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Afghanistan

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

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were numerous reports that government officials, security forces, detention center authorities, and police committed abuses.

NGOs reported security forces continued to use excessive force, including torturing and beating civilians. On April 17, the government approved the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, building on the prior year’s progress in passing the Antitorture Law. Independent monitors, however, continued to report credible cases of torture in detention centers.

UNAMA, in its April 2017 Report on the Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees, stated that of the 469 National Directorate for Security (NDS), ANP, and Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) detainees interviewed, 39 percent reported torture or other abuse. Types of abuse included severe beatings, electric shocks, prolonged suspension by the arms, suffocation, wrenching of testicles, burns by cigarette lighters, sleep deprivation, sexual assault, and threats of execution.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) stated in its June report on the use of torture in detention centers that of the 621 detainees they interviewed, 79 persons, or 12 percent, reported being tortured, for the purpose of both eliciting confessions as well as punishment. The AIHRC reported that of these 79 cases, the ANP perpetrated 62 cases, with the balance by the NDS and ANDSF.

In November 2016, first vice president General Abdul Rashid Dostum allegedly kidnapped Uzbek tribal elder and political rival Ahmad Ishchi. Before detaining Ishchi, Dostum let his bodyguards brutally beat him. After several days in detention, Ishchi alleged he was beaten, tortured, and raped by Dostum and his men. Dostum returned in July and resumed his duties as first vice president after more than a year in Turkey. As of August there was no progress on the case brought by Ishchi.

There were numerous reports of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment by the Taliban, ISIS-K, and other antigovernment groups. The AIHRC and other organizations reported summary convictions by Taliban courts that resulted in executions by stoning or beheading. According to media reports, Taliban in Kohistan District, Sar-e Pul Province, stoned a man to death in February on suspicion of zina (extramarital sex). There were other reports of ISIS-K atrocities, including the beheading of a 12-year-old child in Darzab District, Jowzjan Province, in April, the beheading of three medical workers in Chaparhar District, Nangarhar Province, in April, and stoning of a man in Nangarhar in February.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were difficult due to overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and limited access to medical services. The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers (GDPDC), part of the Ministry of Interior, has responsibility for all civilian-run prisons (for both men and women) and civilian detention centers, including the large national prison complex at Pul-e Charkhi. The Ministry of Justice’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Directorate is responsible for all juvenile rehabilitation centers. The NDS operates short-term detention facilities at the provincial and district levels, usually collocated with their headquarters facilities. The Ministry of Defense runs the Afghan National Detention Facilities at Parwan. There were credible reports of private prisons run by members of the ANDSF and used for abuse of detainees. The Taliban also maintain illegal detention facilities throughout the country. The ANDSF discovered and liberated several Taliban detention facilities during the year and reported that prisoners included children and Afghans accused of moral crimes or association with the government.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in prisons continued to be a serious, widespread problem. Based on standards recommended by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), 28 of 34 provincial prisons for men were severely overcrowded. The country’s largest prison, Pul-e Charkhi, held 13,118 prisoners, detainees, and children of incarcerated mothers as of October, 55 percent more than it was designed to hold. In August more than 500 prisoners at Pul-e Charkhi participated in a one-week hunger strike to protest prison conditions, particularly for elderly and ill inmates, and the administration of their cases.

Authorities generally lacked the facilities to separate pretrial and convicted inmates or to separate juveniles according to the seriousness of the charges against them. Local prisons and detention centers did not always have separate facilities for female prisoners.

According to NGOs and media reports, children younger than age 15 were imprisoned with their mothers, due in part to a lack of capacity among Children’s Support Centers. These reports documented insufficient educational and medical facilities for these minors.

Access to food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care in prisons varied throughout the country and was generally inadequate. The GDPDC’s nationwide program to feed prisoners faced a severely limited budget, and many prisoners relied on family members to provide food supplements and other necessary items. In November 2017 the local NGO Integrity Watch Afghanistan reported that Wardak Prison had no guaranteed source of clean drinking water and that prisoners in Pul-e Charkhi, Baghlan, and Wardak had limited access to food, with prisoners’ families also providing food to make up the gap.

Administration: The law provides prisoners with the right to leave prison for up to 20 days for family visits. Most prisons did not implement this provision, and the law is unclear in its application to different classes of prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: The AIHRC, UNAMA, and the ICRC monitored the NDS, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Defense detention facilities. NATO Mission Resolute Support monitored the NDS, ANP, and Defense Ministry facilities. Security constraints and obstruction by authorities occasionally prevented visits to some places of detention. UNAMA and the AIHRC reported difficulty accessing NDS places of detention when they arrived unannounced. The AIHRC reported NDS officials usually required the AIHRC to submit a formal letter requesting access at least one to two days in advance of a visit. NDS officials continued to prohibit AIHRC and UNAMA monitors from bringing cameras, mobile phones, recording devices, or computers into NDS facilities, thereby preventing AIHRC monitors from properly documenting physical evidence of abuse, such as bruises, scars, and other injuries. The NDS assigned a colonel to monitor human rights conditions in its facilities.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes restricted this right.

Freedom of Expression: The law provides for freedom of speech, and the country has a free press. There were reports authorities at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Criticism of the central government was regular and generally free from restrictions, but criticism of provincial governments was more constrained, where local officials and power brokers exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists. On April 30, a suicide bomber, wearing a media credentials badge and mixed in with reporters covering an earlier attack, killed nine reporters and photographers in Kabul. The bombing compounded a pattern of intimidation, harassment, beatings, shootings, and killings of journalists, by insurgent groups.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The Access to Information Law was amended during the year and received high ratings Transparency International. Implementation remained inconsistent and media reports consistent failure by the government to meet the requirements of the law. Government officials often restricted media access to government information or simply ignored requests. UNAMA, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders report that the government has not fully implemented the Access to Information Law and journalists often do not receive access to information they seek. The head of Tolo News, reported that attacks, which killed journalists, had led to increased government restrictions, less access, and less support.

Journalists reported facing threats of violence from the internal conflict. Politicians, security officials, and others in positions of power at times threatened or harassed journalists because of their coverage. Human Rights Watch reported dozens of cases of violence against journalists by security forces, members of parliament, and other officials that the government failed to prosecute. According to news reports, NDS forces forcibly prevented four journalists from 1TV and Tamadon from investigating the bombing of a mosque in Herat on March 25.

Freedom of speech and an independent media were more constrained at the provincial level than in the capital, Kabul. Political and ethnic groups, including those led by former mujahedin leaders, financed many provincial media outlets and used their financial support to control the content. Some provinces had limited media presence altogether.

Print and online media continued to publish independent magazines, newsletters, newspapers, and websites. A wide range of editorials and dailies openly criticized the government. Still, there were concerns that violence and instability threatened journalists’ safety. Due to high levels of illiteracy, most citizens preferred broadcast to print or online media. A greater percentage of the population, including those in distant provinces, had access to radio.

Violence and Harassment: Government officials and private citizens used threats of violence to intimidate independent and opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out against impunity, crimes, and corruption by powerful local figures. According to media reports, NDS forces beat several journalists covering a suicide bombing in Kabul on July 26 and intentionally destroyed their equipment in an effort to impede their reporting. Following the release of news reports detailing corruption involving a high-ranking government official, one media outlet reported threats against the journalist by the official’s security guards.

The Afghan Journalist Safety Committee (AJSC) reported 11 journalists killed in the first six months of the year. During the same period, the AJSC recorded 89 cases of violence against journalists, which included killing, beating, inflicting injury and humiliation, intimidation, and detention of journalists–a 22 percent increase from the first six months of 2017. Government-affiliated individuals or security forces were responsible for 36 instances of violence, approximately the same number as in 2017 when 34 cases were attributed to them. Instances of violence attributed to the Taliban and ISIS-K rose sharply by 70 percent over the same period in 2017–from 22 cases to 37 cases.

The Taliban continued to attack media organizations, including during their military offensive on Ghazni Province in August, when they reportedly burned a local radio station.

Increased levels of insecurity created a dangerous environment for journalists, even when they were not the specific targets of violence. Media organizations and journalists operating in remote areas were more vulnerable to threats, intimidation, and violence from insurgents, warlords, and organized criminals. During the year several journalists reported attacks by unknown gunmen connected, they claimed, to their coverage of powerful individuals. They also reported local governmental authorities were less cooperative in facilitating access to information.

In August 2016 the Office of the National Security Council approved a new set of guidelines to address cases of violence against journalists, but these guidelines have not been fully implemented. The initiative created 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 run by the NDS to identify threats against journalists. Press freedom organizations reported that, although the committee met and referred cases to the Attorney General’s Office, it did not increase protection for journalists. In response to recent attacks on journalists, President Ghani announced the expansion of the Journalists Support Fund in October to assist family members of journalists killed in the line of duty.

Media advocacy groups reported that many female journalists worked under pseudonyms in both print and social media to avoid recognition, harassment, and retaliation. According to one group, there were no female journalists in nine provinces: Helmand, Nuristan, Uruzgan, Paktiya, Paktika, Zabul, Logar, Sar-e Pul, and Laghman.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: 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. Journalists and NGOs reported that although the amended 2018 Access to Information Law provided an excellent regulatory framework, enforcement remained inconsistent and that noncompliant officials were rarely held accountable. A Kabul Press Club survey showed more than half of journalists were dissatisfied with the level of access to government information. An NGO supporting media freedom surveyed government offices and found that one-third did not have dedicated offices for providing information to the public.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code and the mass media law prescribe jail sentences and fines for defamation. Authorities sometimes 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 information.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some reporters acknowledged they avoided criticizing the insurgency and some neighboring countries in their reporting because they feared Taliban retribution. Insurgent groups coerced media agencies in insecure areas to prevent them from broadcasting or publishing advertisements and announcements of the security forces, entertainment programming, music, and women’s voices.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 11.4 percent of the population had internet access, mostly in urban areas, in 2017.

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 to spread its messages. Internet usage remained relatively low due to high prices, a lack of local content, and illiteracy.

There were many reports during the year of Taliban attempts to restrict access to information, often by destroying or shutting down telecommunications antennae and other equipment.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government generally respected citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully. Numerous public gatherings and protests took place during the year. The Helmand Peace March Initiative–the “peace tent” protest that launched in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah on March 26 following a deadly car bombing–inspired antiwar demonstrations in at least 16 other provinces, which were largely peaceful.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right to freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. The 2009 law on political parties obliges political parties to register with the Ministry of Justice and to pursue objectives consistent with Islam. 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. In 2017 President Ghani signed a decree prohibiting employees and officials of security and judicial institutions, specifically the Supreme Court, Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, and National Directorate of Security, from political party membership while government employees. Noncompliant employees could be fired.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, and other persons of concern. The government’s 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: The government generally did not restrict the right to freedom of movement within the borders of the country. Taxi, truck, and bus drivers reported security forces and 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. Social custom limited women’s freedom of movement without male consent or a male chaperone.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Internal population movements increased during the year because of armed conflict and an historic drought. Nearly 470,000 individuals were internally displaced from January 1 to September 9. The 250,000 displacements caused by severe drought surpassed by approximately 30,000 the number of those displaced by conflict during the year. Most IDPs left insecure rural areas and small towns to seek relatively greater safety and government services in larger towns and cities in the same province. All 34 provinces hosted IDP populations.

Limited humanitarian access because of the deteriorating security situation caused delays in identifying, assessing, and providing timely assistance to IDPs, who 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: The country is a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, which guarantee protection of refugees, including nonrefoulement. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees registers, and mitigates protection risks of, approximately 500 refugees in urban areas throughout the country. Although the government has not adopted a draft national refugee law and asylum framework, it allows refugees and asylum-seekers access to education and health care.

Durable Solutions: The government did not officially accept refugees for resettlement, offer naturalization to refugees residing on its territory, or assist in their voluntary return to their homes. Registered refugee returns from Pakistan and Iran slowed to historically low levels during the year, with just 12,052 returns as of September 8, 75 percent less than the same period in 2017 when 48,055 Afghan refugees returned. The International Organization for Migration reported a significant increase in unregistered returnees during the year, with 545,708 in total as of September 8, due in large part to drought and the decline in value of the Iranian rial.

On June 16, the government announced its decision to join the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework as a country of origin. Through its Displacement and Returnees Executive Committee, the government continued to develop policies to promote the inclusion of returnees and IDPs in national programs and to ensure dignified, voluntary repatriations and reintegration.

STATELESS PERSONS

NGOs noted the lack of official birth registration for refugee children as a significant challenge and protection concern, due to the risk of statelessness and potential long-term disadvantage.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The EVAW law, as amended during the year by a presidential decree, criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women, including rape; battery or beating; forced marriage; humiliation; intimidation; and deprivation of inheritance. The new Penal Code criminalizes rape of both women and men. The law provides for a minimum sentence of five to 16 years’ imprisonment for rape, or up to 20 years if one or more aggravating circumstances is present. If the act results in the death of the victim, the law provides for a death sentence for the perpetrator. The new Penal Code also explicitly criminalizes statutory rape and, for the first time, prohibits the prosecution of rape victims for zina (sex outside of marriage). The law provides for imprisonment of up to seven years for aggression to the chastity or honor of a female “[that] does not lead to penetration to anus or vagina”. Under the law rape does not include spousal rape. Authorities did not always fully enforce these laws.

