and 17 with some nonexcessive intervention.

On May 21, security forces reportedly killed at least four persons and injured approximately 20 others during a Prosperity Party rally in Merawi town in Amhara Region. Regional police stated the security forces intervened to control the situation because some youths at the rally attempted to disrupt the event. The opposition political party National Movement of Amhara released a statement describing the casualties and injuries as “a result of measures taken by the security forces against students who raised their voices peacefully.”

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

In-country Movement: In-country movement was generally unrestricted, except for movement into and out of the Tigray Region in view of the continuing conflict there and other regions experiencing violence, including parts of Benishangul-Gumuz and Western Oromia. Many routes connecting Tigray with other parts of the country were blocked or inaccessible, and federal and regional authorities erected an extensive system of checkpoints on the road connecting Semera in Afar Region to Tigray, which impeded travel including of those seeking to deliver humanitarian assistance.

As of October 4, the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Displacement Tracking Matrix estimated there were 4.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country spread across 1,957 sites. The number of IDPs more than doubled from 2020 (when IOM estimated 1.8 million IDPs). IOM estimated approximately 2.1 million persons were displaced due to the conflict that originated in Tigray and spread into Amhara and Afar Regions. There were significant IDP populations in Benishangul-Gumuz and Oromia Regions as well. IOM concluded that conflict remained the primary reason for displacement, followed by drought, flooding, and social tensions.

IOM found that IDPs had limited access to basic services and livelihood opportunities, and faced significant protection risks, including exposure to continuing violence, lack of educational opportunities, and lack of health care. In many displacement sites, IDPs reported food shortages, with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions having reduced the supply and availability of staple commodities. In some instances the government strongly encouraged returns of IDPs without adequate arrangements for security and sustainability.

The government collaborated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in expanding protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern in most regions of the country. The government did not allow UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations unfettered access and delivery of life-saving assistance to refugees and other populations in need in the Tigray Region.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government used a refugee status determination system for providing services and protection to refugees. UNHCR reported the government did not register Eritrean arrivals because it ceased granting prima facie recognition for Eritrean asylum seekers in 2020. This led to an increase in unregistered Eritrean asylum seekers with no access to a refugee status determination.

The Tigray conflict continued to have a negative impact on the protection of Eritrean refugees. In February the government closed two of the four refugee camps hosting Eritrean refugees in Tigray – Shimelba and Hitsats – after they were destroyed in the fighting. The approximately 32,000 refugees who were resident in Shimelba and Hitsats were subsequently displaced, with some relocating to the Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps in southern Tigray, some relocating to Addis Ababa, and others remaining with host communities elsewhere in Tigray. As of October UNHCR could not account for the whereabouts of more than 6,000 Eritrean refugees. Refugees in Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps were deprived of life-saving assistance for months, as well as being targeted by armed factions through harassment and violence. UNHCR was working to establish a refugee camp in Dabat in Amhara Region to resettle refugees from Mai Aini and Adi Harush, but as of October UNHCR was unable to carry out the relocation due to continuing conflict in the area.

UNHCR also reported a change in the process for South Sudanese asylum seekers, who beginning during the year, were subject to a group screening process to determine eligibility for refugee status rather than prima facie recognition.

Freedom of Movement: In June 2020 the Agency for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) released a directive permitting refugees to leave the camps if they met certain criteria.

Employment: In June 2020 ARRA issued secondary legislation to codify rights in the 2019 Refugee Proclamation, which included procedures for refugees’ right to work. The Right to Work Directive provides for the right to work of refugees working on a joint project with local nationals, and for the right to work of refugees seeking wage-earning employment in a position unable to be filled by a citizen, or through self-employment. ARRA reported that as of July, approximately 5,000 work permits had been granted through the program.

Access to Basic Services: Refugee students who passed the required tests could attend a university with fees paid by the government and UNHCR.

Durable Solutions: The government welcomed refugees to settle in the country but did not offer a path to citizenship or provide integration.

Hong Kong

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

Despite provisions of the Basic Law and government claims, the PRC and SAR governments increasingly encroached upon freedom of expression. Attacks on independent media included the coerced closures of Apple Daily and Stand News; the restructuring of public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) to gut its editorial independence and to delete previous online content considered politically sensitive; pressure applied to a prominent journalists’ labor union; and acts to encourage self-censorship by other media outlets and public opinion leaders.

Freedom of Expression: There were legal restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government publicly without reprisal. Expressing views perceived to be critical of the PRC or SAR prompted charges of sedition or NSL violations for prodemocratic activists and politicians. On June 4, Chow Hang-tung, the vice chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, was arrested and later charged for inciting unauthorized assembly, because she urged members of the public to “turn on the lights wherever you are – whether on your telephone, candles, or electronic candles” in remembrance of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Requirements for electoral candidacy and for taking the oath of office also limited free speech in the political arena. The overhauled electoral system (see section 3) requires all elected officials to swear an oath of allegiance and to adhere to “patriotic” standards with respect to the PRC and SAR. Even with the signed pledge and oath of office, the Electoral Affairs Commission chose to disqualify 49 seated members of local District Councils and one remaining non-pro-Beijing legislative councilor, questioning their patriotism based on past statements or actions, despite their adherence to the requirements of office. There was no judicial recourse.

The government requires all civil servants to swear an oath of allegiance. According to media reports, civil servants may lose their jobs if they refuse to swear the oath and may face criminal charges, including under the NSL, if they later engage in behavior, including speech, deemed to violate the oaths. SAR authorities and Beijing officials insinuated that interactions with foreign diplomats could be considered “collusion” under the NSL. One former pan-democratic politician facing NSL charges was denied bail in part based on an email invitation from a foreign consulate, while another was denied bail in part based on interviews and text messages with international press.

Any speech critical of the central or local government or its policies may be construed as advocating secession or subversion in violation of the NSL, or inciting hate against the government in violation of a colonial-era sedition law. Prosecutors argued in multiple court hearings that the phrase “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times,” a common slogan of the 2019 prodemocracy protests, contained an inherent meaning of support for independence, a change in the SAR’s constitutional status, or both. To date, courts have convicted two individuals under the NSL in part on that basis. Scholars and activists have argued that the courts’ decisions failed to take into consideration protections for freedom of expression enshrined in the Basic Law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the NSL itself.

In May SAR authorities passed legislation that criminalized inciting others not to vote in elections or to cast blank ballots. Violators are subject to up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine. The SAR anticorruption agency arrested at least 10 individuals in November and December for allegedly urging, on social media, others to cast blank votes. On December 16, two of the 10 were the first to be prosecuted under this law. Legal experts described the legislation as disproportionate and out of line with common law norms that criminalize incitement only when the behavior incited is itself illegal. SAR officials have also claimed that inciting others to boycott elections or cast blank votes may violate the NSL.

SAR legislation prohibits acts deemed to abuse or desecrate the PRC national flag or anthem. In September SAR authorities amended the legislation to criminalize desecrating the national flag or anthem online, such as by posting an image of a “defiled” national flag on social media. At least one individual was convicted during the year for desecrating the national flag, and at least three others were arrested for allegedly desecrating the flag or insulting the national anthem.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The operating space for independent media shrank considerably. The SAR targeted independent media that expressed views it construed as not progovernment. Pro-Beijing media and politicians accused government-owned public broadcaster RTHK of exercising insufficient editorial oversight, opposing police and the government, and thus potentially standing in violation of the NSL. The SAR government subsequently forced out the managing director and replaced him with a pro-Beijing civil servant with no broadcasting experience. RTHK’s civil service employees were given a deadline to swear loyalty oaths, leading many to resign. Under its new management, RTHK also fired presenters, cancelled shows, and censored content based on political perspective.

The SAR systematically dismantled Apple Daily, an independent newspaper and online news platform. On June 17, national security police officers arrested five executives of Next Digital, the parent company of Apple Daily. The same day, police searched Apple Daily offices and froze its assets. During the search, police documented each staff member on site. Following the freeze of its assets, on June 24, Apple Daily issued its last online reports and newspaper edition. Three members of the editorial staff, including a senior editor prohibited from boarding a flight at the airport, were subsequently arrested under the NSL. Cheung Kim-hung, CEO of Apple Daily parent company Next Digital, was denied bail based in part on public statements made by foreign governments, over which the defendant had no control.

On December 29, national security police officers arrested seven individuals affiliated with prodemocracy online media outlet Stand News on charges of “conspiracy to print or distribute seditious materials” under a colonial-era sedition law. The same day, police raided its office, seized journalistic materials, and froze its assets. Police also raided the home of Stand News deputy editor and chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association Ronson Chan, who was taken in for questioning but later released. Stand News subsequently announced on its social media page the resignation of its chief editor, the layoff of all staff, and the immediate cessation of all its operations.

Violence and Harassment: The pro-Beijing media and SAR officials began in September to accuse the Hong Kong Journalists Association of potential NSL violations. The association released a report in July titled Freedom in Tatters outlining the worrisome loss of journalistic freedom. The report expressed concern that police force national security offices would begin scrutinizing its activities using tactics like those used against trade unions and other professional associations. The Hong Kong Journalists Association is a frequent target of SAR government officials’ and pro-Beijing media criticism. In November the Foreign Correspondents’ Club issued the results of a member survey showing that 83 percent of respondents believed the NSL caused the media environment to change for the worse. This spurred the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in the city to condemn the club for smearing the city’s press freedom and interfering in the territory’s affairs.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Reports of media self-censorship and suspected content control continued. Public libraries and universities culled their holdings, including archives, to comply with the NSL; it was unclear if this was based on a request from SAR officials or if the institutions chose to self-censor. Public libraries removed past issues of Apple Daily and books authored by prodemocratic activists. After the closure of Apple Daily and the increased scrutiny of RTHK, Stand News removed articles and columns from its website in June to reduce risks that SAR authorities would accuse the media outlet of breaking the NSL or other laws.

In July officers in the Hong Kong police’s National Security Department arrested and later charged five members of a labor union with “conspiring to publish seditious publications” after the union published a series of children’s books that referred to the 2019-20 protest movement. Police also froze more than 160,000 Hong Kong dollars ($20,000) of the union’s assets. In August SAR authorities announced they were canceling the union’s registration for alleged activities inconsistent with the union’s stated objectives. SAR officials accused the books of “inciting hatred” and “poisoning” children’s minds against the PRC and SAR governments.

In October the Legislative Council passed a film censorship law that empowers SAR authorities to revoke a film’s license if “found to be contrary to national security interests.” Violators are liable for up to three years’ imprisonment.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but SAR authorities did not respect those rights, especially for individuals and organizations associated with the prodemocracy movement. The government repeatedly claimed COVID-19 pandemic health concerns as reasons for restricting public gatherings, although it made exceptions for events involving government officials and pro-Beijing groups.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

While the law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government effectively banned peaceful assembly for political purposes to prevent COVID-19. Because of the strict public health limits on any public gathering, police did not issue any “letters of no objection” for public demonstrations from groups not aligned with the PRC and SAR governments after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, police refused permits for a May 1 Labor Day rally, the annual 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre vigil, and the annual July 1 prodemocracy rally marking the anniversary of the SAR’s handover to China.

Freedom of Association

SAR law provides for freedom of association, but the government did not respect the law. SAR authorities investigated and forced the closure of any group they deemed a “national security” concern. Pro-Beijing media also accused several unions, including the SAR’s largest trade and teacher unions (see section 7, Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining) of “foreign collusion” – punishable by up to life in prison under the NSL – due to their affiliation with international organizations.

The Civil Human Rights Front, an umbrella group that organized large-scale annual prodemocracy protests, announced its dissolution just days after the police commissioner publicly accused the group of possible violations of the NSL and of operating since 2002 without proper registration. He made this accusation despite previous police approvals of the group’s requests for protest permits in prior years.

The 612 Humanitarian Fund, which used crowdfunding to support emergency financial and legal assistance for persons injured or arrested during the 2019 protests against the extradition bill, was also forced to shutter its operations after the government publicly made criminal allegations against the group.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, a prodemocracy group organizing annual vigils to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre, voted to disband after Hong Kong police charged seven of its leaders, as well as the organization itself, under the NSL, and froze the group’s assets. In October Chief Executive Carrie Lam ordered the Alliance removed from the city’s Companies Registry.

By law any person claiming to be an officer of a banned group may be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison and fined. Those convicted of providing meeting space or other aid to a banned group may also be sentenced to fines and jail time.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government sometimes confiscated travel documents and enforced travel bans for democracy activists and opposition politicians facing charges. SAR authorities forced some individuals, including foreign nationals, who were arrested under the NSL but not charged and were on police bail, to surrender their travel documents as part of the conditions for bail.

In June after the closure of Apple Daily, SAR authorities arrested a senior editor at the airport for national security offenses. This editor had not previously been charged, and some media reporters indicated that SAR authorities maintained an exit ban “watchlist” of residents who would be intercepted if they attempted to leave the SAR.

The SAR government enacted an immigration bill amendment effective on August 1. The legal sector, NGOs, and refugee advocates expressed concern that the amendment empowered SAR authorities to bar anyone, without a court order, from entering or leaving the SAR.

Foreign Travel: The United Kingdom granted those born in Hong Kong prior to 1997 certain British rights but not the right to abode. After the United Kingdom granted these British National (Overseas) passport holders further rights and a path to citizenship, the PRC and SAR announced they would no longer recognize the British National (Overseas) Passport as an identity or travel document.

Some activists alleged that this action also effectively prevents some permanent residents who are members of ethnic minority groups but are not PRC nationals from obtaining a travel document because only SAR residents who are PRC nationals may apply for a Hong Kong passport.

Not applicable.

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, but the SAR government has established a system for providing limited protection to persons who would be subject to torture or other abuses in their home country.

The SAR government uses the term “nonrefoulement claim” to refer to a claim for protection against deportation. Persons subject to deportation could file a nonrefoulement claim if they either arrived in the SAR without proper authorization or had overstayed the terms of their admittance. Filing such a claim typically resulted in a period of detention followed by release on recognizance. Activists and refugee rights groups expressed concerns about the quality of adjudications and the very low rate of approved claims, fewer than 1 percent. Denied claimants may appeal to the Torture Claims Appeal Board. The government did not publish the board’s decisions, a practice that the Hong Kong Bar Association previously noted created concerns about the consistency and transparency of decisions. Persons whose claims were pending were required to appear periodically before the Immigration Department. In August the SAR implemented an ordinance amendment specifically targeting those seeking asylum and barring them from entering the SAR. The amendment also shortened timeframes for individuals seeking protection against deportation, and in some cases limited these individuals’ access to interpretation into their mother tongues.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Activists indicated that persons seeking refugee status faced discrimination and were frequent targets of negative commentary by some political parties and media organizations.

Employment: “Nonrefoulement claimants” have no right to work in the SAR while their claims are under review, and they must rely on social welfare stipends and charities. An NGO reported the government’s process for evaluating claims, which did not allow claimants to work legally in the SAR, made some refugees vulnerable to trafficking. The SAR government, however, frequently granted exceptions to this rule for persons granted nondeportation status and awaiting UNHCR resettlement.

Access to Basic Services: Persons who made “nonrefoulement” claims were eligible to receive publicly funded legal assistance, including translation services, as well as small living subsidies. Claimants were also entitled to basic health-care services at public hospitals and clinics. The children of such claimants could attend SAR public schools.

Temporary Protection: Persons whose claims for “nonrefoulement” are substantiated do not obtain permanent resident status in the SAR. Instead, the SAR government refers them to UNHCR for possible recognition as refugees and resettlement in a third country. In some cases, individuals waited years in the SAR before being resettled.

Israel, West Bank and Gaza

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech and content liable to incite to violence or discrimination on grounds of race, origin, religion, nationality, and gender. In cases of speech that are defined as incitement to violence or hate speech, the law empowers police to limit freedom of expression.

The law also restricts freedom of expression by imposing tort liability on any person who knowingly issues a public call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of the State of Israel or of institutions or entities in Israel or areas under its control in the West Bank. Plaintiffs must prove direct economic harm to claim damages under the law. The law also permits the finance minister to impose administrative sanctions on those calling for such a boycott, including restrictions on participating in tenders for contracts with the government and denial of government benefits.

On March 30, the Israel Prize Judges Committee for Math and Science petitioned to the Supreme Court against then minister of education Yoav Galant’s decision to deny its recommendation to grant the 2021 Israel Prize to Professor Oded Goldreich. Galant denied the recommendation due to statements Goldreich made and the signing of a petition calling for the EU not to cooperate with the Ariel University, which is in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. On July 22, the attorney general, in his response to the court, stated the decision not to grant the award to Goldreich exceeded “the range of reasonableness and could not stand legally,” as Goldreich stated he is not a boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) supporter, and his actions did not amount to an up-to-date, significant BDS activity. On August 12, the Supreme Court cancelled the minister’s decision and returned the committee’s recommendation to the education minister for adjudication. On November 18, Minister of Education Yifat Shasha-Biton decided not to grant Goldreich the prize for the same reasons. The Judges Committee again submitted a petition to the Supreme Court, which was pending at the year’s end. The law bars entry to the country of visitors who are actively, consistently, and persistently calling for boycotts.

Conviction of desecrating the Israeli flag carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a fine. Waving a Palestinian flag is a criminal offense, but according to a 2014 attorney general legal opinion it should only be enforced in cases of a credible suspicion that the flag waving represents support for a terrorist organization or when there is a high likelihood that flag waving will lead to a serious disturbance of the peace. During the year police confiscated Palestinian flags and arrested activists waving flags during demonstrations. In September Haaretz published a report that Minister of Public Security Omer Bar-Lev instructed police to take such measures only under exceptional circumstances. According to the government, no action should be taken to remove Palestinian flags unless there is a high probability that waving the flag could lead to a serious violation of public order and security, and prosecution based on charges of waving a Palestinian flag are examined on a case-by-case basis (see the West Bank and Gaza report). According to the Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF), on September 24, police arrested four protesters who waved Palestinian flags in East Jerusalem on the suspicion of participating in a riot and disturbing the peace by undertaking such activity. One of the four protesters was hospitalized due to a head injury sustained during the arrest. All four were released without an indictment. A judge in one of the cases stated the waving of the Palestinian flag did not constitute a criminal offense.

