Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, but the government sometimes restricted these rights to varying degrees.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: While the law provides for freedom of speech, which was widely exercised, there were reports authorities at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Freedom of speech was also considerably more constrained at the provincial level, where local power brokers, such as former mujahedin-era military leaders, exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists.
Press and Media Freedoms: While media reported independently throughout the year, often openly criticizing the government, full press freedoms were lacking. At times authorities used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Politicians, security officials, and others in positions of power arrested, threatened, or harassed journalists because of their coverage. Freedom of speech and an independent media were even more constrained at the provincial level, where many media outlets had links to specific personalities or political parties, to include former mujahedin military leaders who owned many of the broadcasting stations and print media and influenced their content.
Print media continued to publish independent magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. A wide range of editorials and dailies openly criticized the government. There were concerns, however, that media independence and safety remained at high risk in light of increased attacks. Due to high levels of illiteracy, television and radio were the preferred information source for most citizens. Radio remained more widespread due to its relative accessibility, with approximately 75 percent radio penetration, compared with approximately 50 percent for television.
The Ministry of Information and Culture has authority to regulate the press and media. In 2015 the ministry dissolved the Media Violations Investigation Commission, whose evaluations of complaints against journalists were criticized as biased and not based on the law. Human Rights Watch reported the ministry routinely ignored officials who threatened, intimidated, or even physically attacked members of the press. While the ministry has legal responsibility for regulating media, the council of religious scholars (the Ulema Council) had considerable influence over media affairs.
In January the information ministry created the Independent Mass Media Commission. The commission is responsible for reregistering all media outlets in the country. Media activists condemned the new reregistration process, citing the high fees to undergo the process would hurt media outlets, particularly the smaller radio and television stations in the provinces. As of September media advocates had been able to delay the implementation of the new reregistration regulation.
In February, after the president issued a decree to implement current media laws and strengthen freedom of expression, the executive created a committee to investigate cases of violence against journalists. The committee met multiple times in the first half of the year and identified 432 cases eligible for investigation. The committee sent the cases to the appropriate government institutions associated with the violations for investigation, including the Ministry of Interior and NDS forces. As of September none of the government institutions had started an investigation or provided a response to the committee.
In May parliament members criticized the lack of full implementation of the 2014 Access to Information law. The Commission on Monitoring Access to Information stated a lack of budget and lack of government support resulted in weak implementation of the law.
Violence and Harassment: Government used threats, violence, and intimidation to silence opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out about impunity, war crimes, government officials, and powerful local figures. The AJSC reported that 50 percent of 101 incidents of attacks against journalists, including 13 cases of killings, 30 cases of beatings, 35 cases of intimidation, 17 cases of abuse, and six cases of injury, were attributed to government officials. In an October 30 press conference, Nai, an NGO supporting media freedom, reported that violence against media workers had increased to approximately 370 cases, in comparison with 95 cases in 2015. According to Nai, nearly 300 journalists left their jobs during the year due to threats. For example, according to reports, on June 5, police beat a reporter from Kawoon Ghag Radio while he reporting on an event where donations were distributed to poor families.
On August 29, while the president visited Bamyan Province to inaugurate the refurbished provincial airport, progovernment forces, including the president’s protective detail, allegedly harassed and beat protesters and journalists. Some journalists reported government security forces used violence against them and removed film or digital photographs from their equipment. Human Rights Watch received reports of NDS forces detaining journalists and activists for 24 hours. The Presidential Palace first rejected claims of journalists being beaten or detained during the August Bamyan visit, but later the president ordered an investigation.
On August 28, the leading independent daily newspaper, Hasht-e-Subh, intentionally left an entire page empty of content in all Herat city editions to highlight censorship of a news feature detailing corruption and smuggling allegations against Herat provincial council chief Kamran Alizai. The newspaper’s editor in chief, Parwiz Kawa, publicly stated the blank page demonstrated what he termed was a “preventive and protective” protest against an unnamed “powerful official.” He said editors were responding to threats against their regional offices by Alizai, who also maintained an illegal private militia. On the following day, Hasht-e-Subh published an article claiming the AGO assured editors that Alizai was under investigation, had been suspended from his duties, and had been banned from leaving the country. In the meantime the president’s deputy spokesperson, Shah Hussain Murtazawi, told Hasht-e-Subh, “Anyone who challenges independent media would be harshly confronted by the government.”