Prosecutors and judges in remote provinces were frequently unaware of the EVAW law or received pressure to release defendants due to familial loyalties, threat of harm, or bribes, or because some religious leaders declared the law un-Islamic. Female victims faced stringent societal reprisal, ranging from imprisonment to extrajudicial killing. In September police in Faryab Province arrested a woman who appeared in an online sex video with a self-proclaimed mullah on charges of zina. The mullah, who remains at large, was suspected of sexual exploitation and rape of several women who came to him for help. Interpretations of sharia also impeded successful prosecution of rape cases.

The new Penal Code criminalizes forced virginity testing under Article 640 except when conducted pursuant to a court order or with the consent of the individual. Awareness and enforcement of this change remained limited. In July the Ministry of Public Health issued a policy prohibiting health clinics and hospitals from performing virginity tests. There were reports police, prosecutors, and judges continued to order virginity tests in cases of “moral crimes” such as zina. Women who sought assistance in cases of rape were often subject to virginity tests.

The penal code criminalizes assault, and courts convicted domestic abusers under this provision, as well as under the “injury and disability” and beating provisions in the EVAW law. According to NGO reports, millions of women continued to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, in-laws, armed individuals, parallel legal systems, and institutions of state, such as the police and justice systems.

Due to cultural normalization and a view of domestic violence as a family matter, domestic violence often remained unreported. The justice system’s response to domestic violence was insufficient, in part due to underreporting, preference toward mediation, sympathy toward perpetrators, corruption, and family or tribal pressure. There were EVAW prosecution units in all 34 provinces, and EVAW court divisions operated at the primary and appellate levels in at least 16 provinces. In August Taliban members shot and killed a woman in Jawzjan Province. According to the governor’s spokesman, the woman had fled some months earlier to a safe house in Sheberghan city due to domestic violence. She returned home after local mediation but was later shot by Taliban members.

Space at the 28 women’s protection centers across the country was sometimes insufficient, particularly in major urban centers, and shelters remained concentrated in the western, northern, and central regions of the country. Some women did not seek legal assistance for domestic or sexual abuse because they did not know their rights or because they feared prosecution or being sent back to their family or the perpetrator.

At times women in need of protection ended up in prison, either because their community lacked a protection center or because the local interpretation of “running away” as a moral crime. Adultery, fornication, and kidnapping are criminal offenses. Running away is not a crime under the law, and both the Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s Office have issued directives to this effect, but some local authorities continued to detain women and girls for running away from home or “attempted zina”. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as nongovernmental entities, sometimes arranged marriages for women who could not return to their families.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law criminalizes forced, underage, and baad marriages (the practice of settling disputes in which the culprit’s family trades a girl to the victim’s family) and interference with a woman’s right to choose her spouse. NGOs report instances of baad still practiced, often in more remote provinces. The practice of exchanging brides between families has not been criminalized and remained widespread. In July a man killed a nine-year-old who had been sold to him as a bride for 972,000 Afghanis ($13,500) by her family.

Honor killings continued throughout the year. In April a man stabbed his sister to death in an apparent honor killing in Andkhoy District, Faryab Province, after bringing a knife into a building where she was under protection. In a May report on Mediation of Criminal Offenses of Violence against Women, UNAMA reported documenting 280 instances of murder and honor killing between January 2016 and December 2017 with only 18 percent of these resulting in conviction and imprisonment. The report found that despite the EVAW law, government institutions often pressured victims to resolve their cases through mediation for serious offenses, which the EVAW law prohibits, resulting in impunity for perpetrators.

Sexual Harassment: The 2017 Antiharassment Law went into effect in January and criminalizes all forms of harassment of women and children, including physical, verbal, psychological, and sexual. Under this law all government ministries are required to establish a committee to review internal harassment complaints and support appropriate resolution of these claims. Implementation and enforcement of the law remained limited and ineffective. The AIHRC reported that more than 85 percent of women and children faced various forms of harassment. Women who walked outside alone or who worked outside the home often experienced harassment, including groping, catcalling, and being followed. Women with public roles occasionally received threats directed at them or their families.

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

Discrimination: Women who reported cases of abuse or who sought legal redress for other matters reported they experienced discrimination within the judicial system. Some observers, including female judges, asserted that discrimination was a result of faulty implementation of law. Limited access to money and other resources to pay fines (or bribes) and the social requirement for women to have a male guardian affected women’s access to and participation in the justice system.

Prosecutors and judges in some provinces continued to be reluctant to use the EVAW law, and judges would sometimes replace those charges with others based on the penal code.

The law provides for equal work without discrimination, but there are no provisions for equal pay for equal work. The law criminalizes interference with a woman’s right to work. Women faced discrimination in access to employment and terms of occupation. Overall, 22 percent of civil servants and 5 percent of security forces were women, including 3,000 female police and 1,400 female soldiers.

Children

Birth Registration: A citizen father transmits citizenship to his child. Birth in the country or to a citizen mother alone does not transfer citizenship. Adoption is not legally recognized.

Education: Education is mandatory up to the lower secondary level (six years for primary school and three years for lower secondary), and the law provides for free education up to and including the college level. UNICEF reported that 3.7 million children were not in school due to discrimination, poverty, lack of access, and continuing conflict, among other reasons. UNAMA also noted that armed groups tried to restrict girls’ access to education. In February threats forced the closure of girls’ schools in several villages in Farah Province, temporarily denying education to more than 3,500 girls. When the schools reopened 10 days later, the vast majority of the girls were initially afraid to return.

Key obstacles to girls’ education included poverty, early and forced marriage, insecurity, a lack of family support, lack of female teachers, and a lack of nearby schools. An October 2017 Human Rights Watch report observed that the government provided fewer schools for girls than boys and that the lack of basic provisions in many schools for security, privacy, and hygiene, including boundary walls, toilets, and water, also disproportionately affected girls.

Violent attacks on schoolchildren, particularly girls, also hindered access to education, particularly in areas controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban and other extremists threatened and attacked school officials, teachers, and students, particularly girls, and burned both boys’ and girls’ schools. There were press reports of sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers and school officials, particularly against boys. The government claimed families rarely pressed charges due to shame and doubt that the judicial system would respond. There were reports that both insurgent groups and government forces used school buildings for military purposes.

Child Abuse: The revised Penal Code criminalizes child abuse and neglect. The penalty for beating, or physically or mentally disciplining or mistreating a child, ranges from a cash fine of 10,000 Afghanis (approximately $130) to one-year in prison as long as the child does not sustain a serious injury or disability. Endangering the life of a child carries a penalty of one to two years in prison or a cash fine of 60,000 to 120,000 Afghanis (approximately $800 to $1,600).

Police reportedly beat and sexually abused children. Children who sought police assistance for abuse also reported being further harassed and abused by law enforcement officials, particularly in bacha bazi (sexual entertainment) cases, deterring victims from reporting their claims. NGOs reported a predominantly punitive and retributive approach to juvenile justice throughout the country. Although it is against the law, corporal punishment in schools, rehabilitation centers, and other public institutions remained common.

There were reports some members of the security forces and progovernment groups sexually abused and exploited young girls and boys. During the first six months of the year, UNAMA documented credible reports of five cases of sexual abuse involving six boys, attributed to the Afghan National Police, and Afghan Local Police. In June 2017 in Daikundi Province, an ANDSF commander sexually abused a teenager, who later committed suicide. There were multiple reports of bacha bazi, a practice in which men exploit boys for social and sexual entertainment. According to media and NGO reports, many of these cases went unreported or were referred to traditional mediation, which often allowed perpetrators to reoffend.

The government took steps to discourage the abuse of boys and to prosecute or punish those involved. The new Penal Code criminalizes bacha bazi as a separate crime, and builds on the 2017 Law to Combat Crimes of Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling in Migrants (TIP Law), which includes provisions criminalizing behaviors associated with the sexual exploitation of children. Despite the inclusion of bacha bazi in the Penal Code, as of August there were no convictions under the law.

Early and Forced Marriage: Despite a law setting the legal minimum age for marriage at 16 for girls (15 with the consent of a parent or guardian or the court) and 18 for boys, international and local observers continued to report widespread early and forced marriages throughout the country. Under the EVAW law, those who enter into or arrange forced or underage marriages are subject to imprisonment for not less than two years, but implementation of the law was limited. According to a July report, Child Marriage in Afghanistan, by UNICEF and the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled, 34 percent of women and 7 percent of men ages 20 to 24 had been married before the age of 18. In 2017 the government launched a five-year National Action Plan to Eliminate Early and Child Marriage.

By law a marriage contract requires verification that the bride is 16 years of age (or 15 with the permission of her parents or a court), but only a small fraction of the population had birth certificates.

There were reports from Badakhshan Province that Taliban militants bought young women to sell into forced marriage. The UN Development Program Legal Aid Grant Facility reported women increasingly petitioned for divorce.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children. In addition to outlawing the practice of bacha bazi, the new Penal Code provides that, “[i]f an adult male has intercourse with a person under the legal age, his act shall be considered rape and the victim’s consent is invalid.” The Penal Code also treats nonstatutory rape of a child as an aggravated form of the offense, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The EVAW Law prescribes a penalty of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment for forcing an underage girl into prostitution. Taking possession of a child for sexual exploitation or production of pornographic films or images constitutes trafficking in persons under the 2017 TIP Law regardless of whether other elements of the crime are present.

Child Soldiers: In February 2016 the Law on Prohibition of Children’s Recruitment in the Military became effective. Under the revised Penal Code, recruitment of children in military units carries a penalty of six months to one year in prison. There were reports the ANDSF and progovernment militias recruited and used children in a limited number of cases, and the Taliban and other antigovernment elements recruited children for military purposes (see section 1.g.). Media reported that local progovernment commanders recruited children younger than age 16. The Taliban and other antigovernment groups regularly recruited and trained children to conduct attacks.

Displaced Children: During the year NGOs and government offices reported high numbers of returnee and drought-displaced families and their children in border areas, specifically Herat and Jalalabad. Although the government banned street begging in 2008, NGOs and government offices reported large numbers of children begging and living in the streets of major cities.

Institutionalized Children: Living conditions for children in orphanages were poor. NGOs reported up to 80 percent of children between ages four and 18 years in the orphanages were not orphans but came from families that could not provide food, shelter, or schooling. Children in orphanages reported mental, physical, and sexual abuse and occasionally were victims of trafficking. They did not have regular access to running water, heating in winter, indoor plumbing, health services, recreational facilities, or education. Security forces kept child detainees in juvenile detention centers run by the Ministry of Justice, except for a group of children arrested for national security violations who stayed at the detention facility in Parwan. NGOs reported these children were kept separate from the general population but still were at risk of radicalization.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits any kind of discrimination against citizens and requires the state to assist persons with disabilities and to protect their rights, including the rights to health care and financial protection. The constitution also requires the state to adopt measures to reintegrate and provide for the active participation in society of persons with disabilities. The Law on the Rights and Benefits of Disabled Persons provides for equal rights to, and the active participation of, such persons in society. Observers reported that both the constitution and disabilities rights law are mostly ignored and unenforced.

Persons with disabilities faced barriers such as limited access to educational opportunities, inability to access government buildings, lack of economic opportunities, and social exclusion due to stigma.

Lack of security remained a challenge for disability programs. Insecurity in remote areas, where a disproportionate number of persons with disabilities lived, precluded delivery of assistance in some cases. The majority of buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities, prohibiting many from benefitting from education, health care, and other services.

In the Meshrano Jirga, authorities reserved two of the presidentially appointed seats for persons with disabilities. Per law, 3 percent of all government positions are reserved for persons with disabilities, but government officials admitted the law was not enforced.

Disability rights activists reported that corruption prevented some persons with disabilities from receiving benefits. There were reports that government officials redirected scholarship funds for persons with disabilities to friends or family through fraud and identity theft. NGOs and government officials also reported that associations of persons with disabilities attempted to intimidate ministry employees in an effort to secure benefits such as apartments.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic tensions between various groups continued to result in conflict and killings. Societal discrimination against Shia Hazaras continued along class, race, and religious lines in the form of extortion of money through illegal taxation, forced recruitment and forced labor, physical abuse, and detention. According to NGOs, the government frequently assigned Hazara ANP officers to symbolic positions with little authority within the Ministry of Interior. NGOs also reported Hazara ANDSF officers were more likely than non-Hazara officers to be posted to insecure areas of the country. During the year ISIS-K continued escalating attacks against the Hazara community. Attacks against the Shia, predominantly Hazara, population, resulted in 705 civilian casualties, including 211 deaths between January 1 and September 30. On September 5, another ISIS-K bombing targeting a sports center killed 20. Both attacks took place in the Shia neighborhood of Dasht-e Barchi in Kabul.