The law prohibits individuals or organizations that initiate political or legal action abroad against IDF soldiers or the State of Israel from holding activities in schools, but the Ministry of Education had not issued regulations necessary to implement the law as of year’s end. Both supporters and opponents of the law stated it was intended to target the NGO Breaking the Silence (BTS), a group of military veterans whose goal is to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. BTS criticized the law as a violation of freedom of political expression.

HRDF reported that the ISA summoned and intimidated some individuals, mainly Arab/Palestinian Israelis, for their political activism. According to HRDF, on June 27, an Arab/Palestinian Israeli woman was arrested in her home by the Shin Bet, and taken for interrogation, while denied access to an attorney. She was questioned regarding her activism against forced evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and stated the interrogators intimidated her and threatened her family.

On January 17, following an invitation for the NGO B’Tselem’s director to speak at a Haifa school, then minister of education Yoav Galant sent a letter to the ministry’s director general and district managers ordering the banning from schools of NGOs that “contradict the goals of the education system, including calling Israel false and derogatory names, opposing Israel as a Jewish, Zionist, and democratic state, discouraging meaningful service in the IDF, or acting to harm or degrade IDF soldiers during or after their service.” On January 18, the event took place virtually and on January 20, the school principal was summoned to a hearing at the Ministry of Education. Adalah and ACRI called the attorney general to direct the minister to rescind the order, which they stated was illegal. On July 4, the Ministry of Education’s director general determined there was insufficient evidence that the principal had had “a harmful influence” on students.

On May 13, during the period of civil unrest and Israel’s May military campaign, the Civil Service Commission summoned mainly Arab/Palestinian citizen public servants from the Ministry of Health to pretermination hearings to explain their political posts on social media (see section 7.d.).

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, with a few exceptions (see section 4).

Police regulations grant broad authorities to prevent journalists’ access to violent incidents but also require authorities to minimize the violation of press freedom in efforts to cover those incidents.

Violence and Harassment: Palestinian journalists who were able to obtain entry permits as well as Jerusalem-based Arab journalists reported incidents of harassment, racism, and occasional violence when they sought to cover news in Jerusalem, especially in the Old City and its vicinity. In June the Journalists’ Support Committee, a nonprofit journalist advocacy organization, stated security forces committed more than 50 human rights violations against Palestinian journalists working in Jerusalem in the first half of the year, including arrests and expulsions from the city. In May the then public security minister Gilad Erdan extended for an additional six months the 2019 closure order against Palestine TV’s East Jerusalem office, according to media reports.

During the year, 62 incidents of physical attacks against journalists, including by security forces and civilians, were reported to the Union of Journalists in the country. Israeli police officers detained, used violence against, and confiscated equipment of journalists during demonstrations in Jerusalem. On May 7, during a protest at Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, police beat Ahmad Gharabli, a Palestinian journalist with Agence France-Presse, with a baton, according to press reports. Several other journalists reported being attacked by police officers while covering events surrounding the May escalation and events in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. On June 5, al-Jazeera journalist Givari Budeiri said she was beaten and arrested by police and her cameraman’s equipment destroyed while she was in Sheikh Jarrah covering the 54th anniversary of the Naksa (or “setback”), which marks Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza in 1967. Police claimed Budeiri kicked a female Israeli soldier, which Budeiri denied. Budeiri was released after being detained by police for several hours and was banned from going to the East Jerusalem neighborhood for 15 days.

The Associated Press stated police beat photographer Mahmoud Illean on December 17 while he was covering a protest in Sheikh Jarrah. Illean was admitted to a hospital for head injuries. Police did not provide an explanation for the incident, responding that relevant authorities would investigate.

According to the Union of Journalists in Israel, at least 20 incidents occurred during the period of civil unrest in May. For example, on May 6, a police officer physically attacked Channel 12 News reporter Moshe Nussbaum after the reporter raised the problem of police violence towards protesters. On May 12, Jewish individuals in Lod attacked Channel 13 News anchorwoman Ayala Hasson and her crew with stones and tried to break their camera. At the height of the civil unrest, Channel 12 News assigned a security detail to five of its journalists following threats against them, including death threats, due to their coverage of events. On May 18, police arrested a suspect who stated he intended to harm Channel 12 News journalist Dana Weiss and her family due to her commentary on the civil unrest. The suspect later was released after expressing remorse for his comments.

On June 3, unknown suspects shot several rounds at the home and car of Ynet reporter Hassan Shaalan, who covered crime and violence matters in Arab communities in the city of Tayibe. No injuries were reported. On the night of June 18, a device detonated in the home to which Shaalan planned to relocate to in Baqa al-Gharbiyye for his safety. Police opened an investigation into the incidents.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: All media organizations must submit to the Israeli Military Censor, a unit within the IDF’s Directorate of Military Intelligence, any material relating to specific security matters or strategic infrastructure matters such as oil and water supplies. Organizations may appeal the censor’s decisions to the Supreme Court, and the censor may not appeal a court judgment.

News printed or broadcast abroad is subject to security censorship. The government regularly enacted restrictive orders on what it deemed to constitute sensitive security information and continuing investigations, and it required foreign correspondents and local media to abide by these orders. According to data provided by the IDF in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by +972 Magazine, in 2020 the censor acted on 1,403 articles of 6,421 articles submitted to it and banned 116 articles.

According to the media watchdog Seventh Eye, police continued a policy of automatically requesting gag orders during investigations of certain crimes and complex cases to prevent public discourse of active investigations. Police stated in 2020 that police only request gag orders after serious consideration based on the needs of an investigation.

While the government retained the authority to censor publications for security concerns, anecdotal evidence suggested authorities did not actively review the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper or other Jerusalem-based Arabic publications. Editors and journalists from those publications, however, reported they engaged in self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: State authorities, some NGOs, and individuals continued to file defamation lawsuits to discourage public criticism of authorities’ actions, according to HRDF. For example, according to independent media outlet HaMakom, 64 police officers filed lawsuits against 210 civilians between March 2020 and February for posting comments on social media critical of police behavior during police enforcement of COVID-19 pandemic regulations. On January 14, ACRI submitted amicus briefs in 16 such lawsuits, arguing the lawsuits were having a chilling effect on speaking out against police violence and stating that civilians’ social media comments are protected speech under freedom of expression laws.

A defamation lawsuit to discourage public criticism of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank filed in 2020 by the settler regional council of “Samaria” against former member of the Knesset and head of the Zulat Institute Zehava Galon for her criticism of two settlers who allegedly shot and killed a Palestinian attacker, was pending as of the year’s end.

National Security: The law criminalizes as “terrorist acts” speech supporting terrorism, including public praise of a terrorist organization, the display of symbols, expression of slogans, and “incitement.” The law authorizes restrictions on the release of bodies of terrorists and their funerals to prevent “incitement to terror or identification with a terrorist organization or an act of terror.”

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

On April 4, the Supreme Court struck down the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic emergency regulation that allowed for a temporary limitation of the right to demonstrate to less than a mile from one’s home. The verdict determined the regulation constituted a disproportionate limit on the freedom of assembly because the location of a demonstration is critical to its message, particularly when it relates to public officials. The verdict also canceled nearly 11,000 monetary fines police issued for related violations. The verdict determined a separate regulation limiting the number of demonstrators to groups of 20 and requiring compliance with social distancing measures was lawful.

There were reports that police used excessive force in response to protests. For example, on February 26, police used riot control measures, including rubber-coated bullets, tear gas canisters, and stun grenades, during an Umm al-Fahm demonstration against crime and violence, leading to the injury of dozens of protesters, including Knesset member Yousef Jabareen and Umm al-Fahem mayor Samir Sobhi. According to Adalah, police ordered the use of force before the demonstration began and used unreasonable and life-threatening measures against demonstrators who were acting in accordance with the law. According to police, the demonstration escalated to a violation of public order when demonstrators attempted to block a road and threw stones, which led to the injury of eight police officers. On November 23, DIPO announced that it decided not to open a criminal investigation into police conduct during the demonstration.

On April 12, ACRI and the Movement for Freedom of Information in Israel demanded that police make public its standard policies, procedures, and methods for dispersing protesters, such as water cannon, soft bullets, and chemical irritants, that police had withheld when replying to a 2020 freedom of information petition.

On January 14, the prosecution filed an indictment against a leading anti-Netanyahu activist for organizing an illegal gathering, punishable by up to one year’s imprisonment, after the activist led two “illegal” marches. A deputy state attorney had previously issued a 2020 directive to limit such indictments on grounds they potentially violate freedom of assembly and expression.

The trial against Israel National Police chief superintendent Niso Guetta, indicted in 2020 for assault during demonstrations against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, continued at the year’s end.

On May 12, ACRI stated many Arab citizens and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem received text messages to their cellphones in Arabic, signed by Shin Bet, with the message, “You have been identified as a person who participated in violent acts in the al-Aqsa mosque. You will be held accountable.” ACRI and Adalah appealed to authorities to stop sending these text messages and act against the officials who initiated and approved the action, asserting it was illegal and done absent approval from competent authorities.

There were reports that Israeli authorities used excessive force against protesters in East Jerusalem. Between April and June, hundreds of Palestinian and Jewish Israeli protesters from across Israel and East Jerusalem came to Sheikh Jarrah to show their support for families at risk of eviction and to protest the dispossession of Palestinians from their homes, according to HRDF. Police and media characterized the protest as violent. HRDF reported that Israeli police used aggressive and disproportionate force to disperse the demonstrations, injuring hundreds of protesters. Security forces deployed stun grenades and tear gas canisters, sprayed “skunk water,” and fired sponge grenades, according to HRDF. Between April 29 and May 21, HRDF provided legal aid to 42 Palestinian and Israeli peaceful protesters arrested in Sheikh Jarrah, some of whom HRDF claimed were hospitalized after being attacked by police. Most of the protesters were released after one or two court hearings on bail with 30- to 60-day bans from Sheikh Jarrah, and others were released at the police station with 15-day bans from Sheikh Jarrah.

On May 3, HRDF alleged that Israeli police pepper sprayed and attacked Sheikh Jarrah human rights activist Salah Diab, injuring his leg. On May 6, HRDF reported that 21 Israeli Jewish attackers arrived from the newly established “office” of extreme-right member of the Knesset Itamar Ben-Gvir across the street to pepper spray Palestinians congregating in front of Diab’s house. The incident escalated as the two groups threw plastic chairs and stools at each other. Following the attack, four Palestinians, including Salah Diab, were arrested for “racially motivated” attacks, while one of the Jewish attackers was detained and released the same evening, according to HRDF. On July 11, Diab was summoned to a termination-of-employment hearing from his work at an Israeli supermarket for violating company values and policies and harming its reputation due to his activism and participation in the Sheikh Jarrah protest. According to HRDF, the campaign for his dismissal reportedly was led by the right-wing NGO Honenu and politicians such as Ben-Gvir and Jerusalem deputy mayor Arieh King,

On September 24, during the weekly protest in Sheikh Jarrah, four protesters were violently arrested by police for waving Palestinian flags. According to HRDF, Jerusalem police forces regularly confiscated, attacked, and arrested peaceful protesters who waved the Palestinian flag, despite Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev’s explicit order to the police commissioner and high-ranking officers that the Palestinian flag may only be confiscated during demonstrations under exceptional circumstances (see section 2.a.).

Freedom of Association

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

The law prohibits registration of an association or a party if its goals include denial of the existence of the State of Israel or of the democratic character of the state.

The law requires NGOs receiving more than one-half of their funding from foreign governments to state this fact in their official publications, applications to attend Knesset meetings, websites, public campaigns, and any communication with the public. The law allows a fine for NGOs that violate these rules. The government had not taken legal action against any NGO for failing to comply with the law as of year’s end. Local NGOs critical of the government asserted the law sought to intimidate them, delegitimize them in the public eye, and prevent them from receiving foreign government funding (see section 5).

Human rights NGOs alleged that Israeli authorities cited laws against terrorism or protecting national security to arrest or punish critics of the government or deter criticism of government policies or officials. On October 22, Minister of Defense Benny Gantz announced that Israel was designating six Palestinian NGOs (al-Haq, Addameer, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees) as terrorist organizations, alleging connections to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist organization. Local and international human rights groups strongly criticized the designation, alleging overly broad use of terrorism laws that created a chilling effect on civil society groups conducting legitimate human rights work. The designated groups are based in the West Bank, but the designation applies both within the West Bank under IDF military order and in Israel under the 2016 counterterrorism legislation.

The UN special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights criticized the designation as a blatant misuse of counterterrorism legislation designed to ban human rights activities and to silence speech advocating for respect for human rights. On October 25, 22 Israeli NGOs released a joint statement of support and solidarity with the designated NGOs calling on the Israeli government and international community to oppose the decision and alleging the designation was done to criminalize and prevent documentation of human rights abuses and prevent legal advocacy and aid for human rights work.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

The government imposed restrictions on freedom of movement to curb the spread of COVID-19 through emergency regulations.

In-country Movement: The barrier that divided the majority of the West Bank from Israel also divided some communities in Jerusalem, affecting residents’ access to places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals as well as the conduct of commerce, journalism, and humanitarian and NGO activities. For example, restrictions on access in Jerusalem had negative effects, including delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours, on Palestinian patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem that offered specialized care. According to HaMoked, the IDF denied 73 percent of farmer permits in 2020, compared with 63 percent in 2019. Only 1 percent of these permits were denied for security reasons, according to the IDF. Most permits were denied due to difficulties navigating the military bureaucracy and failure to meet the ever-more restrictive criteria, according to HaMoked. Authorities sometimes restricted internal movement in Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s Old City and periodically blocked entrances to the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya, Silwan, and Jabal Mukabber. The government stated that the barrier was needed for security reasons and that restrictions on movement in Jerusalem were temporary and implemented only when necessary for investigative operations, public safety, or public order, and when there was no viable alternative.

On May 12, during the period of civil unrest, Minister of Defense Benny Gantz declared a temporary state of emergency in Lod due to the serious harm to public safety caused by interethnic clashes, transferring control over the city to police. On the same day, police announced a night curfew in Lod. Police also prohibited access to the city during evening hours due to calls for Jews and Arabs from outside of the city to participate in the riots. Both the curfew and the ban were not fully enforced. On May 13, ACRI asserted the civil state of emergency and the curfew were unlawful and demanded their cessation. ACRI stated the law allowing such declarations does not include incidents of civil unrest. The civil state of emergency and curfew lasted until May 20.

In July and August, several municipalities blocked access to their beaches or parks for nonresidents who were not vaccinated for COVID-19. For example, on August 4, the Acre City Council decided to permit access to its beaches only to those with a “green pass” indicating an individual is vaccinated or recovered. The Acre mayor stated that day that buses arriving from West Bank Palestinian cities posed a public health problem due to low rates of vaccination in those cities. According to Adalah, the Acre City Council did not have the authority to take such measures and that the measures were intended to prevent Palestinian access to Acre’s beaches under the guise of protecting public health. On September 12, in response to a letter from Adalah, the attorney general sent a letter to the Acre municipality stating there was no legal basis for the municipality’s actions.

Foreign Travel: Citizens generally were free to travel abroad, provided they had no outstanding military obligations and no administrative restrictions. The government may bar citizens from leaving the country based on security considerations, unpaid debts, or unresolved divorce proceedings. Authorities do not permit any citizen to travel to any state officially at war with Israel without government permission. This restriction includes travel to Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.

The government enacted a series of limitations and restrictions on foreign travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning on January 25, the government did not allow inbound or outbound foreign travel at its airports, and on January 28, it closed its land borders. Beginning in February, Israeli citizens were allowed to return to Israel with the approval of an exceptions committee from a limited number of destinations under an increasing quota of up to 3,000 individuals per day. On February 22, the government opened its land border with Jordan for Israelis having approval from an exception committee. Beginning on March 7, the approval of an exceptions committee was no longer necessary for Israeli citizens to return to the country. On March 16, the government canceled limitations on flight destinations. On March 17, the Supreme Court ruled the quota system violated the Basic Law granting citizens the right to enter the country. The court ordered the regulation not be renewed past its expiration date on March 20 and determined the limitation would only be based on effective capacity. During the reminder of the year, the government allowed the unlimited entry of citizens and a limited category of visitors. Beginning on November 28, citizens could not travel to an expanding list of countries as a part of the government’s effort to curb the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The list remained in effect at year’s end.

The government requires all citizens to have a special permit to enter “Area A” in the West Bank (the area, according to the Interim Agreement, in which the PA exercises civil and security responsibility). The government allowed Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel access to Area A without permits, however. The government continued selective revocations of residency permits of some Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. This meant those residents could no longer return to reside in Jerusalem. Reasons for revocation included holding residency or citizenship of another country; living in another country, the West Bank, or Gaza for more than seven years; or, most commonly, being unable to prove a “center of life” (interpreted as full-time residency) in Jerusalem as adjudicated by the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that as of October 22, the government had revoked 22 residency permits in Jerusalem for individuals who had stayed outside of the country for more than seven years or acquired citizenship or permanent residence status in another country. Some Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem but studied abroad reported losing their Jerusalem residency status. The government, however, denied revoking residency status of anyone who left for the sole purpose of studying abroad. The government added that the residency of individuals who maintained an “affinity to Israel” would not be revoked and that former residents who wished to return to Israel could receive renewed residency status under certain conditions.

Palestinians possessing residency permits issued by the Israeli government, but not PA or Jordanian identity documents, needed special travel documents to leave the country.

Citizenship: The law allows administrative courts to approve the minister of interior’s request for revocation of citizenship of a person on grounds of “breach of trust to the State of Israel” or following a conviction for an act of terror. The law grants the minister the authority to revoke permanent residency based on similar grounds. Legal appeals to the Supreme Court by Adalah and ACRI against the revocation of the citizenships of two individuals convicted for an act of terror, which also questioned the constitutionality of the law itself, were pending as of the year’s end. On June 29, the interior minister signed the revocation of one citizenship and one permanent residence permit; the revocations were pending approval by the attorney general and the administrative court.