Prevailing security conditions created a dangerous environment for journalists, even when they were not specific targets. Media organizations and journalists operating in remote areas were more vulnerable to violence and intimidation because of the increased level of insecurity and pronounced fear from insurgents, warlords, and organized criminals. They also reported local governmental authorities were less cooperative in facilitating access to information.
On August 24, the National Security Council approved a new set of guidelines to address cases of violence against journalists. The new initiative entails the creation of a joint national committee in Kabul and separate committees in provincial capitals, a coordination center to investigate and identify perpetrators of violence against journalists, and a support committee to be run by the NDS to identify threats against journalists. The joint committee, to be chaired by the second vice president, was expected to register new cases, call for support from judicial bodies to prosecute perpetrators, and publicly share statistics on cases. Activists welcomed the government’s initiative.
An independent organization focused on the safety of journalists continued to operate a safe house for journalists facing threats. It reported law enforcement officials generally cooperated in assisting journalists who faced credible threats, although limited investigative capacity meant many cases remained unresolved. The Afghan Independent Bar Association established a media law committee to provide legal support, expertise, and services to media organizations.
Women constituted approximately 20 percent of media workers, compared with 30 percent in 2015. Some women oversaw radio stations across the country, and some radio stations emphasized almost exclusively female concerns. Nevertheless, female reporters found it difficult to practice their profession. Poor security, lack of training, and unsafe working conditions limited the participation of women in the media. The AJSC released a special report in March on the situation of female journalists, noting that sexual harassment continued to be wide spread in the media industry. If not subjected to sexual harassment and abuse at work, female journalists often faced pressure by their families to leave the media profession or at least not to show their faces on television.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government reportedly sought to restrict reporting on topics deemed contrary to the government’s messaging.
Some media observers claimed journalists reporting on administrative corruption, land embezzlement, and local officials’ involvement in narcotics trafficking engaged in self-censorship due to fear of violent retribution by provincial police officials and powerful families. Fearing retribution by government officials, media outlets sometimes preferred to quote from foreign media reports on sensitive topics and in some cases fed stories to foreign journalists.
Nai conducted a survey in Kabul and five different provinces that revealed 94 percent of local social media users practiced self-censorship, fearing security threats and intimidation,
Libel Laws: The penal code and the mass media law prescribe jail sentences and fines for defamation. Authorities sometime used defamation as a pretext to suppress criticism of government officials.
National Security: Journalists complained government officials frequently invoked the national interest exception in the Access to Information law to avoid disclosing certain information.
Nongovernmental Impact: Journalists continued to face threats from the Taliban and other insurgents. Some reporters acknowledged they avoided criticizing the insurgency and some neighboring countries in their reporting because they feared Taliban retribution. In February, two Afghan Adib radio workers in Pol-e Khomri in Baghlan Province were brutally attacked, leaving one in a coma. Taliban forces reportedly were behind the attack, although no group claimed responsibility.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported local and foreign reporters continued to be at risk of kidnapping.