Sikhs and Hindus faced discrimination, reporting unequal access to government jobs and harassment in school, as well as verbal and physical abuse in public places. On July 1, ISIS-K killed 19 people in a Jalalabad suicide bombing targeting the Sikh community. The attack killed the only Sikh candidate for the October parliamentary elections. Ultimately, the Sikh candidate’s son ran in his place. According to the Sikh and Hindu Council of Afghanistan, there were approximately 900 members of the Sikh and Hindu community in the country.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and there were reports of harassment and violence by society and police. The law does not prohibit discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Homosexuality was widely seen as taboo and indecent. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community did not have access to certain health services and could be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Organizations devoted to protecting the freedom of LGBTI persons remained underground because they could not legally register with the government. Members of the LGBTI community reported they continued to face arrest by security forces and discrimination, assault, rape by society at large.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no confirmed reports of discrimination or violence against persons with HIV/AIDS, but there was reportedly serious societal stigma against persons with AIDS.

Australia

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these provisions. There were occasional claims police and prison officials mistreated suspects in custody; mistreatment of juvenile detainees was a particular concern. In August the West Australia Police Force Commissioner, Chris Dawson, apologized for the police’s longstanding mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. He also announced a body camera requirement for all officers in Western Australia to address concerns of abuse.

In August Human Rights Watch reported that Waru, an indigenous prisoner with psychosocial disability, was subjected to regular solitary confinement, physical abuse, and racial slurs from prison officers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards.

Physical Conditions: The most recent data from the Australian Institute of Criminology reported 115 prison deaths in 2013-2015. Of those deaths, 80 were from natural causes, 25 from hanging, three from external/multiple trauma, one from head injury, and three from drugs.

A February 2018 Human Rights Watch report compiled through 14 prison visits in Western Australia and Queensland concluded that more than 50 percent of observed inmates had a cognitive, mental health, or physical disability. The study found that inmates with such disabilities were more likely to be placed in solitary confinement due to their perceived “bad” behavior, often exacerbating their condition. The report also documented 32 cases of sexual violence and 41 cases of physical violence.

As of November there were approximately 802 persons in immigration detention facilities in the country and another approximately 1,238 in facilities funded by the Australian Government in Nauru. The Manus Island Regional Processing Center closed in October 2017 pursuant to a Papua New Guinea court decision. There were 671 refugees and failed asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea after the closing of the center. In total, more than 400 refugees held at Manus and Nauru detention centers have been resettled to third countries.

In June 2017 the Australian government reached a court settlement with nearly 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island for illegally detaining them in dangerous and hostile conditions. The government claimed that the settlement was not an admission of liability, but media and independent reports revealed individuals in offshore detention centers were often subjected to sexual and physical abuse by locals and lived in overcrowded and substandard accommodations for prolonged periods. Furthermore, detainees had inadequate access to basic services, including water and hygiene facilities, clothing and footwear, education, and health services.

In July the Queensland coroner found that 24-year-old asylum seeker Hamid Khazaei’s death was “preventable” and resulted from a series of clinical errors, compounded by failures in communication that led to significant delays in his retrieval from Manus Island. Press reports citing human rights organizations’ recommendation that Australia streamline medical assessment and transfer procedures for both Papua New Guinea and Nauru based exclusively on medical advice. A 2016 report stressed that policy considerations should not outweigh the need to evacuate a detainees with urgent medical needs. In October following Nauru’s cancelation of a Doctors Without Borders mental health program on Nauru, the Australian government agreed to bring some refugee families to Australia for treatment. The government has not yet decided how many families to bring.

Administration: Authorities investigated allegations of inhumane conditions and documented the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner. The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. There were no reports of intimidation by authorities. A number of domestic and international human rights groups expressed concerns about conditions at immigration detention centers (see above).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the constitution does not explicitly provide for freedom of speech or press, the High Court has held that the constitution implies a right to freedom of expression, 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 the press. Journalists expressed concern that strict defamation laws have had a “chilling effect” on investigative journalism and freedom of the press.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was widely available to and used by citizens.

Law enforcement agencies require a warrant to intercept telecommunications, including internet communications.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) maintains a list of “refused classification” website content, primarily pertaining to child pornography, sexual violence, and other activities illegal in the country, compiled through a consumer complaints process. The ACMA may issue a notice to the internet service provider to remove domestically hosted “refused classification” material, or links to such material, that is the subject of a complaint if an investigation concludes the complaint is justified. The list is available to providers of filtering software. An owner or operator of such a website can appeal an ACMA decision to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, an executive body that reviews administrative decisions by government entities.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 87 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association are not codified in law, the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Domestic and international organizations expressed serious concern about credible allegations of abuse of migrants in the detention centers on Manus Island and Nauru. Abuses included inadequate mental health and other medical services, instances of assault, sexual abuse, suicide, self-harm, suspicious deaths, and harsh conditions. The government claimed to continue to provide necessary services to refugees.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted that immigration authorities in Australia and offshore detention centers forcibly deported refugees and asylum seekers and employed intimidation tactics so that detainees would voluntarily choose to return to their countries of origin. There were no reports of persecution or torture for returned refugees or asylum seekers, but NGOs and UNHCR considered it a possibility.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. The government maintains a humanitarian refugee program that includes several types of visas available to refugees for resettlement in the country. UNHCR identifies and refers the majority of applicants considered under the program.

The law authorizes the immigration minister to designate a country as a regional offshore processing center. Parliament must be notified and then has five days to reject the proposed designation. Asylum seekers transferred to third countries for regional processing have their asylum claims assessed by the country in which the claim is processed. A 2013 agreement with Papua New Guinea ended in 2018. Agreements remained in effect with Nauru (2013) and Cambodia (2014), although the latter has been little used.

In some cases unauthorized arrivals determined not to be refugees who made it to Christmas Island, a small Australian island approximately 300 miles south of Jakarta, were sent to Sri Lanka with the cooperation of the Sri Lankan government. Authorities also occasionally forced intercepted boats carrying smuggled persons back into the territorial waters of their country of embarkation when safe to do so.

By law the government must facilitate access to legal representation for persons in immigration detention in country. Access to government-funded legal assistance is available only to those who arrived through authorized channels.

In June the immigration minister stated no refugee in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, including persons with close family ties to Australia, would be resettled in Australia. Representatives from UNHCR accused the government of breaking its promise to accept refugees with close family ties.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement from third countries and funded refugee resettlement services. The Humanitarian Settlement Services program provided case-specific assistance that included finding accommodation, employment programs, language training, registering for income support and health care, and connecting with community and recreational programs.

Temporary Protection: The law permits two temporary protection options for individuals who arrived in Australia and were not taken to regional processing centers in third countries. The temporary protection visa (TPV) is valid for three years, and visa holders are able to work, study, and reside anywhere in Australia with access to support services. Once expired, TPV holders are eligible to reapply for another TPV.

The Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) is valid for five years and is granted on the basis that visa holders intend to work or study in nonmetropolitan areas. SHEV holders are eligible to apply for certain permanent or temporary visas after 42 months. As of October 1, the government had granted SHEVs to 11,676 persons.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law effectively. The laws of individual states and territories provide the penalties for rape. Maximum penalties range from 12 years’ to life imprisonment, depending on the jurisdiction and aggravating factors.

The law prohibits violence against women, including domestic abuse, and the government enforced the law. Violence against women remained a problem, particularly in indigenous communities.

Females were more likely than males to be victims of domestic violence, including homicide, across all states and territories. Federal and state government programs provide support for victims, including funding for numerous women’s shelters. Police received training in responding to domestic violence. Federal, state, and territorial governments collaborated on the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22, the first effort to coordinate action at all levels of government to reduce violence against women. The Third Action Plan 2016-19 of the National Plan set 36 practical actions in six priority areas.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Reporting on FGM/C was limited, and it was believed to be infrequent. The law prohibits FGM/C for all women and girls, regardless of age, in all states and territories. The law applies extraterritoriality to protect citizens or residents from being subjected to FGM/C overseas. Penalties vary greatly across states and territories, ranging from seven to 21 years’ imprisonment. A NGO-produced 2018 statistical report highlighted a drastic increase of likely survivors and at risk women and girls for FGM/C over a five-year period. The report noted this was primarily due to increased migration from countries previously identified as FGM/C practicing.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Complaints of sexual harassment can lead to criminal proceedings or disciplinary action against the defendant and compensation claims by the plaintiff. The HRC receives complaints of sexual harassment as well as sex discrimination. The penalties vary across states and territories.

An independent review of the Victoria Police Department released in 2015 found workplace sexual harassment to be an endemic problem despite more than 30 years of legislation prohibiting sex-based harassment and discrimination. The review found evidence of chronic underreporting with victims afraid of negative professional and personal consequences resulting from making a complaint.

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

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under laws related to family, religion, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance, as well as employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. The government enforced the law effectively.

Employment discrimination against women occurred, and there was a much-publicized “gender pay gap” (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Children are citizens if at least one parent is a citizen or permanent resident at the time of the child’s birth. Children born in the country to parents who are not citizens or permanent residents acquire citizenship on their 10th birthday, if they lived the majority of their life within the country. Failure to register does not result in denial of public services. In general, births were registered promptly.

Child Abuse: State and territorial child protection agencies investigate and initiate prosecutions of persons for child neglect or abuse. All states and territories have laws or guidelines that require members of certain designated professions to report suspected child abuse or neglect. The federal government’s role in the prevention of child abuse includes funding for research, carrying out education campaigns, developing action plans against commercial exploitation of children, and funding community-based parenting programs.

In December 2017 the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its final recommendations on what institutions and governments should do to address child sexual abuse and ensure justice for victims.

The rate of indigenous children on care and protection orders was nearly seven times greater than the nonindigenous rate.

In July a court sentenced Archbishop Philip Wilson to one year in detention for failing to report to police the repeated abuse of two altar boys by pedophile priests.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls. A person from ages 16 and 18 may apply to a judge or magistrate for an order authorizing marriage to a person who has attained 18 years; the marriage of the minor also requires parental or guardian consent. Two persons younger than age 18 may not marry each other; reports of marriages involving a person younger than age 18 were rare. The government reported an increase in the number of forced marriage investigations, but the practice remained rare.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment for commercial sexual exploitation of children, and the law was effectively enforced. There were documented cases of children younger than age 18 exploited in sex trafficking.

The law prohibits citizens and residents from engaging in, facilitating, or benefiting from sexual activity with children overseas who are younger than age 16 and provides for a maximum sentence of 17 years’ imprisonment for violations. The government continued its awareness campaign to deter child sex tourism through distribution of pamphlets to citizens and residents traveling overseas.

The legal age for consensual sex ranges from ages 16 to 18 by state. Penalties for statutory rape vary across jurisdictions. Defenses include reasonable grounds for believing the alleged victim was older than the legal age of consent and situations in which the two persons are close in age.

All states and territories criminalize the possession, production, and distribution of child pornography. Maximum penalties for these offenses range from four to 21 years’ imprisonment. Federal laws criminalize using a “carriage service” (for example, the internet) for the purpose of possessing, producing, and supplying child pornography. The maximum penalty for these offenses is 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of A$275,000 ($197,000), or both. Under federal law, suspected pedophiles can be tried in the country regardless of where the crime was committed.

The government largely continued federal emergency intervention measures to combat child sexual abuse in aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. These measures included emergency bans on sales of alcohol and pornography, restrictions on the payment of welfare benefits in cash, linkage of support payments to school attendance, and medical examinations for all indigenous children younger than age 16 in the Northern Territory.

While public reaction to the interventions remained generally positive, some aboriginal activists asserted there was inadequate consultation and that the measures were racially discriminatory, since nonindigenous persons in the Northern Territory were not initially subject to such restrictions.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to the 2016 census, the country’s Jewish community numbered 91,000. During the 12-month period ending on September 30, 2017, the nongovernmental Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported 230 anti-Semitic incidents. These incidents included vandalism, threats, harassment, and physical and verbal assaults. In June media reported widespread anti-Semitic actions and statements at St. Mark’s College in Adelaide and Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. A group of residents in South Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, flew a homemade Nazi flag and cut a swastika inside a map of Australia into one home’s lawn during Australia Day celebrations. Stickers belonging to an Australian neo-Nazi organization were put up around Canberra in April. In August Senator Anning Fraser in his first speech to the Senate referred to a “final solution to our immigration problem,” which was widely criticized as anti-Semitic.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government effectively enforced the law.

The disability discrimination commissioner of the HRC promotes compliance with federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law also provides for HRC mediation of discrimination complaints, authorizes fines against violators, and awards damages to victims of discrimination.

Schools are required to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act, and children with disabilities generally attended school. The government provided funding for early intervention and treatment services and cooperated with state and territorial governments that ran programs to assist students with disabilities.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only 53 percent of Australians with a disability are employed, compared with 83 percent of all working-age people.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Of complaints received by the HRC under the Racial Discrimination Act during 2016-17, 34 percent alleged “racial hatred,” 26 percent involved employment, and 20 percent involved provision of goods and services. Of the remaining 20 percent, 2 percent involved education, 1 percent involved housing, 1 percent involved “access to places,” and 16 percent were listed as “other.”