Not applicable.

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 and asylum seekers as well as to other persons of concern, except as noted below. The government did not allow UNHCR regular access to monitor the detention facility at Ben Gurion Airport.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, but it has rarely granted a refugee status, and the government often kept asylum applications pending for years. NGOs alleged that the government did this purposely. According to the government, as of November, PIBA rejected a total of 3,260 asylum applications and accepted a total of seven. Most asylum seekers received a “conditional release visa” that requires frequent renewal and is only available in two locations in the country. The government provided these individuals with a limited form of group protection regarding freedom of movement, protection against refoulement, and limited access to the labor market. Advocacy groups asserted that most government policies were geared toward deterring the arrival of future asylum seekers by pressuring those already in the country to depart, either by restricting their access to social and medical services or by not examining their asylum requests.

As of September 30, there were 31,012 adult irregular migrants and asylum seekers in the country, of whom 28,175 were from Eritrea or Sudan, according to PIBA. According to the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, and UNHCR estimates, 8,000 to 10,000 children of asylum seekers resided in the country.

Irregular migrants subject to deportation, including those claiming but unable to prove citizenship in countries included in Israel’s nonrefoulement policy, were subjected to indefinite detention if they refused to depart after receiving a deportation order. According to the most recent HRM estimate, at the end of 2020, there were several dozen migrants with undetermined or disputed citizenship in detention, compared with 165 in 2018 and 5,000 in 2015.

According to HRM and Haaretz, as of June 21, PIBA had examined only 103 asylum requests of Eritrean citizens, of which it had decided 19 requests and approved only one that involved four individuals. This occurred despite a 2019 government announcement that it would reexamine all requests from Eritrean asylum seekers, including 3,000 that were previously denied. Since the 2019 announcement, PIBA examined 706 cases and recognized 15 individuals as refugees. On April 25, the Supreme Court ruled on petitions from 2017 demanding the examination of asylum claims of Sudanese citizens from Darfur, Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile. The court gave the government until December 30 to either set a policy for deciding on asylum applications, process asylum requests on an individual basis, grant humanitarian status to asylum seekers, or develop a solution that would allow for the departure of the asylum seekers. If the government failed to do so, the court ordered the issuance of temporary residency status to the 2,445 asylum seekers who submitted their requests prior to June 2017, until a decision was taken regarding their application. On December 26, PIBA published a list of 2,426 individuals to which it would grant temporary residency for six months, to be renewed on an individual basis. This would grant asylum seekers the right to social benefits, but the temporary status could be revoked if an asylum request were denied. In November PIBA stated Ethiopians from the Tigray region who applied for asylum due to the civil war, including those whose asylum requests were rejected in the past, would receive a temporary stay permit like that held by Eritreans and Sudanese.

Palestinian residents of the West Bank who claimed to be in a life-threatening situation due to their sexual orientation or for other reasons, such as domestic violence, did not have access to the asylum system due to Israel’s claim that the 1951 Refugee Convention does not apply to Palestinians because they received assistance from UNRWA. Many Palestinians in life-threatening situations therefore resided in Israel without legal status. NGOs stated this situation left persons who claimed they could not return to the West Bank due to fear of persecution vulnerable to human trafficking, violence, and exploitation. Some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) Palestinians were able to obtain from the coordinator of government activities in the territories (COGAT) a temporary permit allowing them to stay in Israel without authorization to work or to access social services. According to UNHCR, prior to the issuance of permits, COGAT requested proof of efforts to resettle in a third country.

On July 22, in response to a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the right to work and access to the health-care system for Palestinians with the appropriate permits in Israel, the government stated it viewed a fundamental difference between Palestinians threatened due to cooperation with Israel and Palestinians who fled due to their sexual orientation or domestic violence. The government committed to begin issuing work permits for the first group, but not for members of the second group, who could only apply for a permit in demanded fields such as construction and industry, mirroring requirements for Palestinian workers from the West Bank. On July 26, the Supreme Court ruled on the petition, validating the government’s position but also demanding that the government update the court regarding the possibility of accepting requests for work permits from the second group, separate from an employer. The case was continued at the year’s end.

The government did not accept initial asylum claims at airports. UNHCR did not have access to the detention facility at Ben Gurion Airport. In August the minister of interior refused entry to group of Afghan refugee women rescued by the Israeli aid organization IsraAID, despite the organization’s commitment to relocate the group to Canada within a month. The group was eventually admitted to and provided asylum in Switzerland, with the assistance and advocacy of IsraAID.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: According to Ministry of Interior data obtained by HRM, no person who entered Israel through Ben Gurion Airport applied for asylum during the year. PIBA applied a fast-track procedure to reject asylum applications from applicants from Georgia, Ukraine, and Russia, which the Ministry of the Interior determined were “safe” countries, and whose citizens sought work in Israel until their asylum applications were examined. According to HRM, the fast-track procedure prevented the examination of cases in which there was a legitimate claim for asylum.

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

The government offered incentives to irregular migrants to depart the country for Uganda, including a paid ticket and a stipend. The government claimed Uganda provided for full rights under agreements with Israel, but NGOs and UNHCR confirmed that migrants who arrived at the destination did not receive residency or employment rights. From January 1 to September 30, a total of 663 irregular migrants departed the country under pressure, compared with 2,024 in 2019. NGOs claimed many of those who departed to other countries faced abuses at their destination and that this transfer could amount to refoulement.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Communities with large concentrations of African migrants were occasionally targets of violence. Additionally, government policies on the legality of work forced many refugees to work in “unofficial” positions, making them more susceptible to poor treatment and questionable work practices by their employers. PIBA, unlike police or the IPS, did not have an external body to which migrants could file complaints if subjected to violence, according to HRM.

On November 9, Yigal Ben Ami, a PIBA employee responsible for irregular migrants’ visa renewal applications, was arrested under the suspicion that he offered women renewal of their stay permits in exchange for sex, according to Haaretz. At year’s end, his case was with the prosecution, pending an indictment.

Freedom of Movement: In force until December 12, the citizenship law allowed the government to detain asylum seekers from countries to which government policy prohibits deportation upon entry for a period of three months. No such arrivals were recorded during the year, however. With the expiration of the law, the government may only detain asylum seekers for two months. The government may detain without trial and for an indefinite period, irregular migrants who were “implicated in criminal proceedings” (see section 1.d.).

Authorities prohibited asylum seekers released from detention after arrival in the country from residing in Eilat, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Petah Tikva, Netanya, Ashdod, and Bnei Brak – cities that already had a high concentration of asylum seekers. While a September 30 Supreme Court ruling upheld these prohibitions, the court instructed the government to reconsider the policy as well as the criteria for adjudicating requests to remove such restrictions. The court’s verdict became moot once the restrictions expired.

Employment: While conditional release visas for Eritrean and Sudanese refugees do not include a work permit, making their employment an offense, the government continued its practice of not enforcing this offense against employers following a 2011 commitment to the Supreme Court. According to UNHCR, asylum seekers from countries not listed under Israel’s nonrefoulement policy were restricted from working for three to six months after submitting their requests if they did not have a visa before applying. Asylum seekers are prohibited from working on government contracts, including local government contracts for cleaning and maintenance, which often employed irregular migrants.

According to the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, 48 percent of asylum seekers in Israel were unemployed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and were ineligible for unemployment insurance or other social services.

Up to December 12, the law barred migrants from sending remittances abroad, limited the amount they may take with them when they leave to minimum-wage earnings for the number of months they resided in the country, and defined taking additional money outside the country as a money-laundering crime.

Access to Basic Services: Legally recognized refugees received social services, including access to the national health-care system, but the government for the most part did not provide asylum seekers with public social benefits. Asylum seekers were able to enroll in a health-insurance program only through their employers, leaving many of them uninsured during the COVID-19 pandemic, when unemployment peaked among asylum seekers.

Without insurance through employers, or when employers did not arrange a private insurance policy for them as required by law, asylum seekers had access only to emergency care. The Ministry of Health offered medical insurance for minor children of asylum seekers for 120 shekels ($37) per month, but children of undocumented migrants were excluded from this program. Despite a Supreme Court injunction from November 2020, the Ministry of Health continued to exclude some children of undocumented migrants from national health-insurance policy coverage. The government sponsored a mobile clinic and mother and infant health-care stations in south Tel Aviv that were accessible to migrants and asylum seekers. Hospitals provided emergency care to migrants and treated them for COVID-19 but often denied follow-up treatment to those who failed to pay, according to the PHRI. Mental-health services for the asylum seeker and refugee population remained limited to one clinic treating 250 patients, while the need for such services increased substantially because of COVID-19, leading to lengthy waitlists, according to PHRI. Asylum seekers who were recognized as victims of trafficking were eligible for rehabilitation and care. The same eligibilities did not apply for victims of torture.

The law provides for mandatory education for any child from age three regardless of citizenship status. According to civil society organizations, several municipalities illegally segregated children of asylum seekers and other children in schools and kindergartens during the COVID-19 pandemic. On August 3, civil society organizations submitted a petition to the Tel Aviv Administrative Court on behalf of 325 children of asylum seekers and their parents as well as 100 parents of Israeli citizens, demanding a halt to segregation in the city’s education system. According to ACRI, there are four primary schools and some 60 kindergartens educating only children of asylum seekers. On September 5, the parties submitted a negotiated agreement to the court, according to which 200 of the students would be placed in schools outside of their area of residence. The petition was pending at the year’s end.

Durable Solutions: There is no procedure for recognized refugees to naturalize. According to the Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic, only under exceptional humanitarian circumstances may a recognized refugee receive permanent residency.

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

Despite being eligible for Israeli citizenship since 1981, an estimated 23,600 Druze living in territory captured from Syria in 1967 largely refused to accept it, and their status as Syrian citizens was unclear. They held Israeli “laissez passer” travel documents, which listed their nationality as “undefined.”

The government launched an investigation into reports that 2,625 Bedouins had their citizenship revoked when requesting services at the Ministry of Interior, beginning in 2017. The investigation found that in all except 500 cases, the revocations were flawed and the individuals had originally been registered correctly as citizens. The government subsequently reinstated the citizenship of those individuals. According to the government, of the 500 Bedouins who should not have been registered as citizens because they were children of permanent residents, approximately 400 were naturalized, 90 had yet to visit PIBA’s offices to begin the process, and 10 cases were still pending.

There were reports of some stateless third-generation members of the Hebrew Israelites community whom the government judged ineligible for Israeli citizenship.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

Neither in law nor practice were constitutional provisions for freedom of expression respected.

Freedom of Expression: Authorities in the TAR and other Tibetan regions punished persons for the vaguely defined crime of “creating and spreading rumors.” Voice of America reported in March that three Tibetans were arrested for “violating regulations” by establishing a WeChat group. Tibetans who spoke to foreigners or foreign reporters, attempted to provide information to persons outside the country, or communicated information regarding protests or other expressions of discontent, including via mobile phones and internet-based communications, were subject to harassment or detention for “undermining social stability and inciting separatism.”

The Tibet Post reported in March that Rinchen Tsultrim, a Tibetan monk from the TAR, was sentenced to four and a half years for contacting Tibetans overseas. reported in August that PRC authorities arrested three men for posting photographs on their social media accounts and charged them with sharing information with overseas Tibetans.

RFA reported in August that authorities in Sichuan Province arrested 60 Tibetans for allegedly having photos of the Dalai Lama on their mobile phones. Security officials held a community meeting three days later to inform the local populace that they were prohibited from having photographs of the Dalai Lama.

In September RFA reported that two Tibetans in Qinghai were detained for discussing China’s Sinicization policy. The two men had apparently discussed on WeChat PRC policies and how they related to Tibet, resulting in their arrest.

According to multiple observers, security officials often cancelled WeChat accounts carrying “sensitive information,” such as discussions about Tibetan language education, and interrogated the account owners.

During the year, the TAR carried out numerous propaganda campaigns to encourage pro-CCP speech, thought, and conduct. These included a “TAR Clear and Bright 2021” program, designed to crack down on persons “misusing” the internet, including by making “wrong” comments on the party’s history and “denigrating” the country’s “heroes and martyrs.” The TAR Communist Party also launched specialized propaganda campaigns to counter support for “Tibetan independence” and undermine popular support for the Dalai Lama. The PRC’s continuing campaign against organized crime also targeted supporters of the Dalai Lama, who were considered by police to be members of a criminal organization. In August Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Yang and TAR Communist Party secretary Wu Yingjie publicly urged everyone to follow Xi Jinping and avoid the Dalai Lama “clique” and separatist forces.

A re-education program called “Unity and Love for the Motherland” continued to expand. Participants in the program received state subsidies and incentives for demonstrating support for and knowledge of CCP leaders and ideology, often requiring them to memorize party slogans and quotations from past CCP leaders and to sing the national anthem. These tests were carried out in Mandarin. In June Reuters reported observing a broadening of China’s political education campaign among lay individuals and religious figures in the TAR. The report included monks indicating that President Xi was their “spiritual leader.” Reuters also reported that Tibet’s College of Buddhism began focusing on political and cultural education aligned with CCP teaching.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Authorities tightly controlled journalists who worked for the domestic press and could hire and fire them based on assessments of their political reliability. CCP propaganda authorities were in charge of journalist accreditation in the TAR and required journalists working there to display “loyalty to the party and motherland.” The deputy head of the TAR Propaganda Department simultaneously held a prominent position in the TAR Journalist Association, a state-controlled professional association to which local journalists must belong.

Throughout the year, the TAR implemented its “Regulations on Establishing a Model Area for Ethnic Unity and Progress,” which mandated media organizations to cooperate with ethnic unity propaganda work and criminalized speech or spreading information “damaging to ethnic unity.”

In June TAR party secretary Wu Yingjie held a special region-wide mobilization conference on propaganda and political ideological topics; some journalists and media workers in the region reported they had officially promised to implement the CCP’s line and resolutely fight separatism and “reactionary press and media” overseas.

Foreign journalists may visit the TAR only after obtaining a special travel permit from the government, and authorities rarely granted such permission. When authorities permitted journalists to travel to the TAR, the government severely limited the scope of reporting by monitoring and controlling their movements and intimidating and preventing Tibetans from interacting with them.

Violence and Harassment: PRC authorities arrested and sentenced many Tibetan writers, intellectuals, and singers for “inciting separatism.” Numerous prominent Tibetan political writers, including Jangtse Donkho, Kelsang Jinpa, Buddha (no last name), Tashi Rabten, Arik Dolma Kyab, Gangkye Drupa Kyab, and Shojkhang (also known as Druklo), reported security officers closely monitored them following their releases from prison between 2013 and 2021 and often ordered them to return to police stations for further interrogation, particularly after they received messages or calls from friends overseas or from foreigners in other parts of the PRC. Some of these persons deleted their social media contacts or shut down their accounts completely.

RFA reported in April that six influential Tibetan writers, monks, and cultural figures were arrested in Sichuan. Four of the individuals, Gangkye Drubpa Kyab, Sey Nam, Gangbu Yudrum, and Gang Tsering Dolma, were named in the RFA report, but two of the individuals remained unknown.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Authorities prohibited domestic journalists from reporting on repression in Tibetan areas. Authorities promptly censored the postings of bloggers and users of WeChat who did so, and the authors sometimes faced punishment. Authorities banned some writers from publishing; prohibited them from receiving services and benefits, such as government jobs, bank loans, and passports; and denied them membership in formal organizations.

The TAR Internet and Information Office maintained tight control of a full range of social media platforms.

The PRC continued to disrupt radio broadcasts of RFA’s Tibetan- and Mandarin-language services in Tibetan areas, as well as those of the Voice of Tibet, an independent radio station based in Norway.

In addition to maintaining strict censorship of print and online content in Tibetan areas, PRC authorities sought to censor the expression of views or distribution of information related to Tibet in countries and regions outside mainland China.

In March, police in the TAR city of Shigatse seized and destroyed “illegal publications” as well as illegal equipment for satellite signal reception.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Tibetans do not enjoy the rights to assemble peacefully or to associate freely.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Even in areas officially designated as “autonomous,” Tibetans generally lacked the right to organize. Persons who organized public events for any purpose not endorsed by authorities faced harassment, arrest, prosecution, and violence. Unauthorized assemblies were frequently broken up by force. Any assembly deemed by authorities as a challenge to the PRC or its policies, for example, to advocate for Tibetan language rights, to mark religious holidays, or to protect the area’s unique natural environment, provoked a particularly strong response both directly against the assembled persons and in authorities’ public condemnation of the assembly. Authorities acted preemptively to forestall unauthorized assemblies.

Freedom of Association

In accordance with PRC law, only civil society organizations approved by the CCP and essentially directed by it are legal. Policies noted above designed to bring monasteries under CCP control are one example of this policy. Persons attempting to organize any sort of independent association were subject to harassment, arrest on a wide range of charges, or violent suppression.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

PRC law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; however, the government severely restricted travel and freedom of movement for Tibetans, particularly Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns as well as lay persons whom the government considered to have “poor political records.”

In-country Movement: The outbreak of COVID-19 led to countrywide restrictions on travel, which affected movement in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. During the year, the TAR and other Tibetan areas were often in “closed-management,” which restricted Tibetans’ in-country movement. This also meant all major sites, including monasteries and cultural sites, were closed.

People’s Armed Police and local public security bureaus have for years set up roadblocks and checkpoints in Tibetan areas on major roads, in cities, and on the outskirts of cities and monasteries, particularly around sensitive dates. These roadblocks restricted and controlled access for Tibetans and foreigners to sensitive areas. Tibetans traveling in monastic attire were subjected to extra scrutiny by police at roadside checkpoints and at airports. Tibetans without local residency were turned away from many Tibetan areas deemed sensitive by the government.

Authorities sometimes banned Tibetans, particularly monks and nuns, from leaving the TAR or traveling to it without first obtaining special permission from multiple government offices. Some Tibetans reported encountering difficulties obtaining the required permissions. Such restrictions made it difficult for Tibetans to practice their religion, visit family, conduct business, or travel for leisure. Tibetans from outside the TAR who traveled to Lhasa also reported that authorities there required them to surrender their national identification cards and notify authorities of their plans in detail on a daily basis. These requirements were not applied to Han Chinese visitors to the TAR.