The Taliban continued to threaten journalists associated with two privately owned Afghan television outlets, ToloNews TV, and 1TV. The Taliban’s military commission designated both outlets as “military objectives” due to their perceived disrespectful coverage and claims that they broadcast propaganda, ridiculed religion, and injected the minds of youth with immorality. The Taliban for the first time openly threatened ToloNews in 2015, after the news channel reported allegations of executions, rape, kidnappings, and other abuses by the Taliban when Kunduz fell to the antigovernment group. On January 20, a Taliban suicide bomber in Kabul targeted and struck a minibus carrying Kaboora production staff, an affiliate of ToloNews, killing seven. On June 8, unknown gunmen launched a grenade attack on Enikas Radio in Jalalabad, just three days after an American journalist and a translator embedded in a local security forces convoy were killed by an ambush in Helmand Province on June 5.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
Media outlets and activists routinely used social media to discuss political developments, and Facebook was widely used in urban areas. The Taliban used the internet and social media (for example, Twitter) to spread its messages. Internet usage remained relatively low due to high prices, inadequate local content, and illiteracy.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no reports that the government imposed restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events during the year.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The government generally respected citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully. Numerous public gatherings and protests took place during the year. In May a mass demonstration took place in Kabul over the government’s decision on routing of an electricity line from Turkmenistan to Kabul. Although government forces placed shipping containers to provide security and limited the areas in which the demonstration took place, protesters were allowed to march on the streets of Kabul. On July 23, protesters gathered again to protest the same electricity line but were attacked by insurgents with a bomb that killed 80 and injured an additional 250 protesters. After Da’esh claimed responsibility, the Ministry of Interior banned street protests for 10 days.
In September, Tajik supporters assembled to rebury the remains of a former king on a hill important to the Uzbek community in Kabul, leading to a standoff. After an agreement was reached, the reburial took place, although some criticized the government for not handling the issue properly.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The right to freedom of association is provided in the constitution, and the government generally respected it. The 2009 law on political parties obliges them to register with the Ministry of Justice and to pursue objectives consistent with Islam. By law a political party must have 10,000 registered members to register with the ministry.
In 2012 the Council of Ministers approved a regulation requiring political parties to open offices in at least 20 provinces within one year of registration. The regulation provides for removal of parties failing to do so from the Justice Ministry’s official list. In 2015 the ministry conducted a nationwide review of provincial political party offices. It found 10 political parties not in compliance with the regulation and deregistered all 10 of them. There were a total of 57 political parties registered with the ministry.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, which the government generally respected, although it sometimes limited citizens’ movement for security reasons.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, and other persons of concern. Government ability to assist vulnerable persons, including returnees from Pakistan and Iran, remained limited, and it continued to rely on the international community for assistance.
In-country Movement: Taxi, truck, and bus drivers reported security forces or insurgents sometimes operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods from travelers.
The greatest barrier to movement in some parts of the country was the lack of security. In many areas insurgent violence, banditry, land mines, and IEDs made travel extremely dangerous, especially at night.
Armed insurgents operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods. The Taliban imposed nightly curfews on the local populace in regions where it exercised authority, mostly in the southeast.
Social custom limited women’s freedom of movement without male consent or a male chaperone.
Emigration and Repatriation: Refugee returns to the country rose in the last half of the year. As of mid-November UNHCR had assisted the return of more than 370,000 registered refugees (99 percent of whom returned from Pakistan), greatly surpassing the 58,460 returns in 2015. According to UNHCR surveys of returnees at arrival centers, many returnees claimed they left Pakistan due to increased rates of harassment and extortion and because they no longer believed they could stay in their homes safely or find jobs. Other reasons they cited included maintaining family unity with undocumented Afghans following their deportation, enhanced border controls, and uncertainty about legal status. Former refugees constituted more than 20 percent of the total country population, yet the government lacked the capacity to integrate large numbers of new arrivals due to continuing insecurity, limited employment opportunities, poor development, and budgetary constraints.
Undocumented Afghan refugees also returned in large numbers. The International Organization for Migration reported that about 230,000 had returned from Pakistan as of mid-November and projected that approximately 300,000 undocumented Afghans would return by the end of 2016. Approximately 391,000 undocumented Afghans returned from Iran during the same period; most of these returns resulted from deportation by Iranian authorities.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
Internal population movements increased, mainly triggered by increasing armed conflict. The United Nations estimated there were 1.2 million IDPs in the country. According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 486,000 new IDPs fled their homes from January to November. Most IDPs left insecure rural areas and small towns seeking relatively greater safety and government services in larger towns and cities in the same province. All 34 provinces hosted IDP populations.