Indigenous People

Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders constitute the country’s indigenous population. Despite federal and state government initiatives, indigenous people and communities continued to have high incarceration rates, high unemployment rates, relatively low levels of education, and high incidences of domestic and family violence, substance abuse, and limited access to health services in comparison with other groups. The Ministry for Indigenous Affairs has responsibility for policy and programs related to indigenous peoples and communities. The prime minister reports annually to parliament regarding government progress on eliminating indigenous inequalities.

Indigenous groups hold special collective native title rights in limited areas of the country and federal and state laws enable indigenous groups to claim unused government land. Indigenous ownership of land was predominantly in nonurban areas. Indigenous-owned or -controlled land constituted approximately 20 percent of the country’s area (excluding native title lands) and nearly 50 percent of the land in the Northern Territory. The National Native Title Tribunal resolves conflicts over native land title applications through mediation and acts as an arbitrator in cases where the parties cannot reach agreement about proposed mining or other development of land. Native title rights do not extend to mineral or petroleum resources and, in cases where leaseholder rights and native title rights are in conflict, leaseholder rights prevail but do not extinguish native title rights.

As part of the intervention to address child sexual abuse in Northern Territory indigenous communities (see section 6, Children), the Indigenous Advancement Strategy allowed the government to administer directly indigenous communities. The strategy and a number of other programs provide funding for indigenous communities.

According to the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS), while indigenous people make up less than 3 percent of the total population, they constituted 27 percent of the full-time adult prison population. Nearly half of the imprisoned indigenous persons were serving sentences for violent offenses. Indigenous youth made up 64 percent of Queensland’s juvenile detainees, despite accounting for just 8 percent of the state’s population between the ages 10 and 17. An Australian Law Reform Commission study released in March found that the Australian justice system contributed to entrenching inequalities by not providing enough sentencing options /or diversion programs for indigenous offenders.

The ABS reported in 2016 that indigenous individuals experienced disproportionately high levels of domestic violence, with hospitalization for family-related assault 28 times more likely for indigenous men and 34 times more likely for indigenous women than the rest of the country’s population.

The HRC has an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner.

According to a December 2017 Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights report, although the government adopted numerous policies to address the socioeconomic disadvantages of indigenous peoples, it still failed to respect their rights to self-determination and full and effective participation in society.

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

There are no laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by law in a wide range of areas, including employment, housing, family law, taxes, child support, immigration, pensions, care of elderly persons, and social security.

The law provides protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.

During 2016-17, the HRC received 40 complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation, 39 based on gender identity, and seven based on sex characteristics.

Austria

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

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

The law prohibits such practices.

The government investigated allegations of such practices and prosecuted cases in which credible evidence existed.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: Physical conditions in prisons and places of detention were generally adequate, and there were no reports of mistreatment.

Human rights groups continued to criticize the incarceration of nonviolent offenders, including persons awaiting deportation, in single cells or inadequate facilities designed for temporary detention.

Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and imposes criminal penalties for violations. The law also prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print media, broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers or journals, and provides criminal penalties for violations. The law also prohibits disparagement of religious teachings in public. The government strictly enforced these laws (see section 6, Anti-Semitism and the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report).

In October the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rejected a plea by a woman challenging her 2011 conviction by a Vienna court, later upheld on appeal, for disparaging the Prophet Muhammad in 2009. The ECHR found that insulting the Prophet Muhammad “goes beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate” and “could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace.” The ECHR stated the Austrian courts had “carefully balanced her right to freedom of expression with the right of others to have their religious feelings protected.”

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.

Libel/Slander Laws: Strict libel and slander laws created conditions that discouraged reporting of governmental abuse. For example, many observers believed the ability and willingness of police to sue for libel or slander discouraged individuals from reporting police abuses.

INTERNET FREEDOM

With limited exceptions, the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities continued to restrict access to websites that violated the law, such as neo-Nazi sites. The law barring neo-Nazi activity provides for one- to 10-year prison sentences for public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of National Socialist crimes. The criminal code provision on incitement provides for prison sentences of up to five years. Authorities restricted access to prohibited websites by trying to shut them down and by forbidding the country’s internet service providers from carrying them.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 88 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

Abuses of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In rare cases, authorities detained unsuccessful applicants for asylum pending deportation. The government provided free legal counsel for persons awaiting deportation.

In-country Movement: Asylum seekers’ freedom of movement was restricted to the district of the reception center assigned by authorities for the duration of their initial application process until the country’s responsibility for examining the application was determined. By law asylum seekers must be physically present in the centers of first reception for up to 120 hours during the initial application process. Authorities have 20 days in which to determine the country’s responsibility and jurisdiction for the case.

PROTECTION OF 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.

The number of asylum applications dropped further during the year, having already decreased significantly in 2017 from a record high in 2015. According to the Interior Ministry, between January and July, there were approximately 8,260 asylum applications compared to approximately 14,600 during the same period in 2017.

In September the UN high commissioner for human rights announced that an inspection team would visit the country to examine its migrant policy, in particular the return of migrants from Austria to their home countries.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: EU regulations provide that asylum seekers who transit an EU country determined to be “safe” on their way to Austria be returned to that country to apply for refugee status. Authorities considered signatories to the 1951 refugee convention and its 1967 protocol to be safe countries of transit. In response to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights and recommendations of the UN special rapporteur on torture, the government effectively halted the return of asylum seekers to Greece in 2011 but resumed returns to Greece in August. The Federal Administrative Court ruled that deportations to Hungary would also have to be examined on an individual basis due to the possibility of human rights abuses there.

Employment: While asylum seekers are legally restricted from seeking regular employment, they are eligible for seasonal work, low-paying community service jobs, or professional training in sectors that require additional apprentices. A work permit is required for seasonal employment but not for professional training. An employer must request the work permit for the prospective employee.

Durable Solutions: There are provisions for integration, resettlement, and returns, which the country was cooperating with UNHCR and other organizations to improve. The integration section in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Integration, together with the Integration Fund and provincial and local integration offices, coordinated measures for integration of refugees.

Temporary Protection: According to the Interior Ministry, in 2017 the government provided temporary protection to approximately 7,000 individuals who might not qualify as refugees but were unable to return to their home countries. According to the Interior Ministry, between January and July, the government provided temporary protection to approximately 2,899 individuals.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to the government’s statistical office, in January there were approximately 14,600 persons in the country registered as stateless; that is, having undocumented or unclear citizenship. Stateless persons in the country were largely Austrian-born children of foreign nationals who were unable to acquire citizenship through their parents due to the laws in their parents’ country of origin. Authorities did not deport them because they lacked a home country. The law allows some stateless persons to gain nationality. A stateless person born in the country may be granted citizenship within two years of reaching the age of 18 if he or she has lived in the country for a total of 10 years, including five years continuously before application, and is able to demonstrate sufficient income. Stateless persons could receive temporary residence and work permits that had to be renewed annually.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women or men, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. The government generally enforced the law. Law enforcement response to rape and domestic violence was effective. Police referred victims of domestic violence to special shelters and imposed orders barring abusive family members from contact with the victims.

Domestic violence is punishable under the criminal code provisions for murder, rape, sexual abuse, and bodily injury. Police can issue, and courts may extend, an order barring abusive family members from contact with survivors.

Under the law, the government provided psychosocial care in addition to legal aid and support throughout the judicial process to survivors of gender-based violence. Police training programs addressed sexual or gender-based violence and domestic abuse. The government funded privately operated intervention centers and hotlines for victims of domestic abuse.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and the government generally enforced the law. Labor courts may order employers to compensate victims of sexual harassment; the law entitles a victim to a minimum of 1,000 euros ($1,150) in compensation. The Women’s Ministry and the labor chamber regularly provided information to the public on how to address sexual harassment.

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

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights as men, but they were subject to some discrimination in remuneration and representation in certain occupations.

Children

Birth Registration: By law children derive citizenship from one or both parents. Officials register births immediately.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, which may be extended to 10 years. Severe sexual abuse or rape of a minor is punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment, which may be increased to life imprisonment if the victim dies because of the abuse.

The government continued its efforts to monitor child abuse and prosecute offenders. Officials noted a growing readiness to report cases of such abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Adolescents between the ages of 16 and 18 may legally contract a marriage by special permit and parental consent or court action. NGOs estimated there were approximately 200 cases of early marriage annually, primarily in the Muslim and Romani communities.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides up to 15 years’ imprisonment for an adult convicted of sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 14, the minimum age for consensual sex for both girls and boys. It is a crime to possess, trade, or privately view child pornography. Possession of or trading in child pornography is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. The government effectively enforced these laws.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to figures compiled by the Austrian Jewish Community (IKG), there were between 12,000 and 15,000 Jews in the country, of whom an estimated 8,000 were members of the IKG.

The IKG expressed concern that anti-Semitism remained at a “high but stable” level. The NGO Forum against Anti-Semitism reported 503 anti-Semitic incidents during 2017. These included five physical assaults in addition to name-calling, graffiti and defacement, threatening letters, dissemination of anti-Semitic texts, property damage, and vilifying letters and telephone calls. Of the reported incidents, five concerned physical assaults, 28 threats and insults, 203 letters and calls, 51 vandalism, and 171 involved anti-Semitic internet postings. The government provided police protection to the IKG’s offices and other Jewish community institutions in the country, such as schools and museums. The IKG noted that anti-Semitic incidents typically involved neo-Nazi and other related right-wing extremist perpetrators.

Oskar Deutsch, president of Vienna’s principal Jewish community organization, criticized the Freedom Party (FPOe)’s failure to deal with anti-Semitism in the party. The antiextremist watchdog NGO Austrian Mauthausen Committee listed a number of cases of extreme rightwing/neo Nazi incidents linked to lower-level FPOe officials. In January Udo Landbauer, the front-runner for the FPOe in state elections in Lower Austria, resigned following revelations of anti-Semitic and racist lyrics in a 1997 songbook of the controversial rightwing fraternity Germania, of which Landbauer was a leading member. In August the prosecutor’s office in the Lower Austrian town of Wiener Neustadt closed its investigation of the case due to the statute of limitations.

School curricula included discussion of the Holocaust, the tenets of different religious groups, and advocacy of religious tolerance. The Education Ministry offered special teacher training seminars on Holocaust education and conducted training projects with the Anti-Defamation League.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not always effectively enforce these provisions. Employment discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred.

While federal law mandates access to public buildings for persons with physical disabilities, NGOs complained many public buildings lacked such access. The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Consumer Protection handled disability-related problems. The government funded a wide range of programs for persons with disabilities, including transportation and other assistance to help integrate schoolchildren with disabilities into mainstream classes and employees with disabilities into the workplace.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

In 2017 the Ministry of Interior published statistics citing approximately 1,100 neo-Nazi extremist, racist, Islamophobic, or anti-Semitic incidents, a 19 percent decrease from 2016, when 1,313 such incidents were reported.

An NGO operating a hotline for victims of racist incidents reported receiving approximately 1,200 complaints in 2017. It reported that racist internet postings comprised 44 percent of cases and were mostly directed against Muslims and migrants.

The Islamic Faith Community’s documentation center, established for tracking anti-Muslim incidents, reported receiving 309 complaints in 2017, up from 253 the previous year.

Human rights groups continued to report that Roma faced discrimination in employment and housing. Government programs, including financing for tutors, helped school-age Romani children move out of “special needs” programs and into mainstream classes. NGOs reported that Africans living in the country were verbally harassed or subjected to violence in public.

The Labor and Integration Ministries continued providing German-language instruction and skilled-labor training to young persons with immigrant backgrounds. Compulsory preschool programs, including some one- and two-year pilot programs, sought to remedy language deficiencies for non-native German speakers.

The government continued training programs to combat racism and educate police in cultural sensitivity. The Interior Ministry renewed an annual agreement with a Jewish group to teach police officers cultural sensitivity, religious tolerance, and the acceptance of minorities.

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

Antidiscrimination laws apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. There was some societal prejudice against LGBTI persons but no reports of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTI organizations generally operated freely. Civil society groups criticized the lack of a mechanism to prevent service providers from discriminating against LGBTI individuals.

Belarus

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

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

The law prohibits such practices. Nevertheless, the Committee for State Security (KGB), riot police, and other security forces, often without identification and in plain clothes, beat detainees on occasion. Security forces also reportedly mistreated individuals during investigations. Police occasionally beat persons during arrests.

Human rights advocates, opposition leaders, and activists released from detention facilities reported maltreatment and other forms of physical and psychological abuse of suspects during criminal and administrative investigations.

There were numerous reports of hazing of conscripts into the army that included beatings and other forms of physical and psychological abuse. Some of those cases reportedly resulted in deaths. For example, in October 2017 a senior official from the Investigative Committee announced a criminal investigation into alleged hazing and violence that preceded the discovery of the body of a 21-year-old soldier, Aliaksandr Korzhych, in the basement of his military barracks near Barysau. On November 5, the Minsk regional court sentenced three former sergeants to nine, seven, and six years in prison respectively for driving Korzhych to suicide by abusing and maltreating him. Authorities also charged the three with theft, bribery, and abuse of power. The sergeants claimed at hearings that investigators pressured them into testifying against themselves and admitting to the charges.

