Germany

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. While the government generally respected these rights, it imposed limits on groups it deemed extremist. The government arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned several individuals for speech that incited racial hatred, endorsed Nazism, or denied the Holocaust (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism). An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression: On April 1, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier signed into law the Act on Combating Right-Wing Extremism and Hate Crimes. The act requires social networks not only to assess and potentially restrict illegal content, but also to report online hate crimes, including anti-Semitic hate speech, to the Federal Criminal Police. Online threats will now be treated the same as in-person threats, and threats of violence other than murder, such as of rape or vandalism, both online and in person, will also be treated the same as murder threats under the law.

On July 6, a federal law took effect that enables authorities to restrict the tattoos, clothing, jewelry, hair, or beard styles of civil servants if this is necessary to ensure the functionality of the public administration or fulfill the obligation for respectful and trustworthy conduct. The law specifies that if these are of a religious nature, they can only be restricted if they are “objectively suited to adversely affect trust in a civil servant’s neutral performance of their official duties.” Religious organizations expressed concern, however, that the law could serve as justification to restrict the wearing of religious head and face coverings or other religious symbols and attire by civil servants.

Some states did not permit full-face coverings in public schools.

In August 2020 the Federal Labor Court rejected an appeal by the federal state of Berlin against a regional labor court’s 2018 judgment that a general ban on teachers wearing religious symbols in schools was discriminatory. Berlin appealed the case to the Federal Constitutional Court in June.

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. The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred.

Violence and Harassment: In June, 3,000 persons demonstrated in Duesseldorf against the new law on public assembly proposed by the NRW state government. Police allegedly assaulted a media representative and surrounded and detained 38 minors during the 10-hour event. During his testimony before the state parliament on the incident, NRW interior minister Herbert Reul regretted police action against the journalist and said it had been a mistake. NRW minister president Armin Laschet later met with the journalist and stated freedom of the press would always be guaranteed. Authorities filed 39 charges were against protesters, including nine counts of bodily harm and six of disturbing the peace.

On September 10, Munich police arrested photojournalist Michael Trammer of the newspaper taz for criminal trespass while he was covering a demonstration by environmentalists against an auto show. Trammer was arrested when police stormed the building and detained him in the process of arresting demonstrators even though he claimed he clearly identified himself as a member of the press. Police released Trammer later that day but ordered him not to enter the auto show’s facilities and declared he could be detained again if authorities suspected he might violate the law. Trammer’s newspaper contacted police, and they dropped the two orders, although Trammer still faced the trespass charge.

On April 3, regional broadcaster SWR was forced to abort a live report from a demonstration by the group Querdenker 711 in Stuttgart when demonstrators threw “hard objects” at the camera team. Police could not identify the perpetrators. The German Union of Journalists criticized police for not protecting the journalists. Journalists were also attacked at a March 23 Querdenker 711 demonstration in Kassel.

On April 26, a camera team in the government district of Berlin was harassed by five persons, disrupting a live broadcast on COVID-19 immunization policies. Police arrested four suspects on charges of attempted coercion. A federal government spokesperson condemned the attack and said journalists must be able to practice their profession without fear or interference.

Nongovernmental Impact: On July 7, four individuals assaulted Turkish journalist Erk Acacer, a columnist for the Turkish daily BirGun, outside his residence in Berlin. Acacer told Deutsche Welle television he believed the attack was related to a Turkish businessman, whom Acacer alleged was involved in prostitution, drugs, and corruption. Acacer said he received new threats in late July; police were investigating the incidents.

While the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, the government restricted these freedoms in some instances.

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

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

In-country Movement: Authorities issued three types of travel documents to stateless individuals for movement within the country and inside the European Union: to those with refugee status, to those with asylum status, and to foreigners without travel documents. Stateless individuals received a “travel document for the stateless.” Those with recognized refugee and asylum status received a “travel document for refugees.” Foreigners from non-EU countries received a “travel document for foreigners” if they did not have a passport or identity document and could not obtain a passport from their country of origin.

A federal law requires refugees with recognized asylum status who received social benefits to live within the state that handled their asylum request for a period of three years, and several states implemented the residence rule. States themselves can add other residence restrictions, such as assigning a refugee to a specific city. Local authorities who supported the rule stated that it facilitated integration and enabled authorities to plan for increased infrastructure needs, such as schools.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous municipalities and state governments imposed a variety of strict temporary restrictions on freedom of movement to prevent the spread of the virus, including stay-at-home requirements throughout the country and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s entry ban on visitors from out of state that expired in June. Citizens challenged many of these restrictions in court, with varying results. In November 2020 the federal government instituted a nationwide ban on overnight accommodations in areas with high COVID-19 infection rates (above 100 per 100,000) to restrict in-country travel. The law also required residents of areas with very high infection rates (above 200 per 100,000) to stay within nine miles of the locality in which they live. All movement restrictions expired July 1.

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, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country continued to face the task of integrating approximately 1.3 million asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who arrived between 2015 and 2017. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) reported 122,170 asylum requests in 2020 and 111,788 requests in the first eight months of the year (see also section 6, Displaced Children).

In an August 23 decision, the Hesse Higher Administrative Court (VGH) ruled conscientious objectors from Syria do not automatically qualify as asylum seekers. A Syrian national, age 26, had appealed the rejection of his application for asylum in 2015. The VGH’s verdict was based on the premise that the plaintiff would most likely not face abuse for avoiding the draft in Syria but would simply be conscripted upon his return. The decision reversed previous legal practice in Hesse and followed decisions from courts in the states of Saxony-Anhalt and NRW. Syrians accounted for 33 percent (40,570 in total) of all asylum applicants in the country in 2020.

The NGO Pro Asyl continued to criticize the “airport procedure” for asylum seekers who arrive at the country’s airports. Authorities stated the airport procedure was used only in less complex cases and that more complex asylum cases were referred for processing through regular BAMF channels. Authorities maintained that only persons coming from countries the government identified as “safe” (see below) and those without valid identification documents could be considered via the “direct procedure.” The direct procedure enabled BAMF to decide on asylum applications within a two-day period, during which asylum applicants were detained at the airport. If authorities denied the application, the applicant had the right to appeal. Appeals were processed within two weeks, during which the applicant was detained at the airport. If the appeal was denied, authorities deported the applicant. The NGO Fluechtlingsrat Berlin was critical of a similar “fast track” or “direct” procedure applied to some asylum seekers in Berlin. The organization claimed asylum applicants were not provided with sufficient time and access to legal counsel.

In 2018 BAMF suspended the head of its Bremen branch, Ulrike Bremermann, amid allegations she improperly approved up to 1,200 asylum applications. In 2019, however, a BAMF review concluded that just 145 of 18,000 positively approved Bremen asylum decisions since 2006 that were reviewed by a special commission (0.81 percent) should be subject to legal review, a proportion below the national average of 1.2 percent. In November 2020 the Bremen Regional Court rejected 100 of the 121 charges against Bremermann and two private lawyers, including all charges related to violations of asylum and residence laws. On April 20, the court decided to take no further action on the case in exchange for a payment of a fine by Bremermann, considering the minor nature of the remaining charges.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III regulation that permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who entered the country through “safe countries of transit,” which include EU member states, and Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. “Safe countries of origin” also include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Senegal, and Serbia. The government did not return asylum seekers to Syria.

Refoulement: The government reported that 137 refugees were deported to Afghanistan in 2020, the latest year for which official statistics are available; the NGO Pro Asyl estimated that 304 refugees were deported to Afghanistan during the first seven months of the year. NGOs including Pro Asyl and Amnesty International criticized the policy as a breach of the principle of refoulement and complained that grounds and procedures for deportation varied widely between states. On August 11, the Federal Ministry of the Interior announced a temporary ban on deportations to Afghanistan due to the security situation there.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Assaults on refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants continued, as did attacks on government-provided asylum homes. On July 22, four unknown assailants attacked and wounded two asylum seekers from Kenya in Prenzlau, Brandenburg. As of November police continued to investigate.

In November 2020 a paramedic punched in the face a restrained and defenseless Syrian refugee at a Kassel refugee shelter; the incident did not become public until police released video surveillance of it in March. The video showed two police officers at the scene not interfering or trying to stop the assault. The original November police report only mentioned disorderly conduct by the refugee, but not the assault by the paramedic. Authorities filed charges against the paramedic and the police officers. The paramedic’s employer also dismissed him from his job.

On February 4, a Saxony-Anhalt court issued a warning and suspended sentence for battery to a private security guard who was captured on video in 2019 beating an asylum seeker at a government reception center for asylum seekers in Halberstadt, Saxony-Anhalt. Two other guards at the center were acquitted of similar charges.

Freedom of Movement: Under a 2019 law addressing deportation, all asylum seekers must remain in initial reception facilities until the end of their asylum procedure, up to 18 months. Rejected asylum seekers who do not cooperate sufficiently in obtaining travel documents can be obliged to stay in the institutions for longer than 18 months. Authorities can arrest without a court order those persons who are obliged to leave the country. Persons obliged to leave the country who do not attend an embassy appointment to establish their identity can be placed in detention for 14 days. The law indicates that persons detained under “deportation detention” – including families and children – would be held in regular prisons. Refugees deemed to be flight risks can be taken into preventive detention. Officials who pass on information regarding a planned deportation are liable to prosecution. Legal scholars stressed the regulations were legally problematic because both the constitution and the EU Return Directive pose high hurdles for deportation detention. The law also provides for the withdrawal after two weeks of all social benefits from those recognized as asylum seekers in other EU states.

Authorities issued 10,800 expulsion orders in 2020, only slightly fewer than the 11,081 expelled in 2019. Persons holding citizenship of Albania (1,006), Georgia (995), Serbia (754) and Moldavia (654) were subject to the highest number of expulsions. In September, Bundestag member Ulla Jelpke (Left party) called for an abolition of the practice, arguing that some of the expellees had been living in the country for decades.

Employment: Persons with recognized asylum status were able to access the labor market without restriction; asylum seekers whose applications were pending were generally not allowed to work during their first three months after applying for asylum. According to the Federal Employment Agency, 234,756 refugees were unemployed as of August. Refugees and asylum seekers faced several hurdles in obtaining employment, including lengthy review times for previous qualifications, lack of official certificates and degrees, and limited German language skills.

The law excludes some asylum seekers from access to certain refugee integration measures, such as language courses and employment opportunities. This applies to asylum seekers from countries considered “safe countries of origin” and unsuccessful asylum seekers who cannot be returned to the country through which they first entered the area covered by the Dublin III regulation. The government did not permit rejected asylum seekers or persons with temporary protected status who are themselves responsible for obstacles to deportation to work, nor asylum seekers from safe countries of origin if they applied for asylum after 2015.

Access to Basic Services: State officials retain decision-making authority on how to provide housing for asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants and whether to provide allowances or other benefits.

Several states provided medical insurance cards for asylum seekers. The insurance cards allow asylum seekers to visit any doctor of their choice without prior approval by authorities. In other states asylum seekers received a card only after 15 months, and community authorities had to grant permits to asylum seekers before they could consult a doctor. Local communities and private groups sometimes provided supplemental health care.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted for resettlement and facilitated the local integration (including naturalization) of refugees who had fled their countries of origin, particularly for refugees belonging to vulnerable groups. Such groups included women with children, refugees with disabilities, victims of trafficking in persons, and victims of torture or rape. Authorities granted residence permits to long-term migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who could not return to their countries of origin.

The government assisted asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants with the safe and voluntary return to their countries. In 2020 authorities provided financial assistance of 300 to 500 euros ($345 to $575) to 5,706 individuals to facilitate voluntary returns to their country of origin. Beneficiaries were either rejected asylum seekers or foreigners without valid identification. The largest group of program applicants came from Iraq.

Temporary Protection: The government provides two forms of temporary protection, subsidiary and humanitarian, for individuals who do not qualify as refugees. In the first eight months of the year, the government extended subsidiary protection to 14,565 persons. This status is usually granted if a person does not qualify for refugee or asylum status but might face severe danger in his or her country of origin due to war or conflict. During the same period, 3,393 individuals were granted humanitarian protection. Humanitarian protection is granted if a person does not qualify for any form of protected status, but there are other humanitarian reasons the person cannot return to his or her country of origin (for example, unavailability of medical treatment in their country of origin for an existing health condition). Both forms of temporary protection are granted for one year and may be extended. After five years a person under subsidiary or humanitarian protection can apply for an unlimited residency status if he or she earns enough money to be independent of public assistance and has a good command of German.

g. Stateless Persons

UNHCR reported 26,675 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2020. Some of these persons lost their previous citizenship when the Soviet Union collapsed or Yugoslavia disintegrated. Others were Palestinians from Lebanon and Syria.

Laws and policies provide stateless persons the opportunity to gain citizenship on a nondiscriminatory basis. Stateless persons may apply for citizenship after six years of residence. Producing sufficient evidence to establish statelessness could often be difficult, however, because the burden of proof is on the applicant. Authorities generally protected stateless persons from deportation to their country of origin or usual residence if they faced a threat of political persecution there.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, of men and women, and provides penalties of up to 15 years in prison. Without a court order, officials may temporarily deny access to their household to those accused of abuse, or they may impose a restraining order. In severe cases of rape and domestic violence, authorities can prosecute individuals for assault or rape and require them to pay damages. Penalties depend on the nature of the case. The government enforced the laws effectively.

The federal government, the states, and NGOs supported numerous projects to prevent and respond to cases of gender-based violence, including providing survivors with greater access to medical care and legal assistance. Approximately 350 women’s shelters operated throughout the country.

The NGO Central Information Agency of Autonomous Women’s Shelters (ZIF) reported accessibility problems, especially in bigger cities, because women who found refuge in a shelter tended to stay there longer due to a lack of available and affordable housing. ZIF also stated refugee women were particularly at risk, since they were required to maintain residence in a single district for three years and many resided in districts in which there were no women’s shelters.

The women’s shelter association Frauenhauskoordinierung e.V. complained that federal vaccination regulations did not prioritize residents and staff of women’s shelters for COVID-19 vaccination, in contrast to homeless shelters, refugee housing, and other group housing settings, threatening the homes’ ability to provide shelter in the event of an outbreak. Multiple NGOs expressed concern the COVID-19 lockdown constrained opportunities for women to escape violent domestic situations. ZIF called for additional government funding to place women and children in hotels if quarantine rendered its shelters inaccessible.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C of women and girls is a criminal offense punishable by one to 15 years in prison, even if performed abroad. Authorities can revoke the passports of individuals they suspect are traveling abroad to subject a girl or woman to FGM/C; however, authorities have not taken this step since the law took effect in 2017. During the year there were no reports FGM/C was performed in the country. A working group under the leadership of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth collaborated with other federal government bodies and all 16 states to combat FGM/C.

In July the Federal Ministry for Women and Families published a “protection letter” for girls at risk of FGM/C, warning of the high criminal penalties for FGM/C in the country. The letter was intended to be carried when travelling abroad and shown to relatives or others who tried to subject girls to FGM/C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law criminalizes “honor killings” as murder and the government enforced the law effectively. During the year there were some reports of such killings in the country; for example, in December, Berlin prosecutors charged two men of Afghan descent with murdering their sister age 34 in July because she had divorced her abusive husband and begun a new relationship. No trial date had been set at year’s end. Although authorities estimated the number of such killings fluctuated between approximately three and 12 during any year, some observers questioned how many of these were “honor killings,” which media tended to attribute to immigrant communities, and how many were other manifestations of domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment of women was a recognized problem and prohibited by law. Penalties include fines and prison sentences of up to five years. Various disciplinary measures against harassment in the workplace are available, including dismissal of the perpetrator. The law requires employers to protect employees from sexual harassment. The law considers an employer’s failure to take measures to protect employees from sexual harassment to be a breach of contract, and an affected employee has the right to paid leave until the employer rectifies the problem. Unions, churches, government agencies, and NGOs operated a variety of support programs for women who experienced sexual harassment and sponsored seminars and training to prevent it.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

There are no legal, social, or cultural barriers, nor government policies, that adversely affect access to contraception nor to attendance of skilled health personnel during pregnancy and childbirth. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, including emergency contraception.

Discrimination: Men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights under the constitution, including under family, labor, religious, personal status, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. The government generally enforced the law effectively.

The country’s constitution states that no one shall be “favored or disfavored because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith or religious or political opinions.” Federal laws prohibit discrimination based on race or ethnicity by public authorities as well as private actors such as employers, landlords and businesses, but there were reports of discrimination despite these laws.

Public incitement of hatred against an ethnic, racial, religious or other minority is a crime in the country, and authorities vigorously prosecuted violations of the law. Crimes motivated by such hatred also incur harsher sentences than similar crimes not motivated by such hatred, and judges regularly imposed these sentences.

The federal and state governments employed a wide range of measures to eliminate ethnic and racial basis. For example, the federal government operated FADA, which takes complaints and reports of discrimination and provides advice and support to victims. Some states also had similar offices. Observers noted FADA was underfunded and that both state and federal offices were not sufficiently independent. Members of minority groups were not always aware of these resources.