Limited humanitarian access caused delays in identifying, assessing, and providing timely assistance to IDPs and led to estimates of the total number of IDPs that were significantly larger than official figures. IDPs continued to lack access to basic protection, including personal and physical security and shelter. Many IDPs, especially in households with a female head, faced difficulty obtaining basic services because they did not have identity documents. Many IDPs in urban areas reportedly faced discrimination, lacked adequate sanitation and other basic services, and lived in constant risk of eviction from illegally occupied displacement sites, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. Women in IDP camps reported high levels of domestic violence. Limited opportunities to earn a livelihood following the initial displacement often led to secondary displacement, making tracking of vulnerable persons difficult. Even IDPs who had access to local social services sometimes had less access than their non-IDP neighbors, due to distance from the services or other factors.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: Laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees from other countries. Nonetheless, the government worked closely with the international community to protect and respond to the needs of Pakistani refugees, including an estimated 100,000 refugees who remained in UNHCR camps in Khost and Paktika Provinces after being displaced in 2014 following Pakistani military operations against insurgents across the border.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The law provides for freedom of speech and press, but there were constitutional restrictions. In addition, threats, harassment, violence, and killings led journalists and editors to practice self-censorship.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution provide for the right to free speech and the press, subject to “any reasonable restriction imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam” or the “integrity, security, or defense of Pakistan, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality.” The law permits citizens to criticize the government publicly or privately, but criticism of the military could result in political or commercial reprisal. Blasphemy laws restrict individual rights to free speech concerning matters of religion and religious doctrine. The government restricted some language and symbolic speech based on “hate speech” and “terrorism” provisions.
Press and Media Freedoms: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, and journalists often criticized the civilian portions of the government. The press addressed the persecution of minorities. By law the government may restrict information that might be prejudicial to the national interest. Threats, harassment, and violence against journalists who reported on sensitive issues such as civil-military tensions or abuses by security forces occurred during the year.
There were 434 independent English, Urdu, and regional-language daily and weekly newspapers and magazines. To publish within AJK, media owners had to obtain permission from the Kashmir Council and the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting controlled and managed the country’s primary wire service, the Associated Press of Pakistan, the official carrier of government and international news to the local media. The military had its own media and public relations office, Inter-Services Public Relations. The government-owned Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation and Pakistan Television Corporation broadcast television programs nationwide and operated radio stations throughout the country. The law does not extend to FATA or PATA, and authorities allowed independent radio stations to broadcast there with the permission of the FATA secretariat.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) licensed 89 private domestic and 22 foreign television channels; many of the channels were critical of the government. In July, GEO TV alleged it had been severely restricted in its broadcasting signal in Karachi for political purposes, dramatically cutting its reach in the city. GEO was restored to its previous position following the protests. There were 141 commercial FM radio stations, but their licenses prohibited news programming. Some channels evaded this restriction by discussing news in talk-show formats. International radio broadcasts, including the BBC, were normally available. There was a blockage of transmissions of Indian television news channels through late December.
PEMRA continued to prohibit media from covering the activities of any militant organization banned by the government, reportedly to bring the country into compliance with UN terrorism-related sanctions regimes. The National Action Plan also bans “the glorification of terrorism and terrorist organizations through print and electronic media.” PEMRA enforced this ban throughout the year using fines. PEMRA issued editorial directives to television stations during the year and authorized its chairman to shut down any channel found in violation of the PEMRA code of conduct, primarily with regard to prohibiting telecasts of protests that might instigate sectarian violence. This included protests against the execution of Mumtaz Qadri (convicted for the murder of Punjab governor Salman Taseer over his opposition to the blasphemy law), and the Saudi government’s execution of a prominent Shia cleric. PEMRA also banned television and radio outlets from broadcasting any Indian media content.
Violence and Harassment: Security forces, political parties, militants, and other groups subjected media outlets, journalists, and their families to violence and harassment. Female journalists in particular faced threats of sexual violence and harassment, including via social media. Security forces abducted journalists. Media outlets that did not practice self-censorship were often the targets of retribution. Additionally, journalists working in remote and conflict-ridden areas lacked basic digital security as well as traditional security skills, which placed additional pressure on them to self-censor or not cover a story at all.