Korzhych’s former commanders, Senior Lieutenant Paval Sukavenka and Chief Warrant Officer Artur Virbal, were tried separately for abuse of power and sentenced on October 19 to six and four years respectively.

At a press conference on February 14, Defense Minister Andrey Raukou committed to eradicating hazing and said the ministry had opened 48 criminal cases to investigate allegations of mistreatment and bullying in the armed forces. Accepting Korzhych’s case as his “personal fault,” Raukou said that the army registered three cases of suicide in 2017 and four cases in 2016. Raukou said that many of the conscripts involved in hazing had mental and psychological problems, histories of alcohol and drug abuse, criminal records, and lacked motivation to serve in the army.

On July 31, the Supreme Court reported that between January and June courts across the country convicted 28 officers on charges related to bullying, hazing, and abuse of power in the armed forces. Courts convicted 31 officers on similar charges in 2017. For example, on March 30, a district court in Barysau sentenced an army warrant officer to five years in jail for abusing his powers, taking bribes, and beating conscripts.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained poor and in many cases posed threats to life and health.

Physical Conditions: According to local activists and human rights lawyers, there were shortages of food, medicine, warm clothing, and bedding as well as inadequate access to basic or emergency medical care and clean drinking water. Ventilation of cells and overall sanitation were poor, and authorities failed to provide conditions necessary for maintaining proper personal hygiene. Prisoners frequently complained of malnutrition and low-quality uniforms and bedding. Some former political prisoners reported psychological abuse and sharing cells with violent criminals or prisoners with contagious diseases. The law permits family and friends to provide detainees with food and hygiene products and to send them parcels by mail, but authorities did not always allow this.

On November 15, the Minsk city court dismissed an appeal filed by Alena Doubovik and Maryna Doubina, who were detained for up to 14 days in March 2017 on charges related to unsanctioned demonstrations. The two activists complained that holding facilities in Minsk and Zhodzina did not have female personnel to search them and that the two were deprived of privacy, including for personal hygiene, and were always visible to male officers.

Overcrowding of pretrial holding facilities, and prisons generally, was a problem.

Although there were isolated reports that police placed underage suspects in pretrial detention facility cells with adult suspects and convicts, authorities generally held juvenile prisoners separately from adults at juvenile penal colonies, arrest houses, and pretrial holding facilities. In general conditions for female and juvenile prisoners were slightly better than for male prisoners.

According to human rights NGOs and former prisoners, authorities routinely abused prisoners.

Credible sources maintained that prison administrators employed inmates to intimidate political prisoners and compel confessions. They also reported that authorities neither explained nor protected political prisoners’ legal rights and excessively penalized them for minor violations of prison rules.

Observers believed tuberculosis, pneumonia, HIV/AIDS, and other communicable diseases were widespread in prisons because of generally poor medical care.

Administration: As in the previous year, authorities claimed to have conducted annual or more frequent investigations and monitoring of prison and detention center conditions. Human rights groups, however, asserted that such inspections, when they did occur, lacked credibility in view of the absence of an ombudsperson and the inability of reliable independent human rights advocates to visit prisons or provide consultations to prisoners.

On March 15, prison authorities in Horki refused to allow independent observers to meet with Mikhail Zhamchuzhny, cofounder of the prison monitoring NGO Platforma. According to human rights groups, Zhamchuzhny, who was serving a six and a half year sentence on charges of deliberately disclosing classified information and offering a bribe, was subject to mistreatment and inhuman prison conditions, including beatings by a fellow inmate. Human rights groups claimed that prison authorities continued to isolate Zhamchuzhny to punish him for allegedly violating prison regulations. The courts repeatedly dismissed Zhamchuzhny’s complaints of mistreatment.

Prisoners and detainees had limited access to visitors, and denial of meetings with families was a common punishment for disciplinary violations. Authorities often denied or delayed political prisoners’ meetings with family as a means of pressure and intimidation.

Although the law provides for freedom of religion, and there were no reports of egregious infringements, authorities generally prevented prisoners from holding religious services and performing ceremonies that did not comply with prison regulations.

Former prisoners reported that prison officials often censored or did not forward their complaints to higher authorities and that prison administrators either ignored or selectively considered requests for investigation of alleged abuses. Prisoners also reported that prison administrators frequently refused to provide them with copies of responses to their complaints, which further complicated their defense. Complaints could result in retaliation against prisoners, including humiliation, death threats, or other forms of punishment and harassment.

Corruption in prisons was a serious problem, and observers noted that parole often depended on bribes to prison personnel or on a prisoner’s political affiliation.

Independent Monitoring: Despite numerous requests to the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Justice, government officials refused to meet with human rights advocates or approve requests from NGOs to visit detention and prison facilities.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. The government did not respect these rights and enforced numerous laws to control and censor the public and media. Moreover, the state press propagated views in support of the president and official policies, without giving room for critical voices.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could not criticize the president and the government publicly or discuss matters of general public interest without fear of reprisal. Authorities videotaped political meetings, conducted frequent identity checks, and used other forms of intimidation. Authorities also prohibited wearing facemasks, displaying certain historical flags and symbols, and displaying placards bearing messages deemed threatening to the government or public order.

On March 25, a Radio Liberty journalist reported that she and at least four individuals were detained for carrying white-red-white flags beyond the police perimeter near the Minsk Opera House, following a concert commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic.

On September 10, police detained opposition activist Nina Bahinskaya for holding a banner that read “No to Communism” in central Minsk. Authorities fined her 1,225 rubles ($612) for purportedly holding an unauthorized protest.

The law also limits free speech by criminalizing actions such as giving information that authorities deem false or derogatory to a foreigner concerning the political, economic, social, military, or international situation of the country.

Press and Media Freedom: Government restrictions limited access to information and often resulted in media self-censorship. State-controlled media did not provide balanced coverage and overwhelmingly presented the official version of events. Appearances by opposition politicians on state media were rare and limited primarily to those required by law during election campaigns. Authorities warned, fined, detained, and interrogated members of independent media.

By law the government may close a publication, printed or online, after two warnings in one year for violating a range of restrictions on the press. Additionally, regulations give authorities arbitrary power to prohibit or censor reporting. The Ministry of Information may suspend periodicals or newspapers for three months without a court ruling. The law also prohibits media from disseminating information on behalf of unregistered political parties, trade unions, and NGOs.

Limited information was available in the state-run press concerning the February 18 local elections, including on independent candidates.

While no independent media outlets, including newspapers and internet news websites, applied for registration to the Ministry of Information, they continued to seek to provide coverage of events. They operated, however, under repressive media laws, and most faced discriminatory publishing and distribution policies, including limiting access to government officials and press briefings, controlling the size of press runs of newspapers, and raising the cost of printing.

State-owned media dominated the information field and maintained the highest circulation through generous subsidies and preferences. There was no countrywide private television. The state-owned postal system, Belposhta, and the state distributor of printed publications, Belsayuzdruk, allowed the distribution of at least nine independent newspapers and magazines that covered politics, including Novy ChasBorisovskie Novosti, and Intexpress, which have been banned from distribution for 11 years.

The exclusion of independent print media from the state distribution system and the requirement that private stores secure registration to sell newspapers and magazines effectively limited the ability of the independent press to distribute their publications.

International media continued to operate in the country but not without interference and prior censorship. Euronews and the Russian channels First Channel, NTV, and RTR were generally available, although only through paid cable services in many parts of the country and with a time lag that allowed the removal of news deemed undesirable.

At times authorities blocked, censored, or replaced their international news programs with local programming.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities continued to harass and detain local and foreign journalists routinely.

Security forces continually hampered efforts of independent journalists to cover demonstrations and protests in Minsk and across the country. The independent Belarusian Association of Journalists reported that, as of September 15, police fined, detained, and arrested at least 30 journalists who were performing their professional duties in more than 108 separate cases.

On August 7, the Investigative Committee reported it had opened a criminal case, based on materials submitted by the Interior Ministry’s cybersecurity department, to investigate “illegal access to computer information stemming from personal interests which caused significant damages.” The case was reportedly triggered by a complaint filed by state-run news agency Belta. The Interior Ministry’s preliminary investigation found that “information held on Belta’s computer systems was illegally accessed more than 15,000 times without the knowledge or agreement of Belta in 2017-2018.” Authorities detained and interrogated more than 20 journalists from the independent news agencies tut.byBelaPANrealt.by, and Deutsche Welle among others. Investigators also searched their residences and offices, confiscating computer equipment. In November investigators charged 15 journalists for illegal access, including BelaPAN staff writer Tatsyana Karavenkova, BelaPAN chief editor Iryna Leushyna, and eight tut.by journalists, including Chief Editor Maryna Zolatava. Observers said the investigation and charges were disproportionate to the alleged crime, because the subscription-only Belta news service the journalists were accused of illegally accessing posted the same information for free public consumption shortly after its release to paid subscribers. Charges against all except Zolatava were later dropped when the journalists agreed to pay a penalty of 735 rubles ($350) each and up to 17,000 rubles ($7,980) in compensation for damage their actions allegedly caused. Zolatava was charged with “executive inaction” and faced up to five years in prison.

The government refused to recognize some foreign media, such as Poland-based Belsat TV and Radio Racyja, and routinely fined free-lance journalists working for them. As of September 25, at least 31 journalists were fined in 80 cases for not having government accreditation or cooperating with a foreign media outlet. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, freelance journalists received fines totaling more than 66,000 rubles ($33,000). Most of the fines were imposed on journalists working for Belsat TV.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government exerted pressure on the vast majority of independent publications to exercise self-censorship, warning them not to report on certain topics or criticize the government. The government tightly and directly controlled the content of state broadcast and print media. Television channels are required to air at least 30 percent local content. Local independent television stations operated in some areas and reported local news, although most were under government pressure to forgo reporting on national and sensitive issues or risk censorship.

Authorities allowed only state-run radio and television networks to broadcast nationwide. The government used this national monopoly to disseminate its version of events and minimize alternative or opposing viewpoints.

Authorities warned businesses not to advertise in newspapers that criticized the government. As a result, independent media outlets operated under severe budgetary constraints.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are criminal offenses. There are large fines and prison sentences of up to four years for defaming or insulting the president. Penalties for defamation of character make no distinction between private and public persons. A public figure who is criticized for poor performance while in office may sue both the journalist and the media outlet that disseminated the critical report. On November 22, authorities convicted a resident of the village of Vetryna in the Vitsyebsk region on charges of “publicly insulting the president” and causing a false bomb alert and sentenced him to two years of restricted freedom. The charges reportedly stemmed from the resident’s post on his social media, using derogatory language and saying that he allegedly planted a bomb at a local shopping center.

National Security: Authorities frequently cited national security as grounds for censorship of media.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government interfered with internet freedom by monitoring email and internet chat rooms. While individuals, groups, and publications were generally able to engage in the peaceful expression of views via the internet, including by email, all who did so risked possible legal and personal repercussions, and at times were believed to practice self-censorship. Opposition activists’ emails and other web-based communications were likely to be monitored.

Under amendments to the Media Law that came into force December 1, news websites and any internet information sources are subject to the same regulations as print media. If websites choose not to apply for registration, they can continue to operate but without the status of a media outlet. Unregistered online media cannot receive accreditation from state agencies for its correspondents, who will also not be able to cover mass events or protect sources of information, among other things. Registration requires the site to have an office located in nonresidential premises with a chief editor who is a citizen with at least five years of experience in managerial media positions.

Online news providers must remove content and publish corrections if ordered to do so by authorities and must adhere to a prohibition against “extremist” information. The law also restricts access to websites whose content includes promotion of violence, wars, or “extremist activities”; materials related to illicit weapons, explosives, and drugs; trafficking in persons; pornography; and information that may harm the national interests of the country. Authorities may block access to sites that fail to obey government orders, including because of a single violation of distributing prohibited information, without a prosecutor or court’s mandate. If blocked, a network publication loses its media registration. Owners of a website or a network publication will be able to appeal a decision to limit access to their sites or to deny restoring access to them in court within a month.

In addition, owners of internet sites may be held liable for users’ comments that carry any prohibited information, and these sites may be blocked. The amended law also mandates the creation of a database of news websites and identification of all commentators by personal data and cell phone numbers. If a news website receives two or more formal warnings from authorities, it may be removed from the database and lose its right to distribute information. On January 24, authorities blocked opposition news website Charter’97 for allegedly publishing information that harmed national interests. The Information Ministry claimed that the site ran articles announcing the time and venue of unauthorized demonstrations and published information on behalf of unregistered groups.

Authorities monitored internet traffic. By law the telecommunications monopoly Beltelekam and other organizations authorized by the government have the exclusive right to maintain internet domains.