Outside the TAR, many Tibetan monks and nuns reported travel for religious or educational purposes beyond their home monasteries remained difficult; officials frequently denied them permission to stay at a monastery for religious education.

Foreign Travel: Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic which prompted authorities to limit the issuance of passports, Tibetans faced significant hurdles in acquiring passports. For Buddhist monks and nuns it was virtually impossible. Sources reported that Tibetans and members of certain other ethnic minority groups had to provide far more extensive documentation than other citizens when applying for a PRC passport. For Tibetans the passport application process sometimes required years and frequently ended in rejection. Authorities’ unwillingness to issue new or renew old passports in effect created a ban on foreign travel for the Tibetan population.

Some Tibetans reported they were able to obtain passports only after paying substantial bribes and offering written promises to undertake only apolitical or nonsensitive international travel. Many Tibetans with passports were concerned authorities would place them on the government’s blacklist and therefore did not travel abroad.

Tibetans encountered particular obstacles in traveling to India for religious, educational, and other purposes. Tibetans who had traveled to Nepal and planned to continue to India reported that PRC officials visited their family homes and threatened their relatives in Tibet if they did not return immediately. Sources reported that extrajudicial punishments included blacklisting family members, which could lead to loss of a government job or difficulty in finding employment; expulsion of children from the public education system; and revocation of national identification cards, thereby preventing access to social services such as health care. The government restricted the movement of Tibetans through increased border controls before and during sensitive anniversaries and events.

Government regulations on the travel of international visitors to the TAR were uniquely strict in the PRC. The government required all international visitors to apply for a Tibet travel permit to visit the TAR and regularly denied requests by international journalists, diplomats, and other officials for official travel. Approval for tourist travel to the TAR was easier to secure but was often restricted around sensitive dates. PRC security forces used conspicuous monitoring to intimidate foreign officials and followed them at all times, preventing them from meeting or speaking with local contacts, harassing them, and restricting their movement in these areas.

Exile: Among Tibetans living outside of China are the 14th Dalai Lama and several other senior religious leaders. The PRC denied these leaders the right to return to Tibet or imposed unacceptable conditions on their return.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression within certain limits. The government restricted freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, throughout the year. Multiple articles in the penal code directly restrict freedom of the press and other media and free speech through broad provisions that prohibit praising a crime or criminals or inciting the population to enmity, hatred, or denigration, as well as provisions that protect public order and criminalize insulting the state, the president, or government officials.

The government’s prosecution of journalists representing major opposition and independent newspapers and its jailing of journalists since the 2016 coup attempt hindered freedom of expression. Media professionals reported that self-censorship was widespread amid fear that criticizing the government could prompt reprisals.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals in many cases could not criticize the state or government publicly without risk of civil or criminal suits or investigation, and the government restricted expression by individuals sympathetic to some religious, political, or cultural viewpoints. At times those who wrote or spoke on sensitive topics or in ways critical of the government risked investigation, fines, criminal charges, job loss, and imprisonment. The government convicted and sentenced hundreds of individuals for exercising their freedom of expression. The government frequently responded to expression critical of it by filing criminal charges alleging affiliation with terrorist groups, terrorism, or otherwise endangering the state (see National Security, below).

In March prosecutors filed an opinion seeking an eight-year prison sentence for CHP Istanbul provincial chair Canan Kaftancioglu in an appeals case related to tweets critical of government policy, including comments related to the 2013 Gezi Park Protests and the 2016 coup attempt, which she made between 2012 and 2017. A lower court sentenced her to nearly 10 years’ imprisonment in 2018. In January prosecutors filed a separate indictment for “instigating the violation of privacy,” claiming that Kaftancioglu ordered photos of alleged illegal construction at the home of the Turkish Presidency’s communications director Fahrettin Altun. In October prosecutors also charged Kaftancioglu with “offending and insulting” Altun in relation to the same incident. In May, President Erdogan filed an insult lawsuit against Kaftancioglu, seeking 500,000 lira ($58,900) in damages for remarks she made in support of Bogazici University protesters. Kaftancioglu had pledged to “file a criminal complaint against the person who is occupying the presidential post,” referring to Erdogan.

The law provides for punishment of up to three years in prison for conviction of “hate speech” or injurious acts related to language, race, nationality, color, gender, disability, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, or sectarian differences. Human rights groups noted that the law was used more to restrict freedom of speech than to protect minorities.

A parliamentary by-law prohibits use of the word “Kurdistan” or other sensitive terms on the floor of parliament, stating that parliamentarians could be reprimanded or temporarily expelled from the assembly; however, authorities did not uniformly implement this by-law.

Former Diyarbakir Bar Association chairman Ahmet Ozmen continued to face charges filed in 2019 stemming from 2017 and 2018 bar association statements titled “We share the unrelieved pain of Armenian people.” In April the Diyarbakir Bar Association reported that the Ministry of Interior launched an investigation after the bar association released a statement for Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.

Rights groups and free speech advocates reported intensifying government pressure that in certain cases resulted in their exercising enhanced caution in their public reporting.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Mainstream print media and television stations were largely controlled by progovernment holding companies heavily influenced by the ruling party. Reporters without Borders estimated the government was able to exert power in the administration of 90 percent of the most watched television stations and most read national daily newspapers through the companies’ affiliation with the government. Only a small fraction of the holding companies’ profits came from media revenue, and their other commercial interests impeded media independence, encouraged a climate of self-censorship, and limited the scope of public debate.

Government prosecution of journalists limited media freedom throughout the year. In May the NGO Press in Arrest reported that prosecutors requested life sentences in 10 percent of cases filed against journalists since 2018. The NGO analyzed 240 press trials involving 356 journalists since 2018. In 60 percent (143) of the monitored cases, courts delivered prison sentences, ranging from 10 months’ to 19.5 years’ imprisonment. Prosecutors most frequently charged journalists with terrorism-related charges.

In January, Istanbul prosecutors filed terrorism propaganda charges against journalist Melis Alphan for sharing a picture on her social media account from the 2015 Newroz celebrations in majority-Kurdish Diyarbakir, which showed a PKK flag in the background. An Istanbul court acquitted Alphan in May, but prosecutors appealed. In July an appeals court ruled that Alphan should be retried. She faced up to seven-and-a-half years in prison.

In several cases the government barred journalists from travelling outside the country, including using electronic monitoring.

Violence and Harassment: Government and political leaders and their supporters used a variety of means to intimidate and pressure journalists, including lawsuits, threats, and, in some cases, physical attack.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that attacks on journalists were rarely prosecuted. Victims publicly expressed a belief that law enforcement agencies were not interested in prosecuting the crimes. In March a mob of 15 to 20 persons attacked Levent Gultekin, a columnist for online newspaper Diken and commentator for Halk TV, near the Halk TV studios. Both Diken and Halk TV are pro-opposition outlets. Following the attack, Gultekin shared that prior to the incident, he had received threats from supporters of a political party allied with the ruling party, referencing the Nationalist Movement Party. Police opened an investigation into the attack, and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul promised to take steps to improve security for journalists but did not provide details.

On March 9, a man approached the home of radio presenter Hazim Ozsu in Bursa and shot him in the throat. Police arrested the presumed killer six days later. During interrogation, the suspect stated he shot Ozsu because he objected to some of Ozsu’s on-air remarks.

CHP parliamentarian Utku Cakirozer reported that in July alone at least 18 journalists were subjected to violence as a result of their professional activities. In August a group attacked Halk TV journalists and crew during a live broadcast from Marmaris, threatening the cameraman with a broken bottle. The journalists were reporting on wildfires in the region. Police detained the assailants after they fled the scene but later released them. News reports alleged that one of the assailants was an official at the local AKP office.

The government routinely filed terrorism-related charges against individuals or publications in response to reporting on sensitive topics, particularly government efforts against PKK terrorism and the Gulen movement (also see National Security). Human rights groups and journalists asserted the government did this to target and intimidate journalists and the public for speech critical of the state.

In June police forcefully detained Agence France-Presse photographer Bulent Kilic while he was covering the pride march in Istanbul. According to an interview with Kilic and photos from the scene, officers threw Kilic to the ground and kneeled on his back and neck. Kilic reported struggling to breathe. He was briefly detained before being released with no charge.

Journalists affiliated or formerly affiliated with pro-Kurdish outlets faced significant government pressure, including incarceration. The government routinely denied press accreditation to Turkish citizens working for international outlets for any association (including volunteer work) with private Kurdish-language outlets.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government and political leaders maintained direct and indirect censorship of media and books. Authorities subjected some writers and publishers to prosecution on grounds of defamation, denigration, obscenity, separatism, terrorism, subversion, fundamentalism, or insulting religious values. Authorities investigated or continued court cases against a myriad of publications and publishers on these grounds during the year. Authorities also exercised censorship over online media (see Internet Freedom, below, for details).

While the law does not prohibit particular books or publications, court decisions resulted in bans for distribution or sale of certain books and periodicals. Bookstores did not carry books by some opposition political figures.

Publishers often exercised self-censorship, avoiding works with controversial content (including government criticism, erotic content, or pro-Kurdish content) that might draw legal action. The Turkish Publishers Association reported that publishers faced publication bans and heavy fines if they failed to comply in cases in which a court ordered the correction of offensive content. Authorities also subjected publishers to book promotion restrictions. In some cases prosecutors considered the possession of some Kurdish-language, pro-Kurdish, or Gulen movement books to be credible evidence of membership in a terror organization.

In 2020 a court ruled to ban the book The Political Branch of FETO in 21 Questions published by the CHP, which accused President Erdogan and other officials of cooperating with the Gulen movement. Prosecutors sought the ban based on insult charges and the charge of “provocation of the public to hatred and enmity.” The court decision barred future printing, distribution, and sale of the book and ordered confiscation of all copies already in print. In April the press reported that the now-banned book was cited as evidence in a prosecutorial request to the parliament to lift the parliamentary immunity of CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu and seven other CHP members.

Some journalists reported their employers asked them to censor their reporting if it appeared critical of the government or jeopardized other business interests and fired them if they failed to comply. These pressures contributed to an atmosphere of self-censorship in which media reporting became increasingly standardized along progovernment lines.

Radio and television broadcast outlets did not provide equal access to the country’s major political parties. Critics charged that media generally favored the ruling AKP. The president of the country’s broadcasting authority, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK), told interviewers in April, “The political opposition wants to oppose [the government] in an uncontrolled manner. There are limits that cannot be surpassed.”

RTUK continued the practice of fining broadcasters whose content it considered “contrary to the national and moral values of society.” Service providers that broadcast online are required to obtain a license or may face having their content removed. RTUK is empowered to reject license requests on the grounds of national security and to subject content to prior censorship. RTUK member Ilhan Tasci, who represented the CHP, reported that as of July, RTUK had imposed 22 penalties on pro-opposition outlets only, mainly Halk TV, TELE1, and FOX TV. RTUK did not impose any fines on progovernment outlets.

In August, RTUK sent a letter to broadcasters regarding coverage of massive wildfires that broke out in July. The letter directed broadcasters to cover successful extinguishing efforts in addition to covering ongoing fires or face “heavy sanctions.” RTUK subsequently imposed fines on six opposition broadcasters for their coverage of the fires.

In March, RTUK fined pro-opposition broadcasters Halk TV and TELE1 for “mocking religious beliefs and social values.” Halk TV incurred the penalty after a news commentator noted that the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) Ali Erbas received medical care in more expensive private, rather than public hospitals. RTUK fined TELE1 because a newscaster used the term “Islamic terrorism.”

According to Committee to Protect Journalists reporting, during the state of emergency from 2016 to 2018, the government cancelled nearly 2,000 press cards and another 1,400 in 2020. In April the Council of State, the country’s top administrative court, ruled against the 2018 press card regulation that expanded government authority to cancel press accreditation cards. The court ruled that the regulation specified grounds for press card cancellation, such as “conduct against the public order or national security” and “behaviors that damage the professional dignity of journalism,” that were arbitrary and ambiguous. The court mandated revision of the regulations. In May the Presidency Communications Directorate announced new regulations that reinforced the directorate’s authority to cancel press cards if journalists create content that “praises terror, endangers national security or provokes animosity and hatred” and enabled cancellation of permanent credentials granted to journalists after 20 years of service. The Journalist’s Union of Turkey assessed that the new regulations endangered journalistic freedom by allowing the government to arbitrarily suspend press credentials. In December the Council of State suspended the application of the revised regulations, ruling that the Presidency Communication Directorate is not authorized to decide who will be given a press card or under what circumstances a press card can be cancelled.

Authorities also targeted foreign journalists. In March authorities blocked French freelance journalist Sylvain Mercadier from entering the country and deported him after detaining him overnight. Mercadier reported that police questioned him regarding his work and whether he focused on Kurdish issues. Mercadier intended to cover Newroz celebrations in Diyarbakir, among other topics. Immigration officials indicated public security as the reason for deportation in documentation provided to Mercadier.

Libel/Slander Laws: Observers reported that government officials used defamation laws to stop political opponents, journalists, and ordinary citizens from voicing criticism. The law provides that persons who insult the president of the republic may face a prison term of up to four years. The sentence may be increased by one-sixth if committed publicly and by one-third if committed by media outlets.

During the year the government opened investigations into thousands of individuals, including politicians, journalists, and minors, based on allegations of insulting the president; the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk; or state institutions. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, police investigated 44,717 individuals for insulting the president or the state in 2020; 10,629 stood trial and 3,655 were penalized. In July a court sentenced journalist Cem Simsek to 11 months and 20 days in prison for insulting the president in connection with a 2015 article analyzing cartoon drawings showing President Erdogan. Simsek was appealing the sentence at year’s end.

Authorities charged citizens, including minors, with insulting the country’s leaders and denigrating “Turkishness.” Free speech advocates pointed out that, while leaders and deputies from opposition political parties regularly faced multiple insult charges, the government did not apply the law equally and that AKP members and government officials were rarely prosecuted.

In May, Istanbul prosecutors indicted journalist Deniz Yucel, formerly of the German newspaper Die Welt, on charges of “publicly degrading the Turkish nation and the state” in connection with two articles from 2016. In 2020 an Istanbul court convicted Yucel of “incitement to hatred” and spreading “terrorist propaganda” and sentenced him in absentia to two years and nine months in prison. An appeal was ongoing at year’s end.

In February a court sentenced CHP Aydin Province women’s branch president Ayse Ozdemir to 11 months’ imprisonment for “insulting the president” in connection with her participation in a 2020 performance to protest violence against women. Participants sang a viral Chilean feminist anthem during the performance. The court ordered a suspended sentence.

In April, President Erdogan signed a presidential order banning students convicted of insulting the president from staying in public university dormitories.

The government pursued an insult case against the Ankara Bar Association chair and executive board members for criticizing an anti-LGBTQI+ statement made by the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) Ali Erbas in 2020. The Ankara Bar Association leaders faced a potential sentence of up to two years in prison for “insulting a public official due to his or her duty for expressing beliefs, thoughts and opinions.” Police separately launched investigations into the Izmir and Diyarbakir bar associations in relation to the same incident.

National Security: Authorities regularly used the counterterrorism law and the penal code to limit free expression on grounds of national security. Organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Freedom House, reported that authorities used the counterterrorism law and criminal code to prosecute journalists, writers, editors, publishers, filmmakers, translators, rights activists, lawyers, elected officials, and students accused of supporting a terrorist organization – generally either the PKK or the Gulen movement.

Estimates of the number of imprisoned journalists varied, ranging from at least 18 according to the Committee to Protect Journalists to 37 according to the International Press Institute. The majority faced charges related to antigovernment reporting or alleged ties to the PKK or Gulen movement.

The Media and Law Studies Association in Istanbul attributed the disparity in estimates of the number of incarcerated journalists to the varying definitions of “journalist” or “media worker.” While the government officially recognizes as journalists only persons to whom it has issued a press accreditation card (typically limited to reporters, cameramen, and editors working for print or broadcast outlets), media watchdog groups also included distributors, copy editors, layout designers, and other staff of media outlets, including digital outlets, in their definition. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported allegations from journalists that the process for receiving credentials was discriminatory and partisan, and NGOs estimated that only roughly one-quarter of the press corps were credentialed.

A study by the NGO Media and Law Studies Organization of 372 freedom of expression cases conducted from January to July found that in 58 percent of cases defendants faced charges related to terrorism. Prosecutors cited journalistic activities as evidence in 64 percent of cases where a press worker was a defendant.

In February an Istanbul court convicted the former HRA cochair Eren Keskin, two other former editors, and the former publisher of pro-Kurdish daily Ozgur Gundem on terrorism charges and sentenced them to jail terms ranging from 25 months to more than six years. In the same month hearings resumed in cases against four other journalists, including Erol Onderoglu, the Turkey representative of Reporters Without Borders, for “promoting terrorist propaganda” in a separate case related to Ozgur Gundem. In 2016 the defendants participated in a solidarity campaign with Ozgur Gundem, serving as the newspaper’s editors for one day each. Prosecutors subsequently filed charges against Onderoglu and other participants. Although an Istanbul court acquitted the four defendants in 2019, prosecutors subsequently appealed. Prosecutors sought up to 14 years in prison for the defendants in the resumed cases.

In March a court convicted an OdaTV news editor, Muyesser Yildiz, and TELE1 journalist, Ismail Dukel, for obtaining and disclosing confidential information. Yildiz was sentenced to two-and-a-half years’ imprisonment and Dukel to one year and 15 days. The journalists were tried in connection with telephone conversations they held with the third defendant in the case, a military officer, who allegedly provided them with information about Turkey’s intervention in Libya. The military officer received a sentence of seven-and-a-half years’ imprisonment.

In April the country’s highest appeals court ordered the release of prominent novelist and former editor of shuttered Taraf daily, Ahmet Altan. Police first detained Altan in 2016. Shortly before the appeals court’s decision, the ECHR ruled that the government violated Altan’s rights to liberty and security, right to fair and speedy proceedings, and freedom of expression. Altan was convicted in 2018 for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” for alleged involvement in the 2016 coup attempt; he received an aggravated life sentence. In 2019 after the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the life imprisonment sentence, Altan was convicted for “aiding a terrorist organization” and released on time served. Within days of the release, he was rearrested following the prosecutor’s objection. Altan’s lawyers reported that the case against him was ongoing.