According to the International Federation of Journalists, state and nonstate actors killed, physically attacked, harassed, intimidated and kidnapped journalists and subjected them to other forms of pressure. The Committee to Protect Journalists included the country in its annual “impunity index” because the government allowed deadly violence against members of the press to go unpunished.
In January media reported that an unidentified individual threw a grenade at offices of the private news television station ARY in Islamabad. The attack injured one person, and Da’esh claimed credit for the attack.
In March a district court in KP sentenced the killer of a journalist from the newspaper Karak Times murdered in 2013 to life imprisonment and a fine of $47,600. There had been only three other convictions for the murder of journalists, according to the Pakistan Press Foundation.
Censorship or Content Restriction: Small, privately owned wire services and media organizations generally reported that they engaged in self-censorship, especially in reporting news about the military forces. Journalists reported regular denial of official permission to visit conflict areas or having to be escorted either by members of the military or by militants in order to report on conditions in conflict areas. The result was pressure to produce final articles that were slanted toward the military or militant viewpoint, depending upon the escort. Other reporting tended to be relatively objective and only focused on events, rather than deeper analysis, which journalists generally regarded as risky. Observers perceived foreign journalists to have more autonomy to write about issues and to be under less scrutiny by the government. Private cable and satellite channels also reported that they censored themselves at times. Blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws restricted publication on certain topics. Foreign books needed to pass government censors before they could be reprinted, but there were no reports of books being banned during the year. Books and magazines could be imported freely but were subject to censorship for objectionable sexual or religious content. Obscene literature, a category the government defined broadly, was subject to seizure.
The government fined private television channels for alleged violations of the “code of ethics” and for showing banned content on-screen. Final fines depended on legal proceedings and decisions, but initial fines were between $1,000 and $10,000 per violation. The NGO Intermedia reported that state-run Pakistan Television did not operate under the purview of the law and benefitted from a monopoly on broadcast license fees. According to Freedom House, authorities used PEMRA rules to silence the broadcast media by either suspending licenses or threatening to do so. Some civil society leaders reported that military authorities frequently pressured journalists to modify the content of articles and opinion pieces critical of military actions.
Libel/Slander Laws: Ministers and members of the National Assembly used libel and slander laws in the past to counter public discussion of their actions.
National Security: Some journalists said authorities cited laws protecting national security to censor and restrict media distribution of material that criticized government policies or public officials. The 2015 Electronic Media (Programs and Advertisements) code of conduct included a clause that restricted reporting in any area that was part of a military operation in progress.
Nongovernmental Impact: Throughout the country militants and criminal elements killed, kidnapped, beat, and intimidated journalists and their families, leading many to censor their reporting. Militant and local tribal groups killed, detained, threatened, expelled, or otherwise obstructed a number of reporters who covered the conflict in FATA, KP, and Balochistan.
Since 2012 the government implemented a systematic, nationwide content-monitoring and filtering system to restrict or block “unacceptable” content, including material that is deemed un-Islamic, pornographic, or critical of the state or military forces. According to Freedom House, the government justified such restrictions as necessary for security purposes. There also were reports the government attempted to control or block some websites, including sites the government deemed extremist and proindependence Baloch sites. There was decreasing transparency and accountability surrounding content monitoring, and the government often used vague criteria without due process. In its Freedom in the World Report for 2016, Freedom House claimed the government blocked more than 400,000 websites due to content. The provincial government in Balochistan blocked access to a Baloch human rights blog run by journalists. The government blocked several Baloch websites, including the English-language website The Baloch Hal and the website of Daily Tawar, a Balochistan-based newspaper.
In September the government signed into law the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, which many critics said contained overly broad and vague definitions of what constituted online speech deemed suitable for removal and/or criminal charges. Digital rights activists expressed serious concerns about the law’s potential to curb freedom of expression, particularly on social media. The law states that the government will establish special tribunals for cybercrimes, but it remained unclear how the courts would enforce and interpret the bill.