The federal and state governments also provided grants to civil society organizations working to combat racism and ethnic bias. For example, during the year the federal government program Demokratie Leben (Live Democracy) dispensed 150 million euros ($172.5 million) in grants to organizations promoting diversity and combating extremism.

Federal and state OPCs also monitored groups with racist or xenophobic ideologies. The annual FOPC report for 2020, released in June, recorded 22,357 politically motivated crimes committed by individuals with right-wing extremist backgrounds, 1,023 of which were violent. Of these, 746 were categorized as xenophobic. The 2020 FADA report detailed 2,101 complaints of racism, a 79 percent annual increase compared with 2019, and the agency reported 6,383 requests for consultations from possible victims of discrimination, compared with 3,200 in 2019. Persons with Asian features were often affected, according to official sources and multiple media reports (see also section 3, Participation of Womenand Members of Minority Groups, attacks on campaigns of minority group politicians).

In a survey by researchers at the University of Bochum on interactions with police published in November 2020, respondents who were members of ethnic minority groups or who had a migrant background reported being subjected to random police checks more often than white respondents without a migrant background. Ethnic minority respondents and those with a migrant background were more often advised against reporting incidents of police violence, and their attempts to do so were more frequently rejected than were those of white, nonmigrant respondents.

In May the NRW state government launched a campaign to attract more employees with immigrant backgrounds to join the civil service.

On August 18, the Erfurt public prosecutor charged nine men and one woman from the right-wing extremist scene with inflicting grave bodily harm for their attack on three Guineans in Erfurt, Thuringia. Two of the victims were injured during the August 2020 attack, one of them seriously. According to the prosecutor’s office, proceedings against seven other suspects were dropped due to lack of evidence. As of August a trial date had not been set.

On June 9, Frankfurt prosecutors began investigating 20 members of the Frankfurt police department’s elite special forces unit (SEK) for sharing racist, extremist content in a chat group. Hesse interior minister Peter Beuth then dissolved the Frankfurt SEK and announced a statewide reorganization of such units on August 26. Investigations against most of the officers were still ongoing as of October 1, while investigations of two senior officers for obstruction of justice have been closed.

In September 2020 the NRW Interior Ministry suspended 29 police officers for participating in a right-wing chat group in which they shared extremist propaganda. In July charges were filed in six cases, including five counts of spreading symbols of anticonstitutional organizations and sedition; the charges could lead to fines. Seven cases were closed with no charges filed, and investigations continued in 14 cases. In September the special representative examining right-wing extremist tendencies in the police force presented his report to the NRW state parliament. Although he found many examples of right-wing extremist, racist, sexist, and homophobic statements, he found no evidence of right-wing extremist networks in the police force or that police had been subverted by right-wing extremists. The report included an 18-item list of measures to combat extremism in the police force.

Persons of foreign origin sometimes faced difficulties with finding housing. FADA reported cases of landlords denying rental apartments to persons not of ethnic German origin, particularly of Turkish and African origin.

According to local media, internal documents and whistleblower testimonies suggested that Bremen’s city-owned housing association Brebau systematically discriminated against persons of color, Sinti and Roma, Bulgarians, and Romanians. Brebau staff were instructed to note applicants’ race in the company’s internal information technology system, as well as whether they wore a head scarf and if they were “integrated” into Western society. The reports stated this information was temporarily removed if applicants asked to review their application and later re-entered.

Harassment of members of racial minorities, such as Roma and Sinti, remained a problem throughout the country.

In May the Independent Commission on “Anti-Ziganism” presented its final report to the government. The report, commissioned by the government, concluded that anti-Roma racism was an “all-encompassing everyday experience for Sinti and Roma” that posed a “massive societal problem.” Harshly criticizing an ongoing “failure of German policy, German legislation and the application thereof,” it described discrimination in local government, law enforcement, education, and other areas. The genocide of the Roma and Sinti committed by the Nazis had a “deep and lasting impact,” the report said, and had only partly been addressed.

On August 5, a Sinti family was expelled from a campground in Bad Zwesten, Hesse. The head of the family reported that he was told Sinti were not welcome at the campground. Campground operator Camping Club Kassel (CCK) confirmed to local media it had a policy of not admitting minorities. Following public complaints, the CCK eventually apologized to the family and declared it had rescinded the discriminatory policy.

On September 23, four defendants in Erbach, Baden-Wuerttemberg were convicted of coercion in a 2019 attack in which they threw a burning torch at a vehicle in which a Romani family slept with their baby, age nine months. They were given suspended juvenile sentences and were ordered to visit a concentration camp memorial. The court found the defendants were motivated by racism and had hoped to drive the Roma out of Erbach, but the defendants did not intend to harm them. The Central Council of German Sinti and Roma welcomed the verdict.

Birth Registration: In most cases individuals derive citizenship from their parents. The law allows individuals to obtain citizenship if they were born in the country and if one parent has been a resident for at least eight years or has had a permanent residence permit for at least three years. Parents or guardians are responsible for registering newborn children. Once government officials received birth registration applications, they generally processed them expeditiously. Parents who fail to register their child’s birth may be subject to a fine. Birth certificates are required to access some public services, such as education or day care.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse. Violence or cruelty towards minors, as well as malicious neglect, are punishable. Incidents of child abuse were reported. The Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women, and Youth sponsored programs throughout the year on the prevention of child abuse. The ministry sought to create networks among parents, youth services, schools, pediatricians, and courts and to support existing programs at the state and local level. Other programs provided therapy and support for adult and youth victims of sexual abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years.

The law nullifies existing marriages conducted in other countries in which at least one spouse was younger than age 16 at the time of the wedding, even if they were of legal age in the country where the marriage was performed. Individuals ages 16 or 17 can petition a judge on a case-by-case basis to recognize their foreign marriage if they face a specific hardship from not having their marriage legally recognized. Complete central statistics were unavailable on such cases. Child and forced marriage primarily affected girls of foreign nationality.

In June the NRW state government launched an awareness campaign against forced marriage headlined EXIT.NRWProtection UnitedNorth Rhine-Westphalia against Forced Marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, or using children for commercial sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking, as well as practices related to child pornography. Authorities enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14 years unless the older partner is older than 18 and is “exploiting a coercive situation” or offering compensation, and the younger partner is younger than 16. It is also illegal for a person who is 21 or older to have sex with a child younger than 16 if the older person “exploits the victim’s lack of capacity for sexual self-determination.”

Crime statistics for 2020, the latest available, indicated 14,594 cases of child sexual abuse occurred in 2020, an increase of 6.8 percent over 2019. The number of child pornography cases processed by police rose in 2020 to 18,761, a 53 percent increase over 2019.

The law enables undercover investigators to use artificially created videos of child sexual abuse to gain entry to internet forums. The government’s Independent Commissioner for Child Sex Abuse Issues provides an online help portal and an anonymous telephone helpline free of charge.

In January police conducted two large nationwide raids involving 1,000 law enforcement officers against persons suspected of possessing or distributing child pornography, following a similar series of raids in September 2020. The raids were part of investigations that began with the 2019 arrest of a Bergisch-Gladbach man for severe child abuse, including the production of child pornography. That case eventually evolved into a large-scale investigation involving 400 police detectives and a network of at least 30,000 suspects, several of whom were convicted and sentenced in 2020 to multiyear prison sentences, to be followed by preventative detention, for child sexual abuse and possession of child pornography. Investigations and court proceedings were ongoing.

In June 2020 police uncovered a child abuse ring in Muenster, NRW. The main suspect was a man, age 27, suspected of sexually abusing the son, age 10, of his partner; he also produced pornography of the abuse and sold it online and offered his foster son to others. By August more than 40 suspects had been identified, with approximately 30 in pretrial detention or custody; 30 children were believed to have been victims. In July a Muenster court handed down a 14-year sentence for the main suspect and ordered preventive detention after the sentence is complete; in October the main suspect’s partner was sentenced to seven years and nine months in prison for aiding and abetting the crime. Three other defendants received prison sentences of between 10 and 12 years, also with preventive detention after serving their sentences. In October the mother of the main suspect, who was tried as an accomplice, was also convicted of aiding and abetting the crime and sentenced to seven years and nine months in prison.

In 2019 an NRW parliamentary committee opened an investigation into possible failures and misconduct by the NRW state government in a case of multiple sexual abuse of children at a campground in Luegde. The investigation continued as of October, with sessions scheduled until December 17.

Displaced Children: According to the Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU, 2,230 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in the country in 2020, approximately half of whom came from three countries: Afghanistan, Guinea, and Syria. BAMF granted some form of asylum to unaccompanied minors in 58.7 percent of cases in 2020, compared with 94.5 percent in 2016. The NGO Association for Unaccompanied Refugee Minors observed that some unaccompanied minors might have become victims of human trafficking, since youth offices have no legal responsibility to locate them if they disappear from foster families. For more information see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

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

Anti-Semitism

Observers estimated the country’s Jewish population to be almost 200,000, of whom an estimated 90 percent were from the former Soviet Union. There were approximately 107,000 registered Jewish community members.

Manifestations of anti-Semitism, including physical and verbal attacks, occurred at public demonstrations, sporting and social events, in schools, in the street, in certain media outlets, and online. Apart from anti-Semitic speech, desecration of cemeteries and Holocaust monuments represented the most widespread anti-Semitic acts. The federal government attributed most anti-Semitic acts to neo-Nazi or other right-wing extremist groups or persons, and such acts increased during the year. Jewish organizations also noted anti-Semitic attitudes and behavior among some Muslim youth and left-wing extremists. NGOs agreed right-wing extremists were responsible for most anti-Semitic acts but cautioned that federal statistics misattributed many acts committed by Muslims as right-wing acts.

In 2020 the Federal Ministry of Interior reported 2,351 crimes motivated by anti-Semitism, a 15.7 percent increase from the 2,032 anti-Semitic crimes in 2019. In presenting the FOPC’s annual report, Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (Christian Social Union) stated right-wing extremists continued to pose the greatest threat to the country’s democracy. NGOs working to combat anti-Semitism cautioned the number of anti-Semitic attacks officially noted was likely misleading, because a significant number of cases may have been unreported.

The FOPC’s annual report stated the number of violent right-wing anti-Semitic incidents dropped from 56 in 2019 to 48 in 2020. The FOPC also identified 31 anti-Semitic incidents with a religious ideological motivation, including one violent incident and 36 with a foreign ideological motivation. Federal prosecutors brought charges against suspects and maintained permanent security measures around many synagogues.

In the year preceding March 17, the Department for Research and Information on Anti-Semitism registered anti-Semitic incidents at 324 separate demonstrations against restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, none of them violent. Incidents included positive references to Nazis, for example the use of anti-Semitic conspiracy myths, including the assertion that Jews were responsible for unleashing the corona virus.

In May the Research and Information Office on Anti-Semitism Bavaria reported 239 anti-Semitic incidents in 2020, an increase of 55 incidents over 2019. The incidents included one violent attack, 10 threats, 13 incidents of vandalism, 27 anti-Semitic mass mailings, and 188 cases of abusive behavior. Two weeks later, the Bavarian parliament passed a resolution against anti-Semitism. The resolution calls for better surveillance and screening of possible threats as well as physical protection measures for Jewish institutions and synagogues.

In December 2020 a court sentenced Stephen Balliet, the gunman who attacked a Halle synagogue on Yom Kippur in 2019 and killed two persons, to life imprisonment with subsequent preventative detention for murder, attempted murder, and incitement. The Saxony-Anhalt court cited Balliet’s lack of remorse and expressed desire to reoffend as reasons for issuing the maximum sentence. The President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany welcomed the verdict for its clear condemnation of anti-Semitism. Balliet had testified to being motivated by xenophobia and anti-Semitism in court, repeating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and calling Muslim refugees in the country “conquerors.”

In May protesters burned Israeli flags in front of synagogues in Muenster and Bonn. The Muenster synagogue was not damaged, and authorities charged 13 men with violating the law of assemblies. In Bonn individuals threw stones at the synagogue’s front door, and authorities filed charges against three suspects.

Also in May a police cordon stopped an unregistered anti-Israel demonstration with approximately 180 attendees waving Palestinian, Turkish, and Tunisian flags at the Gelsenkirchen synagogue. In a video of the demonstration, anti-Semitic chants like “Jews out” could be heard. Police arrested a German-Lebanese man, age 26, and further investigations continued as of December.

On May 15, 3,500 persons participated in an anti-Semitic demonstration in the Neukoelln district of Berlin. Demonstrators chanted anti-Semitic slogans and displayed signs equating Israel with the Nazis. According to media reports, participants included members of Turkish extremist organizations such as the “Grey Wolves,” left-wing extremist groups, as well as families. After police attempted to end the demonstration due to noncompliance with COVID-19 restrictions, some demonstrators turned violent, throwing bottles, stones, and burning objects at police and journalists covering the event. Police were only able to restore order after several hours. In the disturbances 93 police officers were injured, and authorities arrested 59 persons for battery, assaulting police officers, and other charges. As of December police investigations continued. The same day, also in Berlin, unknown persons vandalized the memorial stone marking the site of a destroyed synagogue in the Hohenschoenhausen neighborhood. Berlin mayor Michael Mueller condemned the demonstration as “unacceptable.”

On June 5, a man, age 45, attempted to set fire to an Ulm synagogue, resulting in minor damage to the building. The suspect, a Turkish citizen, fled to Turkey after the attack. According to Baden-Wuerttemberg authorities, the Turkish government refused to extradite him. Following the attack, the Baden-Wuerttemberg state parliament passed a resolution denouncing anti-Semitism.

In August a Jewish resident, age 18, wearing a kippa was insulted and severely beaten by a group of young persons while sitting in a Cologne public park. The victim was hospitalized with broken bones in his face. Police identified two attackers via video cameras and arrested them. Police suspected the attack was motived by anti-Semitism but as of December investigations were ongoing.

In September a Halle police officer was suspended for repeatedly corresponding with Stephan Balliet, who had attacked the Halle synagogue on Yom Kippur 2019. The officer wrote Balliet at least 10 letters using a pseudonym and false address and was reported to have expressed sympathy for the attacker while minimizing his crimes in conversations with colleagues.

An attack in Hamburg on September 18 left a Jewish man, age 60, hospitalized with potentially lifelong injuries. According to Hamburg anti-Semitism commissioner Stefan Hensel, the perpetrator and his companions shouted, “free Palestine” and “f- Israel” at a pro-Israel vigil in central Hamburg. When the vigil participants asked them to stop, the attacker punched the Jewish man in the face and broke his nose and cheek bone. Hamburg police were searching for the unidentified assailant. Hamburg deputy mayor (equivalent to deputy governor) Katharina Fegebank strongly condemned the attack.

On October 8, a neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier from Oberhausen, NRW, was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Liebermann (1852-1934) in the country’s largest Protestant cemetery, located in Stahnsdorf, near Berlin. The burial, during which Liebermann’s headstone was covered by a black cloth quoting the Bible verse “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” was attended by prominent neo-Nazis and Citizens of the Empire, according to media reports. The Protestant Church of Germany Berlin-Brandenburg was investigating how the request for the grave was approved, as well as possible consequences. Police were also investigating.

On August 23, Baden-Wuerttemberg interior minister Thomas Strobl officially inaugurated country’s first two police rabbis, Moshe Flomenmann from Loerrach and Shneur Trebnik from Ulm, to serve as counselors and contact persons for prospective and existing police officers as well as community members.

Many prominent government officials repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism throughout the year, including Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. In 2018 the federal government created the position federal commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and the fight against anti-Semitism. Since then, 15 of 16 states have also established state-level commissioners to combat anti-Semitism. In the one state not to have instituted a commissioner, the Bremen Jewish community told the state government it was not necessary to introduce such a position, and that they deemed alternative tools to combat anti-Semitism to be more efficient. The positions’ responsibilities vary by state but involve meeting with the Jewish community, collecting statistics on anti-Semitic acts, and designing education and prevention programs. A federal- and state-level Commission to Combat Anti-Semitism and Protect Jewish Life including all commissioners met twice a year to coordinate strategies.

In April, Hamburg launched a publicly funded independent reporting agency for anti-Semitism and other racist incidents.

In August the NRW state government established a reporting office for anti-Semitic assaults that do not rise to the level of criminal charges. The office was temporarily administered by the North Rhine State Association of Jewish Communities until a new organization could be established.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Federal and state laws require public authorities take measures to ensure persons with disabilities have equal access and treatment in education, health, public services, and transportation. These include the elimination of physical barriers in buildings and transportation; communication assistance; the elimination of barriers to applying for and accessing public services; the provision of public information in accessible formats; and ensuring access to the political process. These requirements were not always implemented. For example, most physicians’ offices often located in older buildings were not accessible to persons with disabilities, and there were too few health-care facilities able to address the specific health-care needs of persons with disabilities. Government information and communications were not always provided in accessible formats, especially at the local level.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law makes no specific mention of the rights of persons with sensory or intellectual disabilities, but their rights are considered included under the other headings. NGOs disagreed whether the government effectively enforced these provisions.

Persons with disabilities also faced hurdles in employment and housing. While discrimination based on a disability was illegal, the unemployment rate among persons of working age was much higher than in the general population. Not enough suitable employment opportunities were available for persons with disabilities, and despite requirements that private companies employ persons with disabilities, many chose to pay a fine instead of doing so. There was also a shortage of affordable, accessible, and barrier-free housing for persons with disabilities and older, privately owned residential and commercial buildings were often exempt from accessibility regulations.