An unknown number of journalists were outside the country and did not return due to fear of arrest in connection with the 2016 coup attempt or other charges. Independent reports estimated the government has closed more than 200 media companies since 2016.

Nearly all private Kurdish-language newspapers, television channels, and radio stations remained closed on national security grounds under government decrees.

Nongovernmental Impact: The PKK used intimidation to limit freedom of speech and other constitutional rights in the southeast. Some journalists, political party representatives, and residents of the southeast reported pressure, intimidation, and threats if they spoke out against the PKK or praised government security forces.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the law provides several grounds for the government to limit that right. The law stipulates penalties for protesters convicted of carrying items that might be construed as weapons, prohibits the use of symbols linked to illegal organizations (including chanting slogans), and criminalizes covering one’s face while protesting. The law permits police to use tinted water in water cannons, potentially to tag protesters for later identification and prosecution. The law also allows police to take persons into “protective custody” without a prosecutor’s authorization if there is reasonable suspicion that they are a threat to themselves or to public order. The antiterror law gives provincial governors enhanced authority to ban protests and public gatherings, a ban some governors enacted broadly during the year.

In April the Ministry of Interior issued a circular banning all audio and visual recordings of citizens and police at protests. The Ankara Bar Association and human rights groups criticized the regulation and noted that it will hinder documentation of police violence at protests. Despite the ban journalists and protest participants continued to film protests, risking arrest. The country’s top administrative court stayed the execution of the circular in November and annulled it in December, finding that it violated freedom of the press.

The government regarded many demonstrations as security threats to the state, deploying large numbers of riot police to control crowds, frequently using excessive force, resulting in injuries, detentions, and arrests. At times the government used its authority to detain persons before protests were held on the premise that they might cause civil disruption. The government generally did not investigate security forces’ actions. The HRFT reported that in the first 11 months of the year, police intervened in at least 291 peaceful demonstrations and prohibited at least 88. As many as 3,540 persons claimed they were beaten and received other inhuman treatment during these police interventions. Human rights NGOs asserted the government’s failure to delineate clearly in the law the circumstances that justify the use of force contributed to disproportionate use of force during protests.

In March hundreds of police officers restricted access to the annual International Women’s Day (March 8) demonstration in Istanbul. Police detained 13 women, including a 17-year-old minor, following the march. Prosecutors ordered the detention on charges of insulting the president after reviewing videos of the demonstration. Human Rights Watch reported that during interrogations police identified the phrase “Tayyip [President Erdogan’s first name], run, run, run, women are coming,” a slogan used during the demonstrations, as criminally offensive.

Also in March, President Erdogan announced his decision to withdraw the country from the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, commonly known as the Istanbul Convention (see section 6, Women), precipitating mass protests. On July 1, thousands of demonstrators took part in a protest in Istanbul. The Istanbul governor’s office had issued a permit for the demonstration, but police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who attempted to breach a second row of police barricades. No detentions or serious injuries were reported, but many women posted photographs of minor injuries on social media.

Authorities continued to press charges against 33 members of the organization Ankara Women’s Platform who joined protests against the country’s possible withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention in 2020. The defendants faced charges for violating the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations. In June police dispersed a protest that the Ankara Women’s Platform staged in front of the courthouse where a hearing in the case was being held. Police prevented platform members from making a statement in support of defendants and used pepper spray against them. Police detained 20 demonstrators. Several demonstrators reported being battered during their detention.

The government continued selectively to ban demonstrations outright if they were critical of the government and selectively applied COVID-19 restrictive measures to demonstrations. In May the governor of Rize Province implemented a month-long ban on protests, marches, and public statements in Rize’s Ikizdere District after protests broke out in April against the opening of a stone quarry. Prior to the ban, law enforcement officers fined protesters for not complying with the COVID-19 curfew. In April, Jandarma officers used tear gas to disperse protesting residents of Ikizdere, detaining and releasing several the same day. Some of protesters reported injuries due to police intervention.

In January the Istanbul governor used the COVID-19 pandemic as grounds to announce a ban on all protests and public gatherings in the two Istanbul districts where Bogazici University campuses are located. The governor of Adana similarly banned protests in Adana from January to February after protests over the Bogazici University rector appointment broke out in the city. Ankara authorities selectively applied blanket COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings to detain Bogazici protesters. Police detained hundreds of protesters across the country and used undue force that some protesters alleged amounted to torture (see section 1.c.).

Istanbul police continued to prevent the vigil of the “Saturday Mothers” from taking place on Istiklal Street in Istanbul, detaining three group members during the commemoration of the vigil’s 800th week in July. Since the 1990s, the Saturday Mothers gathered to commemorate the disappearances of relatives following their detention by security forces in the 1980s and 1990s and to call for accountability. Of the group, 46 members continued to face criminal charges for violating the law by holding their 700th weekly vigil in 2018.

As in previous years, police intervened in demonstrations to honor International Workers’ Day on May 1. The press reported that police detained more than 200 demonstrators violating COVID-19 curfews, mainly in Istanbul. Videos showed police jostling with unions leaders and other demonstrators and throwing them on the ground in Istanbul. Authorities allowed some commemorations that received prior government approval to proceed, with the Istanbul governor’s office reporting that police only intervened in “illegal” gatherings. The Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey reported that police barred journalists from documenting police violence, per the April circular (see above).

Throughout the year the governors of Van, Tunceli, Mus, Hakkari, and several other provinces banned public protests, demonstrations, gatherings of any kind, and the distribution of brochures.

Authorities restricted the rights of assembly of LGBTQI+ individuals and allies throughout the year (see section 6).

Freedom of Association

While the law provides for freedom of association, the government continued to restrict this right. The government used provisions of the antiterror law to prevent associations and foundations it had previously closed due to alleged threats to national security from reopening. In its 2020 end-of-year report, the Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency Measures reported that 208 of the 1,727 associations and foundations closed following the 2016 coup attempt have been allowed to reopen. Observers widely reported the appeals process for institutions seeking redress through the Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency Measures remained opaque and ineffective (see section 1.e., Denial of Fair Public Trial).

By law persons organizing an association do not need to notify authorities beforehand, but an association must provide notification before interacting with international organizations or receiving financial support from abroad and must provide detailed documents on such activities. Representatives of associations stated this requirement placed an undue burden on their operations. Human rights and civil society organizations, groups promoting LGBTQI+ rights, and women’s groups in particular, stated that the government used regular and detailed audits to create administrative burdens and to intimidate them by threatening large fines.

Human rights groups reported that since the passage of the counterterrorism financing legislation, Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, in late December 2020, government audits had become more frequent and onerous. The law expanded the Ministry of Interior’s powers to audit, suspend staff and governing board members, and temporarily shut down operations of NGOs without judicial review. Although authorities did not close any civil society organization using this law during the year, NGOs reported that the law had already had a substantial chilling effect. Civil society organization warned that the law provided authorities with expanded powers to punitively target civil society organizations engaged in politically sensitive work, and some organizations reported restricting their normal activities to reduce the likelihood of attracting adverse government attention.

In July the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission adopted an expert opinion criticizing the law, noting its stipulations regarding aid collection and mandatory yearly audits could be applied punitively and arbitrarily to restrict NGO activity in violation of freedom of association. The opinion also noted that the law’s provisions potentially enabling the government to appoint trustees to NGOs without approval from the associations’ members “constitutes a serious infringement of the right of associations to conduct their own affairs.” The opinion also expressed concern that the provisions of the law apply indiscriminately to the entire civil society sector rather than to specific NGOs identified as being vulnerable to financing by terrorist entities.

In April the Ministry of Interior suspended the board of the Turkey Retired Officers Association after it pledged support for a controversial public statement on the Montreux Convention issued by 103 retired admirals. The government alleged the statement included an implicit coup threat and detained at least 14 of the signatories, later releasing them under travel bans. The ministry cited the Law on Associations in suspending the association’s board. In December prosecutors filed an indictment seeking up to 12 years in prison for the signatories of the statement.

The case against former Amnesty International honorary chair Taner Kilic and three other human rights defenders continued in appeals court. Authorities charged the defendants with “membership in a terrorist organization” or “aiding a terrorist organization without being a member,” largely stemming from attendance at a 2017 workshop, Protecting Human Rights Advocates – Digital Security, held on Istanbul’s Buyukada Island. In 2020 an Istanbul court convicted Kilic and three others on terrorism-related charges. The activists remained free pending appeal; the 2018 ban on Kilic’s foreign travel, however, remained in place.

Following the July 2020 passage of a law allowing multiple bar associations in populous provinces and the subsequent founding of second bar associations in Istanbul and Ankara, some lawyers reported government pressure to join the new associations. All 80 domestic bar associations, as well as human rights groups, criticized the 2020 law, alleging it would divide bar associations along political lines and diminish the voices of bar associations critical of the government’s actions. Bar associations in major metropolitan areas have wielded significant political power and influence, particularly in matters of human rights and rule of law. In February the original Istanbul bar association issued a statement noting it had received complaints that public officials were pressuring lawyers to switch membership to the newly established bar association. By year’s end, however, the second bar association of Istanbul had approximately 2,300 members, only a slight increase above the minimum legal requirement of 2,000 members. The second bar association in Ankara was established in October.

Bar association and other civil society organization representatives reported that police sometimes attended organizational meetings and recorded them, which the representatives interpreted as an effort to intimidate them.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at .

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government limited these rights. The government continued to restrict foreign travel for some citizens accused of terrorism, links to the Gulen movement, or the failed 2016 coup attempt. Curfews imposed by local authorities in response to counter-PKK operations and the country’s military operation in northern Syria also restricted freedom of movement, as did movement restrictions introduced as COVID-19 precautions.

In-country Movement: The constitution provides that only a judge may limit citizens’ freedom to travel and only in connection with a criminal investigation or prosecution. Antiterror laws allow severe restrictions to be imposed on freedom of movement, such as granting governors the power to limit individuals’ movement, including entering or leaving provinces, for up to 15 days.

Freedom of movement remained a problem in parts of the east and southeast, where countering PKK activity led authorities to block roads and set up checkpoints, temporarily restricting movement at times. The government instituted special security zones, restricting the access of civilians, and established curfews in parts of several provinces in response to PKK terrorist attacks or activity (see section 1.g.).

The Ministry of Interior and provincial governors instituted travel restrictions as anti-COVID-19 measures on several occasions throughout the year.

Conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection also experienced some restrictions on their freedom of movement (see section 2.f.).

Foreign Travel: The government placed restrictions on foreign travel for tens of thousands of citizens accused of terrorism due to links to the Gulen movement or the failed coup attempt, as well as on their extended family members. Authorities also restricted some foreign citizens with dual Turkish citizenship from leaving the country due to alleged terrorism concerns. The government maintained the travel restrictions were necessary to preserve security. Some persons whom the government barred from travel chose to leave the country illegally.

Syrians under temporary protection risked the loss of temporary protection status and a possible bar on re-entry into the country if they chose to travel to a third country or return temporarily to Syria without government permission. The government issued individual exit permissions for Syrians under temporary protection departing the country for the Eid holiday visit program to Syria, family reunification, health treatment, or permanent resettlement. The government sometimes denied exit permission to Syrians under temporary protection for reasons that were unclear.

In 2019 the country’s Peace Spring military operation displaced more than 215,000 residents of villages along the country’s border with Syria in parts of Aleppo, al-Hasakah, and Dayr az Zawr. At the time the president announced the country’s intention to create a safe zone for the return and resettlement of one to two million Syrian refugees from Turkey. In October the government announced that 414,000 individuals had voluntarily returned to Syria. Approximately one-half of those displaced inside Syria because of the operation have returned according to February 2020 UN estimates, the latest available. More than 100,000 persons remained displaced, however, including tens of thousands of women and children. Turkish officials publicly committed to safe and voluntary refugee returns.

The law allows persons who suffered material losses due to terrorist acts, including those by the PKK or by security forces in response to terrorist acts, to apply to the government’s damage determination commissions for compensation.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to conditional refugees, returning refugees, stateless persons, and international protection applicants and status holders and temporary protection beneficiaries.

The government took steps during the year to continue services provided to the approximately four million refugees and asylum seekers in the country, nearly 3.7 million of whom were Syrians, despite a number of economic, political, and social challenges. Amidst growing antirefugee sentiment and following attacks against Syrians in an Ankara neighborhood in August, the government announced in September the closure of Ankara Province to temporary protection registration for Syrians (joining at least 15 other provinces in the country). The Presidency of Migration Management (PMM), previously known as the Directorate General for Migration Management, reported that the government apprehended 122,302 individuals in 2020, either for staying in Turkey without proper documentation or trying to enter or exit Turkey irregularly. The PMM reported that 50,161 of those apprehended were Afghan nationals. The government did not provide official data on the number of “irregular migrants” deported to their countries of origin. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior stated that the government prevented the illegal entry of more than 505,000 foreign nationals.

Increased border surveillance and protection measures by security services along the eastern border areas with Iran prevented individuals, particularly Afghans, from accessing international protection in some cases. Media reports alleged authorities executed pushbacks back to Iran of individuals trying to access Turkey, with no opportunity provided to access the asylum procedures, deportation proceedings, or the right to appeal deportation as provided in the law. UNHCR continued to engage with Turkish authorities to support the implementation of the legal framework that provides for access to international protection, in line with relevant national and international commitments.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for standard treatment of asylum seekers countrywide and establishes a system of protection, but it limits rights granted in the 1951 Refugee Convention to refugees from Europe and establishes restrictions on movement for conditional refugees. While non-European asylum seekers were not considered refugees by law, the government granted temporary protection status to nearly four million Syrians and provided international protection to asylum seekers of other nationalities. Individuals recognized by the government for temporary protection (Syrians) or international protection (all other non-Europeans, for example, Iraqis, Iranians, and Somalis) were permitted to reside in the country temporarily until they could obtain third-country resettlement.

The law provides regulatory guidelines for foreigners’ entry into, stay in, and exit from the country, and for protection of asylum seekers. The law does not impose a strict time limit to apply for asylum, requiring only that asylum seekers do so “within a reasonable time” after arrival. The law also does not require asylum seekers to present a valid identity document to apply for status.

UNHCR reported it had regular access to removal centers where foreigners, including persons under temporary and international protection, were detained. UNHCR continued to work together with the government to ensure access to asylum procedures for persons in need of protection, including through access to information, interpretation, and legal aid. A 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey allowed some migrants arriving in Greece to be returned to Turkey in particular circumstances, but the Turkish government has not accepted any returns under this framework since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The country’s borders with Syria and Iraq remained strictly managed, with admissions only for medical, humanitarian, and family reunification cases from the border with Syria since late 2015. Of the 20 border crossing points between Syria and Turkey, as of December 2020, five were open for limited humanitarian, commercial, and individual crossings, and four additional gates required permission from authorities for all movements. Of the five open crossings, one permitted UN humanitarian cargo to transit the border. During the first half of the year, a second border crossing, which had previously allowed UN humanitarian movements, prohibited such crossings beginning in July per UN Security Council Resolution 2533.

Since 2017 some provinces along the border with Syria limited registration of asylum seekers to certain exceptional cases only, limiting their ability to obtain access to social services, including education and medical care in these areas, unless they relocate to a city where they can register. Large cities such as Istanbul and Ankara also limited registration. Many asylum seekers reported that in order to find work or be with their families, they either did not register or moved from the city where they had registered, neither of which was allowed under the country’s regulations but was often necessary to survive without depending on humanitarian or government assistance.

Refoulement: Authorities generally offered protection against refoulement to all non-European asylum seekers who met the definition of a refugee in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, although there were some confirmed cases of refoulement. The government continued efforts to deport those it claimed entered the country illegally, particularly non-Syrians, as well as those it deemed to pose security threats before they were granted status-determination interviews by Turkish migration authorities.

As of September 30, UNHCR intervened in incidents of detention of 1,160 persons of various nationalities that had been brought to its attention. The majority were Syrian nationals (710 persons), Afghans (219 persons), and Iranians (150 persons). Of those known incidents of detention in which UNHCR intervened, two persons were reportedly returned, against their will, to their country of origin. Information concerning individuals who were reportedly no longer in the country could not be verified.

In incidents of administrative detention of which UNHCR was made aware, the reasons for detention related to violations of provisions of the Law on Foreigners and International Protection (including but not limited to irregular stay, lack of foreigners’ identity card due to not complying with the obligations of registration procedures, being in another city without authorization, working without a permit, entry ban, rejection of request for temporary protection), or criminal acts.

UNHCR typically intervened in incidents of detention when there were concerns detained individuals were unaware of or unable to access the appropriate administrative processes to raise potential protection concerns. In October the PMM announced it would deport seven Syrian refugees because of their provocative social media posts; the Syrians had posted videos of themselves eating bananas in response to a Turkish citizen’s comment that he could not afford to buy bananas because of the poor economy, while alleging Syrian refugees were buying the fruit “by the kilo.” Refugee rights NGOs criticized the government’s decision as “illegal,” arguing that “provocative social media posts” cannot be ground for deportation under the law.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Due to strict border control measures as well as intercity travel bans through June 1 due to COVID-19, migration into and through the country remained low in the first half of the year; however, stricter controls increased the danger for migrants and refugees attempting to travel.

After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August contributed to fears of a possible refugee influx to Turkey, authorities engaged in pushbacks, including multiple reports by international media of alleged violence and forced returns to Iran of Afghans and other asylum seekers attempting to enter the country.

While conditions in the border area between Greece and Turkey were calmer than in early 2020, migrants and asylum seekers still experienced severe mistreatment when attempting to cross the border. Amnesty International alleged the country violated the rights of migrants and asylum seekers on the border by encouraging some persons to attempt to cross the border again and by failing to rescue those stranded in the river in a timely manner. International media and UN agencies also documented similar mistreatment of migrants and asylum seekers in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey.