Additionally, the Electronic Transaction Act and other laws cite a number of offenses involving the misuse of electronic media and systems and the use of such data in other crimes. The act also stipulates that cyberterrorism resulting in a death is punishable by the death penalty or life imprisonment.
The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) is responsible for the establishment, operation, and maintenance of telecommunications and has complete control of all content broadcast over telecommunication channels. Despite a 2011 PTA ban on using virtual private networks (VPNs) and voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP), at year’s end VPNs and VOIP were both accessible. Many smartphones had built in VPNs. According to Freedom House, two of the best-known services, Spotflux and HotSpot VPN, became inaccessible in January 2014. Spotflux said the government actively blocked its services. The government later restored both.
The government reached an agreement with Google in January to lift its YouTube ban, which had been in place since 2012 after Google declined to remove a controversial video the government considered blasphemous. As part of the agreement, Google set up a localized version of the site, YouTube.pk, which does not include the video.
NGO and internet-freedom observers continued to report that government surveillance online was a concern and that there were indications of the use of surveillance software.
Although internet access and usage was limited, mobile broadband access continued to grow rapidly, reaching 34.3 million subscribers in September. Fixed broadband connections remained very low, at approximately three million subscribers in a population of approximately 199 million.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government generally did not restrict academic freedom but screened and censored cultural events. At some universities, however, members of student organizations, often with ties to political parties, fostered an atmosphere of intolerance or undue influence that limited the academic freedom of fellow students.
In addition to public schools, there was a large network of madrassahs (private schools run by Muslim clerics) under the supervision of five major governing bodies. These schools varied in their curriculum, with a focus on Islamic texts.
There was government interference with art exhibitions or other musical or cultural activities. The Ministry of Culture operated the Central Board of Film Censors, which previewed and censored sexual content and any content that glorified Indian heroes, leaders, or military figures in foreign and domestic films. In October it banned all Indian content from broadcast in retaliation for a ban on Pakistani artists working on films in India. This ban was lifted on December 17.
The constitution and laws provide for the freedoms of assembly and freedom of association, but these freedoms were subject to restrictions.
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
By law district authorities may prevent gatherings of more than four persons without police authorization. The law permits the government to ban all rallies and processions, except funeral processions, for security reasons.
Authorities generally prohibited Ahmadis, a religious minority, from holding conferences or gatherings. In December, Punjab provincial police raided the publications department at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community headquarters in Rabwah and arrested four workers for publishing religious material deemed offensive. According to Ahmadi representatives, the “unprecedented” raid was indicative of worsening conditions for the community in Pakistan.
Several protests, strikes, and demonstrations, both peaceful and violent, took place throughout the country. The government generally prevented political and civil society groups of any affiliation from holding demonstrations in Islamabad, citing security restrictions that limit all public rallies and gatherings in the red-zone section of the city, a secured area where the diplomatic enclave and government buildings are located.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for freedom of association subject to certain restrictions imposed by law. The government adopted a series of policies that steadily eroded the freedom of international NGOs (INGOs) to access the communities that they serve. For many project activities, INGOs must request government permission in the form of so-called no-objection certificates (NOCs). INGOs, UN organizations, and international missions have long been required to obtain NOCs before they can conduct most in-country travel or initiate new projects.
In October 2015 the government required that INGOs reregister, a process entailing extensive document requirements, multiple levels of review, and repeated investigations by security and other government offices. As of December more than 60 percent of INGOs that applied for registration under the new system were awaiting a registration decision; none had been rejected. In the meantime the unregistered INGOs ostensibly could not accept new foreign funding or initiate new projects. The government continued to restrict the operating space for the INGOs registered under the new process, delaying or denying visas for some foreign staff or NOCs for official travel.