A presidential edict requires registration of service providers and internet websites, and requires the collection of information on users at internet cafes. It requires service providers to store data on individuals’ internet use for a year and provide that information to law enforcement agencies upon request. Violations of the edict are punishable by prison sentences.

In response to the government’s interference and internet restrictions, many opposition groups and independent newspapers switched to internet domains operating outside the country. Observers reported that the few remaining independent media sites with the country domain BY practiced self-censorship at times.

On several occasions, cyberattacks of unknown origin temporarily took down independent news portals and social networking sites.

According to various media sources, the number of internet users reached nearly seven million persons, or more than 70 percent of population, of which approximately 90 percent used the internet daily or numerous times a month. Internet penetration was approximately 83 percent among users ages 15 to 50.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.

Educational institutions were required to teach an official state ideology that combined reverence for the achievements of the former Soviet Union and of Belarus under the leadership of Lukashenka. Government-mandated textbooks contained a heavily propagandized version of history and other subjects. Authorities obligated all schools, including private institutions, to follow state directives to inculcate the official ideology and prohibited schools from employing opposition members as their principals. The minister of education has the right to appoint and dismiss the heads of private educational institutions.

Use of the word “academic” was restricted, and NGOs were prohibited from including the word “academy” in their titles. Opportunities to receive a higher education in the Belarusian language (vice Russian) in the majority of fields of study were scarce. While the administrations of higher educational institutions made no effort to accommodate students wishing to study in Belarusian-language classes, on March 27 authorities registered as a legal entity a private university, named after prominent Belarusian poet Nil Hilevich, where all instruction will be in the Belarusian language. In September the university, run by the independent Belarusian Language Society and funded from private sources, opened pre-enrollment courses for students to major in the humanities, linguistics, and other disciplines.

Students, writers, and academics said authorities pressured them to join ostensibly voluntary progovernment organizations, such as the Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRYU) and the Union of Writers of Belarus. Students who declined to join the BRYU risked economic hardships, including lack of access to dormitories, which effectively limited their ability to attend the country’s top universities.

Students from various universities and colleges reported to an independent election-monitoring group that their faculties were pressuring students into early voting by threatening them with eviction from their dormitories. Additionally, authorities at times reportedly pressured students to act as informants for the country’s security services.

According to a Ministry of Education directive, educational institutions may expel students who engage in antigovernment or unsanctioned political activity and must ensure the proper ideological education of students. School officials, however, cited poor academic performance or absence from classes as the official reason for expulsions. In January Belarus State University expelled Hanna Smilevich, a Belarusian Popular Front youth group member, after she had become chair of the group in December 2017.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the government severely restricted this right. Authorities employed a variety of means to discourage demonstrations, disperse them, minimize their effect, and punish the participants. The law provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted it and selectively enforced laws and registration regulations to restrict the operation of independent associations that might criticize the government.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Only registered political parties, trade unions, and NGOs could request permission to hold a demonstration of more than 1,000 persons. Authorities usually denied requests by independent and opposition groups as well as those of self-organized citizens’ groups in various communities around the country. A general atmosphere of repression and the threat of imprisonment or large fines exercised a chilling effect on potential protest organizers.

The law criminalizes the announcement of an intention to hold demonstrations via the internet or social media before official approval, participation in the activities of unregistered NGOs, training of persons to demonstrate, financing of public demonstrations, or solicitation of foreign assistance “to the detriment” of the country. Violations are punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. Persons with unexpunged criminal records for crimes related to violating peace and order, statehood and governance, public security, safety, and public morals did not have the right to act as mass event organizers. Such organizers must apply at least 15 days in advance for permission to conduct a public demonstration, rally, or meeting, and government officials are required to respond no later than five days prior to the scheduled event. Authorities, however, generally granted permits for opposition demonstrations only if held at designated venues far from city centers. The amended law allowed organizers to notify authorities of a mass event planned at a designated location no later than 10 days before the date of the event. Authorities should inform organizers of denial no later than five days before the event. By law denials can be issued for one of two reasons: the event conflicted with one organized by a different individual or group or the notification did not comply with regulations.

Authorities used intimidation and threats to discourage persons from participating in demonstrations, openly videotaped participants, and imposed heavy fines or jail sentences on participants in unauthorized demonstrations. In addition authorities required organizers to conclude contracts with police, fire department, health, and sanitary authorities for their services after a mass event. Authorities waived some of these requirements for the March 25 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic (BPR). All media representatives had to be clearly identified and carry an official media ID or foreign media accreditation. They have to provide their personal ID and press documents to law enforcement upon request.

On March 27, President Lukashenka told Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich that the Ministry should be ready to “immediately suppress” any unauthorized events which “impede people’s lives” because “chaos stems from them [unauthorized protests].” Shunevich responded that “not a single event, which is not sanctioned by authorities, will take place, and even if it starts it will be immediately stopped in an effective manner and in compliance with the law.”

During the year local authorities countrywide rejected dozens of applications for permission to stage various demonstrations.

While Minsk city authorities cooperated with opposition groups to stage a rally and concert on the 100 anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic in front of the Opera House on March 25, they denied two other applications to hold marches the same day. Organizers of the concert had sought to walk from a nearby park to the concert location before the concert. A second application was filed by opposition activist Mikalai Statkevich and his supporters to march from the central Yakub Kolas square via the main avenue to the concert location. When Statkevich decided to go ahead with his plan without permission, police arrested him as he was leaving his home. Police also arrested approximately 60 individuals gathered at Yakub Kolas square.

In addition, authorities in Mahilyou and Homyel denied local activists’ permission to hold rallies in city centers on March 25. They alleged that the venues were not designated for mass events or had been already booked for other events.

Across the country in at least 11 different localities, approximately 57 individuals were briefly detained, apparently in order to prevent their participation in March 25 events in Minsk.

On July 3, celebrated as the Belarusian Independence Day, police dispersed an unauthorized protest and detained approximately 30 individuals, including Mikalai Statkevich, in front of a WWII monument to Soviet soldiers in central Minsk. Statkevich called upon his associates to hold a rally to mark the “liberation [of Minsk from the Nazis on July 3, 1944] and solidarity.” Statkevich was arrested as he was leaving his house on his way to the site on July 3. Police detained approximately 30 activists at the site, including five observers from the human rights group Vyasna, transported them to a local precinct, and released the majority later in the day. Statkevich and at least three other activists remained in detention overnight and stood trial on July 4. A Minsk district court sentenced Statkevich to a fine of 980 rubles ($490) for making calls to participate in an unauthorized protest on July 3.

From June through October, authorities fined, detained, or arrested more than 20 protesters at the site of the Stalinist-era execution site Kurapaty. The protesters opposed the building and operation of a restaurant in close vicinity to the site. While police repeatedly fined the majority of activists for purportedly violating traffic regulations and participating in unauthorized demonstrations, a number of protesters, including Belarusian Christian Democracy (BCD) party cochair Paval Sevyarynets, European Belarus campaign activist Maksim Vinyarski, and filmmaker Alyaksei Tourovich were sentenced to up to 10 days of administrative detention.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

All NGOs, political parties, and trade unions must receive Ministry of Justice approval to become registered. A government commission reviews and approves all registration applications; it based its decisions largely on political and ideological compatibility with official views and practices.

Actual registration procedures required applicants to provide the number and names of founders, along with a physical address in a nonresidential building for an office, an extraordinary burden in view of the tight financial straits of most NGOs and individual property owners’ fears of renting space to independent groups. Individuals listed as members were vulnerable to reprisal. The government’s refusal to rent office space to unregistered organizations and the expense of renting private space reportedly forced most organizations to use residential addresses, which authorities could then use as a reason to deny registration or to deregister them. The law criminalizes activities conducted on behalf of unregistered groups and subjects group members to penalties ranging from large fines to two years’ imprisonment (also see section 7.a.).

The law on public associations prohibits NGOs from keeping funds for local activities at foreign financial institutions. The law also prohibits NGOs from facilitating provision of any support or benefits from foreign states to civil servants based on their political or religious views or ethnicity, a provision widely believed to be aimed at the Polish minority.

Only registered NGOs may legally accept foreign grants and technical aid and only for a limited set of approved activities. NGOs must receive approval from the Department for Humanitarian Affairs of the Presidential Administration and the Ministry of the Economy for technical aid before they may accept such funds or register the grants.

The government continued to deny registration to some NGOs and political parties on a variety of pretexts, including “technical” problems with applications. Authorities frequently harassed and intimidated founding members of organizations in an effort to force them to abandon their membership and thus deprive their groups of the number of petitioners necessary for registration. Many groups had been denied registration on multiple occasions.

On March 21, Minsk city authorities registered an educational NGO called “Out Loud.” This was the group’s ninth registration application under its previous name, “Make Out,” which the government requested it change before granting registration. The NGO focused on advancing the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and countering discrimination and violence against them.

On April 6, the BCD reported that the Ministry of Justice denied its seventh registration application. The ministry said the BCD had failed to include phone numbers of some of its members and had incorrectly listed the birth dates of two party founders in its application documents. The party submitted the application on January 22, and the ministry decided to suspend the registration process and seek additional documents on February 23. The Supreme Court upheld the ministry’s denial on May 25.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government at times restricted the right of citizens, former political prisoners in particular, to foreign travel. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: Passports serve as a form of identity and authorities required them for permanent housing, work, and hotel registration. Police continued to harass selectively individuals who lived at a location other than their legal place of residence as indicated by mandatory stamps in their passports.

The law also requires persons who travel to areas within 15 miles of the border (aside from authorized crossing points) to obtain an entrance pass.

Foreign Travel: The government’s database of persons banned from traveling abroad contained the names of individuals who possessed state secrets, faced criminal prosecution or civil suits, or had outstanding financial obligations. Authorities informed some persons by letter that their names were in the database; others learned only at border crossings. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and security agencies, border and customs services, and financial investigation departments have a right to place persons on “preventive” surveillance lists.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is also required to track citizens working abroad, and employment agencies must report individuals who do not return from abroad as scheduled.

Exile: The law does not allow forced exile, but sources asserted that security forces continued to threaten some opposition members with bodily harm or prosecution if they did not leave the country, and many were in self-imposed exile.

Many university students who were expelled or believed they were under the threat of expulsion for their political activities opted for self-imposed exile and continued their studies abroad.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and complementary and temporary protection to foreign citizens and stateless persons, with some exceptions. The government has established a procedure for determining refugee status and a system for providing protection to refugees. The law provides for protection against refoulement granted to foreigners who are denied refugee status or temporary protection but cannot be returned to their countries of origin.

All foreigners except Russians have the right to apply for asylum. According to the terms of the Union Treaty with Russia, Russians may legally settle and obtain residence permits in the country based on their Russian citizenship. Overall, as of October 1, immigration authorities accepted 463 applications for asylum compared with 596 in 2016, including from 359 Ukrainians, 10 Syrians, eight Afghans, and 12 Pakistanis.

In addition to refugee status, the country’s asylum law provides for complementary protection in the form of temporary residence. In the period January-September, 364 foreigners were granted complementary protection (333 Ukrainians, 14 Syrians, six Yemenis, seven Afghans, one Georgian, and three Egyptians).

Freedom of Movement: Asylum seekers have freedom of movement within the country but must reside in the region where they filed their applications for refugee status and in a place known to authorities while their applications are being considered, including during appeals. Authorities reportedly often encouraged asylum seekers to settle in rural areas; however, the majority settled in cities and towns. Change of residence was possible with a notification to authorities. Authorities issue registered asylum seekers certificates that serve as documents to confirm their status of asylum-seekers and identity and protect them from expulsion. In accordance with the law, they also must register with local authorities at their place of residence.

Durable Solutions: Adult asylum seekers have to pay for higher education as well as for nonemergency medical services while minors receive education and medical services free of charge. Free legal assistance, housing, and language training are not available to either asylum seekers or refugees.

Temporary Protection: Although the government may provide temporary protection (for up to one year) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, it did not do so during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

As of July 1, the Ministry of the Interior and UNHCR listed 6,618 stateless persons in the country; all had permanent residence, according to authorities.

Permanently resident stateless persons held residence permits and were treated comparably to citizens in terms of access to employment, with the exception of a limited number of positions in the public sector and law enforcement that were available only to citizens. There were reports that stateless persons occasionally faced discrimination in employment, since authorities often encouraged them to settle in rural areas where the range of employment opportunities was limited. According to UNHCR stateless persons could freely change their region of residence.

There is a path towards citizenship for this stateless population. The main requirement is at least seven years’ permanent residence. Authorities have a procedure for expedited naturalization but mostly for individuals born or permanently residing in the country prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, ethnic Belarusians, their spouses, and descendants. If a child is born into a family of stateless persons permanently residing in the country, the child is entitled to Belarusian citizenship.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape in general but does not include separate provisions on marital rape. Rape was a problem. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there were 184 registered cases of rape or attempted rape in 2017.

Domestic violence was a significant problem, and the government took measures to prevent it during the year. The government issued protective orders mandating the separation of victims and abusers and provided temporary accommodations for the duration of the orders. It also operated crisis rooms that provided limited shelter and psychological and medical assistance to victims.