In September, one UN agency reported eight migrants died in Turkish waters while trying to cross the sea into Europe from Turkey. There were 43 deaths recorded along the Greece-Turkey land border, according to the agency, of which 36 were drownings in the Meric River; three other migrants were found dead in forests, two died from traffic accidents, and two others were beaten or shot dead.

A total of 21 civil disturbance incidents involving refugees were reported by media in 2020, an increase from nine such incidents reported in 2019. Tensions escalated in the Ankara neighborhood of Altindag following the death in August of an 18-year-old Turkish national who was wounded in a fight between Turkish and Syrian youths. This incident prompted hundreds of individuals to gather in the neighborhood, where they attacked Syrians’ homes and businesses and shouted nationalist slogans. At least six Syrian refugees were injured. Authorities deployed more than 1,000 police officers to the district. According to Ankara law enforcement authorities, police detained nearly 150 individuals in the following days for instigating violence on social media and participating in the riots. Some were subsequently arrested.

Workplace exploitation, child labor, and forced early marriage also remained significant problems among refugees. Human rights groups alleged conditions in detention and removal centers sometimes limited migrants’ rights to communication with and access to family members, interpreters, and lawyers.

UN agencies reported there were LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and conditional refugees in the country – most coming from Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq – and LGBTQI+ individuals from Syria under temporary protection status. According to human rights groups, these refugees faced discrimination and hostility from both authorities and the local population due to their status as members of the LGBTQI+ community. Many experienced gender-based violence. Commercial sexual exploitation also remained a significant problem in the LGBTQI+ refugee community, particularly for but not limited to transgender persons.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities assigned non-Syrians to one of 62 “satellite cities,” where they were expected to receive services from local authorities under the responsibility of provincial governorates. These international protection applicants and status holders were required in some provinces to check in with local authorities on either a weekly or biweekly basis and needed permission from local authorities to travel to cities other than their assigned city, including for meetings with UNHCR or resettlement-country representatives, which the government generally provided. Syrians under temporary protection were also restricted from traveling outside provinces listed on their registration cards without permission. International protection applicants and status holders and temporary protection beneficiaries could request permission to travel or to transfer their registration through the PMM. Certain provinces did not accept travel permission requests or transfer of registration.

The PMM operated seven refugee camps, which the government called temporary accommodation centers, in five provinces. As of early December 2020, there were nearly 60,000 Syrians in the accommodation centers, a slight decline from the previous year. While more than 98 percent of Syrians under temporary protection live integrated in communities across the country’s 81 provinces, some Syrians elected to remain in the camps, usually because they were elderly, had disabilities, or felt they might not successfully transition to living outside the camps. Syrians living in camps required permission from camp authorities to leave the camps.

Employment: The law allows both international protection applicants and status holders (mostly non-Syrians) and temporary protection beneficiaries (mostly Syrians) the right to work, provided they were registered for six months in the province where they wished to work. Most did not have access to regular or skilled work. Conditions further deteriorated during the COVID-19 pandemic as overall unemployment rates in the country rose sharply. In addition, applying for a work permit was the responsibility of the employer, and the procedure was sufficiently burdensome and expensive that relatively few employers pursued legally hiring anyone who required a special permit. The vast majority of both international protection applicants and status holders and temporary protection beneficiaries remained without legal employment options, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, including illegally low wages, withholding of wages, and exposure to unsafe work conditions. As of 2019 only an estimated 140,319 Syrians in the country had formal work permits according to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

Access to Basic Services: International protection applicants and status holders lose access to subsidized health care after one year residing in the country. Individuals meeting certain conditions, such as documented chronic conditions or those older than a specific age, could apply for an exemption to be placed back under subsidized care coverage. Temporary protection beneficiaries (3.7 million) continued to receive free access to the public-health system. The government also expanded access to education for school-age Syrian children, many of whom encountered challenges overcoming the language barrier, meeting transportation or other costs, or both.

As of June the Ministry of National Education reported that 771,458 of the school-age refugee children in the country were in school, a significant increase from prior years. More than 400,000 remained out of school. According to UNICEF since 2017, a total of 700,097 refugee children received monthly cash assistance for education through the Conditional Cash Transfer for Education Program for Syrians and other refugees, implemented through a partnership among the Ministry of Family and Social Services, the Ministry of National Education, the Turkish Red Crescent and UNICEF, and funded by international donors.

Provincial governments, working with local NGOs, were responsible for meeting the basic needs of international protection applicants and status holders and temporary protection beneficiaries present in their districts. Basic services were dependent on local officials’ interpretation of the law and their resources. Governors had significant discretion in working with asylum seekers and NGOs, and the assistance provided by local officials to vulnerable persons varied widely. NGO staff members reported individual cases of refugees being refused health-care services.

Children of unregistered migrants, including asylum seekers, were unable to attend Turkish schools, leaving many in vulnerable situations. Some NGOs also reported some local authorities started to enforce residency requirements for registered refugees, refusing to enroll children in school if outside their place of residency in Turkey and thereby contributing to school dropouts.

Durable Solutions: The law does not provide for naturalization or resettlement within the country for international protection applicants and status holders or temporary protection beneficiaries, but it allows them to stay until resettled to a foreign country or able to return to their country of origin. Temporary protection beneficiaries or international protection status holders could only access naturalization through marriage to a Turkish citizen or through an exceptional circumstances allowance. According to a December 2019 Ministry of Interior statement estimate (the most recent estimate available), 110,000 Syrian nationals had been granted Turkish citizenship. The statement did not specify the timeline nor the process for having obtained the Turkish citizenship.

As of October 25, UNHCR, in cooperation with the PMM, observed the spontaneous voluntary return interviews of 18,700 Syrian individuals in 15 provinces, where 90 percent of the refugee population resided. The total number of voluntary return interviews observed by UNHCR since 2016 was close to 120,000 individuals. UNHCR could not confirm the authorities’ estimate for voluntary returns to Syria. Through June the PMM suspended voluntary repatriation due to COVID-19 measures. Amnesty International reported in September that former refugees who returned voluntarily to Syria were subjected to detention, disappearance, and torture, including sexual violence.

UNHCR continued to work closely with Turkish authorities as well as resettlement countries to identify, assess, and process refugees for resettlement considerations. Due to the pandemic and related restriction of movement, the PMM facilitated UNHCR interviews of refugees by providing government facilities across the country, enabling resettlement processing to continue, with the required COVID-19 prevention measures and also remotely, when needed, through most of the first half of the year. As of August 31, a total of 5,607 refugees were submitted for resettlement and 4,666 refugees departed the country for resettlement.

The government did not keep figures for stateless persons. The government provided documentation for children born to international protection applicants and status holders and temporary protection beneficiaries, although statelessness remained an increasing concern for these children, some of whom could receive neither Turkish citizenship nor documentation from their parents’ home country. As of October there were 508,513 Syrian children younger than age four in the country, according to the PMM.

West Bank and Gaza

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The PA basic law generally provides for freedom of expression but does not specifically provide for freedom of expression for members of the press and other media. The PA enforced legislation that NGOs claimed restricted press and media freedom in the West Bank, including through PASF harassment, intimidation, and arrest. Notably, Palestinian activists reported narrowing space for political discussion, with arrests of Fatah party opponents, critics of the PA, and peaceful protesters in the West Bank.

In Gaza, Hamas severely restricted freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, through arrests and interrogations of journalists as well as harassment and limitations on access and movement for some journalists. These restrictions led many journalists and activists to self-censor.

Israeli civil and military law provide only limited protections for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, for Palestinian residents of the West Bank. NGOs and Palestinian journalists alleged that Israeli authorities restricted press coverage and placed limits on certain forms of expression. These included restricting Palestinian journalists’ movement as well as using violence, arrests, closure of media outlets, and intimidation, according to media reports and the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms. The Israeli government stated it allowed journalists maximum freedom to work and stated that it investigated any allegations of mistreatment of journalists.

Freedom of Expression: Although no PA law prohibits criticism of the government, media reports indicated PA authorities arrested West Bank Palestinian journalists, social media activists, and protesters who criticized the PA or covered events that criticized the PA. The law restricts the publication of material that endangers the “integrity of the Palestinian state.” The PA arrested West Bank journalists and blocked websites associated with political rivals, including sites affiliated with political parties and opposition groups critical of the Fatah-controlled PA. The Palestinian NGO Lawyers for Justice reported at least 40 cases were brought against political opponents of the PA since January.

On June 24, officers from the PSO entered the Israeli-controlled H2 area of Hebron, raided the house where Palestinian social media critic Nizar Banat was staying, and severely beat him. He died shortly afterward on the way to the hospital. The Security Forces Justice Commission indicted 14 low-level PASF officers on September 5. The PA failed to hold any higher-level officials responsible for Banat’s killing, although PA leadership would have had to coordinate closely with the IDF to enter the H2 area of Hebron (see section 1.a.). Israeli press reported that PA security forces arrested or summoned for interrogation dozens of political activists who participated in anti-PA protests following Banat’s killing and charged 16 with fomenting sectarian strife and insulting senior Palestinian officials.

In Gaza, Hamas arrested, interrogated, seized property from, and harassed Palestinians who criticized Hamas. Media practitioners accused of criticizing Hamas, including civil society and youth activists, social media advocates, and journalists, faced punitive measures including raids on their facilities and residences, unjust detention, and denial of permission to travel outside Gaza.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent Palestinian media operated under restrictions in the occupied territories. Because of the political rivalry between Fatah and Hamas, journalists faced threats, interrogation, arrest without charge, intimidatory lawsuits, prosecutions, and bans on covering certain events, according to Reporters Without Borders (RWB). Many Palestinian journalists reported that they practiced self-censorship. Several websites regarded by the PA as opposition media have been inaccessible since 2017, RWB reported. Facebook also reportedly blocked several Palestinian media outlets, including Maydan al-Quds on November 21. Palestinian activists and journalists launched a campaign called “Facebook Censors Jerusalem” to raise awareness concerning Meta’s/Facebook’s alleged efforts to censor Palestinian content on its flagship social media platform. Sada Social, a nonprofit NGO focusing on the digital rights of Palestinians, alleged that social media platform’s algorithms removed posts that contained words such as “Hamas” or “martyr” without taking into consideration their contextual meaning.

Hamas permitted broadcasts within Gaza of reporting and interviews featuring PA officials. Hamas allowed, with some restrictions, the operation of non-Hamas-affiliated broadcast media in Gaza. For example, the PA-supported Palestine TV continued to operate in Gaza.

In areas of the West Bank to which Israel controlled access, Palestinian journalists claimed Israeli authorities restricted their freedom of movement and ability to cover stories. The ISF did not recognize Palestinian press credentials or credentials from the International Federation of Journalists. Few Palestinians held Israeli press credentials.

RWB stated that Israeli forces subjected Palestinian journalists to arrest, interrogation, and administrative detention, often without any clear grounds. In recent years, Israeli authorities also reportedly closed several Palestinian media outlets for allegedly inciting violence.

Violence and Harassment: There were numerous reports that the PA harassed, detained (occasionally with violence), prosecuted, and fined journalists in the West Bank during the year based on their reporting.

The NGO Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) recorded 69 violations against Palestinian journalists by different Palestinian parties in the West Bank and Gaza in June, including 17 incidents of physical assault and two arrests, 11 confiscations and destruction of journalists’ equipment, 21 incidents of denial of coverage, eight cases of threats, and seven serious defamation cases in addition to several other violations. During a protest in Ramallah in June, MADA reported that freelance journalist Saja al-Alami, who was trying to cover the demonstration, alleged that plainclothes PA security forces attempted to assault her. Journalists reported Israeli security forces forcibly prevented them from covering a press conference on June 6 in front of the Israeli police station on Salah el-Din Street regarding the arrest of activist Mona al-Kurd. When al-Kurd was released, Israeli police allegedly used tear gas and sound bombs to obstruct coverage of the event, hitting al-Jazeera reporter Najwan Semari with shrapnel in her left foot. She was treated for the injuries at a local hospital.

In early May, press reports indicated the PASF had arrested journalist Hassan al-Najjar in mid-April for a couple of weeks after he released the recording of a telephone call between him and President Abbas. During the telephone call, al-Najjar had complained about being fired from the official Palestine TV by senior PA official and general supervisor of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, Ahmad Assaf, for criticizing him.

On June 26, PA security forces reportedly hit Middle East Eye reporter Shatha Hammad in the face with a tear gas canister while she and several other journalists were covering a march in Ramallah city center following Banat’s killing.

The PA occasionally obstructed the West Bank activities of media organizations with Hamas sympathies and limited media coverage critical of the PA. For example in May 2020, PA police at a checkpoint stopped, assaulted, and arrested Anas Hawari, a journalist for the Hamas-affiliated Quds News Network, according to media reports and rights groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists. Hawari’s lawyer said police knocked out one of Hawari’s teeth during the incident and confiscated his cell phone. Police later released Hawari on bail after charging him with insulting an official, resisting arrest, and violating COVID-19 lockdown measures. The case continued at year’s end. Journalists from al-Araby al-Jadeed also complained of harassment by the PASF, noting that they had been unable to obtain a media license from the PA for the previous five years.

In the aftermath of Nizar Banat’s killing, journalists reported that security personnel in civilian clothes harassed journalists and demonstrators while security and police officers in uniform refused to provide protection to members of the press who faced threats.

On November 4, MADA reported that Palestinian security services stormed the house of freelance journalist Naseem Maalla after midnight south of Nablus, confiscated his mobile telephone, and took him to PSO headquarters in Junaid Prison. Maalla was subject to several interrogations and reportedly tortured. He was accused of possessing a weapon, then of collecting and receiving money from illegal entities (“Hamas”). He was released on November 25.

The PA also had an inconsistent record of protecting Israeli and international journalists in the West Bank from harassment by Palestinian civilians or PA personnel.

On June 26, MADA reported that Palestinian security forces beat journalist Nasser Hamayel, a producer for ABC News. PA security arrested Hamayel while covering protests in Ramallah in support of Nizar Banat. Security forces transferred Hamayel to the General Investigation Center in al-Bireh, where he was detained for several hours and his mobile phone was confiscated. He was accompanied by a cameraman who was assaulted and prevented from filming.

On June 26 and 27, MADA reported that Palestinian security personnel and security forces in civilian clothes prevented an al-Jazeera crew from approaching Ramallah city center to broadcast live protests against the killing of Nizar Banat. al-Jazeera’s reporter, Jihan Awad, reported that she called police for protection and to enable them to pass but police did not help. Similar incidents were reported by al-Hurra TV channel journalists who were conducting interviews in downtown Ramallah while covering the events.

On June 30, according to MADA, a Facebook page called The Sons of Fatah Movement – Rapid Response published a post threatening seven Palestinian journalists who submitted a request to the United Nations for protection after they were subjected to a series of attacks by Palestinian security forces while documenting demonstrations in Ramallah. The journalists claimed police refused to protect them. The Facebook post criticized the journalists for seeking protection from the PA but not acting similarly against the “Israeli occupation” and alleged the journalists were linked to certain political parties.

In Gaza, Hamas at times arrested, harassed, and pressured, sometimes violently, journalists critical of its policies. Hamas reportedly summoned, detained, and questioned Palestinian journalists to intimidate them. Hamas also constrained journalists’ freedom of internal movement in Gaza during the year, attempting to ban access to some official buildings.

On January 11, MADA reported Hamas police prevented reporters and cameramen from Ma’an TV and al-Ghad al-Arabi TV from covering a sit-in organized by the owners of local markets demanding an end to the year-long COVID-19 lockdown. Hamas officers claimed filming was prohibited in the area and that the sit-in was organized without authorization from the de facto Ministry of Interior.

On April 24, MADA reported that Hamas-affiliated armed security forces in Gaza shoved journalist Mou’in al-Dabba and tore his shirt as he was covering an evening march in support of Jerusalem during which protestors burned tires. The armed forces apologized to al-Dabba after recognizing him and asked him not to publicize the assault. He reported on the incident anyway and was contacted by an unknown person and instructed to delete the post and file a formal complaint.

On May 17, MADA reported that the de facto authorities’ prosecutor’s office in Gaza prevented journalist Mohammad Awad, reporter of the Gaza-based Dunia al-Watan as well as regional al-Arabiya and al-Hadath TV from covering events in Gaza for the latter two regional outlets. Awad stated that he received a telephone call at midnight from a person who introduced himself as one of the de facto authority’s prosecutor’s officers. The person informed Awad that “there are instructions from the leadership” to prevent Awad from carrying out his work. Awad filed a complaint with the Government Media Office, the de facto authorities’ information office, which in turn referred him to the internal security office. The internal security office confirmed that the telephone call came from an official authority. The next day, an announcement against al-Arabiya and al-Hadath TV was distributed, describing them as “channels of sedition” and warning the journalists who work for them.

On July 3, MADA reported that Hamas security personnel assaulted journalist Muhammad al-Louh, a correspondent for al-Shabab Radio in Gaza, while he was covering high school examinations in Deir al-Balah. Al-Louh was wearing a distinctive press uniform with the name of the radio station while conducting interviews with high school students in al-Bureij refugee camp. He was banned by security personnel from reporting in a forbidden area. Al-Louh was then assaulted, slapped, and kicked for not responding to questions, and he sustained bruises on his hands and right leg.

Throughout the year, there were reports of Israeli actions that prevented journalists who were Palestinian from the West Bank and Gaza or Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel from covering news stories in the occupied territories. These actions included alleged harassment and acts of violence against journalists by Israeli soldiers. Palestinian journalists also claimed that Israeli security forces detained Palestinian journalists and forced them to delete images and videos under threat of violence, arrest, or administrative detention. Israeli authorities defended these detentions on security grounds.

Palestinian journalists who were able to obtain permits to enter Israel as well as Jerusalem-based Arab/Palestinian journalists reported incidents of harassment, racism, and occasional violence when they sought to cover news in Jerusalem, especially in the Old City and its vicinity. In November the Journalist Support Committee, a nonprofit journalist advocacy organization, stated Israeli security forces had committed more than 678 acts of violence against Palestinian journalists since the beginning of the year, including detention and office closures. In June then Israeli public security minister Amir Ohana extended for six months the closure order against Palestine TV’s East Jerusalem office, and the office remained closed at the end of the year. In 2019 the public security minister at the time first ordered the closure when Israeli police raided the office according to Palestinian press.