An estimated 1.3 million adults were living under conservatorships in the country, many of them with a disability, whose rights were restricted to various degrees under conservatorship laws. In 2021, 85,000 persons with disabilities under conservatorship were permitted to vote in the federal elections for the first time, after the federal constitutional court ruled in 2019 that a ban on voting by persons with disabilities under was unconstitutional. In March the government extensively reformed conservatorship laws, effective 2023, to give persons under conservatorship more control over their own lives. NGOs such as the Institute for Human Rights stated that the reforms did not go far enough, for example because they still permitted involuntary medical treatment or sterilization in some cases.

State officials decide whether children with disabilities may attend mainstream or segregated schools. The law obliges all children to attend school, so those with disabilities do so at the same rate as children without disabilities. Approximately 43 percent of children with disabilities attended schools with their peers in public schools, while the remainder attended segregated schools, although inclusion levels varied significantly between the country’s different states. Somewhat more than half of the students with disabilities attending school with their peers successfully completed their secondary education, compared to more than one in four of those attending segregated schools.

According to FADA, many persons with disabilities believed they were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 measures, especially mask requirements, and were stigmatized as COVID-19 deniers when raising their concerns. The number of complaints to FADA by persons with disabilities tripled to 2,631 cases in 2020, 41 percent of the total, which declared more must be done to meet needs of the persons with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example by expanding outdoor retail or delivery options.

In March a Leipzig court convicted a Red Cross transportation service driver of the rape, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment of several children with disabilities and young adults whom he transported to education and care facilities. The court sentenced him to four years in prison.

Police in Wuerzburg arrested a speech therapist in March and charged him with the sexual abuse of children with disabilities under his treatment; a court convicted him of severe sexual abuse in May, sentencing him to 11 years in prison.

In April police arrested a caregiver at a Potsdam residential facility for persons with disabilities and charged her with killing three residents and wounding a fourth that same month. The trial continued as of November.

The NGO German AIDS Foundation and the NGO German AIDS Service Organization reported that societal discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS ranged from isolation and negative comments from acquaintances, family, and friends to bullying at work.

In September the NGO German AIDS Service Organization published a survey showing that that 56 percent of HIV-positive persons had experienced discrimination due to the HIV status in the previous year, with 16 percent being refused dental treatment and 8 percent experiencing such discrimination in health care. The impact of this discrimination was greater than that of the infection itself, respondents said.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activists and community members complained of violent attacks and a growing atmosphere of hostility towards LGBTQI+ persons across the country, often directed at transgender individuals. Official crime statistics recorded 782 hate crimes against LGBTQI+ persons nationwide, 154 of which were violent and 144 of which involved battery. Community activists suspected true figures were much higher and counted three anti-LGBTQI+ killings in the country in 2020. The Berlin NGO Maneo identified 510 hostile incidents in Berlin alone in 2020, 119 of which involved battery or attempted battery.

On March 16, Frankfurt prosecutors charged with aggravated battery three individuals aged 16, 17, and 18 who had attacked a LGBTQI+ individual, age 20, in Frankfurt in November 2020 after he had spoken in a YouTube video regarding queer topics and hostility toward the LGBTQI+ community. They were expected to be tried in juvenile court.

On March 20, an unknown man attacked a trans woman in Frankfurt with verbal insults and several punches to her face, resulting in light injuries and hospitalization. Following the attack, trans rights activist Julia Monro praised the communications practices of Frankfurt police, especially for having explicitly named transphobia as the motive for the attack.

On May 21, the Dresden Higher Regional Court sentenced a Syrian refugee, age 20, and known Islamist to life imprisonment followed by a conditional security detention for attacking a gay couple in Dresden with a knife in October 2020, fatally injuring one of them. The state Ministry of the Interior and Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Saxony rejected a homophobic motive, focusing instead on the crime’s radical Islamist background. LGBTQI+ advocacy groups decried this as “unacceptable” and “disturbing.”

On June 24, the day of Berlin’s pride march, a group of unknown persons attacked a march participant from behind before punching him in the face; he required medical treatment for his injuries. Earlier that same evening, a group of persons punched and kicked three other marchers in a Berlin park while shouting anti-LGBTQI+ insults; all three were injured. Police arrested three suspects. The previous afternoon a man aged 18 assaulted a gay couple in the subway and the city’s plaque commemorating the gay liberation movement had been vandalized.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Under the law offering, advertising, or arranging treatments to convert homosexual or transgender minors by means of “conversion therapy” is a crime punishable by up to a year in prison. Penalties are also possible if persons of legal age have been coerced to undergo such “therapy.”

LGBTQI+ activists criticized the law’s requirement that transgender persons obtain two assessments by independent experts to receive legal gender recognition (including a legal name change), as expensive, time consuming, subjective, and intrusive.

In July the Cologne District Court fined a Polish theology professor and priest for inciting hatred by calling homosexuals in the Roman Catholic church a “cancer” and “colony of parasites,” in a January church periodical article. The publication was also fined; both defendants appealed the decision.

A professor previously convicted of defamation of LGBTQI+ persons won his appeal on March 2. In August 2020 a Kassel district court had found Kassel University biology professor Ulrich Kutschera guilty of defamation and fined him. In a 2017 interview, Kutschera had alleged that sexual abuse of children was likelier to occur among same-sex parents and called same-sex couples “asexual erotic duos without reproduction potential.” Kutschera appealed his conviction to the Kassel State Court, which overturned the lower court’s decision, ruling that his statements were covered by constitutional free speech protections.

Between January and March, unknown suspects committed three attacks against a Frankfurt mosque. Twice the mosque door was defaced with swastikas, and once a perpetrator accessed the mosque and vandalized the location.

In April an unknown man broke the windows of the prayer room of a Hildesheim mosque and entered its courtyard before fleeing. Police arrested and charged a suspect, age 20.

In September unknown persons threw stones through six windows of what police called “a Muslim institution” in Zwickau, shattering them; media reports called the building a mosque, which had been the target of vandalism in the past. Police had not arrested a suspect at year’s end.

Media reported women who wore a hijab faced employment discrimination, and that discrimination was made easier by the customary practice of requiring photos as part of job applications. According to one March report by the ZDF national television network, a job seeker who wore a headscarf said that she had to submit 450 applications before she was offered an interview.

Mexico

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. Most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations were privately owned. The government had minimal presence in the ownership of news media but remained a significant source of advertising revenue for many media organizations, which at times influenced coverage. Media monopolies, especially in small markets, at times constrained freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction but often self-censored due to fear of reprisal. Journalists could criticize the government and discuss matters of general interest with no restrictions. Politicians publicly discredited and criticized such journalists, however.

On August 7, several journalist organizations, including the Puebla Network of Journalists, National Network of Journalists, Communication, and Information on Women, and International Network of Journalists with a Gender Vision, issued a statement denouncing increased levels of violence against female journalists in Puebla from security forces and criminal organizations. The group reported 16 acts of aggression against female journalists between January and July and called on the Puebla governor to guarantee the adoption of public policies to respect, protect, and guarantee the exercise of journalism.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were killed or subjected to physical and cyberattacks, harassment, and intimidation (especially by state agents and transnational criminal organizations) in response to their reporting. This limited media’s ability to investigate and report, since many of the reporters who were killed covered crime, corruption, and local politics. High levels of impunity, including for killings or attacks on journalists, resulted in self-censorship and reduced freedom of expression and the press.

According to NGO Article 19, lethal attacks occurred against journalists in Sonora, including the killings of Benjamin Morales on May 3 and Ricardo Lopez Dominguez on July 22 and the disappearance of Jorge Molontzin on March 16.

The Interior Secretariat registered 224 verbal and physical attacks against journalists in 2020 and a total of 1,052 between 2015 and 2020, 41 percent of which the secretariat attributed to public servants. The most common aggressions were intimidation and harassment, followed by threats and physical attacks, according to civil society groups. In the first six months of the year, Article 19 registered 362 attacks against journalists and accused public officials of committing 134 of them.

Between 2017 and August the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists, a unit in the Prosecutor General’s Office, charged 136 public servants for crimes against journalists. For example, the office issued three arrest warrants in the case of the August 2020 killing of Juan Nelcio Espinosa, an independent journalist in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, who died while in police custody. The investigation continued as of August 30.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights groups reported that some state and local governments censored media. Journalists reported altering their coverage due to a lack of protection from the government, attacks against members of media and newsrooms, and threats or retributions against their families, among other reasons. There were reports of journalists practicing self-censorship due to threats from criminal groups and government officials.

Freedom of expression advocacy groups reported the government, despite reductions in its advertising budgets, continued to have a strong financial impact and influence on the largest media companies. According to advocacy groups, no information was available concerning the criteria through which the government chooses media outlets for public advertising.

Libel/Slander Laws: There are no federal criminal laws against defamation, libel, or slander; however, eight states have criminal laws on these acts. In Baja California Sur, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, and Yucatan, the crimes of defamation and libel are prosecuted, with penalties ranging from three days to five years in prison and fines for committing defamation or slander, both considered “crimes against honor.” Slander is punishable under the criminal laws of the states of Campeche, Nuevo Leon, Sonora, Yucatan, and Zacatecas, with sentences ranging from three months to six years in prison and fines. Five states have laws that restrict the publishing of political caricatures or “memes.” These laws were seldom applied.

In addition to criminal libel and defamation laws, civil law defines “moral damage” as similar to defamation concerning harm to a person’s “feelings, affections, beliefs, dignity, honor, reputation, and privacy,” according to the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists. A 2016 ruling by the Supreme Court removed the cap on fines for moral damages, leaving journalists vulnerable to exorbitant fines. In 2019 a Mexico City court ordered academic Sergio Aguayo, a columnist of the daily newspaper Reforma, to pay a fine of 10 million pesos ($530,000) in moral damages to former Coahuila governor Humberto Moreira. In July 2020 the Supreme Court agreed to analyze the case but as of August 23 had not issued a ruling.

According to civil society, libel and defamation proceedings tripled from 11 cases in 2019 to 33 cases in 2020. The Puebla state government sued the news outlet E-Consulta seven times due to its reporting.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized criminal groups exercised a grave influence over media outlets and reporters, threatening individuals who published critical views of crime groups. Concerns persisted regarding organized criminal groups’ use of physical violence in retaliation for information posted online, which exposed journalists, bloggers, and social media users to the same level of violence faced by traditional journalists. For example, journalists in Nogales, Sonora, said they were aware of unspoken red lines in covering organized crime and that crossing lines, such as mentioning the name of an alleged assailant, could result in personal harm.

The government’s National Protection Mechanism to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Defenders provided panic buttons, bodyguards, and temporary relocation to journalists and human rights defenders. According to the Interior Secretariat, between 2018 and July assailants killed seven journalists and two defenders under protection of the mechanism.

On June 17, while journalist Gustavo Sanchez Cabrera was riding his motorcycle, two unidentified individuals in a car crashed into him, exited the car, and fatally shot him. Sanchez was a reporter for Facebook-based Panorama Pacifico and was in the protection mechanism after suffering an attempt on his life in July 2020. According to civil society, the protections the mechanism provided after the attempt to his life were lacking. As of August 27, there were no updates in this investigation.

On August 8, self-proclaimed members of Cartel Jalisco New Generation released a video showing a group of armed men threatening to kill journalist Azucena Uresti for reporting on self-defense groups fighting the cartel in Michoacan. As of August 18, authorities had not confirmed whether the threatening video was genuine. President Lopez Obrador condemned the threats, and the Interior Secretariat confirmed that authorities would grant Uresti protection measures.

The threat against journalists by organized crime was particularly high in the state of Guerrero. Journalists in Iguala, Guerrero, received anonymous messages through social networks, such as Facebook and WhatsApp, threatening them and their families, according to civil society. Following the August 2020 killing of Pablo Morrugares, El Diario de Iguala newspaper published a note blaming organized crime and Governor Hector Astudillo Flores’ administration for violence against journalists and impunity. In August 2020 attackers fired multiple shots at the building housing the printing facilities of El Diario de Iguala.

In June a federal judge sentenced Juan Francisco Picos Barrueto to 32 years in prison for the 2017 murder of journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas. Also in June a federal judge sentenced the former mayor of Chinipas, Chihuahua, Hugo Amed Schultz Alcaraz, to eight years in prison for his role in the 2017 murder of Miroslava Breach, a prominent La Jornada newspaper correspondent who reported on organized crime and corruption. In August 2020 a federal judge sentenced Juan Carlos “El Larry” Moreno Ochoa to 50 years in prison for killing Breach.

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions. There were reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators. Twelve states have laws restricting public demonstrations. Government failures to investigate and prosecute attacks on protesters and human rights defenders resulted in impunity for these crimes, consistent with high impunity rates for all crimes. NGOs reported that acts of excessive use of force and arbitrary detention occurred against female protesters, especially those protesting gender-based violence.

In May in Chicoloapan, state of Mexico, municipal police beat and detained supporters of feminist groups as they led a protest against gender-based violence and political parties. Municipal police arrested eight women and one man, later releasing all detainees.

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

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

In-country Movement: There were numerous instances of armed groups limiting the movements of migrants, including by threats and acts of kidnapping, extortion, and homicide. Organized criminal groups dominated migrant smuggling operations and often kidnapped, threatened, and extorted migrants to pay a fee for facilitating northbound travel.

The NGO Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights identified 15 incidents between January and July of mass forced internal displacement (defined as the displacement of at least 10 families or 50 individuals) due to violence. Violence by organized criminal groups often prompted the incidents, which took place in 10 states and displaced 11,560 persons as of August. Land conflicts, social and ethnic violence, or local political disputes caused other incidents. Forced internal displacement disproportionally affected indigenous communities. There was a lack of comprehensive data on internally displaced persons (IDPs). The COVID-19 pandemic generated additional risks and exacerbated vulnerabilities for IDPs, including overcrowding in shelters and difficulty accessing food, basic health care, and education. The government, in conjunction with international organizations, made efforts to promote the safe, voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs.

According to civil society organizations, up to 3,250 persons, mostly women and children from indigenous communities, were forcibly displaced in July in Chenalho and Pantelho, Chiapas, due to territorial disputes between armed groups. This mass displacement elevated the group’s risk of malnutrition and health maladies. Three states have state-level IDP laws, but the country does not have a federal internal displacement law, which created challenges in resource allocation and interagency governmental coordination.

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

Access to Asylum: Federal law provides for granting asylum, refugee status, or complementary protection to those fleeing persecution or facing possible threats to their life, security, or liberty in their country of origin; this right was generally respected. The government has an established procedure for determining refugee status and providing protections. The government worked with UNHCR to improve access to refugee status and the procedure to determine refugee status, reception conditions for vulnerable migrants and refugee applicants, and integration in local communities (including access to school, work, and other social services) for those approved for refugee and complementary protection status.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The press, international organizations, and NGOs reported targeting and victimization of migrants by criminal groups and in some cases by police, immigration officers, and customs officials, including at land borders and airports. There were numerous instances of criminal armed groups extorting, threatening, or kidnapping asylum seekers and other migrants. In many parts of the country, human smuggling organizations wielded significant power, and media alleged frequent collusion among local authorities. There were credible reports of sexual assaults against migrants, particularly women, while migrating in and through the country.

On January 11, the government ended migratory detention for children. The government generally exempted accompanying adults from detention to preserve family unity. Children constituted 19 percent of irregular migrant flows identified by authorities; 30 percent of them were unaccompanied. Child protection authorities lacked sufficient capacity to shelter and process migrant children and families, and the government made modest headway to increase that capacity.

In a June International Organization for Migration survey, 20 percent of citizens and 35 percent of third-country migrants reported using a smuggler to arrive to the U.S.-Mexico border. The government increased efforts to target human smuggling organizations. In July the Prosecutor General’s Office arrested seven members, including the leader, of the Tamayo human smuggling organization. Authorities accused the suspects of smuggling 20 to 80 migrants per day through Baja California into the United States for more than a decade.

Obstacles to accessing international protection related most closely to capacity limitations and lack of coordination between the relevant agencies, as opposed to government policy. The Interior Secretariat reaffirmed its commitment to protect refugee applicants even as the country experienced an unprecedented number of applicants. From January to August the Mexican Commission to Assist Refugees (COMAR) received 77,559 applications for refugee status, a 41 percent increase from the same period in 2019, and anticipated that it would receive up to 120,000 applications in total by the end of the year. Between January and July COMAR processed approximately 25,000 cases. COMAR’s budget increased modestly in recent years but was not commensurate with the growth in refugee claims in the country.

Between August 23 and August 27, hundreds of migrants from Haiti, Cuba, and Central America protested in front of the National Migration Institute offices in Tapachula, Chiapas, to demand expedited refugee proceedings that would allow them to move freely throughout the country. Unprecedented numbers of migrants arriving at the country’s southern border and requesting refugee status stretched the refugee agency’s capacity to process requests.