The law on crime prevention establishes a separate definition of domestic violence and provides for implementation of protective orders, which are from three to 30 days in duration. The law requires authorities to provide victims and abusers with temporary accommodation until the protective orders expire. In addition, the code on administrative offenses prescribes a large fine or detention for up to 15 days for battery, intended infliction of pain, and psychological or physical suffering committed against a close family member.

On November 26, a senior representative of the Interior Minister stated every third person killed in the country was killed by a family member and that in January-October the ministry identified 115 women as victims of murder and severe bodily harm in crimes related to domestic violence, 41 of whom died. From January-August authorities also issued approximately 5,500 protective orders, including 5,000 ordering perpetrators to move out of residences shared with their victims.

On April 25, authorities arrested a resident of the city of Valozhyn on a charge of beating his spouse to death. The family, with two minor children, lived in a dormitory, and their neighbors told police the victim had complained of abuse and domestic violence. According to witnesses and press reports, the victim sustained at least 30 severe injuries. The case was pending at year’s end.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment reportedly was widespread, but no specific laws, other than those against physical assault, address the problem.

Coercion in Population Control: Women with disabilities, as well as pregnant women whose children were diagnosed with potential disabilities in utero, reported that some doctors insisted they terminate their pregnancies.

Discrimination: The law provides for equal treatment of women with regard to property ownership and inheritance, family law, equal pay for equal work (although in practice women were often paid less), and in the judicial system, and the law was generally respected.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived either by birth within the country or from one’s parents. A child of a citizen is a citizen regardless of place of birth, even if one parent is not a citizen. Births were generally registered immediately.

Child Abuse: Authorities intervened to prevent child abuse stemming from domestic violence and identified families in vulnerable conditions, providing foster care to children who could not remain with their immediate families while preventive work was underway. Although the government increased prosecution of child abusers, its efforts to address the causes of child abuse were inadequate. The government instituted a 2017-21 comprehensive national plan to improve childcare and the protection of children’s rights, including for victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and commercial sexual exploitation, and acknowledged a lack of funding and inefficiency in executing certain protective measures.

With assistance from NGOs that promote children’s rights, authorities extensively employed procedures for on-the-record, one-time interviewing of child abuse victims in the framework of investigations or criminal cases at specialized facilities under the direct supervision of psychologists. Courts used recorded testimony to avoid repeatedly summoning child abuse victims for hearings. More experienced judges with expertise in developmental psychology, psychiatry, and education generally heard cases that affected the rights and legitimate interests of minors. The government failed to resume operations of a national hotline for assisting children despite various NGOs’ requests to support the hotline.

A UNICEF report, released in March, registered children’s and parents’ low awareness of existing types of violence against children; limited capacity of professionals to identify, register, report, and address incidents of violence, and weak collaboration on violence prevention and response among professionals. In addition, the report found an inadequate monitoring system that operated only with data on investigated crimes against children and cases of child separation because of identified violence in the home.

As of January the Ministry of Education ran 138 social-educational centers nationwide for minor victims of any type of violence or minors finding themselves in vulnerable and dangerous conditions. General health-care institutions provided a wide range of medical aid to child abuse victims free of charge.

According to the UNICEF study, two-thirds of professionals reported they had never had training on violence against children. One-third of professionals said that specialists working with children often ignored or concealed facts of violence in their institutions.

Rape or sexual assault of a person known to be a minor is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Sexual acts between a person older than 18 and a person known to be younger than 16 carry penalties of up to five years imprisonment.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls is 18, although girls as young as 14 may marry with parental consent. There were reports of early marriage in which girls as young as 14 and boys as young as 16 married with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Prostitution of children was a problem, and the government took some steps to address it. From January through October, the Internal Affairs Ministry investigated 63 cases of the production and distribution of child pornography and identified 25 minors as victims. The law provides penalties of up to 13 years in prison for production or distribution of pornographic materials depicting a minor. The law generally was enforced. The law, however, failed to criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking by requiring a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense.

Institutionalized Children: There was no system for monitoring child abuse in orphanages or other specialized institutions. Authorities did not publicly report on any child abuse incidents in institutions. There were allegations of abuse in foster families. The government opened or continued investigations into some of these cases.

The UNICEF study reported that more than two in five children at residential care institutions were exposed to either psychical or psychological violence. Approximately one in four children participating in the survey reported exposure to physical violence at institutions. The children living in institutions appeared significantly more vulnerable compared to children living in families: they had two to three times higher exposure to violence than children from secondary schools. Children from special closed-type educational institutions and penitentiary institutions reported greater exposure to violence both at home and in the institutions.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 Jews lived in the country.

Anti-Semitic incidents continued. Jewish community and civil society activists expressed concern regarding pan-Slavic nationalism professed by some extremist groups. Neo-Nazis, such as the Russian National Unity group and supporters of similar groups were widely believed to be behind anti-Semitic incidents across the country. Anti-Semitic and xenophobic newspapers, literature, digital video discs, and videotapes, frequently imported from Russia, were widely available. The government did not promote antibias and tolerance education.

Media continued to report that many Holocaust memorials built in Soviet times and more recently do not acknowledge Jewish victims. The Jewish community continued to work with local authorities to erect new monuments that specifically commemorate Jewish victims.

During the year authorities convicted a number of offenders who reportedly associated themselves with neo-Nazis or skinhead movements for inciting ethnic and religious hatred against Jews, among others. On February 27, a court in the Vitsyebsk region sentenced a resident in Navapolatsk to three years in prison for posting racist videos on social media. In a similar case, authorities convicted an individual from the Baranavichy district of posting videos with anti-Semitic content and sentenced him to a year and a month in jail on April 18.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, and discrimination was common.

The law mandates that transport, residences, and businesses be accessible to persons with disabilities, but few public areas were wheelchair accessible or accessible for hearing and vision-impaired persons. The National Association of Disabled Wheelchair Users estimated that more than 90 percent of persons with physical disabilities were unable to leave their places of residence without assistance and stated their residences were not suitable to accommodate persons with physical disabilities. While authorities claimed that 30 percent of the country’s total infrastructure was accessible, disability rights organizations considered this figure inflated, although the situation slightly improved during the year.

The country’s lack of independent living opportunities left many persons with disabilities no choice but to live in state-run institutions. Approximately 80 such institutions across the country housed more than 19,000 persons. Disability rights organizations reported that the quality of care in these facilities was low, and instances of fundamental human rights violations, harassment, mistreatment, and other abuse were reported. Authorities frequently placed persons with physical and mental disabilities in the same facilities and did not provide either group with specialized care.

Public transportation was free to persons with disabilities, but the majority of subway stations in Minsk and the bus system were not wheelchair accessible. In September 2017 experts of the ACT NGO released a monitoring report indicating that 3.3 percent of all educational institutions across the country were accessible to persons with disabilities, including with vision and hearing disabilities, and most of these facilities were recently constructed.

Disability rights organizations reported difficulty organizing advocacy activities due to impediments to freedom of assembly, censorship, and the government’s unwillingness to register assistance projects (see section 2.b.).

Persons with disabilities, especially those with vision and hearing disabilities, often encountered problems with access to courts and obtaining court interpreters. Women with disabilities often faced discrimination, and there were reports of authorities attempting to take children away from families in which parents had disabilities, claiming that they would not appropriately care for their children. Women with disabilities, as well as pregnant women whose children were diagnosed with potential disabilities in utero, reported that some doctors insisted they terminate their pregnancies.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Governmental and societal discrimination against Roma persisted. According to leaders of the Romani communities, security and law enforcement agencies arbitrarily detained, investigated, and harassed Roma, including by forced fingerprinting, mistreatment in detention, and ethnic insults.

Authorities continued to harass the independent and unregistered Union of Poles of Belarus, while supporting a progovernment organization of a similar name. On November 19, independent media sources reported that authorities in Minsk interrupted a concert, organized by the unregistered union to mark the 100th anniversary of Poland’s regained independence. It was their fourth attempt to hold the event after three denied requests to rent premises.

Official and societal discrimination continued against the country’s 7,000 (according to the 2009 census) to 60,000 (according to Romani community estimates) Roma. The Romani community continued to experience marginalization, various types of discrimination, high unemployment, low levels of education, and lack of access to social services. Roma generally held citizenship, but many lacked official identity documents and refused to obtain them.

There were also expressions of hostility toward proponents of the national culture that the government often identified with actors of the democratic opposition, repeatedly labeled by the president as “the fifth column.” Because the government viewed many proponents of the Belarusian language as political opponents, authorities continued to harass academic and cultural groups that sought to promote Belarusian and routinely rejected proposals to widen use of the language.

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

Consensual same-sex conduct between adults is not illegal, but discrimination against LGBTI persons was widespread, and harassment occurred. The law does not provide antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. Societal discrimination against LGBTI activists persisted with the tacit support of the regime. Police continued to mistreat LGBTI persons and refused to investigate crimes against them.

On June 29 and July 21, police disrupted parties organized by an LGBTI group at a nightclub in Minsk and wrote down everyone’s names as well as their places of employment or education. Officers reportedly claimed they received notices of possible crimes, including drug trafficking and abuse of minors, at the club.

The government allows transgender persons to update their name and gender marker on national identification documents, but these documents retain old identification numbers that include a digit indicating the individual’s sex assigned at birth. Transgender persons reportedly were refused jobs when potential employers noted the “discrepancy” between the applicant’s identification number and their gender marker. Banks also refused to open accounts for transgender persons on the same grounds.

According to local media, on July 31 authorities refused a foreign LGBTI rights activist entry to Belarus at the Minsk National Airport. A representative of the border service told the media the decision was made in accordance with a law that says a foreigner can be denied entry if his or her presence in the country ran counter to national security, public order, the protection of morality, public health, or the rights and liberties of the citizens of Belarus and other persons. The LGBTI organization Out Loud stated the activist planned to deliver a lecture in Minsk on discrimination and street violence against migrants, nonwhite, and transgender persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem, and the illness carried a heavy social stigma. The Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS noted there were numerous reports of HIV-infected individuals who faced discrimination, especially at workplaces and during job interviews. There were also frequent reports of family discrimination against HIV/AIDS-positive relatives, including preventing HIV/AIDS-positive parents from seeing their children or requiring HIV/AIDS-positive family members to use separate dishware.

The government continued to broadcast and post public service advertisements raising awareness concerning HIV/AIDS and calling for greater tolerance toward persons infected with the virus.

Belgium

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were some reports, however, that prison staff physically mistreated prisoners. Government investigations into these allegations were ongoing.

In March and continuing into April 2017, a delegation from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) returned to the country to reevaluate conditions in four prisons. On March 8, the committee released its conclusions from the visit and reported it had received credible allegations of recent physical mistreatment of male prisoners by certain prison staff, including team leaders. As an illustration, the delegation reported that, at the Saint-Gilles prison, it was able to view a video recording of prison officer violently kicking an unresisting prisoner as he was returned to a cell. The delegation also received several allegations of excessive use of force by police, either during or shortly after arrest.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions met most international standards.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding remained a problem, despite a steady decrease in the number of inmates. According to the government’s annual report on prisons for 2017, an average of 10,619 inmates was held in prisons that had an average capacity of 9,687 inmates.

In its March 8 report, the CPT noted ongoing problems with overcrowding in aging facilities despite marginal improvements from new prison facilities. The committee found no improvement in the prisons’ ability to ensure continuity of minimal services in the event of a prison staff strike. The CPT had previously criticized failures to provide basic medical services to vulnerable inmates, such as those requiring long-term psychological treatment, during a widespread strike in 2016. Staffing shortages remained a serious concern.

Some older facilities experienced maintenance problems that contributed to poor detention conditions. There are no specific facilities for pretrial detainees. Conditions are similar for both genders. The Federal Center of Expertise on Healthcare, supported by the Belgian section of the International Observatory for Prisons, highlighted staff shortages and lengthy wait times for inmates to see medical practitioners.

Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. The federal mediator acts as an ombudsman, allowing any citizen to address problems with prison administration. The federal mediator is an independent entity appointed by the Chamber of Representatives to investigate and resolve problems between citizens and public institutions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. For example, authorities permitted the CPT to visit prisons and detention centers and authorized the publication of its reports.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Expression: Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks and attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred are criminal offenses punishable by a minimum of eight days (for Holocaust denial) or one month (incitement to hatred and sexist remarks or attitudes) and up to one year in prison and fines, plus a possible revocation of the right to vote or run for public office. If the incitement to hatred was based on racism or xenophobia, the case would be tried in the regular courts. If, however, the incitement stemmed from other motives, including homophobia or religious bias, a longer and more costly trial by jury generally would be required. The government prosecuted and courts convicted persons under these laws.