RWB reported at least 21 Palestinian journalists were banned by Israel from traveling for unspecified reasons. When RWB inquired regarding the reasons for barring Palestinian journalist Majdooleen Hasoona of Turkish outlet TRT World from traveling from the West Bank to Turkey, Israeli authorities cited “security reasons” according to Palestinian press.

There were reports of Israeli forces detaining journalists in the West Bank. On January 28, Israeli forces reportedly allowed three cameramen – Suleiman Abu Srour from WAFA, Omar Abu Awad from Palestine TV, and Adel Nimah for Reuters – to cover Israeli demolitions in the Bedouin community of al-Wadi al-Ahmar near the Fayasil village of Jericho, but detained them for several hours afterwards, according to Palestinian media.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that 12 Israeli soldiers raided the Ramallah home of Alaa al-Rimawi, a reporter for the Qatari broadcaster al-Jazeera Mubasher and director of the local J-Media Network news agency (see above), on April 21 and arrested him. He was never charged with a crime and conducted a hunger strike for 16 days of his detention. While he had been issued a three-month administrative detention order, he was reportedly released in early June.

Israeli police officers detained, used violence against, and confiscated equipment of journalists during demonstrations in Jerusalem. During a protest at Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount on May 4, Israeli police reportedly beat with a baton Ahmad Gharabli, a Palestinian journalist working for Agence France-Presse (AFP), according to press reports.

On June 5, MADA reported that Israeli forces assaulted several female Palestinian journalists and prevented them from covering disputes between Palestinian families and Israeli settlers in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Israeli forces allegedly beat the crew of al-Jazeera regional television, who held Israeli press cards, damaged their camera, and detained for several hours correspondent Guevara al-Budairi, banning her from Sheikh Jarrah for 15 days. They also reportedly assaulted and expelled Yasmine Asaad, a correspondent for regional al-Sharq TV. Israeli forces also forced Ma’an News Network correspondent Maysa Abu Ghazaleh to put down her camera and stop taking pictures and physically forced Palestine TV reporter Christine Rinawi and freelance journalist Maram al-Bukhari away from the area.

On August 27, the Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF) reported that Israeli security forces arrested seven Palestinian journalists covering a peaceful demonstration against the establishment of new outposts and settler violence in the South Hebron Hills. According to the HRDF, the journalists were arrested, and their equipment was confiscated although they clearly identified themselves as journalists to the soldiers. Two of the journalists claimed they were attacked and beaten by the soldiers during the arrest. According to the soldiers, the journalists entered a closed military area illegally. The journalists were released later that day, issued a summons for an additional interrogation on August 29, after which their equipment was returned. They subsequently submitted a complaint to the Military Police. It was unclear if any action had been taken on the complaint by year’s end.

The Associated Press accused Israeli police of beating photographer Mahmoud Illean on December 17 while he was covering a protest in Sheikh Jarrah. Illean was admitted to a hospital for head injuries. Israeli police did not provide an explanation for the incident, stating that relevant authorities would investigate. There was no update at years end.

In the West Bank, the PA’s Palestinian News and Information Agency (WAFA) reported 384 Israeli violations against journalists during the year, including beatings, detentions, and use of tear gas and live and metal nonlethal ammunition.

On February 3, according to MADA, the mayor of Beit Sahour municipality harassed and threatened the director general of Radio Bethlehem 2000, George Canawati, concerning Canawati’s Facebook post alleging corruption in Beit Sahour. The mayor entered the radio station headquarters in Bethlehem looking for Canawati, who was not there at the time, complaining Canawati was targeting him. Canawati filed a complaint with the public prosecutor, who determined Canawati’s post did not in any way implicate the mayor.

On January 1, MADA reported that Israeli forces prevented a group of journalists representing various local, regional, and international agencies from covering a march organized by families in the Ramallah area, firing tear gas at them and forcing them away.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The PA prohibits calls for violence, displays of arms, and racist slogans in PA-funded and -controlled official media. There were no confirmed reports of any legal action against, or prosecution of, any person publishing items counter to these PA rules. Media throughout the West Bank and Gaza reported practicing self-censorship. There were reports of PA authorities seeking to erase images or footage from journalists’ cameras or cell phones.

In the West Bank, MADA reported that on April 1 the Arab American University Radio (AAUP) dismissed journalist Ahmed Zayed following his telephone interview with Fatah PLC candidate Abu al-Tayyib Jaradat, who insulted the PA government and Fatah party regarding a disagreement on voters’ lists. The interview aroused discontent in the university and Fatah movement, leading the university to withdraw the interview and terminate the journalist’s contract.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, on July 27, Palestinian police officers raided and closed the office of J-Media in al-Bireh in the West Bank and banned its 17 employees from entering the office or removing any personal belongings or journalistic equipment from it. Alaa al-Rimawi, J-Media’s director who also worked for al-Jazeera, was arrested by the PASF and held for three days in early July following a complaint against him by the Palestinian Ministry of Endowments for delivering a speech without permission at a mosque during the funeral of Palestinian opposition activist Nizar Banat. In July the PA Information Ministry stated that the closure of the J-Media office and several other media institutions was due to their failure to obtain the necessary legal licenses to carry out their work and not for reasons related to restrictions on media freedoms. The office remained closed at year’s end, although J-Media’s website remained active and accessible. The case against J-Media remained open.

On November 7, MADA reported Palestinian security forces detained Abdullah Bahsh, a journalist for the pro-Hamas Quds News Network, and deleted content on his mobile phone while he covered the demolition of a commercial complex by the PA’s Nablus municipal government. Although Bahsh reportedly had permission from authorities to document the demolition, three PSO officers asked him to leave the area after deleting media on his mobile phone and taking a copy of his identification card.

In Gaza civil society organizations reported Hamas censored television programs and written materials, such as newspapers and books.

On April 24, MADA reported the Cybercrime Investigation Department in Gaza summoned AFP journalist Sakher Abu al-Aoun after he published a post on Facebook criticizing a hospital for medical negligence and for treating his son differently than they would if he was the son of a Hamas official. An investigator took al-Aoun’s mobile phone and deleted the post, claiming he had a mandate from the prosecutor, after al-Aoun refused to delete it himself. Al-Aoun was interrogated for two hours and offered the option to either be detained or released on bail. He was ultimately released after the investigator learned al-Aoun’s son had died.

The Israeli government raided and closed Palestinian media sources in the West Bank, primarily based on allegations they incited violence against Israeli civilians or security services. Conviction of acts of incitement under military law is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. NGOs and observers stated Israeli military regulations were vaguely worded and open to interpretation. The ISF generally cited two laws in its military orders when closing Palestinian radio stations: the 1945 Defense Emergency Regulations and the 2009 Order Concerning Security Provisions. These laws generally define incitement as an attempt to influence public opinion in a manner that could harm public safety or public order. The Palestinian Prisoners’ Center for Studies alleged that Israeli authorities arrested 390 Palestinians during the year for “incitement to violence” on social media.

While the Israeli government retained the authority to censor the printing of publications for security concerns, anecdotal evidence suggested authorities did not actively review the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper or other Jerusalem-based Arabic publications. Editors and journalists from those publications, however, reported they engaged in self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: Israel’s law allows for both civil legal proceedings in the form of damage compensation cases as well as criminal legal proceedings in the form of private complaints. The maximum sentence is up to one year imprisonment. There were accusations of slander or libel against journalists and activists in the West Bank and Gaza.

According to HRDF, Israeli individuals and right-wing NGOs used defamation lawsuits to discourage public criticism of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. For example in July 2020 the Samaria Regional Council, an Israeli municipal body for settlers, sued former Knesset member and head of the Zulat Institute, Zehava Galon, after she criticized on Twitter their granting of a certificate of honor to two settlers who in 2019 allegedly shot and killed an alleged Palestinian attacker. According to B’Tselem, the settlers purportedly continued to shoot the Palestinian after he no longer posed a threat. In June 2020 an additional libel lawsuit against Galon, B’Tselem, and three individuals who tweeted on the incident was filed by Yehusha Sherman, who shot the attacker. The lawsuits continued at year’s end.

National Security: Human rights NGOs alleged that the PA restricted the activities of journalists on national security grounds.

On November 13, MADA reported that the Palestinian Intelligence Service summoned journalist Salah Abu Hassan, the programs director at Alam Radio in Hebron, and subjected him to interrogation for an hour about his work at the radio. According to MADA, the interrogation officer told Abu Hassan that radio programs could not speak against the government and that he had an obligation to preserve the public interest of the Palestinian society.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Authorities in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem limited and restricted Palestinian residents’ freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The Israeli military issued an order in 1967 which requires Palestinians in the West Bank to obtain a permit for any protest involving 10 or more persons; during the year there were no known instances in which Israeli authorities granted permission for such a protest. The Palestinian Basic Law requires PA permission for protests of 50 persons or more.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

PA law permits public meetings, processions, and assemblies within legal limits. Both the PA and Hamas security forces selectively restricted or dispersed peaceful protests and demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza during the year.

The PASF arrested dozens of protesters in the summer following Nizar Banat’s killing on June 24 (see section 1.a., Arbitrary or Unlawful Killings, and section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrests or Detention).

Some NGOs claimed the PASF used emergency COVID-19 measures as a pretext to crack down on dissent. Palestinian activists and the family of Nizar Banat asserted that emergency orders put in place to address COVID-19 were abused by the PASF to prevent protests and a memorial service for Banat on September 18. A trial in the July 2020 case of 22 anticorruption activists arrested after gathering for protests despite their permit request being denied under coronavirus emergency regulations continued at year’s end. One activist’s case was thrown out on December 19 due to a witness’ failure to appear in court; the other 21 remained free while the trial proceeded.

On November 30, the Ramallah Court dropped charges against seven activists accused of illegally gathering in July during protests following Banat’s death, citing lack of evidence.

According to a Hamas decree, any public assembly or celebration in Gaza requires prior permission. Hamas used unjust arrest to prevent some events from taking place, including political events affiliated with Fatah. Hamas also attempted to impede criticism of its policies by imposing arbitrary demands for the approval of meetings on political or social topics.

A 1967 Israeli military order covering the West Bank and Gaza stipulates that a “political” gathering of 10 or more persons requires a permit from the regional commander of military forces, which Israeli commanders rarely granted. The penalty for conviction of a breach of the order is up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a fine. The IDF Central Command declared areas of the West Bank to be “closed military zones” in which the IDF prohibited public assembly by Palestinians. Israeli military law prohibits Palestinians from insulting a soldier, participating in an unpermitted demonstration or march consisting of more than 10 persons, and “incitement” (encouraging others to engage in civil disobedience).

There were reports that Israeli authorities used excessive force against protesters in East Jerusalem. Between April and June, hundreds of Palestinian and Jewish Israeli protesters from across Israel and East Jerusalem came to Sheikh Jarrah to show their support for families at risk of eviction and to protest the dispossession of Palestinians from their homes, according to the HRDF. Police and media characterized the protest as violent; the HRDF reported that Israeli police used aggressive and disproportionate force to disperse the demonstrations, injuring hundreds of protesters. Israeli security forces reportedly deployed stun grenades and tear gas canisters, sprayed “skunk water,” and fired sponge grenades, according to the HRDF. Between April 29 and May 21, the HRDF provided legal aid to 42 Palestinian and Israeli peaceful protesters arrested in Sheikh Jarrah, some of whom the HRDF alleged were hospitalized after being attacked by police. Most of the protesters were released after one or two court hearings on bail with 30- to 60-day bans from Sheikh Jarrah, while others were released at the police station with 15-day bans from Sheikh Jarrah.

On August 21-22, the PASF arrested approximately 30 protesters during a series of protests memorializing well-known PA critic Nizar Banat, including Ubay al-Aboudi, director of the Bisan Center for Research and Development. The PA charged protesters with participating in an unauthorized protest and more dubious charges of disparaging government institutions, insulting civil servants, and inciting sectarian hatred. Following international and diplomatic pressure, protesters were released within days; their first hearing was scheduled for November.

According to Amnesty International, on the evening of July 5, Palestinian security forces detained at least 15 persons, including protesters, journalists, and a lawyer, after violently dispersing a peaceful gathering in front of the Ballou’ police station in Ramallah. According to Amnesty International, police in riot gear holding shields dispersed the gathering with “wanton force,” beating protesters, dragging them on the ground, spraying them with pepper spray and pulling their hair. Several female protesters also alleged sexual harassment by police, including groping.

During the Sheikh Jarrah protests, the HRDF alleged Israeli settlers repeatedly attacked Salah Diab, a local human rights activist, and police detained him numerous times throughout May. On May 3, the HRDF alleged that Israeli police pepper sprayed and attacked Diab, injuring his leg. On May 6, the HRDF reported that 21 Israeli Jewish attackers pepper-sprayed Palestinians who were breaking their fast during Ramadan in front of Diab’s house. The attackers allegedly came from the newly established “office” across the street from extreme-right Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir. The incident escalated as the two groups threw plastic chairs and stools at each other. Following the attack, four Palestinians including Diab, were arrested for “racially motivated” attacks, while one of the Jewish attackers was detained and released the same evening, according to the HRDF. On July 11, Diab was summoned to a termination of employment hearing from his work at Israel’s Mega Supermarket Chain. In the letter sent to Diab, Mega accused him of violating company values and policies and harming its reputation due to his activism and participation in the Sheikh Jarrah protest. Local Israeli officials, including a deputy mayor of Jerusalem, reportedly campaigned for termination of Diab’s employment.

According to the HRDF, Jerusalem police forces regularly confiscated, attacked, and arrested peaceful protesters who waved the Palestinian flag, despite Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev’s explicit order to the police commissioner and high-ranking officers that the Palestinian flag may only be confiscated during demonstrations under exceptional circumstances.

Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro faced 16 charges in a trial in an Israeli military court that began in 2016. On January 6, an Israeli judge at the Ofer Military Court convicted Amro on six counts, including participating in a rally without a permit, obstructing a soldier, and assault. On January 26, the UN special rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders and on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 issued a statement condemning Amro’s conviction. On March 22, the Military Court sentenced Amro to a three-month suspended prison sentence with two years’ probation. According to the HRDF, the activity for which Amro was indicted was entirely peaceful, and he was in turn assaulted by soldiers, police officers and settlers. According to the HRDF, this created a chilling effect on other human rights defenders who might fear facing similar criminal proceedings. Amro appealed the conviction. Haaretz reported the IDF has detained Amro at least 20 times 2018.

Freedom of Association

PA law allows freedom of association. PA authorities sometimes imposed limitations on the freedom of association in the West Bank, including on labor organizations (see section 7.a.). NGOs stated a regulation subjecting “nonprofit companies” to PA approval of their projects and activities prior to receiving funds from donors impeded their independence and threatened the ability of both local and international nonprofits to operate freely in the West Bank.

In Gaza, Hamas attempted to prevent various organizations from operating. This included some organizations Hamas accused of being Fatah-affiliated, as well as private businesses and NGOs that Hamas deemed to be in violation of its interpretation of Islamic social norms. Hamas claimed supervisory authority over all NGOs, and Hamas representatives regularly harassed NGO employees and requested information on staff, salaries, and activities.

According to the PCHR, on September 21, de facto authorities’ police entered al-Azhar University campus in Gaza and ordered students to take off their Palestinian kufiyah, claiming there were orders to ban wearing kufiyahs. The center added that police detained and abused all those who refused to obey the orders, subjecting them to degrading treatment.

Human rights NGOs alleged that Israeli authorities cited laws against terrorism or protecting national security to arrest or punish critics of the government or deter criticism of government policies or officials. On October 22, Israeli minister of defense Benny Gantz announced that Israel was designating six Palestinian NGOs (al-Haq, Addameer, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees) as terrorist organizations, alleging connections to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist organization. Local and international human rights groups strongly criticized the designation, alleging that overly broad use of terrorism laws created a chilling effect on civil society groups conducting legitimate human rights work. The designated groups are based in the West Bank, but the designation applies both within the West Bank under IDF military order, and in Israel under the law.

The UN special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights criticized the designation as a blatant misuse of counterterrorism legislation designed to ban human rights activities and silence voices advocating for respect for human rights. On October 25, 22 Israeli NGOs released a joint statement of support and solidarity with the designated NGOs, calling on the Israeli government and international community to oppose the decision and alleging the designation was done to criminalize and prevent documentation of human rights abuses and prevent legal advocacy and aid for human rights work.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

PA law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions. The PA maintained security coordination with Israel throughout the year. IDF checkpoints and settlements constrained Palestinians’ movement throughout the West Bank, including access to their farmlands, according to NGOs and the PA. This was particularly true during the olive harvest, when Palestinian farmers who coordinated access to their olive groves with Israel’s Civil Administration and the PA sometimes had difficulty accessing their land, according to human rights groups.

Citing security concerns and frequent attempted terrorist attacks, Israel imposed significant restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and between the West Bank and Jerusalem.

In-Country Movement: In an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, Hamas occasionally enforced restrictions on internal movement in Gaza. Pressure to conform to Hamas’s interpretation of Islamic norms generally restricted movement by women, who often had to travel in groups when visiting certain public areas such as the beach. There were sporadic reports of security officers requiring men to prove a woman with them in a public space was their spouse.

Israeli authorities often deployed temporary checkpoints that prohibited travel between some or all Palestinian West Bank towns. Palestinians who lived in affected villages stated that “internal closures” continued to have negative economic effects, lowering their employment prospects, wages, days worked per month, and their children’s ability to commute to school. During periods of potential unrest, including on some major Israeli, Jewish, and Muslim holidays, Israeli authorities enacted “comprehensive external closures” that prevented Palestinians from leaving the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel placed restrictions on Palestinian farmers accessing their land in the so-called seam zone west of the barrier and east of the Green Line, according to human rights groups, and there were some reports that soldiers operating the checkpoints at seam-zone access points did not allow farmers to move farming implements and machinery, including trucks for transporting olive harvests, into the area.