On August 28, approximately 500 migrants, the majority from Haiti, started a caravan from Tapachula to Mexico City to obtain expedited asylum processing. The government deployed hundreds of security forces to contain the caravan. Various news outlets showed a video of two National Migration Institute agents with riot gear and shields grabbing one migrant, knocking him to the ground, and kicking him. On August 31, the government suspended the two agents for inappropriate conduct.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Federal law criminalizes the rape of men and women, including spousal rape, and conviction carries penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape is criminalized in 26 of the 32 states. Between January and June, state authorities opened 10,458 new rape investigations. There were high rates of impunity for these crimes, consistent with high impunity rates for all crimes.

Federal law prohibits domestic violence and stipulates penalties for conviction of between six months’ and four years’ imprisonment. Of the 32 states, 29 stipulate similar penalties, although sentences were often more lenient. Federal law criminalizes spousal abuse. State and municipal laws addressing domestic violence largely failed to meet the required federal standards and often were unenforced. In June the government amended the General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence to include media and digital violence as a form of violence against women.

According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) 2016 survey, 18 percent of women ages 15 and older reported having experienced physical violence at the hands of their current or most recent partner, and 6.5 percent reported having experienced sexual violence. The increase in domestic violence cases that began during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic continued. The Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System reported 23,907 domestic violence cases in May, an all-time monthly record. Between January and June, state authorities opened 129,020 new domestic violence investigations.

In March authorities in Mexico City opened an investigation based on allegations of rape against Andres Roemer, a prominent writer, producer, consular officer, and former UNESCO goodwill ambassador. Since 2019 more than 60 women accused Roemer of sexual abuse, assault, and rape. In July the Mexico City Prosecutor General’s Office issued the fourth arrest warrant for Roemer. Authorities were attempting to extradite Roemer from Israel.

The Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System reported more than 1,889 killings of women, including 672 femicides, from January to September. September had the highest incident rate, with an average of 84 women killed in each month. The 911 hotline received 139,554 calls reporting incidents of violence against women from January to June, an increase of 6 percent over the same months in 2020. The 27,751 calls to the hotline in May were the most since the creation of the hotline. Calls included reports of relationship aggression, sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape, and intrafamily violence. The National Shelter Network reported that the network assisted 12,000 women and children between January and August.

Femicide is a federal offense punishable by 40 to 70 years in prison. It is also a criminal offense in all states. The law describes femicide as a gender-based murder under any of the following seven circumstances: signs of sexual violence, previous violence, emotional connection to the perpetrator, previous threats, harassment history, victim held incommunicado prior to deprivation of life, or victim’s body exposure in a public place. According to National Security Secretariat statistics, between January and June, state-level prosecutors and attorneys general opened 495 femicide investigations throughout the country, exceeding the 477 state-level femicide investigations opened in the first half of 2020 (statistics from state-level reports often conflated femicides with all killings of women).

The National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women is responsible for leading government programs to combat domestic violence. Reforms to the Prosecutor General’s Office split the Office for Combating Violence Against Women and the Trafficking in Persons offices in an effort to elevate these issues by giving each its own special prosecutor general. Between January and June, the commission registered that 115,534 women received attention in Justice Centers for Women throughout the country, a 19 percent increase over the same period in 2020.

In addition to shelters, women’s justice centers provided services including legal, psychological, and protective; however, the number of cases far surpassed institutional capacity. According to multiple NGOs, due to COVID-19’s impact on the economy, funding sources for women’s shelters, including for indigenous women, were insufficient. Federal government funding for women’s shelters for the year was the same as in 2020. Federal funding assisted the operation of more than 69 shelters, external attention centers, emergency houses, and transition houses. NGOs operated 85 percent of the facilities, and government organizations operated the remaining 15 percent.

Sexual Harassment: Federal law prohibits sexual harassment and provides for fines from 250 to 5,000 times the minimum daily wage, but the law was not effectively enforced. Of the 32 states, 24 criminalize sexual harassment, and all states have provisions for punishment when the perpetrator is in a position of power. According to the National Women’s Institute, the federal institution charged with directing national policy on equal opportunity for men and women, sexual harassment in the workplace was a significant problem.

On February 6, the federal Law Against Digital Harassment took effect. The law criminalizes sharing, distributing, and publishing intimate sexual content (including photographs, audio, and videos) featuring individuals who have not explicitly given their consent, with penalties of up to six years in prison. Women’s rights activists supported the law as critical to combat the increasingly prevalent problem of online sexual harassment. In April authorities arrested and prosecuted Alexis Rafael Valadez Vazquez under the new law for publishing intimate photographs of women online, without their consent, to extort them.

Reproductive Rights: There were no confirmed reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Federal authorities supported access to contraceptive methods, but states’ efforts varied widely. Barriers to accessing contraceptives stemmed from lack of knowledge, poverty, lack of access to health services, and sexual violence from family members, strangers, or friends. An Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation study on the use of contraceptives in Chiapas (the poorest state) found that older women were less likely to use family planning methods (13 percent of women ages 35 and older, versus 18 percent of women ages 20-34), while 23 percent of indigenous women opposed birth control for religious, cultural, or social reasons. The National Population Council estimated that in 2020 and 2021, a total of 1,172,000 women had limited access to contraceptives due to COVID-19. The National Population Council reported that in 2020 there were 373,661 pregnancies in women younger than age 19 (30 percent above 2019), of which 8,876 were in girls ages 14 or younger. The states with the most teenage pregnancies were Chiapas, Coahuila, and Guerrero, and Tabasco. Sometimes family members arranged marriages for girls younger than 18. INEGI found that 53 percent of women of reproductive age used modern contraception in 2018 (the most recent study).

By law government health providers are obliged to offer sexual and reproductive emergency health services for survivors of sexual violence within 120 hours of the sexual assault. Emergency contraception was available, including for survivors of sexual assault. Nevertheless, women nationwide faced obstacles to accessing emergency services due to health providers’ personal objections to emergency contraception or misunderstanding of their legal obligations to provide services.

Factors associated with maternal deaths included parents with lower levels of education, poor hospital infrastructure and human capacity, and lack of access to maternity care, especially for pregnant women living in rural areas. Southern states reported the lowest access to skilled health care during pregnancy due to geographic, financial, and cultural barriers. In rural areas in 2019, the cause of most maternal deaths was obstetric hemorrhage.

Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men and “equal pay for equal work performed in equal jobs, hours of work, and conditions of efficiency.” The law establishes penalties for discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, color, religion, language, pregnancy, political belief, or any other nature that violates human dignity. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Women tended to earn substantially less than men did for the same work. Women were more likely to experience discrimination in wages, working hours, and benefits.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the median salary for full-time female employees was 19 percent less than that of full-time male employees. Only 7.5 percent of the members of the executive boards of publicly traded domestic companies were female, and men held 64 percent of managerial positions throughout the country. According to INEGI’s 2016 National Survey on the Dynamics of Household Relationships, 22 percent of working women reported experiencing labor discrimination within the previous 12 months.

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity, and a federal law prohibits all forms of discrimination. Nonetheless, discrimination was common against racial and ethnic minorities, including Black, Afro-Mexican, and indigenous groups. All states have additional laws against discrimination. In 2019 legislators passed a constitutional reform recognizing Afro-Mexicans as an ethnic group.

INEGI reported that 2 percent of the population (2.5 million) self-identified as Afro-Mexican. The National Council to Prevent Discrimination’s 2017 national survey on discrimination found 58 percent of Afro-Mexicans and 65 percent of indigenous persons considered their rights were respected “little or not at all.” The survey also reported 22 percent of persons said they would not share a household with an Afro-Mexican. The survey also reported that persons with darker skin completed 6.5 years of schooling, while those with white skin completed 10 years. A report from the Black Alliance for Just Immigration found black migrants faced widespread racial discrimination from individuals and authorities, particularly in accessing employment and services. Black migrants reported migration authorities detained Black migrants for longer periods than other migrants.

The constitution provides indigenous persons the right to self-determination, autonomy, and education. Most indigenous persons lived in marginalized communities, and the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally affected these communities, according to the OHCHR. Conflicts arose from the interpretation of indigenous communities’ self-governing “normative systems.” Uses and customs laws apply traditional practices to resolve disputes, choose local officials, and collect taxes, with limited federal or state government involvement. Communities and NGOs representing indigenous groups criticized the government for failing to consult indigenous communities adequately when making decisions regarding extractive industry and natural resource development projects on indigenous lands. The CNDH maintained a human rights program to inform and assist members of indigenous communities.

The CNDH reported indigenous women were among the most vulnerable groups in society. They often experienced racism and discrimination and were frequently victims of violence. Indigenous persons generally had limited access to health care and education services.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, indigenous persons faced additional hardships in accessing educational services. Due to low internet penetration and television ownership in indigenous communities, distance learning was often inaccessible. Additionally, some indigenous students did not receive the breakfasts and lunches normally included in the full-time school meal program, according to a UNESCO study.

Several indigenous communities denounced the government’s plan to build the Mayan Train, an estimated $7.5 billion dual cargo-passenger railroad to cross the Yucatan Peninsula through indigenous lands. Several indigenous communities brought legal actions to oppose the construction, many of which were dismissed or denied. As in 2020, NGOs in Campeche and Yucatan submitted multiple civil injunctions against the project citing a lack of transparency regarding environmental impact assessments and adverse effects on indigenous cultural heritage. Members of the Mayan community in Campeche reported the National Tourism Board pressured them to cease protesting and agree to leave their lands. The board identified 3,286 homes in five states for relocation before completion of the construction project.

On July 14, 10 indigenous men from the Yaqui tribe living in Sonora disappeared while transporting cattle in Bacum. Their abduction followed the killings of two Yaqui activists and leaders: Thomas Rojo in May and Luis Urbano in June. In July the Sonora State Prosecutor General’s Office detained Rojo’s alleged killer.

In Chiapas in July an unidentified perpetrator killed Simon Pedro Perez Lopez, a human rights activist and member of the Las Abejas de Acteal civil society organization. Lopez had filed a complaint with the Interior Secretariat asking for greater government intervention in the indigenous Tsotsil regions following increased drug trafficking-related violence.

As of September authorities made no arrests regarding the 2020 killing of prominent indigenous and environmental rights defender Homero Gomez. Gomez had advocated against illegal logging and the destruction of the Michoacan monarch butterfly habitat.

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship both by birth within the country’s territory and from their parents. Citizens generally registered the births of newborns with local authorities. Failure to register births could result in the denial of public services such as education or health care.

Child Abuse: There were numerous reports of child abuse. The National Program for the Integral Protection of Children and Adolescents, mandated by law, is responsible for coordinating the protection of children’s rights at all levels of government.

As of August there were no developments in the case regarding the abduction and killing of seven-year-old Fatima Aldrighetti Anton. Authorities arrested Mario Reyes and Gladis Cruz in connection with the killing. In November 2020 a judge suspended five officials from the Mexico City Prosecutor General’s Office for failing to search for Fatima within 72 hours after she went missing.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum marriage age is 18. Enforcement, however, was inconsistent across the states. All states prohibit marriage of persons younger than age 18. With a judge’s consent, children may marry at younger ages.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and authorities generally enforced the law. Nonetheless, NGOs and media reported on sexual exploitation of minors, as well as child sex tourism in resort towns and northern border areas. Government authorities also reported an increase of 73 percent in online child pornography distribution during the pandemic. In April the government passed a penal code reform eliminating the statute of limitations for sexual crimes against minors, including child pornography distribution, child sex tourism, corruption of minors, pederasty, sexual abuse, and rape.

Institutionalized Children: Civil society groups expressed concern regarding abuse of children with mental and physical disabilities in orphanages, migrant centers, and care facilities. The NGO Disability Rights International reported various instances of abuse, including the use of prolonged restraints and isolation rooms for children with disabilities in both public and private institutions. According to the NGO, institutional staff in Baja California reported that four children with disabilities died within days of each other with no known investigations. The NGO also reported the existence of multiple unregistered private institutions without licenses operating as orphanages.

In May 2020 the CNDH reported that children were subjected to abuses such as torture, sexual violence, and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment at Ciudad de los Ninos, a private institution in Salamanca, Guanajuato. Despite a 2017 injunction issued by a state district judge to prevent further grave abuses at the institution, the CNDH reported state authorities failed to supervise the conditions at Ciudad de los Ninos.

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

Anti-Semitism

The 45,000-person Jewish community experienced low levels of anti-Semitism. On May 18, an exhibit in Mexico City on Israeli innovation was vandalized with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel messages. Jewish community representatives reported good cooperation with the government and other religious and civil society organizations in addressing rare instances of such acts.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Federal law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The law requires the Secretariat of Health to promote the creation of long-term institutions for persons with disabilities in distress, and the Secretariat of Social Development must establish specialized institutions to care for, protect, and house poor, neglected, or marginalized persons with disabilities. NGOs reported authorities had not implemented programs for community integration. Public buildings and facilities often did not comply with the law requiring access for persons with disabilities.

In 2019 the federal government introduced pensions for persons with disabilities in a state of poverty. In May 2020 a constitutional amendment established the disability pension as a constitutional right, prioritizing children, indigenous, and Afro-Mexican persons with disabilities younger than age 64 who lived in poverty. The pension was 2,550 pesos ($125) every two months. In August the federal government signed a public-private partnership agreement with the Teleton Institute for it to provide rehabilitation services to 20,000 pension-receiving children.

The education system provided education for students with disabilities nationwide. Nevertheless, only 2 percent of schoolteachers in the country were trained to teach children with disabilities, according to the civil society organization Yo Tambien. with disabilities attended school at a lower rate than those without disabilities. Enrollment of children with disabilities decreased by 40 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Yo Tambien.

Abuses occurred in institutions and care facilities housing persons with mental disabilities, including those for children. Abuses of persons with disabilities included the use of physical and chemical restraints; physical and sexual abuse; human trafficking, including forced labor; disappearance; and the illegal adoption of institutionalized children. They were vulnerable to abuse from staff members, other patients, or guests at facilities where there was inadequate supervision. Documentation supporting a person’s identity and origin was lacking. Access to justice was limited. NGOs reported no changes in the mental health system to create community services or any efforts by authorities to have independent experts monitor human rights abuses in psychiatric institutions.

Institutionalized persons with disabilities often lacked adequate medical care and rehabilitation services, privacy, and clothing; they often ate, slept, and bathed in unhygienic conditions. For example, Felipe Orozco, hospitalized multiple times for mental disabilities, reported that mental health professionals from a psychiatric hospital in Puebla shackled him naked with a padlock during the nights for two and one-half weeks. As a result he was forced to urinate and defecate in his bed, according to Human Rights Watch.

Voting centers for federal elections were generally accessible for persons with disabilities, and ballots were available with a braille overlay for federal elections in Mexico City, but these services were inconsistently available for local elections elsewhere in the country.

There were reports the government did not always investigate and punish those complicit in abuses against LGBTQI+ persons, especially outside Mexico City. Civil society groups claimed police routinely subjected LGBTQI+ persons to mistreatment while in custody.

There were 50 hate-crime homicides and four forced disappearances committed against the LGBTQI+ community in the first eight months, according to the National Observatory of Crimes Against LGBTQI persons. A 2019 CNDH poll found six of every 10 members of the LGBTQI+ community reported experiencing discrimination in the past 12 months, and more than half suffered hate speech and physical aggression.

Federal law prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals. A Mexico City municipal law provides increased penalties for hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In July the Mexico City congress passed a law to provide, promote, and protect LGBTQI+ human rights. In August the Mexico City congress approved a reform allowing LGBTQI+ children ages 12 years and older to legally change their gender on their birth certificate. In August Yucatan passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage, increasing the number of states making it legal to 22 of the country’s 32 states. In August Baja California and Yucatan passed laws banning LGBTQI+ conversion therapy.

The Catholic Multimedia Center reported that criminal groups harassed priests and other religious leaders in some parts of the country and subjected them to extortion, death threats, and intimidation. In March attackers shot and killed Father Gumersindo Cortes in Guanajuato. In June another priest died in a cartel crossfire on the Durango-Zacatecas border. Government officials stated that the harassment of Catholic priests and evangelical Protestant pastors reflected high levels of generalized violence throughout the country and not targeted attacks based on religious faith.

According to the NGO Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Catholic-majority communities sometimes discriminated, harassed, threatened, displaced, denied basic services, and destroyed the property of individuals who left Catholicism. On January 14, community leaders went to the municipal headquarters of Ayutla de los Libres, Guerrero, to urge revocation of Protestant families’ local property rights for refusing to participate in the construction and servicing of the local Catholic church.

Norway

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits “threatening or insulting anyone, or inciting hatred or repression of or contempt for anyone because of his or her: (a) skin color or national or ethnic origin; (b) religion or life stance; (c) sexual orientation or lifestyle; or (d) disability.” A law enacted in November 2020 criminalizes hate speech, including private remarks, based on a person’s sexual orientation. Violators are subject to a fine or imprisonment for not more than three years.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The prohibitions against hate speech applied also to the print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals. The European Federation of Journalists protested a mandatory COVID-19 quarantine for journalists entering the country to work. Restrictions have since been lifted, and the rule was no longer in force.

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

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

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

Exile: As of November 22, the government repatriated nine citizens, eight children and one woman, from camps in northeastern Syria.

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, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.