The government, at both the federal and/or provincial level, similarly restricted the access of local NGOs through NOCs and other requirements. Authorities required NGOs to obtain NOCs before accepting foreign funding, booking hotel or university spaces for events, or working on sensitive human rights issues. Even domestic NGOs with all required NOCs faced government harassment.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement and for uninhibited foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government limited these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Pakistan is host to more than 1.3 million Afghan refugees. The government provided temporary legal status to Afghans formally registered and holding Proof of Registration (PoR) cards. In July, the government extended the validity of PoR cards until December 31, and in September, extended the cards an additional three months until March 31, 2017. There were reports, however, of harassment and extortion of Afghan refugees by provincial authorities, police, and host communities. According to UNHCR reports, from January to August, there were 4,150 arrests and detentions, compared with 3,595 for all of 2015. Of those arrested, 99 percent were released, 70 percent without any charges, often following the intervention of UNHCR or its implementing partners. Arrests spiked in August, largely due to security operations and arbitrary actions by the Frontier Corps apprehending Afghans at various checkpoints in Balochistan. There were firsthand accounts of members of the intelligence services harassing refugees. Refugees faced discrimination from local communities. Provincial officials in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and nationwide cited the presence of Afghan “refugees”–without differentiating between proof of registration (PoR) cardholders, migrants, and temporary visitors–as the cause for deteriorating law and order in major cities. In June the government released press statements that labeled refugee camps safe havens for terrorists and urged the early return of Afghan refugees to their homeland.
In-country Movement: Government restrictions on access to certain areas of FATA, KP, and Balochistan, often due to security concerns, hindered freedom of movement of persons. The government required an approved NOC for travel to areas of the country it designated as “sensitive.”
Foreign Travel: The law prohibits travel to Israel, and the country’s passports include a statement that they are “valid for all countries except Israel.” Passport applicants must list their religious affiliation and, if Muslims, affirm a declaration that the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement was a false prophet. Ahmadi representatives reported the word “Ahmadi” was written on their passports if they refused to sign the declaration. Government employees and students must obtain NOCs from the government before traveling abroad. Authorities rarely enforced this requirement for students.
The government prohibited persons on the Exit Control List from departing the country. The stated purpose of the list was to prevent departure from the country of “persons involved in antistate activities, terrorism, or related to proscribed organizations and those placed on the orders of superior courts.” Those on the list had the right to appeal to the courts to have their names removed.
Emigration and Repatriation: During the year the government refused the return of immigrants deported from Europe. One European mission reported several deportees were refused entry as unidentifiable Pakistani citizens despite having passports issued by Pakistani embassies abroad. Some NGOs commented the government increased restrictions on the issuance of identity and proof of nationality documents, such as passports, from its missions abroad.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS
Large population displacements continued as a result of militant activity and military operations in FATA. . The government and UN agencies such as UNHCR and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) collaborated to assist and protect those affected by conflict. Once evacuated, internally displaced persons (IDPs) received immunizations, with many of the children receiving them for the first time in five years. The state and relief organizations placed special emphasis on polio, as many IDP children had been vulnerable to the disease due to the Taliban-imposed ban on immunizations in their home regions. In some areas an estimated 50 percent of the IDP population had been displaced five years or longer, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. Those displaced by conflict generally resided with host families, in rented accommodations, or to a lesser extent, in camps. Several IDP populations settled in informal settlements outside of major cities such as Lahore and Karachi.
The return of IDPs displaced by Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan Agency, Operations Khyber I, II, and III in Khyber Agency, and other military activities continued, with 114,511 families returning to FATA and 76,507 families still displaced, according to the UN Office of the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Since 2015, 75 percent of the total IDP population had returned to FATA. OCHA reported that 89 percent of IDPs had returned to Khyber Agency with 9,524 families still displaced; 72 percent had returned to North Waziristan Agency with 29,360 families still displaced; 64 percent had returned to South Waziristan Agency with 23,879 families still displaced; 77 percent had returned to Khurram Agency with 5,457 families still displaced; and 66 percent had returned to Orakzai Agency with 7,965 families still displaced. The average family size in FATA was six. Approximately 16 percent of all returns were female-headed households.
The government required humanitarian organizations assisting civilians displaced by military operations to request NOCs to access all agencies in FATA. According to humanitarian agencies and NGOs, the NOC application process was cumbersome. The government maintained IDP camps inside and near the FATA agencies where military operations took place, despite access and security concerns raised by humanitarian agencies. Humanitarian agency workers providing assistance in the camps were exposed to danger when travelling to and within FATA. UN agencies maintained access to the camps and the affected areas mainly through local NGOs.