The Israeli travel permit system restricted Palestinians’ ability to travel from Gaza to the West Bank. Palestinian higher education contacts reported that permits for Gazans to attend West Bank universities were seldom granted. According to the NGO HaMoked, Israeli authorities required Palestinians from the West Bank who are married to a Palestinian in Gaza and reside in Gaza to sign a “Gaza resettlement form” and permanently forego their right to move back to the West Bank.

Israel has declared access-restricted areas (ARAs) on both the coastal and land borders around Gaza, citing evidence that Hamas exploited these areas at times to conduct attacks or to smuggle weapons and goods into Gaza. The lack of clear information regarding the ARAs created risks for Palestinians in Gaza who lived or worked either on the Mediterranean coast or near the perimeter fence. No official signage exists for the line of demarcation, and official policy changed frequently. Hamas’s use of certain technologies for rockets, drones, other weapons, and surveillance systems led Israel to restrict importation of dual-use equipment into Gaza including Global Positioning System (GPS) devices.

The lack of GPS devices made it more difficult for fishermen to locate and avoid restricted maritime activity areas. In addition, the permitted maritime activity area for Palestinians along the coastal region of Gaza changed between zero and 15 nautical miles multiple times throughout the year, according to Gisha, an Israeli organization that focuses on Palestinian freedom of movement. Gisha called the changes a form of collective punishment. Human rights NGOs asserted that confusion regarding permitted activity areas led to multiple instances of Israeli forces firing upon farmers and fishermen. According to the Israeli government, Hamas attempted to conduct terrorist activities by sea. According to the United Nations, regular electrical outages often made it necessary for Gazan farmers to work their fields after dark. In some instances, IDF soldiers shot at farmers near the ARA when farmers irrigated their fields at night. UNOCHA reported Palestinians in Gaza considered areas up to 1,000 feet from the perimeter fence to be a “no-go” area, and up to 3,300 feet to be “high risk,” which discouraged farmers from cultivating their fields. UNOCHA estimated nearly 35 percent of Gaza’s cultivable land was in these areas. On September 2, Israeli naval forces shot at multiple Palestinian fishing vessels near Abasan al-Khabira, a town close to an Israeli security fence, injuring one fisherman in the leg.

Major checkpoints, such as Container and Za’tara, caused disruptions in the West Bank when closed, according to media reports. When Container (near Bethlehem) was closed, it cut off one-third of the West Bank population living in the south, including Bethlehem and Hebron, from Ramallah and the north. Similarly, Za’tara checkpoint blocks traffic in and out of the entire northern part of the West Bank, including Nablus, Tulkarem, and Jenin, according to media reports. UNOCHA reported in its 2020 biennial survey that there were 593 permanent obstacles throughout the West Bank. Israeli restrictions on movement affected virtually all aspects of Palestinian life, including attendance at weddings and funerals, access to places of worship, employment, access to agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities. There were also reports of patients dying in traffic before reaching hospitals and ambulances on the way to accidents or scenes of attacks being stopped by the IDF for hours at a time.

Israeli authorities allegedly damaged Palestinian property in the West Bank during raids, sealed off entries and exits to homes and other buildings, and confiscated vehicles and boats. The Israeli government stated that it imposed collective restrictions only if an armed forces commander believed there was a military necessity for the action and that the imposition on the everyday lives of Palestinian civilians was not disproportionate. IDF veterans working at Israeli NGOs, however, described such operations as often being arbitrary.

Israeli authorities restricted or prohibited Palestinian travel on 29 roads and sections of roads (totaling approximately 36 miles) throughout the West Bank, including many of the main traffic arteries, according to B’Tselem. Israeli security forces also imposed temporary curfews confining Palestinians to their homes during arrest operations. Israel continued to restrict movement and development near the barrier, including access by some international organizations.

Palestinian farmers continued to report difficulty accessing their lands in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank. NGOs and community advocates reported numerous Palestinian villages owned land rendered inaccessible by the barrier or settlements. A complicated Israeli permit regime (requiring more than 10 different permits) prevented these Palestinians from fully using their lands. The Israeli NGO HaMoked reported that government of Israel data showed a marked reduction in approvals of permits to cross the barrier compared with previous years. According to HaMoked, the IDF denied 73 percent of farmer permits in 2020, compared with 63 percent in 2019. Only 1 percent of these permits were denied for security reasons, according to the IDF. The vast majority of permits were denied due to difficulties navigating the military bureaucracy and failure to meet increasingly restrictive criteria, according to HaMoked. HaMoked also reported that Israeli authorities did not open gates to these areas early enough in the morning, which reduced the time Palestinian farmers had each day to cultivate their land.

PA-affiliated prosecutors and judges claimed that ISF prohibitions on movement in the West Bank, including Israeli restrictions on the PA’s ability to transport detainees and collect witnesses, hampered their ability to dispense justice.

Israeli restrictions on the importation of dual-use items, including wires, motors, and fiberglass that could be used for the production of weaponry or explosives, prevented some fisherman from being able to repair their boats.

In the West Bank, Israeli military authorities continued to restrict Palestinian vehicular and foot traffic and access to homes and businesses in the downtown H2 sector of Hebron, where approximately 22,000 Palestinians resided. This included a ban on Palestinians walking, driving, or exiting the front door of their homes on Shuhada Street and most of al-Sahleh Street. Israeli security forces cited a need to protect several hundred Israeli settlers resident in the city center. Israeli security forces continued to occupy rooftops of private Palestinian homes in the H2 sector as security positions, forcing families to leave their front door open for soldiers to enter. In response to these reports, the Israeli government stated that freedom of movement is not an absolute right but must be balanced with security and public order.

The Israeli government, citing security concerns, continued to impose intermittent restrictions on Palestinian access to certain religious sites, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Israeli officials cited security concerns when imposing travel restrictions, including limiting access to Jerusalem during major Jewish holidays as well as continuing construction of Israel’s barrier, which impeded the movements of Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the West Bank.

Foreign Travel: Hamas in Gaza occasionally enforced movement restrictions on Palestinians attempting to exit Gaza to Israel via the Erez Crossing and to Egypt via the Rafah Crossing. Palestinians returning to Gaza were regularly subject to Hamas interrogations regarding their activities in Israel, the West Bank, and abroad.

Hamas required exit permits for Palestinians departing through the Gaza-Israel Erez Crossing. Hamas also prevented some Palestinians from exiting Gaza based on the purpose of their travel or to coerce payment of taxes and fines. There were some reports unmarried women faced restrictions on travel out of Gaza.

On February 14, Gaza’s Supreme Judicial Council issued a notice allowing male guardians to restrict unmarried women’s travel. Following significant public backlash, the notice was revised to allow a male guardian (i.e., a father, brother, or grandfather) to apply for a court order preventing an unmarried woman from traveling if they assess the travel will cause “absolute harm.” She could also be prevented from traveling if the guardian had a pending lawsuit against her that requires a travel ban. The notice also allows parents and the paternal grandfather to apply for travel bans on their adult children and grandchildren if they can show travel could result in similar harm. According to HRW, on September 21, Palestinian border officials at the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt blocked Afaf al-Najar from traveling to Turkey, where she had received a scholarship to study media and communications, because her father had applied for a judicial travel ban. At an October 3 court hearing, a judge told al-Najar she could study for her degree in Gaza, suggesting he expected her to remain there. The case continued at year’s end.

Hamas restricts the entry of foreigners into Gaza unless a recognized local entity applies for their entrance prior to arrival. Hamas prohibited several international journalists from entering due to a lack of local agencies or persons applying for permits on their behalf.

During the conflict in May, Gazans were not able to get advanced medical care outside of Gaza for several weeks. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights and the ICRC filled the gap temporarily, then ceded the coordination role to the World Health Organization until coordination resumed.

Israeli authorities often denied or did not respond to Palestinian applications for travel permits through the Erez Crossing, including for patients seeking medical care unavailable inside Gaza, citing security concerns. On December 23, Israel granted 500 permits for Christians in Gaza to attend Christmas celebrations in the West Bank, although Israeli authorities largely limited entry and exit from Gaza at the Erez Crossing to humanitarian cases and limited permits to businesspersons and day laborers working in Israel. These limitations prevented some Palestinians from transiting to Jerusalem for visa interviews; to Jordan (often for onward travel) via the Allenby Bridge; and to the West Bank for work or education. There were reports from Gazans that Israeli authorities had imposed additional restrictions on items that could be brought through Erez into Israel, including not being allowed to carry cell phone chargers or more than one pair of shoes. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated there were no such new restrictions.

The barrier that divides the majority of the West Bank from Israel, including communities within Jerusalem, and some parts of the West Bank, significantly impeded Palestinian movement. Israeli authorities stated they constructed the barrier to prevent attacks by Palestinian terrorists. In some areas the barrier divided Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem and neighborhoods within Jerusalem. At its widest points the barrier extended 11 miles into the West Bank. OCHA estimated that more than 11,000 Palestinians, excluding East Jerusalem residents, resided in communities west of the barrier who were required to travel through Israeli security checkpoints to reach the remainder of the West Bank.

In Jerusalem the barrier affected residents’ access to their extended families, places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities. For example, restrictions on access in Jerusalem, including delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours, made it difficult for Palestinian patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem that offer specialized care. Authorities sometimes restricted internal movement in Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s Old City and periodically blocked entrances to the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya, Silwan, and Jabal Mukabber. The government stated that the barrier was needed for security reasons and restrictions on movement in Jerusalem were temporary and implemented only when necessary for investigative operations, public safety, public order, and when there was no viable alternative.

Israeli officials imposed restrictions on movement of materials, goods, and persons into and out of Gaza based on security and economic concerns (see also section 3, Recent Elections, Gheith case). Amnesty International and HRW reported difficulties by foreign workers in obtaining Israeli visas, which affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the West Bank and Gaza. Amnesty International and HRW also reported that the Israeli government denied permits to their employees to enter Gaza from Israel. The United Nations and several international NGOs reported that the Israeli government denied permits to UN and NGO local Gazan staff to exit Gaza into Israel. The Israeli government stated all Gaza exit requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis in accordance with security considerations arising from Hamas’s de facto control of Gaza.

UNRWA reported staff movement continued to be restricted and unpredictable at several checkpoints, notably those controlling access to East Jerusalem or through the barrier. UNRWA reported that, as of the end of November, movement restrictions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, had resulted in the loss of at least 241 staff days. With a few exceptions, senior officials and staff of UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations were unable to leave or enter Gaza during the May conflict because of closures of the crossings between Israel and Gaza.

The Israeli government continued selective revocations of residency permits of some Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. This meant those residents could not return to reside in Jerusalem. Reasons for revocation included holding residency or citizenship of another country; living in another country, the West Bank, or Gaza for more than seven years; or, most commonly, being unable to prove a “center of life” (interpreted as full-time residency) in Jerusalem. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that as of October, Israeli authorities revoked 22 residency permits in Jerusalem on the grounds of a regulation that allows revocation for individuals who stayed outside of Israel for more than seven years or acquired citizenship or permanent residence status elsewhere. Some Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem but studied abroad reported losing their Jerusalem residency status, but the government denied revoking residency status of anyone who left for the sole purpose of studying abroad. The government added that the residency of individuals who maintained an “affinity to Israel” would not be revoked and that former residents who wished to return to Israel could receive renewed residency status under certain conditions.

Palestinians possessing residency permits issued by the Israeli government but no PA or Jordanian identity document needed special documents to travel abroad.

During the year the Israeli Supreme Court continued to uphold, with few exceptions, the ban imposed in 2000 on students from Gaza attending West Bank universities. Students in Gaza generally did not apply to West Bank universities because they understood Israeli authorities would deny permits or could revoke them during the school year.

Delays in permit approvals by Israeli officials caused some Palestinians to miss the travel dates for exchange programs abroad and matriculation in foreign universities. In some cases authorities asked students to submit to security interviews prior to receiving permits. Israeli authorities detained some students indefinitely without charge following their security interview, which caused other students to refuse to attend these interviews due to fear of being detained.

Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah Crossing to pedestrians several times during the year, and OCHA reported 88,510 exits and 70,771 entrances through the Rafah Crossing as of November, an increase over 25,069 exits and 26,829 entrances in 2020. OCHA reported the Rafah Crossing had been open 198 days and closed 135 days as of November, compared to 2020 when the crossing was only open 126 days. The UN and several international NGOs reported that obtaining permission from the Hamas government in Gaza and the Egyptian government to travel through Rafah was extremely difficult for Palestinians in Gaza and often required paying bribes to local authorities.

According to Gisha, Israeli authorities denied some exit permit applications by residents of Gaza on the grounds that the applicants were “first-degree relative[s] [of] a Hamas operative.” UNOCHA reported that some of its staff members were denied exit permits out of Gaza because UNOCHA coordinated with Hamas as the de facto government in Gaza to facilitate the entry, exit, and transportation of UN personnel. In other cases, UNOCHA reported that its staff received exit permits, but Israeli authorities denied them permission for them to exit after hours of waiting at border crossings.

According to the United Nations, 1,025 persons were displaced in the West Bank and East Jerusalem due to demolitions as of November 17.

UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations provided services to IDPs in Gaza and the West Bank, with some limitations due to Israeli restrictions on movement and border access. Humanitarian actors, including UNRWA, the ICRC, and NGOs, reported they faced difficulties providing assistance during the May conflict in Gaza, due to several factors, including the intensity of the bombing of Gaza by the Israeli military, difficulties establishing a coordination mechanism with the Israeli government, restrictions on movement of goods and persons by Israeli authorities, and, in one notable case of Israelis permitting humanitarian supplies through the Kerem Shalom Crossing, a mortar attack by Hamas.

The PA cooperated with UNRWA in the West Bank. In Gaza de facto authorities generally cooperated with UNRWA and allowed it to operate without interference. After the May conflict and a controversial interview given by UNRWA’s Gaza field director, Hamas announced it would no longer guarantee his and his deputy’s safety, effectively forcing out UNRWA’s two most senior officials.

Access to Asylum: Palestinian residents of the West Bank who claimed to be in a life-threatening situation due to their sexual orientation or other reasons, such as domestic violence, did not have access to the asylum system in Israel due to Israel’s claim that the 1951 Refugee Convention does not apply to Palestinians because they receive assistance from the UNRWA, although UNRWA’s mandate does not extend to Israel. Thus, many Palestinians in life-threatening situations resided in Israel without legal status. NGOs stated this situation left these persons, who claimed they could not return to the West Bank due to fear of oppression, vulnerable to human trafficking, violence, and exploitation. Some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) Palestinians were able to obtain a temporary permit from the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) allowing them to stay in Israel without authorization to work or to access social services. A Supreme Court petition by NGOs demanding these rights was pending as of the year’s end. According to UNHCR, prior to the issuance of permits, COGAT requested proof of efforts to resettle in a third country. On July 22, in its response to a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the right to work and access to the health-care system for Palestinians with stay permits in Israel, the government stated it viewed a fundamental difference between Palestinians threatened due to cooperation with Israel and Palestinians who fled due to their sexual orientation or domestic violence. The government committed to begin issuing work permits for the first group but not for the second group. Members of the second group could only apply for a permit in demanded fields such as construction and industry, mirroring requirements for Palestinian workers from the West Bank. The government stated that COGAT examined the issue on a case-by-case basis. On July 26, the Supreme Court upheld the government’s position, but also demanded the government update the court regarding the possibility of accepting requests for work permits from the second group, separate from an employer. The case was ongoing at the year’s end.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Israeli security operations in the West Bank led to 27 fatalities of UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees, five of whom were killed while reportedly conducting an attack on the ISF or Israeli civilians. The ISF conducted an estimated 409 military and policing operations in West Bank refugee camps, injuring 101 Palestinians, according to the United Nations. Of these injuries, 65 persons, including 10 minors, were injured with live ammunition, the United Nations reported. Israeli authorities demolished 141 structures belonging to UNRWA-registered refugees, which resulted in the displacement of 195 refugees, according to the United Nations.

Access to Basic Services: UNRWA provided education, health care, and social services, as well other assistance, in areas of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories were eligible to access UNRWA schools and primary health-care clinics, although in some cases, movement restrictions limited access to UNRWA services and resources in the West Bank (see section 1.d.). UNRWA services in Gaza were also disrupted during the May escalation in violence.

Socioeconomic conditions in Gaza severely affected refugees. UNRWA reported that food security continued to be at risk. In March UNRWA temporarily suspended food distribution at its official distribution centers to avoid spreading COVID-19 but began door-to-door delivery as an alternative soon afterwards.

Israeli import restrictions on certain commodities considered as dual use continued to impede humanitarian operations in Gaza, including those directed toward refugees. In 2016 Israeli authorities introduced a requirement whereby approval of UNRWA projects remained valid for only one year. As project implementation timelines often exceeded one year, this requirement necessitated applications for reapproval of projects, which hampered implementation and increased transaction costs for multiple UNRWA projects.

According to NGOs, 40,000 to 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza lacked identification cards recognized by Israel. Some were born in Gaza but were never recognized by Israel as residents, some fled Gaza during the 1967 war, and some left Gaza for various reasons after 1967 but later returned. A small number lacking recognized identification cards were born in Gaza and never left but had only Hamas-issued identification cards. Under the Oslo Accords, the PA administers the Palestinian Population Registry, although status changes in the registry require Israeli government approval. The Israeli government has not processed changes to the registry since 2000 and has not approved family reunifications since 2009. COGAT confirmed that without accurate and updated records in Israeli databases, Israeli authorities could not process Palestinians’ movement in and out of the West Bank and Gaza.

There was no process for foreign spouses or foreign-born children of Palestinians to obtain permanent legal status in the West Bank prior to August, when Israeli authorities permitted 5,000 family reunification petitions to be submitted via the PA’s Ministry of Civil Affairs. Following a meeting between President Abbas and Israeli minister of defense Gantz on December 28, there were indications that Israel would permit the PA to process additional family reunification petitions, although thousands more would likely remain unprocessed due to Israeli-imposed limits on the number of petitions. Since Israel approves the Palestinian family registry, many Palestinian children and young adults, especially those born abroad, remained without legal status at the end of the year, in the region where they had spent most or all of their lives.