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

The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers (NOAS) continued to criticize the country’s Internal Flight Alternative, which considers whether a potential asylum seeker first attempted to flee to another part of their country of origin before claiming asylum in Norway.

NOAS remained critical of the perceived lack of openness and transparency in the Immigration Appeals Board, an entity under the Ministry of Justice and Public Security. It noted the board’s strict criteria to hear cases and that only 6 percent of asylum seekers were granted a hearing with the appeals board. The applicant cannot appeal a final decision by the appeals board, but the appeals board may make a final decision based on an issue that was not originally in question, which removes the applicant’s opportunity to respond to the board’s grounds for rejecting the case. The Directorate of Immigration, also an agency of the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, reported that 85 percent of asylum applications were granted protection in the initial review.

Refugee groups raised concerns over a lack of consistency across the government’s determinations. In July the Oslo District Court ruled invalid a decision by the Immigration Appeals Board to expel a man who arrived in the country as a child with his younger brother because the younger brother received differential treatment, and specifically was permitted to remain in the country, despite the circumstances of their arrival in the country being identical.

The closure of borders in response to COVID-19 and UNHCR’s decision to pause its resettlement program also affected the government’s ability to meet its commitments. The Directorate of Immigration reported arrivals continued to be significantly reduced compared to what could be expected under normal circumstances. NOAS repeated its concern over the Directorate of Immigration’s and the Immigration Appeals Board’s use of digital platforms such as Skype to carry out interviews and hearings due to the problems remote hearings presented for the refugees in terms of communication, expressing their case, and translation.

In August the government evacuated an estimated 860 vulnerable Afghans, including 28 unaccompanied minors, from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. The government stated publicly that the children were eligible for family reunification.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is party to the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which allows the government to transfer asylum seekers to the European country determined to be responsible for adjudicating the case. Dublin returns remained temporarily halted as a health and safety precaution in response to COVID-19.

Refoulement: The government temporarily suspended deporting failed asylum seekers to Afghanistan in July due to the deteriorating security situation there.

Freedom of Movement: The law permits detention of migrants to establish their identity or to deport them if authorities deem it likely the persons would evade an order to leave. The detention is limited and subject to judicial review.

Access to Basic Services: The government continued to provide welfare and support for refugees living in the country as part of the government’s Integration Goals program administered by the Ministry of Children and Families. Refugees are eligible for programs designed to provide Norwegian language instruction, job training, job placement, access to schools and universities, and basic instruction for living in the country’s society. Refugees and asylum applicants have access to welfare benefits for short-term or long-term housing and medical care, and are provided direct access to, or financial support for, necessities such as food, clothing, basic entertainment, and public transportation. Children are eligible to attend public schools and preschools on the same basis as citizens, and there were programs for children who have recently arrived and needed language assistance prior to entering the regular education system.

Amnesty International Norway criticized the lack of access to health care and other fundamental human rights for the approximately 50 paperless and irregular migrants present in the country. Individuals include, for example, those who were not able to return to their home countries because their governments refused to accept them, issue travel documents, or both.

National tests carried out at the fifth grade showed that children with a migration background lagged considerably in reading and mathematics: 39.8 percent of the children born abroad were in the lowest performance level with regard to reading in 2019 (compared with 20.6 percent among the majority population) and 39.3 percent with regard to mathematics (compared with 21.4 percent among the majority population). At the eighth grade, 25.3 percent were in the lowest performance level with regard to reading (compared with 7.0 percent) and 20.5 percent with regard to mathematics (compared with 7.0 percent). In upper secondary education, the dropout rate of foreign-born migrant children was 24.1 percent in 2018 compared with 12.2 percent among the majority population; among foreign-born boys, this share was 29.9 percent.

Durable Solutions: The government offered resettlement for refugees in cooperation with UNHCR. The government’s Directorate of Immigration had several programs to settle refugees permanently in the country. Through the International Organization for Migration, the government assisted the return of unsuccessful asylum seekers to their countries of origin through voluntary programs that offered financial and logistical support for repatriation. Identity documents issued by either the Norwegian or the returnee’s government were required to use this program. The government continued routinely to offer migrants cash support in addition to airfare to encourage persons with rejected asylum claims to leave the country voluntarily.

Individuals granted refugee status may apply for citizenship when they meet the legal requirements, which include a minimum length of residence of seven of the previous 10 years, completion of an integration course on Norwegian society, and successfully passing a language test.

Temporary Protection: As of September the government provided temporary humanitarian protection to 36 individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Permits for temporary protection may be renewed and can become permanent. NOAS continued to raise concerns that the temporary protection for these minors expires when they turn 18, even though the circumstances that led to the determination of their need for humanitarian protection remained unchanged.

g. Stateless Persons

According to the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, an estimated 1,700 stateless persons lived in the country as of September; they were not counted as refugees.

A joint UNHCR-government 2017-21 strategy on statelessness encouraged the government to improve its statistical data on statelessness. The Directorate of Immigration did not have data on stateless asylum seekers for the year. The birth register does not register the father of stateless persons born in the country on birth certificates.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape, and the government generally enforced the law. The penalty for rape is up to 21 years in prison, depending on the severity of the assault, the age of the victim, and the circumstances in which the crime occurred. Most cases resulted in sentences of three years and four months in prison.

The law provides penalties of up to six years in prison for domestic violence and up to 21 years for aggravated rape. Gender-based violence, including intimate partner violence, was a problem. In 2020 the government reported that during the previous three years, partner killings accounted for one in four killings in the country. The government generally enforced the law, although Amnesty International Norway criticized police for not allocating sufficient resources to investigations and asserted that the indictment and conviction rates for rapes were too low.

The government had programs to prevent rape and domestic violence, and offices within the police districts offered counseling and support to victims. All police districts had a domestic violence coordinator. The government continued to implement its three-year Action Plan against Rape that focuses on prevention, improvements of care and services to victims, and improvements to the judicial system. The National Police Directorate oversees the implementation of the national action plan and submits annual reports on the trends in the prosecution of rapes and sexual violence. In August the government launched a four-year action plan against domestic violence, Freedom from Violence. The plan is an interministerial product which includes measures such as prevention, victim assistance, protection and prosecution, and international cooperation. The plan also contains a separate chapter on preventing and combating domestic violence in the Sami community.

Public and private organizations operated 47 government-funded shelters and managed five 24-hour crisis hotlines. Victims of domestic violence have a right to consult a lawyer free of charge before deciding whether to make a formal complaint. If the government initiates criminal proceedings, the victim is entitled to free assistance from a victim’s advocate. Victims may also qualify for a one-time payment from a government-sponsored fund.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides that “employees shall not be subjected to harassment or other unseemly behavior,” and the government effectively enforced this provision. The law applies to employers with as few as 20 employees and requires most companies to include in their annual reports information on their work environment and gender equality. Employers who violate the law are subject to fines or prison sentences of up to two years, depending on the seriousness of the offense. The Antidiscrimination Tribunal has the authority to impose penalties in sexual harassment cases more in line with other cases of discrimination and harassment and puts an onus on public authorities to work actively for gender equality and the prevention of harassment, sexual harassment, and gender-based violence. The costs and resources needed to bring such cases to court have been barriers to victims seeking redress in all but the most egregious cases.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The government provides access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors.

Discrimination: Under the law public and private authorities must advance gender equality in all areas of society. The law mandates that 40 percent of the members of boards of directors of publicly listed companies be women; this applies to employers with as few as 20 employees. Companies largely complied with the law.

Although women have the same legal status as men, they experienced discrimination in terms of gaining employment as well as discrimination in the workplace itself (see section 7.d.). As of September the LDO received 61 complaints of gender discrimination as well as 13 complaints related to parental leave.

Racial profiling is against the law, but authorities did not keep records relating to the stop and search of members of vulnerable groups. NGOs such as the Center against Racism and Black History Month Norway continued to report complaints of police profiling of members of ethnic and racial minority groups, particularly young men. To end the practice of stigmatizing minority youth in particular, the Oslo city government applied for permission from the national government to introduce a pilot program for a system in which anyone checked and cleared by police would receive a receipt stating why the person was stopped and that the person had been cleared. A goal of the system was to raise awareness among police regarding unconscious bias. The pilot program had support from Black History Month Norway and the LDO. The Ministry of Justice and Public Security and the local police were less enthusiastic, stating that “ethnic [and racial] profiling is not a method of approach within the Norwegian Police.” As of September, the Antidiscrimination Tribunal received 64 reports of ethnic discrimination.

Discrimination against immigrants, including asylum seekers and irregular migrants, and ethnic minorities remained a problem. Ethnic discrimination occurred in employment and housing.

According to NGOs and research institutes, including the Center against Racism, hate speech on the internet against ethnic minorities, remained a problem. The government continued to implement the national strategy against hate speech released in 2016 and implemented a new three-year Action Plan against Racism and Discrimination on the Basis of Ethnicity and Religion.

In addition to the Sami, five ethnically non-Norwegian groups with a long-standing attachment to the country have a special protected status under the law: Kvens/Norwegian Finns, Jews, Forest Finns, Roma, and Romani/Tater people (a distinct group of travelers who emigrated to Norway and Sweden in the 1500s).

Romani groups noted concerns of a disproportionate number of Romani children taken into custody by the Directorate for Children, Youth, and Family Affairs. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), an independent human rights monitoring body of the Council of Europe, noted that, according to civil society, Romani children were also among the victims of bullying.

During its 2020 visit to the country, ECRI’s delegation received complaints from both parents with a migration background and Roma and Romani people/Tater representatives, about Child Welfare Services (CWS). The ECRI report stated that approximately 40 children belonging to the Romani and Tater minorities were in foster care with very limited access to the Romani culture. In ECRI’s opinion, the CWS’s practices of removing a higher percentage of children from these backgrounds from the home, placing them in foster care, and restricting parental visitation had led to fear and distrust in those communities. In certain instances ECRI found that the CWS had limited parental visits to once a year for a couple of hours, as well as deprivation of parents’ custody, and adoption against the will of the parents. Parents reported feeling it was not possible to challenge their decisions successfully. In one case cited in the report, five children were taken from a Romanian-Norwegian family and placed in three separate foster homes around the country. However, the law provides for nationwide implementation of a mediation process involving direct communication between the CWS and parents that reduced court cases by two-thirds in the five pilot counties.

There is no official registry of Sami in the country. As of 2018 government statistics showed that 55,544 persons lived in the areas defined as “Sami” in the northern part of the country. In addition to participating freely in the national political process, the Sami elect their own parliament, the Samediggi, which exercises certain administrative and financial powers according to the law. In 2021 a total of 20,005 persons registered for the Sami parliamentary elections. Members of the Sami parliament also represent their constituents in international fora and organizations such as the Arctic Council and the United Nations. Elections for the Sami parliament follow the national election schedule and last took place on September 13.

The constitution provides a right for the Sami to safeguard and develop their language, culture, and community. NGOs and Sami officials continued to express concern over Sami children’s lack of access to Sami language education due to a lack of qualified teachers.

In response to concerns about high levels of domestic violence within Sami communities, the government devoted a separate chapter in its new action plan against domestic violence, Freedom from Violence, to the subject.

The Sami have a right under the law to consultation on the use of unpopulated lands traditionally used for reindeer husbandry. Under the law three of the six members of the council to determine the proper usage of the land must be Sami. As the government moved to develop greater wind-power capabilities, the Sami raised concerns about the use of their land. Reindeer avoid the wind turbines, which leads to limited grazing areas and increased density in remaining areas. The government stated it takes the reindeer industry and the Sami parliament into account when considering proposals for new wind-power projects. In October the Supreme Court ruled that the government violated the rights of the Sami people by permitting the construction of wind farms on Sami land.

The Sami Council, with delegates from nine member organizations in Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia, held a hearing in February on a possible new railway to the Arctic Ocean via Oulu and Rovaniemi in Finland to Kirkenes. During the hearing Sami reindeer herders from Finland and Norway said they would veto such a railway project. Aili Keskitalo, then president of the Norwegian Sami parliament, pointed to areas in northern Sweden and Norway where trains kill hundreds of reindeer annually.

ECRI reported that more than half of the persons with a strong and visible Sami identity experienced discrimination, most often during their schooling, and such discrimination negatively affected their health.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents; children born in the country do not automatically become citizens. All birth clinics in the country reported births to a central birth register and provided the parents with a birth certificate. The birth register does not register on birth certificates the father of nonresidents born in the country. The birth certificate does not confer citizenship.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse, and the government generally enforced the law. In 2020 the Department of Children, Youth, and Family Affairs initiated 45,464 investigations of alleged child abuse and completed 45,578 investigations. By the end of 2020, the CWS assisted 22,621 children, of whom 20,655 received in-home assistance, while 1,966 were removed from their family home.

Between January and October, the ECHR found against the government twice for separating children from their parents. The ECHR had 20 pending cases against the CWS.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage in the country is 18 for both women and men.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children younger than 18 is illegal, both in the country and abroad when committed by a citizen of the country. In both cases the punishment is either a fine or a prison sentence of up to two years. Child pornography is also illegal and punishable by a fine or a prison sentence of up to three years. The government generally enforced the law. In 2020 the government reported 3,308 sexual offenses involving children. In August the government launched a national strategy against online abuse of children containing 30 measures to prevent and combat abuse in digital forums. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

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

Anti-Semitism

At least 1,500 Jews lived in the country, 761 of whom belonged to Jewish congregations, according to Statistics Norway. The government does not keep statistics that require citizens to report their religion.

Jewish community leaders reported the public and government generally supported the community, although they acknowledged incidents of anti-Semitism. ECRI noted that, according to civil society, Jewish children were also among the victims of bullying. According to NGOs and research institutes, including the University of Oslo, the Institute for Social Research, and the Jewish community, hate speech on the internet against ethnic minorities and religious groups continued to be a problem. The government continued to implement measures from its Action Plan against Anti-Semitism 2016-2020 and provided funding through the government budget. The action plan provided programmatic support and coordination towards integrating anti-Semitism education into all schools, supporting Jewish museums and cultural institutions, funding research on anti-Semitism and Jewish life, and public advocacy programs to combat anti-Semitism.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with disabilities can access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities and the government provided information and communications in accessible formats. The government effectively enforced and implemented these provisions. The law mandates access to public buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. All children up to the age of 15 have the right to attend the school closest to their home. The government provides a right to education supports upon the completion of a needs assessment. Two out of three children with disabilities who need additional educational supports receive additional instruction outside their classroom.

According to the Antidiscrimination Tribunal, as of September it received 86 complaints of discrimination based on disability.

The government continued to implement its 10-year strategy to reduce discrimination and increase access and opportunities to housing, transportation, employment, and health care as well as participation in cultural and social activities for persons with disabilities.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, citizenship law, and access to government services such as health care. While violence motivated by discriminatory attitudes towards transgender persons is not considered a hate crime, crimes based on discriminatory attitudes towards sexual orientation can be treated as aggravating circumstances.

According to NGOs and research institutes, including the Institute for Social Research, and the Organization for Sexual and Gender Diversity, hate speech on the internet against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons (LGBTQI+) continued to be a problem. ECRI noted a survey among LGBTQI+ pupils, in which 37 percent of the respondents stated they had been bullied by other pupils and 24 percent by teachers. Youths who were harassed with anti-LGBTQI+ bullying had higher rates of depression.

ECRI stated civil society believed that implementation of Safety, Diversity, Openness, the latest national action plan on LGBTQI+ issues, which launched in 2016, was slow and that there have been only a few concrete initiatives with little funding.

In 2020 the number of hate crimes decreased to 744 from 761 in 2019, according to the Ministry of Justice and Public Security. Media and the Norwegian Center against Racism reported continued anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment in society. Stop the Islamization of Norway (SIAN) held multiple protests that were faced by larger groups of counterdemonstrators. The Center against Racism, other NGOs, and politicians urged individuals not to give SIAN the attention it was seeking.

In his annual circular to the police districts, the director of public prosecutions listed hate crimes as a priority area for investigation and prosecution in 2021. The director noted hate crimes towards politicians, public intellectuals, and representatives from minority communities were a particularly worrying and increasing societal problem. Anonymous online racist attacks against former deputy mayor of Oslo Lan Marie Berg, who is of Vietnamese heritage and a newly elected leader member of parliament, drew renewed media attention.

According to NGOs and research institutes, including the Center against Racism, hate speech on the internet against religious groups continued to be a problem. ECRI reported that the Police Security Service (PST) specifically mentioned the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), which has become more organized and more publicly visible. The NRM was anti-Semitic and homophobic and aimed to fight for what it calls the “pure Nordic race.”

The government continued its implementation of measures in the Action Plan against Discrimination of and Hate against Muslims, launched in September 2020. The plan contained 18 measures focusing on research and education, dialogue across religious communities and police initiatives such as registration of hate crimes towards Muslims as a separate category in the crime statistics.

As a result of a severe increase in reported hate crimes between 2016 and 2019, Bergen Municipality, the country’s third-largest city, launched its own action plan against hate and hate against Muslims in September. Hate crime statistics from 2019 showed that all religiously motivated hate crimes reported in Bergen targeted the Muslim population. The chair of the board of the Bergen Mosque told broadcaster NRK that the mosque regularly received letters containing hateful messages, including statements such as “Islamic fascism is just as merciless as Nazism” and “Islam is right-wing extremism at its worst.” The chairman said female members of the mosque had also been spat on, pushed, and had their hijabs forcibly removed. ECRI noted that, according to civil society, Muslim children were also among the victims of bullying.