There were no reports of involuntary returns. Many IDPs reportedly wanted to return home, despite the lack of local infrastructure, housing, and available service delivery, and the strict control that security forces maintained over returnees’ movements via extensive checkpoints. Other IDP families delayed their return or chose some family members to remain in the settled areas of KP where regular access to health care, education, and other social services were available. For IDPs who were unwilling or unable to return, the government coordinated support with UNHCR and other international organizations. The World Food Program distributed food rations to IDPs displaced by conflict and continued to provide rations for extendable periods of six to nine months to IDPs who returned to their areas of origin.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status. The country lacks a legal and regulatory framework for the management of refugees and migration. The law does not exclude asylum seekers and refugees from provisions regarding illegal entry and stay. In the absence of a national refugee legal framework, UNHCR conducted refugee status determination under its mandate, and the country generally accepted UNHCR decisions to grant refugee status and allowed asylum seekers (who were still undergoing the procedure) as well as recognized refugees to remain in the country pending identification of a durable solution.
Refoulement: In general the government did not forcibly return PoR cardholders, refugees, or asylum seekers to countries where their lives or freedom may be threatened. In August, five PoR cardholders were deported to Afghanistan but were able to return to Pakistan the following day.
Beginning in July there was a sharp increase in UNHCR-assisted returns of PoR cardholders to Afghanistan. In 2015, 58,460 PoR cardholders returned to Afghanistan; between January and June 2016, approximately 8,000 had returned. The returns increased in July, and by early September more than 229,000 Afghan PoR cardholders had returned to Afghanistan. In its emergency funding request, OCHA stated, “The spike in returns is motivated by different factors, including an apparent drastic deterioration of the protection/political space in Pakistan with increasing incidents of detention, forced evictions, police raids, and harassment.” Additional factors reported by UNHCR included stricter border management, calls by the Afghan government for refugees to return, harassment and extortion by local authorities and host communities, and the increase of UNHCR’s repatriation grant from $200 to $400 per person.
For most of the year, two voluntary repatriation centers operated in Quetta and Peshawar; a third center was opened in Peshawar in September to process the increase in repatriations.
Employment: There is no formal document allowing refugees to work legally, but there is no law prohibiting refugees from working in the country. Many refugees worked as day laborers or in informal markets, and local employers often exploited refugees in the informal labor market with low or unpaid wages. Women and children were particularly vulnerable, accepting underpaid and undesirable work.
Access to Basic Services: One-third of registered Afghans lived in one of 54 refugee villages, while the remaining two-thirds lived in host communities in rural and urban areas and sought to access basic services in those communities. Afghan refugees could avail themselves of the services of police and courts, but some, particularly the poor, were afraid to do so. There were no reports of refugees denied access to a health facility because of their nationality.
The constitution stipulates free and compulsory education for all children between ages five and 16 years regardless of their nationality. Any refugee registered with both UNHCR and the government-run “Commissionerate” of Afghan Refugees was, in theory, admitted to public education facilities after filing the proper paperwork. In practice access to schools was on a space-available basis as determined by the principal, and most registered Afghans attended private Afghan schools or schools sponsored by the international community. For older students, particularly females in refugee villages, access to education remained difficult. Afghans who grew up in Pakistan needed student visas to attend universities, but they qualified for student visas based on their PoR cards. Afghan students were eligible to seek admission to Pakistani public and private colleges and universities. In public statements, including at the Leadership Summit on Refugees on September 20, the government reaffirmed the right of all children, regardless of status, to public primary education.
Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees for resettlement from other countries and did not facilitate local integration. The government does not accord Afghan refugees Pakistani citizenship.
Statelessness continued to be a problem. There is no national legislation on statelessness, and the government does not recognize the existence of stateless persons. International and national agencies estimated there were possibly thousands of stateless persons as a result of the 1947 and 1971 partitions of India and Pakistan, and of Pakistan and Bangladesh, respectively.