The Agder Appellate Court overturned a 2019 hate crime conviction made by the Kristiansand District Court against three members of the NRM due to a lack of a specifically targeted minority population group. In 2018 the three NRM members hung the NRM flag and banners decorated with the swastika and the text “We’re Back!” at several locations in Kristiansand, including a peace and human rights center. The appellate court agreed with the district court that the banners were offensive but held that they did not qualify as hate crimes because the banners were not directed at a specific group or persons.

In September the government announced that the controversial nonprofit organization Human Rights Service (HRS) will not receive funding from the 2022 national budget. Although the HRS describes itself as merely critical of Islam, its publications and statements have been perceived as anti-Islamic. The HRS has received funding from the national budget since 2002.

Russia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, the government increasingly restricted this right.  Regional and local authorities used procedural violations and restrictive or vague legislation to detain, harass, or prosecute persons who criticized the government or institutions it favored.  The government exercised editorial control over media, creating a media landscape in which most citizens were exposed to predominantly government-approved narratives.  Significant government pressure on independent media constrained coverage of numerous topics, especially of the unauthorized pro-Navalny demonstrations early in the year and investigations into Navalny’s poisoning; events in Belarus; treatment of LGBTQI+ persons; problems involving the environment, elections, COVID-19, and corruption; and criticism of local or federal leadership, as well as secessionism or federalism.  The government used direct ownership or ownership by large private companies with government links to control or influence major national media and regional media outlets, especially television.  Censorship and self-censorship in television and print media and on the internet was widespread, particularly regarding points of view critical of the government or its policies.

Freedom of Expression:  Authorities continued to misuse the country’s expansive definition of extremism, under which citizens may be punished for certain types of peaceful protests, affiliation with certain religious denominations, and even certain social media posts, as a tool to stifle dissent.  As of October the Ministry of Justice had expanded its list of extremist materials to include 5,215 books, videos, websites, social media pages, musical compositions, and other items.  According to the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, in 2020 authorities “inappropriately initiated” 145 new cases against individuals under antiextremism laws, including for exercising free speech on social media and elsewhere or for their religious beliefs.

The law prohibits the dissemination of false “socially significant information” online, in mass media, or during protests or public events, as well as the dissemination of “incorrect socially meaningful information, distributed under the guise of correct information, which creates the threat of damage to the lives and health of citizens or property, the threat of mass disruption of public order and public security, or the threat of the creation of an impediment to the functioning of life support facilities, transport infrastructure, banking, energy, industry, or communications.”

The law criminalizes “offending the religious feelings of believers” (blasphemy).  Actions in public “demonstrating clear disrespect for society and committed with the intent to insult the religious feelings of believers” are subject to fines of up to 300,000 rubles ($4,000), compulsory labor for up to one year, or imprisonment for up to one year.  If these actions are committed in places of worship, the punishment is a fine of up to 500,000 rubles ($6,700), compulsory labor for up to three years, or a prison sentence of up to three years.

The law prohibits showing “disrespect” online for the state, authorities, the public, flag, or constitution.  For example, on March 4, a court in the city of Samara convicted civil rights activist Karim Yamadayev of promoting extremism and insulting authorities for mocking President Putin and two of his close associates in a 2019 YouTube video.  The prosecutor originally sought to sentence Yamadayev to six years and seven months in prison.  Yamadayev spent more than a year in detention before the court released him on March 4 with a 300,000 ruble ($4,000) fine and prohibition from serving as an administrator for social media networks.

During the year the government enacted new restrictions on the content that could be shared on the internet.  In December 2020 President Putin signed into law amendments to communications legislation that allow Roskomnadzor to block websites that “violate the rights of [Russian citizens],” including by restricting the “dissemination of socially significant information.”  Experts characterized the new law as restricting “Russophobic” content and noted that it was adopted during a government public relations campaign against YouTube after it blocked content posted by progovernment media personality Vladimir Solovyov.  In December 2020 President Putin also signed a law prohibiting journalists and websites from publishing the personal data of law enforcement officers and certain other state employees affiliated with the country’s security services.  Expanding the definition of sensitive data, the FSB published a list on June 20 of topics that could be “used against the security” of Russia, including information and assessments of Russia’s military, security sector, and space agency, Roscosmos.  Individuals who collect information in the specified categories could be subject to designation as “foreign agents” (see section 2.b.).

During the year authorities invoked laws prohibiting “inciting minors to participate in dangerous activities” or “violations to the established procedure for organizing or holding a public event” to charge individuals who published material online related to the demonstrations in January and February.  For example, on February 3, authorities sentenced Sergey Smirnov, editor in chief of the independent Mediazona, to 25 days in prison for “repeatedly violating the rules of public demonstrations” after he retweeted a joke referencing the January 23 demonstration.  The Moscow City Court subsequently reduced his sentence to 15 days.  In another example, authorities filed charges on January 22 against four editors of the student journal DOXA – Armen Aramyan, Alla Gutnikova, Vladimir Metelkin, and Natasha Tyshkevich – after DOXA published a YouTube video on January 23 expressing solidarity with students interested in participating in the unauthorized demonstrations and stating that it was unlawful for universities to punish those who did.  All four were subjected to restrictions on their movement and communications until September 14 and faced up to three years in prison if convicted.  Memorial considered the editors to be political prisoners.

During the year authorities invoked a 2013 law prohibiting the distribution of “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relations” to minors to punish the exercise of free speech by LGBTQI+ persons and their supporters.  For example, on March 30, a court in Krasnodar convicted Anastasiya Panchenko, coordinator of Aleksey Navalny’s Krasnodar office, of distributing content prohibited by the law after she posted a photograph on her Instagram account of two same-sex couples kissing.

The law bans the display of Nazi symbols and the symbols of groups placed on the government’s list of “extremist” organizations.  There was no official register or list of banned symbols, although the Duma adopted legislation in June that prohibits displaying images of individuals found guilty of committing crimes in accordance with the verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal.  On April 5, President Putin signed two related laws codifying penalties for the dissemination of information “denying the facts established by judgment of the International Military Tribunal” and about the activities of the USSR during the Second World War (covered in the administrative code) and strengthening the rehabilitation of Nazim (covered in the criminal code).

In 2019 the Supreme Court of the Komi Republic designated the Union of Slavic Forces of Russia an extremist organization for claiming that the USSR had not dissolved as a political entity.  During the year authorities prosecuted individuals for speech that allegedly sought to restore the rights of citizens of the USSR.  On July 12, the Leninskiy District Court sentenced three supporters of the Citizens of the USSR organization – Sergey Vorontsov, Vyacheslav Podchufarov, and Svetlana Vorontsova – with up to three years in prison under the extremism law for denying the fall of the USSR.  On July 13, the Volga City Court sentenced Aleksandr Mordovskiy, a leader of Citizens of the USSR, to six years in prison on the same charges.

During the year authorities enforced a law prohibiting the “propaganda of narcotics” to prosecute or threaten to block independent outlets and journalists.  For example, in June authorities opened an administrative case against popular YouTube personality and journalist Yuriy Dud for purportedly promoting drugs in recent interviews published on his YouTube channel.  On October 20, Dud was found guilty and fined 100,000 rubles ($1,350).

On June 8, authorities arrested video blogger Yuriy Khovanskiy on suspicion of “publicly justifying extremism,” reportedly based on a song he recorded about the 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis.

During the year authorities used a law banning cooperation with “undesirable foreign organizations” to restrict free expression (see section 2.b.).

Government-controlled media frequently used derogatory terms such as “traitor,” “foreign agent,” and “fifth column” to describe individuals expressing views critical of or different from government policy, leading to a societal climate intolerant of dissent.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media:  The government continued to restrict press and media freedom.  More than 80 percent of country’s mass media was funded by the government or progovernment actors.  Government-friendly oligarchs owned most other outlets, which are permitted to determine what they publish within formal or informal boundaries set by the government.  In the regions each governor controlled regional media through direct or indirect funding or through affiliated structures.  The federal government or progovernment individuals completely or partially owned all so-called federal television channels, the only stations with nationwide reach.  The 29 most-watched stations together commanded 86 percent of television viewership; all were owned at least in part by the federal or local governments or by progovernment individuals.  Government-owned media outlets often received preferential benefits, such as rent-free occupancy of government-owned buildings, and a preferential tax rate.

On a regional level, state-owned and progovernment television channels received subsidies from the Ministry of Finance for broadcasting in cities with a population of less than 100,000 and on the creation and production of content.  At many government-owned or controlled outlets, the state increasingly dictated editorial policy.  While the law restricts foreign ownership of media outlets to no more than 20 percent, another provision of the ambiguously worded law apparently bans foreign ownership entirely.  The government used these provisions to consolidate ownership of independent outlets under progovernment oligarchs and to exert pressure on outlets that retained foreign backers.  In its annual report on freedom of the press, Freedom House rated the country “not free.”

By law the Ministry of Justice is required to maintain a list of media outlets that are designated “foreign agents.”  The decision to designate media outlets or individual journalists as foreign agents may be made outside of court by other government bodies, including law enforcement agencies.  The law allows authorities to label individuals (both Russian and foreign citizens) as “foreign agents” if they disseminate foreign media to an unspecified number of persons, receive funding from abroad, or, after a December 2020 amendment, “carry out the interests of a foreign state.”  The new amendment specifies that a foreign journalist “performing the functions of a foreign agent, incompatible with his professional activities as a journalist” could be declared an individual foreign agent.

Human rights defenders expressed concern that the “foreign agent” law was being used to restrict further the activities of or selectively punish journalists, bloggers, and social media users.  Individuals labeled a “foreign agent” are required to register with the Ministry of Justice, and those living abroad also must create and register a legal entity inside the country to publish materials inside the country.  All information published by the “foreign agent” individual must be marked as having been produced by a “foreign agent.”  Fines for noncompliance with the law range from 10,000 to five million rubles ($135 to $67,500).  In December 2020 authorities utilized the “individual media foreign agent” category for the first time by adding five individuals to this registry, including Lev Ponomaryov, a well known human rights activist and Memorial Human Rights Center cofounder, who closed his NGO following the designation.

As of December 30, there were 37 outlets and 74 individuals designated as “media foreign agents,” the majority of whom were journalists.  Several of those designated as “foreign agents” tried unsuccessfully to reverse their designation.  For example, in March feminist activist Darya Apakhonchich filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Justice for her inclusion on this list, arguing that she had never received money or other property from foreign sources.  All three Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) contributors initially designated also lost their appeals to reverse the designation.

At the end of 2020, the government imposed new onerous labeling requirements for media outlets designated as foreign agents, which at the time only included Voice of America, RFE/RL and its affiliated outlets, and a news site run by Medium-Orient, based in the Czech Republic.  In February, President Putin signed into law additional legislative changes related to the labeling “foreign agents.”  The amendments introduced fines for the dissemination of information or media content about or belonging to a “foreign agent” without specifying this “foreign agent” status.  Fines for noncompliance with this new amendment range from 2,000 to 50,000 rubles ($27 to $675).

During the year authorities vigorously implemented the law to impose fines or noncompliance of labeling requirements.  As of July authorities had imposed 252 million rubles ($3.4 million) in fines on RFE/RL and frozen its bank accounts due to alleged noncompliance with the new law, which RFE/RL maintained imposed devastating financial reporting and labeling requirements for all electronic media to pressure the media outlets to close.  RFE/RL challenged the “foreign agent” law labeling requirements and the millions of rubles in fines levied on its Russian operations in the ECHR, filing a complaint on May 19.  In July the ECHR granted RFE/RL’s request to grant the case priority status, giving the Russian government until October 5 to reply.  Following a response from the Russian government in November, the case remained pending as of year’s end.  State-owned media outlets were also fined under the law.  For example, on May 6, the Moscow Arbitration Court fined the government-controlled Channel One media outlet 30,000 rubles ($400) for broadcasting a story from a “foreign agent” without labeling it as such.

During the year the government significantly intensified its campaign against so-called media foreign agents.  As of December 30, the Ministry of Justice’s register of “media foreign agents” comprised 111 media outlets and individuals, 94 of which had been added since the beginning of the year.  The news site VTimes, which was established in 2019 by former Vedomosti journalists, ceased operation on June 12 following its May 14 “foreign agent” designation.  In a letter to its supporters on June 4, VTimes stated it saw no viable way to continue its operations after the designation placed its employees at risk of criminal prosecution and undercut its ability to attract advertising revenue and engage with sources.  On June 16, Reporters Without Borders condemned the designation of outlets Meduza and VTimes and warned that the “draconian ‘foreign agents’ law is steadily killing off the country’s independent media.”

On July 15, the Ministry of Justice added independent investigative outlet Proyekt to the list of “undesirable foreign organizations,” making it the first media entity to receive that designation, which effectively bans its operations in the country.  Under legislative changes adopted during the year (see section 2.b.), individuals who cooperate with “undesirable foreign organizations” could be charged with a fine or up to six-year prison sentence.  Even quoting or reposting material from such an organization places individuals or organizations at risk of a fine.  Independent media and human rights organizations characterized the inclusion of Proyekt on the “undesirable foreign organizations” list as a significant escalation in the government’s efforts to restrict independent media.

By law authorities were able to close any organization a court determines to be extremist, including media outlets and websites.  Roskomnadzor, the country’s media oversight agency, routinely issued warnings to newspapers and internet outlets it suspected of publishing extremist materials.  Three warnings in one year sufficed to initiate a closure lawsuit.  On December 30, President Putin signed a law requiring Roskomnadzor to block without a court decision websites deemed to justify extremism or terrorism, if the prosecutor general or his deputy submit a request.

Violence and Harassment:  Journalists continued to be subjected to arrest, imprisonment, physical attack, harassment, and intimidation as a result of their reporting.  According to the Glasnost Defense Foundation, in January alone incidents of violence and harassment against journalists included 22 attacks, 161 detentions by law enforcement officers, one criminal prosecution and 12 lawsuits, and three threats.  Journalists and bloggers who uncovered government malfeasance or who criticized the government often faced harassment, either in the form of direct threats to their physical safety or threats to their livelihood, frequently through legal prosecution.

There were reports of attacks on journalists by government officials and police.  For example, on March 10, Russian occupation authorities in Crimea arrested freelance journalist Vladislav Yesypenko on espionage charges that were widely described as politically motivated and reportedly tortured him in detention.  On July 15, Yesypenko was indicted on weapons-related charges that many activists considered baseless; his trial was underway as of December.

There were reports of police briefly detaining journalists to interfere with or punish them for their reporting.  According to Reporters Without Borders and Open Media, during the January 23 demonstration more than 50 journalists were arbitrarily detained, with more than 82 journalists arbitrarily detained on January 31.  Journalists reported that they had been detained and charged with “participation in an unauthorized mass event,” even when clearly wearing press credentials.  Some correspondents for independent news outlets reported that they were questioned by authorities about their supposed participation in the demonstrations or had received threats of violence or other efforts at intimidation.

There were reports of police framing journalists for serious crimes to interfere with or to punish them for their reporting.  For example, Ivan Safronov, a former national security journalist for major national daily newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti, was arrested by the FSB and charged with treason in July 2020, a charge that carries a 20-year prison sentence if convicted.  According to media, Safronov’s case itself was classified, and the FSB declined to disclose what information he allegedly shared with Czech intelligence in 2012.  Observers speculated the charges might be related to a 2017 Kommersant article coauthored by Safronov, detailing the potential sale of Russian military aircraft to Egypt.  Safronov also provoked a strong reaction from the government for a 2019 article in Kommersant speculating on a shakeup of the leadership in the Federation Council.  The court extended Safronov’s pretrial detention five times, including most recently on October 4 through the end of the year.  On July 17, the freedom of information legal defense group Team 29, led by Safronov’s lawyer Ivan Pavlov, announced its dissolution as a result of pressure from authorities (see section 1.d.).

On May 28, the Moscow City Court convicted former police officer Igor Lyakhovets and his three subordinates on charges of fabricating a criminal case against Meduza correspondent Ivan Golunov in July 2019 (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2019 for Russia).  Lyakhovets, who was the principal officer in Golunov’s illegal arrest, was sentenced to 12 years in prison while his subordinates each received an eight-year prison sentence.  The court also banned them from serving as public officers for up to five years.

There were reports of police raids on the offices of independent media outlets that observers believed were designed to punish or pressure the outlets.  For example, on April 9, the FSB searched the home of prominent investigative journalist and IStories editor in chief Roman Anin, seizing his equipment, notebooks, and materials.  IStories, which specialized in investigative reporting, said that its offices had been searched as well.  In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on April 12, Anin speculated that authorities seized his personal records in response to a 2016 investigation he conducted into Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin and his former wife’s wealth and more recent articles on the security services.  Authorities charged Anin with “violation of privacy by abusing his professional functions,” an offense that is punishable by up to four years in prison.

Journalists reported threats in connection with their reporting.  For example, Amnesty International considered journalist and human rights defender Yelena Milashina to be a “case of concern” due to repeated threats against her for documenting Chechen officials’ abuses in Novaya Gazeta.  In 2020 Milashina received a death threat on Instagram from the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, and was physically attacked in Grozny along with human rights lawyer Marina Dubrovina.  Chechen officials began a defamation and intimidation campaign against Milashina after she published the testimony in Novaya Gazeta on March 15 of a former police officer who said he witnessed extrajudicial executions, torture, and other grave human rights violations in 2017.

In another example, Andrey Afanasyev, a journalist with RFE/RL Russian Service’s Siberia.Realities, was severely beaten by unknown assailants on June 9.  Afanasyev reported that the attackers demanded “less reporting about respectable people.”  Prior to his attack, Afanasyev had been investigating allegations of corruption against Adam Magomadov, a former leader of the Chechen diaspora and manager of the Akhmat martial arts club in Blagoveshchensk, and Andrey Domashenkin, a local lawmaker from the ruling United Russia party who founded the club.  The Investigative Committee opened an investigation on June 17 into the attack on “hooliganism” charges, rather than “obstruction of journalist activities” as Afanasyev had requested.  As of July the attackers were not identified.

There was no progress during the year in establishing accountability in several high-profile killings of journalists, including the 2004 killing of Paul Klebnikov, the 2006 killing of Anna Politkovskaya, and the 2009 killing of Natalia Estemirova.

Censorship or Content Restrictions:  The government directly and indirectly censored media, much of which occurred online (also see Internet Freedom and Academic Freedom and Cultural Events, below).

There were reports that the government retaliated against those who produced or published content it disliked.  For example, authorities conducted searches of the houses of Roman Badanin, Proyekt editor in chief, deputy editor Mikhail Rubin, and journalist Mariya Zholobova on June 29, the same day the outlet intended to publish an investigation alleging corruption by Minister of Internal Affairs Vladimir Kolokoltsev, his son, and other members of his family.  OVD-Info reported that authorities had opened an investigation into Badanin and his colleagues on criminal libel charges related to the 2017 showing of a documentary series that linked President Putin to Ilya Traber, a businessman suspected of having mafia connections.  On July 15, the Ministry of Justice added Badanin and four Proyekt journalists to its list of media “foreign agents” and Proyekt to the list of “undesirable foreign organizations.”

On July 19, media reported that the country’s Office of Consumer Rights blocked a Russian-language website operated by Czech Radio.  Authorities cited a 2001 online article about Jan Palach, a student who set himself on fire on Prague’s Wenceslas Square in 1969 to protest the 1968 Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.  Experts noted that although the government cited the article’s “promotion of suicide” as the rationale, the decision came as part of a series of retaliatory steps after the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Prague earlier in the year due to Russia’s role in the 2014 Vrbetice ammunition site explosion.

Self-censorship in independent media was also reportedly widespread.

Libel/Slander Laws:  Officials at all levels used their authority to restrict the work of and to retaliate against journalists and bloggers who criticized them, including taking legal action for alleged slander or libel, which are criminal offenses.  President Putin signed new legislation in December 2020 that introduced criminal penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment for slander or libel “using information and telecommunications networks, including the internet.”  Authorities used these laws to target human rights defenders and civil society activists in criminal investigations, most recently by accusing them of spreading unreliable information related to the COVID-19 pandemic or libelously criticizing public officials.

National Security:  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.  There were reports that critics of the government’s counterterrorism policies were themselves charged with “justifying terrorism.”  For example, in July 2020 RFE/RL contributor Svetlana Prokopyeva was convicted of “justifying terrorism” and fined for a 2018 radio piece that explored the motivations of a teenage suicide bomber who had attacked a regional FSB office (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for Russia).  In February the Moscow Region’s Military Court of Appeal upheld her 2020 verdict and fine.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but in some cases authorities restricted these rights.

In-country Movement:  Although the law gives citizens the right to choose their place of residence, adult citizens must carry government-issued internal passports while traveling domestically and must register with local authorities after arriving at a different location.  To have their files transferred, persons with official refugee or asylum status must notify the Ministry of Internal Affairs in advance of relocating to a district other than the one that originally granted them status.  Authorities often refused to provide government services to individuals without internal passports or proper registration, and many regional governments continued to restrict this right through residential registration rules.

Authorities imposed in-country travel restrictions on individuals facing prosecution for political purposes.

Foreign Travel:  The law provides for freedom to travel abroad, but the government restricted this right for certain groups.  The law stipulates that a person who violates a court decision does not have a right to leave the country.  A court may also prohibit a person from leaving the country for failure to satisfy debts; if the individual is suspected, accused, or convicted of a crime; or if the individual had access to classified material.  The law allows for the temporary restriction of the right to leave the country for citizens with outstanding debts.

The government restricted the foreign travel of millions of its employees, prescribing which countries they are and are not allowed to visit.  The restriction applies to employees of agencies including the Prosecutor General’s Office, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Defense, Federal Prison Service, Federal Drug Control Service, Federal Bailiff Service, General Administration for Migration Issues, and Ministry of Emergency Situations.  On July 7, media outlets reported that Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin signed a decree stating that prior to traveling abroad, his deputies and ministers must obtain his written permission.  The travel restriction would also apply to lower-ranking officials, such as heads of agencies, who must obtain permission from their supervisors before travel.

Citizenship:  There were reports that the government revoked citizenship on an arbitrary or discriminatory basis.  For example, in April 2020 the Internal Affairs Ministry stripped the citizenship of Feliks Makhammadiyev and Konstantin Bazhenov, two members of Jehovah’s Witnesses convicted of “extremism” on the basis of their religious beliefs.  Makhammadiyev was left stateless as a result.  In January authorities deported Makhammadiyev to Uzbekistan.  Media outlets reported that authorities revoked the residency permits of several foreign nationals who had participated in the January and February protests in support of Aleksey Navalny and the people of Belarus, including individuals married to Russian citizens.

In another example, on October 26, authorities deported Tajikistan-born Bakhtiyor Usmonov, separating him from his wife and children.  Usmonov’s deportation followed his successful case in the ECHR against the Russian state, which annulled his citizenship and held him in a detention center for foreign citizens for two years.  The ECHR ordered the Russian government to restore Usmonov’s citizenship and to pay him compensation in the amount of 11,000 euros ($12,700).

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated the country was home to 1,230 internally displaced persons (IDPs) as of December 2020.  Of these, the center asserted that 130 IDPs were displaced due to weather-related events, such as floods, and 1,100 were displaced because of conflict and violence.

According to the government’s official statistics, the number of “forced” migrants, which under the government’s definition includes refugees, asylum seekers, and IDPs, decreased from 9,485 in 2019 to 5,323 in January 2020 and again in January 2021 to 2,512.  The government indicated that most forced migrants came from Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

Reliable information on whether the government promoted the safe, voluntary, dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs was not available.  According to the independent NGOs Civic Assistance Committee and Memorial, most IDPs in the country were displaced by the Ossetian-Ingush conflict of 1992 and the Chechen wars in the mid-1990s and early 2000s.  The Ossetian-Ingush conflict displaced Ingush from the territory of North Ossetia-Alania, and the Chechen wars displaced Chechens.  The government provided minimal financial support for housing to persons registered as IDPs.  The Civic Assistance Committee criticized the government’s strict rules for qualifying for assistance and long backlog of persons waiting for housing support.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported it had a working relationship with the government on asylum, refugee, and stateless persons problems.  The Civic Assistance Committee reported, however, that the government failed to provide protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.  On April 5, President Putin signed a law adopting the charter of the International Organization for Migration, which promotes the organized movement of migrants and refugees.

Access to Asylum:  The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.  NGOs reported applicants commonly paid informal “facilitation fees” of approximately 33,000 rubles ($445) to General Administration for Migration Issues adjudicators to have their application reviewed.  Applicants who did not speak Russian often had to pay for a private interpreter.  Human rights organizations noted that nearly all newly arrived asylum seekers in large cities, particularly Moscow and St. Petersburg, were forced to apply in other regions, allegedly due to full quotas.  NGOs also noted difficulty in applying for asylum due to long queues and lack of clear application procedures.  The General Administration for Migration Issues approved only a small percentage of applications for refugee status and temporary asylum, with exception of applications from Ukrainians, who had a much higher chance of approval.

Human rights organizations noted the government’s issuance of refugee and temporary asylum status decreased over the previous few years, pointing to the government’s systematic and arbitrary refusal to grant asylum.  NGOs reported that authorities encouraged applicants to return to their countries of origin.

Authorities reportedly also had blanket authority to grant temporary asylum to Syrians, but local migration experts noted a decrease in the number of Syrians afforded temporary asylum, suggesting that the General Administration for Migration Issues had not renewed the temporary asylum of hundreds of Syrians and, in some cases, encouraged applicants to return to Syria.

Refoulement:  The concept of nonrefoulement is not explicitly stated in the law.  The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.  The responsible agency, the General Administration for Migration Issues, did not maintain a presence at airports or other border points and did not adequately publicize that asylum seekers may request access to the agency.  Asylum seekers had to rely on the goodwill of border guards and airline personnel to call immigration officials.  Otherwise, they faced immediate deportation to neighboring countries or return to their countries of origin, including in some cases to countries where they may have had reasonable grounds to fear persecution.

According to Memorial, on March 23, Russian authorities rejected the asylum request of Rozgeldy Choliyev, a citizen of Turkmenistan facing prosecution for public criticism of his home country’s government.  Choliyev had arrived in Moscow from Istanbul and spent three weeks in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport waiting for a response to his request before being deported back to Turkey because all flights from Moscow to Ashgabat were cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.  Memorial said that Choliyev faced extradition from Turkey to Turkmenistan, where he could be prosecuted for his public criticism of the government.

Human rights groups continued to allege that authorities made improper use of international agreements that permit them to detain, and possibly repatriate, persons with outstanding arrest warrants from other former Soviet states.  This system, enforced by informal ties among senior law enforcement officials of the countries concerned, permitted authorities to detain individuals for up to one month while the Prosecutor General’s Office investigated the nature of the warrants.  For example, on July 21, a Russian court ruled that Alyaksey Kudzin, world champion kickboxer and outspoken critic of Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, could be extradited to face charges for assaulting a security officer during prodemocracy protests in Belarus in August 2020.  Despite an earlier ECHR opinion that banned his extradition over concerns that he may be politically persecuted and tortured, Kudzin was handed over to Belarusian authorities and sentenced on August 11 to two and one-half years in prison.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees:  NGOs reported that police detained, fined, and threatened migrants and refugees with deportation.

In some cases temporary asylum holders who received refugee status from third countries were not granted exit visas or allowed to depart the country.

Employment:  Employers frequently refused to hire applicants who lacked residential registration.  UNHCR reported that employers frequently were not familiar with laws permitting employment for refugees and asylum seekers without work permits and refused to hire them.  NGOs reported that refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were vulnerable to exploitation in the form of forced labor because of the lack of proper documents and insufficient Russian language skills.

Access to Basic Services:  By law successful temporary asylum seekers and persons whose applications were being processed have the right to work, to receive medical care, and to attend school.  The government considered Ukrainian asylum seekers to be separate from asylum seekers from other countries, such as Afghanistan, Georgia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen.  NGOs reported authorities provided some services to Ukrainian asylum seekers, but there were instances in which applicants from other countries were denied the same service, including access to medical care and food banks.

While federal law provides for education for all children, regional authorities occasionally denied access to schools to children of temporary asylum and refugee applicants who lacked residential registration or who did not speak Russian.  The Civic Assistance Committee reported that approximately one-third of the children of refugees were enrolled in schools.  When parents encountered difficulties enrolling their children in school, authorities generally cooperated with UNHCR to resolve the problem.

Temporary Protection:  The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees.  As of January 1, a total of 19,817 persons, 92 percent of whom were citizens of Ukraine, held a certificate of temporary asylum in Russia.  A person who does not satisfy the criteria for refugee status, but who for humanitarian reasons could not be expelled or deported, may receive temporary asylum after submitting a separate application.  There were reports, however, of authorities not upholding the principle of temporary protection.

g. Stateless Persons

According to the 2010 population census, the country was home to 178,000 self-declared stateless persons.  Official statistics did not differentiate between stateless persons and other categories of persons seeking assistance.  UNHCR data showed 60,185 stateless persons, including forcibly displaced stateless persons, in the country at the end of 2020.  Law, policy, and procedures allow stateless persons and their children born in the country to gain nationality.  The Civic Assistance Committee noted that most stateless persons in the country were elderly, ill, or single former Soviet Union passport holders who missed the opportunity to claim Russian citizenship after the Soviet Union broke up.  The NGO reported various bureaucratic hurdles as obstacles to obtaining legal status in the country.  On February 24, President Putin signed a law authorizing temporary identity certificates for stateless persons that would be valid for 10 years or until the holder receives citizenship or a residence permit in another country.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence:  Rape is illegal, and the law provides the same punishment for a relative, including a spouse, who commits rape as for a nonrelative.  The penalty for conviction of rape is three to six years’ imprisonment for a single offense, with additional time imposed for aggravating factors.  According to NGOs, many law enforcement personnel and prosecutors did not consider spousal or acquaintance rape a priority and did not encourage reporting or prosecuting such cases.  NGOs reported that local police officers sometimes refused to respond to rape or domestic violence calls unless the victim’s life was directly threatened.  Authorities typically did not consider rape or attempted rape to be life threatening.

Domestic violence remained a significant problem.  There is no domestic violence provision in the law and no legal definition of domestic violence, making it difficult to know its actual prevalence in the country.  The law considers beatings by “close relatives” an administrative rather than a criminal offense for first-time offenders, provided the beating does not cause serious harm requiring hospital treatment.  The anti-domestic-violence NGO ANNA Center estimated that 60 to 70 percent of women who experienced some form of domestic violence did not seek help due to fear, public shame, lack of financial independence from their partners, or lack of confidence in law enforcement authorities.  Laws that address bodily harm are general in nature and do not permit police to initiate a criminal investigation unless the victim files a complaint.  The burden of collecting evidence in such cases typically falls on the alleged victims.  The law prohibits threats, assault, battery, and killing, but most acts of domestic violence did not fall within the jurisdiction of the Prosecutor’s Office.  The law does not provide for protection orders, which experts believed could help keep women safe from experiencing recurrent violence by their partners.

Open Media reported in January that the government “drastically cut” funding for domestic violence initiatives in the previous year, from 16.5 million rubles ($223,000) in 2019 to two million rubles ($27,000) in 2020.  During the year the government provided a grant to only one NGO of dozens of domestic violence crisis centers and legal aid organizations that sought government funding.  According to Open Media, the government instead funded projects aimed at preventing divorce or promoting “Orthodox Christian traditions to strengthen families.”

In December 2020 the Ministry of Justice added the prominent women’s rights NGO Nasiliu.net – Russian for No to Violence – to the registry of “foreign agents,” a move media attributed to the organization’s support of a draft bill to recriminalize domestic violence introduced to the State Duma in 2019.  Director Anna Rivina characterized the designation as a political reaction by the government and an effort to silence dissent and criticism of its stance on domestic violence, which experts said was influenced by conservative “traditional values.”

COVID-19-related stay-at-home orders and general restrictions on movement trapped many women experiencing domestic violence in the same space as their abusers.  Many survivors noted they could not leave their homes due to fear of being punished for violating the stay-at-home order.

There were reports that women defending themselves from domestic violence were charged with crimes.  In March authorities recognized three sisters accused of murdering their abusive father in 2018 as victims after the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against the father on charges of sexual assault, coercion into sexual acts, and torture.  Their lawyers expressed hope this “breakthrough” in the case would result in the dismissal of the sisters’ murder charges.

According to the ANNA Center, when domestic violence offenses were charged, articles under the country’s criminal law were usually applied that employed the process of private prosecution.  The process of private prosecution requires the victim to gather all necessary evidence and bear all costs after the injured party or his or her guardian took the initiative to file a complaint with a magistrate judge.  The NGO noted that this process severely disadvantages survivors.  Experts estimated that seven of 10 such cases were dropped due to reconciliation of the parties as a result of the abuser pressuring, manipulating, and intimidating the survivor who often had to continue living in the same house.

According to NGOs, police were often unwilling to register complaints of domestic violence, saying that cases were “family matters,” frequently discouraged survivors from submitting complaints, and often pressed victims to reconcile with abusers.

Most domestic violence cases filed with authorities were either dismissed on technical grounds or transferred to a reconciliation process conducted by a justice of the peace whose focus was on preserving the family rather than punishing the perpetrator.  NGOs estimated that only 3 percent of such cases eventually reached the courts.  Survivors of domestic violence in the North Caucasus experienced difficulty seeking protection from authorities.

NGOs noted government-operated institutions provided services to affected women such as social apartments, hospitals wards, and shelters.  Access to these services was often complicated, since they required proof of residency in that municipality, as well as proof of low-income status.  In many cases these documents were controlled by the abusers and not available to survivors.  A strict two-month stay limit in the shelters and limited business hours of these services further restricted survivors’ access to social services.  After COVID-19-related restrictions forced many shelters to close temporarily, NGOs rented out apartments and hotels to shelter the survivors.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C):  The law does not specifically prohibit FGM/C.  NGOs in Dagestan reported that FGM/C was occasionally practiced in some villages.  On October 23, media outlets reported that the first case of FGM/C to be prosecuted in a Russian court was likely to end without resolution due to procedural delays that extended proceedings beyond the two-year statute of limitations for the offense stipulated by law.  Criminal charges of “causing minor harm to health” were brought against a doctor in Ingushetiya who performed an FGM/C operation on a nine-year-old girl at her father’s request in 2019.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices:  Human rights groups reported that “honor killings” of women persisted in Chechnya, Dagestan, and elsewhere in the North Caucasus, but the cases were rarely reported or acknowledged.  Local police, doctors, and lawyers often collaborated with the families involved to cover up the crimes.  In some parts of the North Caucasus, women continued to face bride kidnapping, polygamy, forced marriage (including early and child marriage), legal discrimination, virginity testing before marriage, and forced adherence to Islamic dress codes.  Women in the North Caucasus often lost custody of their children after the father’s death or a divorce due to traditional law that prohibits women from living in a house without a man.

Sexual Harassment:  The law contains a general provision against compelling a person to perform actions of a sexual character by means of blackmail, threats, or by taking advantage of the victim’s economic or other dependence on the perpetrator.  There is no legal definition of harassment, however, and no comprehensive guidelines on how it should be addressed.  Sexual harassment was reportedly widespread, but courts often rejected victims’ claims due to lack of sufficient evidence.

Reproductive Rights:  There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities during the year, although there had been such reports in previous years.

There were significant social and cultural barriers to family planning and reproductive health in the North Caucasus republics, including cases of FGM/C.

There are no legal restrictions on access to contraceptives, but very few citizens received any kind of sexual education, hampering their use.  Senior government officials and church and conservative groups in the country stridently advocated for increasing the birth rate, and their opposition to family planning initiatives contributed to a social stigma that also affected the use of contraceptives.

Access to family planning and skilled medical attendance at birth varied widely based on geography and was often extremely limited in rural areas.

According to various human rights groups, COVID-19 restrictions negatively affected accessibility for the full range of reproductive health services.

The government did not deny access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, but survivors did not always seek needed treatment due to social stigma.  Emergency contraception was readily available as part of clinical management of rape in urban centers, but not necessarily in rural areas.

Discrimination:  The constitution and law provide that men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights, but women often encountered significant restrictions.  Women experienced discrimination in the workplace, in pay, and in access to credit.  At the start of the year, the government lifted Soviet-era gender-based employment restrictions, enabling women to do approximately 350 types of jobs that had previously been forbidden, such as truck driving.  The Ministry of Labor ruled 100 jobs to be especially physically taxing, including firefighting, mining, and steam boiler repair, which remained off-limits to women.

The law prohibits discrimination based on nationality, but according to a 2017 report by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, officials discriminated against minorities, including through “de facto racial profiling, targeting in particular migrants and persons from Central Asia and the Caucasus.”  Activists reported that police officers often stopped individuals who looked foreign and asked them for their documents, claiming that they contained mistakes even when they were in order, and demanded bribes.

Hate crimes targeting ethnic minorities continued to be a problem.  According to a 2018 report by the human rights group Antidiscrimination Center Memorial, Roma faced widespread discrimination in access to resources and basic utilities; demolitions of houses and forced evictions, including of children, often in winter; violation of the right to education (segregation of Romani children in low-quality schools); deprivation of parental rights; and other forms of structural discrimination.

During the year the government sought to repress expressions of ethnic identity, including calls for the preservation of minority languages and cultures.  In February the City Court of Naberezhnye Chelny fined the writer and public figure Fauziya Bayramova for incitement to violate the territorial integrity of Russia.  Bayramova was convicted after authorities reviewed the translated transcript of her speech at a scientific conference organized by the All-Tatar Public Center of Kazan in 2020 in which she had spoken of the need to preserve Tatar culture and identity.  In another example, in 2019 law enforcement authorities forcibly broke up a protest in Ingushetiya against government efforts to cede disputed territory to Chechnya and detained 51 individuals on charges related to use of violence against security forces.  According to Memorial, as of July, 38 individuals had been convicted in relation to the protest, including Magomed Khamkhoyev, who was sentenced to three and one-half years in prison in February.  On December 15, seven leaders of the Ingushetiya protest movement were found guilty of forming an extremist group and assaulting law enforcement, and they received prison sentences ranging from seven to nine years.  Memorial considered them to be political prisoners.

Birth Registration:  By law citizenship derives from parents at birth or from birth within the country’s territory if the parents are unknown or if the child may not claim the parents’ citizenship.  Failure to register a birth resulted in the denial of public services.

Education:  Education is free and compulsory through grade 11, although regional authorities frequently denied school access to the children of persons who were not registered local residents, including Roma, asylum seekers, and migrant workers.

Child Abuse:  The country does not have a law on child abuse, but the law prohibits murder, battery, and rape.  The penalties for conviction of such crimes range from five to 15 years in prison and, if they result in the death of a minor, up to 20 years in prison.  The law makes beatings by “close relatives” an administrative rather than a criminal offense for first-time offenders, provided the beating does not cause serious harm requiring hospital treatment, applies to children as well.  Some State Duma deputies claimed that children needed discipline and authority in the family, condoning beating as a mode of discipline.

Studies indicated that violence against children was common.  According to a report published in 2019 by the National Institute for Child Protection, one in four parents admitted to having beaten their children at least once with a belt.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage:  The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for both men and women.  Local authorities may authorize marriage from the age of 16 under certain circumstances.  More than a dozen regions allow marriage from the age of 14 under special circumstances, such as pregnancy or the birth of a child.

Sexual Exploitation of Children:  The age of consent is 16.  The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, or procuring of children for commercial sexual exploitation, and practices related to child pornography.  Authorities generally enforced the law.

The law prohibits the manufacture, distribution, and possession with intent to distribute child pornography, but possession without intent to distribute is not prohibited by law.  Manufacture and distribution of pornography involving children younger than 18 is punishable by two to eight years in prison or three to 10 years in prison if children younger than 14 are involved.  Authorities considered child pornography to be a serious problem.

Roskomnadzor has the power to shut down any website immediately and without due process until its owners prove its content does not include child pornography.

Institutionalized Children:  There were reports of neglect as well as physical and psychological abuse in state institutions for children.  NGOs reported that children with disabilities were especially vulnerable to low-quality care at institutions due to a lack of resources and inadequate reforms.  NGOs pointed to the closing of schools and strict stay-at-home orders during the height of COVID-19 measures as especially detrimental to at-risk children, including children in institutions.  NGOs noted that many had limited access to social services and teachers or counselors.

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

Anti-Semitism

The 2010 census estimated the Jewish population at slightly more than 150,000.  The Russian Jewish Congress (RJC) estimated the Jewish population at 172,500, while the Federation of Jewish Communities estimated there were 1.5 million persons of Jewish heritage.

In the most recent data available, the RJC reported a slight decline in the level of anti-Semitic violence in 2020, compared with previous years, and reported similar downward trends in anti-Semitism in the public sphere, with only a few notable anti-Semitic posts on social media sites that caused a negative reaction among the public and journalistic community.  The RJC reported, however, that limited political pressure on Jewish organizations continued in 2020.  There were no reported cases of anti-Semitic attacks against the Jewish community during 2020.  There was one instance in which law enforcement intervened to thwart an attempt to kill a Jewish leader that resulted in the arrest of the would-be killer.  There was only one reported instance of anti-Semitic expression on state television and a small number of anti-Semitic statements and publications by journalists and in social media posts by private citizens online.  By the end of 2020, the RJC reported 10 criminal sentences had been issued against individuals for statements that directly or indirectly related to anti-Semitism, with the most common sentence a fine for hate speech or “propaganda through the internet.”

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

The law provides protection for persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services.  The government did not enforce these provisions effectively.

The conditions of guardianship imposed by courts on persons with disabilities deprived them of almost all personal rights.  Activists reported that courts declared tens of thousands of individuals “legally incompetent” due to intellectual disabilities, forcing them to go through guardians to exercise their legal rights, even when they could make decisions for themselves.  Courts rarely restored legal capacity to individuals with disabilities.  By law individuals with intellectual disabilities were at times prevented from marrying without a guardian’s consent.

In many cases persons with intellectual or physical disabilities were confined to institutions where they were often subjected to abuse and neglect.  Roszdravnadzor, the Federal Service for Surveillance in Health Care, announced that it found abuses in 87 percent of institutions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities during a 2019 audit.

Federal law requires that buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities.  While there were improvements, especially in large cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, authorities did not effectively enforce the law in many areas of public transportation and in buildings.  Many individuals in wheelchairs reported they continued to have trouble accessing public transportation and had to rely on private cars.  Wheelchair-accessible street curbs were not widely available in many regions throughout the country.

Election law does not specifically mandate that polling places be accessible to persons with disabilities, and most of them were not.  Election officials generally brought mobile ballot boxes to the homes of voters with disabilities.

The government began to implement inclusive education, but many children with disabilities continued not to study in mainstream schools due to a lack of accommodations to facilitate their individual learning needs.  Many schools did not have the physical infrastructure or adequately trained staff to meet the needs of children with disabilities, leaving them no choice but to stay at home or attend segregated schools.  Even when children were allowed to attend a mainstream school, many staff and children lacked understanding to meet the educational needs of the child.  While the law mandates inclusive education for children with disabilities, authorities generally segregated them from mainstream society through a system that institutionalized them through adulthood.  Graduates of such institutions often lacked the social, educational, and vocational skills to function in society.

There appeared to be no clear standardized formal legal mechanism by which individuals could contest their assignment to a facility for persons with disabilities.  The classification of children with intellectual disabilities by category of disability often followed them through their lives.  The official designations “imbecile” and “idiot,” assigned by commissions that assess children with developmental delays at the age of three, signified that authorities considered the child uneducable.  These designations were almost always irrevocable.  The designation “weak” (having a slight cognitive or intellectual disability) followed an individual on official documents, creating barriers to employment and housing after graduation from state institutions.

Persons with HIV or AIDS faced significant legal discrimination, growing informal stigma-based barriers, and employment discrimination.

In 2020 the government lifted restrictions on persons with HIV who wanted to adopt children if the adoptive parents met strict criteria, such as being on dispensary observation for at least a year and having a CD4 cell level of more than 350 cells/milliliter.  Nonetheless, they also continued to face barriers to adopting children in many cases.

According to NGO activists, men who have sex with men were unlikely to seek antiretroviral treatment, since treatment exposed the fact that these individuals had the virus, while sex workers were afraid to appear in the official system due to threats from law enforcement bodies.  Many individuals who injected drugs also did not seek treatment because of the country’s aggressive criminalization of illegal drugs and marginalization of users.  By law foreign citizens who are HIV-positive may be deported.  The law, however, bars the deportation of HIV-positive foreigners who have a Russian national or permanent resident spouse, child, or parents.  Economic migrants concealed their HIV status and avoided treatment due to fear of deportation.  Younger women with HIV or AIDS, in particular, faced multiple barriers to accessing treatment because of stigma, discrimination, harmful gender stereotypes, gender-based violence, and difficulty accessing critical sexual and reproductive health care.

Children with HIV faced discrimination in education.  NGOs noted that many younger children with HIV faced resistance by other parents when trying to enroll in schools.

The Ministry of Justice continued to designate HIV-related NGOs as foreign agents, effectively reducing the number of organizations that could serve the community (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

During the year there were reports state actors committed violence against LGBTQI+ individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly in Chechnya (see section 1.b.).

There were reports that government agents attacked, harassed, and threatened LGBTQI+ activists.  For example, Meduza reported that Dagestani police forcibly returned Khalimat Taramova, a 22-year-old woman and victim of domestic violence, to Chechnya after she escaped to a women’s shelter in Makhachkala following threats by her family and local police due to her sexual orientation.  In a statement on June 12, Chechen minister Akhmed Dudayev praised law enforcement for having “foiled an attempted kidnapping” by “instigators.”  On the same day, the Russian LGBT Network said it would file a complaint with the ECHR about Taramova’s abduction and expressed concern that her sexual orientation placed her at risk of further abuse in Chechnya.

LGBTQI+ persons were targets of societal violence, and police often failed to respond adequately to such incidents.  For example, in March an LGBTQI+ activist from Murmansk, Valentina Likhoshva, reported to police that she had received threats after receiving an international award recognizing her contributions to social justice and human rights in the Barents region.  Media outlets reported that police subsequently refused to investigate her claims, commenting that because the threats came by email, their validity could not be determined.

During the year authorities acted on a limited basis to investigate and punish those complicit in societal violence and abuses by the state.  For example, on January 12, a court in Yekaterinburg sentenced Pavel Zuyev to five years in prison on robbery charges after he beat and robbed two gay men in September 2020.  The court determined that Zuyev assaulted the men due to their sexual orientation and ordered him to compensate them financially for emotional damages.

In 2020 the Russian LGBT Network released a report that showed 12 percent of LGBTQI+ respondents in a survey had experienced physical violence, 4 percent had experienced sexual violence, and 56 percent had experienced psychological abuse during their lifetime.  The report noted that LGBTQI+ persons faced discrimination in their place of study or work, when receiving medical services, and when searching for housing.  The report also noted that transgender persons were uniquely vulnerable to discrimination and violence.  The Russian LGBT Network claimed that law enforcement authorities did not always protect the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals and were sometimes the source of violence themselves.  As a result, LGBTQI+ individuals had extremely low levels of trust in courts and police.

A homophobic campaign continued in state-controlled media in which officials, journalists, and others derided LGBTQI+ persons as “perverts,” “sodomites,” and “abnormal,” and conflated homosexuality with pedophilia.

There were reports police conducted involuntary physical exams of transgender or intersex persons.  In April a St. Petersburg court ordered a transgender man, Innokentiy Alimov, to undergo a gynecological examination to determine his gender, on the basis of which he was transferred to a women’s detention center.  Alimov was sentenced to four and one-half years in prison in a drug trafficking case and spent at least two months in a “punishment cell,” which prison authorities argued was a safer place than among the general population.

The Association of Russian-speaking Intersex reported that medical specialists often pressured intersex persons (or their parents if they were underage) into having so-called normalization surgery without providing accurate information about the procedure or what being intersex meant.

The law criminalizes the distribution of “propaganda” of “nontraditional sexual relations” to minors and effectively limits the rights of free expression and assembly for citizens who wish to advocate publicly for LGBTQI+ rights or express the opinion that homosexuality is normal.  Examples of what the government considered LGBTQI+ propaganda included materials that “directly or indirectly approve of persons who are in nontraditional sexual relationships” (see section 2.a.).  Authorities charged feminist and LGBTQI+ rights defender Yuliya Tsvetkova with the criminal offense of disseminating pornography online after she shared images depicting female bodies on her social media accounts.  Tsvetkova’s trial began on April 12 and continued as of December.

The law does not prohibit discrimination by state or nonstate actors against LGBTQI+ persons with respect to essential goods and services such as housing, employment, or access to government services such as health care.

LGBTQI+ persons reported significant societal stigma and discrimination, which some attributed to official promotion of intolerance and homophobia.  In July a large health-food retail chain, VkusVill, ran and later apologized for an ad featuring a gay couple shopping in the store, which was part of a campaign featuring shoppers who visit the chain.  Media outlets reported that the initial reaction to the ad was generally positive.  As responses became increasingly critical, however, the chain was accused of promoting homosexuality.  Its leadership removed the ad and apologized for “hurting the feelings of a large number of buyers, employees, partners and suppliers.”

High levels of employment discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons reportedly persisted.  Activists asserted that the majority of LGBTQI+ persons hid their sexual orientation or gender identity due to fear of losing their jobs or homes, as well as the risk of violence.  LGBTQI+ students also reported discrimination at schools and universities.

Medical practitioners reportedly continued to limit or deny LGBTQI+ persons health services due to intolerance and prejudice.  The Russian LGBT Network’s report indicated that, upon disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity, LGBTQI+ individuals often encountered strong negative reactions and the presumption they were mentally ill.  According to a poll conducted in July by the government-controlled Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 23 percent of respondents considered members of the LGBTQI+ community to be “sick people who need help,” an opinion mainly held by men and persons older than age 60.

Transgender persons faced difficulty updating their names and gender markers on government documents to reflect their gender identity because the government had not established standard procedures, and many civil registry offices denied their requests.  When documents failed to reflect their gender identity, transgender persons often faced harassment by law enforcement officers and discrimination in accessing health care, education, housing, transportation, and employment.

There were reports LGBTQI+ persons also faced discrimination in parental rights.  The Russian LGBT Network reported LGBTQI+ parents often feared that the country’s prohibition on the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientation” to minors would be used to remove custody of their children.  On February 15, the ECHR inquired with Russian authorities on behalf of a transgender man who lost guardianship of his two foster children when authorities in Yekaterinburg learned that he had begun to change his gender.  The man was granted asylum in Spain.

The lack of an internal passport often prevented homeless citizens from fully securing their legal rights and social services.  Homeless persons faced barriers to obtaining legal documentation as well as medical insurance, without which clinics refused to treat them.

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