In July 2017 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unanimously rejected the appeal of Fouad Belkacem, the former leader and spokesperson of the disbanded Salafi organization Sharia4Belgium. Authorities prosecuted Belkacem in 2012 for creating YouTube videos in which he called on viewers to commit violence against non-Muslims. He was sentenced to a two-year prison term. In his appeal, Belkacem claimed he was wrongfully convicted of public incitement to discrimination, violence, and hatred. He claimed Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights protected his free speech and that he never intended to incite others. In its decision, the ECHR stated that Belkacem’s remarks online were markedly hateful and incompatible with the ECHR’s underlying values of tolerance, nondiscrimination, and peaceful coexistence. The ECHR further stated that it upheld states’ rights to oppose political movements based on religious fundamentalism and noted that Belkacem had attempted to deflect Article 10 from its real purpose by using his right to freedom of expression for ends that were manifestly contrary to the spirit of the convention.

Press and Media Freedom: The prohibition of Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks, attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred applies to print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals.

In observation of World Refugee Day on June 20, some 100 activists took over a refugee detention facility construction site, preventing workers from entering. Police eventually regained control of the site and administratively arrested protesters, including a news crew of the Francophone public service broadcasting organization, the RTBF, which had been on location to cover the story. All protestors were released after one hour. The RTBF and Belgian and European journalist federations filed formal complaints, and the prime minister ordered an investigation of the incident, asserting that freedom of the press is essential and that police must maintain public order at all times.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

According to estimates compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 87 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected 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 refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF 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, including specific subsidiary protection that goes beyond asylum criteria established by the 1951 Convention relating to the Treatment of Refugees and its 1967 protocol. Refugee status and residence permits are limited to five years and become indefinite if extended.

Authorities continued to face a significant flow of “transit migrants,” defined as those who remained in the country without requesting asylum while attempting illegal travel to the United Kingdom. To address the flow, the federal government started to detain transit migrants physically to ensure their repatriation.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to asylum seekers who arrived from a safe country of origin or transit, pursuant to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation.

Durable Solutions: The country accepted refugees through UNHCR, including persons located in Italy and Greece, under the EU Emergency Relocation Mechanism. The country also conducted a voluntary return program for migrants in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary “subsidiary” protection to individuals who did not satisfy the legal criteria for refugee status but who could not return to their country of origin due to a real risk of serious harm. Under EU guidelines, individuals granted “subsidiary protection” are entitled to temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, and equal access to health care and housing. In 2017 authorities granted subsidiary protection to 2,900 individuals. In the first half of the year, authorities granted protection to 1,095 individuals.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR, at the end of 2017, there were 7,695 persons in the country who fell under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate. The country does not have a significant number of residents who are stateless, de jure or de facto, and does not contribute to statelessness, as the legal framework for stripping an individual of his or her citizenship does not exist except in cases of dual citizenship with another country.

To be recognized as stateless, a requestor must go through legal proceedings and acquire a court ruling on his or her stateless status. Since July 2017 family courts have been tasked with handling these requests in hopes of decreasing wait times. The requestor may appeal the court’s ruling. Recognition of statelessness does not automatically afford a stateless person resident status in the country. Stateless persons may apply for Belgian nationality after meeting the requirements for legal residency.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women or men, including spousal rape, is illegal, and the government prosecuted such cases. A convicted rapist may receive 10 to 30 years in prison. The law prohibits domestic violence and provides for fines and incarceration. Legal sanctions for domestic violence are based on the sanctions for physical violence against a third person; the latter range from eight days to 20 years in prison. In cases of domestic violence, these sanctions are doubled.

In 2017 the NGO Femicide Watch reported that 39 women died in connection with rape or domestic violence. According to 2017 statistics from the federal police, there were more than 37,000 official complaints of physical, psychological, and economic violence, including 142 complaints of sexual violence.

In one prominent domestic violence case, a woman in her forties, Valerie Leisten, and her mother, Lucie Leisten-Brandt, were stabbed and killed on August 22 in their family’s restaurant in Moresnet (Plombieres) by Leisten’s former partner, 52-year-old Michel Gijsens. According to media reports, Leisten had previously filed a harassment complaint against Gijsens following their break-up. Gijsens died from an injury sustained in the attack; two other persons in the restaurant were injured. Media reports indicated that Leisten and Gijsens had long lived together. An investigation was reportedly ongoing.

A number of government-supported shelters and telephone helplines were available across the country for victims of domestic abuse.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls. Reported cases were primarily filed by recent immigrants or asylum seekers. Criminal sanctions apply to persons convicted of FGM/C. According to estimates during the year, there were more than 17,000 female minor and adult victims of FGM in the country, while more than 8,000 were at risk. The vast majority of potential victims were asylum seekers from Guinea, Somalia, Ivory Coast, and Egypt.

Sexual Harassment: The law aims to prevent violence and harassment at work, obliging companies to set up internal procedures to handle employee complaints. Sexist remarks and attitudes targeting a specific individual are illegal; fines for violations range from 50 to 1,000 euros ($58 to $1,150). The government generally enforced antiharassment laws. Politicians and organizations such as the Federal Institute for the Equality of Men and Women worked to raise awareness of the problem.

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

Discrimination: Women have the same legal rights as men. The law requires equal pay for equal work and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender, pregnancy, or motherhood as well as in access to goods, services, social welfare, and health care. The government generally enforced the law effectively, although many NGOs and feminist organizations reported women often had to accept part-time work due to conflicting family obligations.

Children

Birth Registration: The government registered all live births immediately. Citizenship is conferred on a child through a parent’s (or the parents’) Belgian citizenship.

Child Abuse: The government continued to prosecute cases of child abuse and punish those convicted.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law provides that both (consenting) partners must be at least 18 to marry.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation, abduction, and trafficking of children and includes severe penalties for child pornography and possession of pedophilic materials. Authorities enforced the law. The penalties for producing and disseminating child pornography range up to 15 years’ imprisonment and up to one year in prison for possessing such material. Belgian girls and foreign children were subjected to sex trafficking within the country.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Statutory rape carries penalties of imprisonment for up 30 years.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community was estimated at 46,000 persons. There were 56 reports of anti-Semitic acts in 2017, a steep decrease from the 109 notifications in 2016, which represented a peak over recent previous years. Anti-Semitic acts included physical attacks, verbal harassment, and vandalism of Jewish property. Authorities generally investigated and where appropriate prosecuted such cases. Online hate speech continued to be a problem. Jewish groups reported anti-Semitic statements and attitudes in the media and in schools, especially but not exclusively related to the government of Israel and the Holocaust.

The law prohibits public statements that incite national, racial, or religious hatred, including denial of the Holocaust. The government prosecuted and convicted individuals under this law (see section 2.a.). The government also provided enhanced security at Jewish schools and places of worship.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government generally enforced the provisions.

While the government mandated that public buildings erected after 1970 must be accessible to persons with disabilities, many older buildings were still inaccessible. Although the law requires that prison inmates with disabilities receive adequate treatment in separate, appropriate facilities, there were still many such inmates incarcerated in inadequate facilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic minorities continued to experience discrimination in access to housing, education, and employment. Discriminatory acts primarily took place over the internet, at work, or when individuals attempted to gain access to various public and private services, such as banking and restaurants.

Discrimination against women who wore a headscarf was common in the labor market. The law also prohibits the wearing of a full-face veil (niqab) in public places. Authorities may punish persons who discriminate on the basis of ethnic origin with a fine of up to 137.50 euros ($158) and a jail sentence of up to seven days. There were reports of discrimination against persons of African and Middle Eastern ancestry. Government efforts to address such problems included internal training of officials and police officers and enforcement of laws prohibiting such discrimination.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, application of nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. The government enforced the law, but the underreporting of crimes against the LGBTI community remained a problem.

LGBTI persons from immigrant communities reported social discrimination within those communities. The government supported NGOs working to overcome the problem.

Local media broadly reported on an August 7 attack in Ghent against an LGBTI couple, both of whom were resident foreigners, who were beaten by a man and his wife during an incident of road rage. The two couples were reportedly neighbors who knew each other and had prior issues. The media characterized the incident as a homophobic attack. One victim was hospitalized with two broken vertebra and a series of stitches for extensive facial lacerations.

The law provides protections for transgender persons, including legal gender recognition without first undergoing sex reassignment surgery.

During the year the government, in cooperation with the regional entities, implemented an antihomophobia action plan. The plan requires government entities to conduct awareness campaigns to combat homophobic stereotypes in schools, youth movements, places of work, and the sports community.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

UNIA received complaints of discrimination based on physical characteristics, political orientation, social origin, or status. Restrictions on Islamic clothing in public and private sector employment, schools, and public spaces affected Muslim women in particular.

A socioeconomic study published in December 2017 indicated that a person’s origin and nationality could affect his or her ability to compete in the country’s labor market.

 

Brazil

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, but there were reports that government officials employed them.

In October the ombudsman for the Rio de Janeiro Public Defender’s Office released a report of findings on 15 neighborhoods affected by the federal military intervention, which began in March. The report documented 30 types of violations, including cases of rape, physical aggression, robberies, and home invasions perpetrated by federal law enforcement officials.

In November the press reported claims that federal military officers tortured three male favela residents in Rio de Janeiro in August. The men alleged the military held them for 17 hours, during which they were beaten, electrically shocked, and sprayed in the face with pepper spray.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in many prisons were poor and sometimes life threatening, mainly due to overcrowding. Abuse by prison guards continued, and poor working conditions and low pay for prison guards encouraged corruption.

Physical Conditions: Endemic overcrowding was a problem. According to the National Council of the Public Ministry, in August the overall occupation rate was 175 percent of capacity. The northern region had the worst situation, with three times more prisoners than designed capacity.

Reports of abuse by prison guards continued. Multiple reports filed with the Sao Paulo Public Defender’s Office, the National Penitentiary Department, and members of the National Council of Justice detailed abuse at the Unidade Prisional de Avare I, in the state of Sao Paulo, including suffocation with bags filled with urine and feces. Another prisoner claimed prison guards at the Complexo Medico-Penal prison in the state of Parana slammed his head against the wall and punched and kicked him.

Prisoners convicted of petty crimes frequently were held with murderers and other violent criminals. Authorities attempted to hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, but lack of space often required placing convicted criminals in pretrial detention facilities. In many prisons, including those in the Federal District, officials attempted to separate violent offenders from other inmates and keep convicted drug traffickers in a wing apart from the rest of the prison population. Multiple sources reported adolescents were held with adults in poor and crowded conditions. In many juvenile detention centers, the number of inmates greatly exceeded capacity.

The National Council of Justice found that, as of the end of 2017, there were 373 pregnant and 249 breastfeeding inmates in the prison system. In February the Supreme Court ruled that women who are pregnant or have children age 12 months and younger have the right to wait for the start of their trials under house arrest as opposed to preventive detention.

Prisons suffered from insufficient staffing and lack of control over the prison population. Violence was rampant in several prison facilities in the Northeast. In addition to overcrowding, poor administration of the prison system, the presence of gangs, and corruption contributed to violence within the penitentiary system. Media reports indicated most leaders of major criminal gangs were incarcerated and were controlling their expanding transnational criminal enterprises from inside prisons.

Multiple prison riots throughout the year led to the deaths of inmates, including a January riot in Ceara State in which 10 prisoners were killed and a September riot in Para State in which seven prisoners were killed. In February inmates at a prison in Japeri, a metropolitan area of the city of Rio de Janeiro, took prison guards hostage during a riot following a failed escape attempt. Three persons were wounded in the disturbances. Approximately 2,000 inmates were held in the Japeri facility, built for fewer than 900.

General prison conditions were poor. There was a lack of potable water for drinking and bathing, inadequate nutrition, rat and cockroach infestations, damp and dark cells, and beatings of inmates. According to the Ministry of Health, prisoners were 28 times more likely to contract tuberculosis, compared to the general public. In November the Organization of American States’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited prisons in the states of Maranhao, Roraima, and Rio de Janeiro, declaring the Jorge Santana Prison in Rio de Janeiro as one of the worst prisons commission members had seen and denouncing the Monte Cristo Agricultural Penitentiary Center in Roraima for subjecting prisoners to serious diseases and without the minimum right to food.

Administration: State-level ombudsman offices and the federal Secretariat of Human Rights monitored prison and detention center conditions and conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. Prisoners and detainees had access to visitors; however, human rights observers reported some visitors complained of screening procedures that at times included invasive and unsanitary physical exams.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers.

Improvements: In May the National Council of Justice launched the National Registry of Prisoners, designed to contain basic data about all prisoners in the penitentiary system, including prisoner biographic data, the reason for the detention, the location of the prisoner, and the court order under which the prisoner was incarcerated.

In June the Pernambuco state government transferred the first inmates to Unit I of the newly constructed Itaquitinga Prison.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with minimal restriction, but nongovernmental criminal elements subjected journalists to violence due to their professional activities. National laws prohibit politically motivated judicial censorship, but some local-level courts engaged in judicial censorship. In instances of violence perpetrated by protesters or provocateurs during massive demonstrations, at times security forces injured journalists during crowd-control operations. There were also cases of protesters attacking journalists.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes subject to harassment, physical attacks, and threats as a result of their reporting. From January to April, the Brazilian Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters recorded the deaths of two journalists as well as 14 physical attacks, 11 threats, and nine acts of vandalism against journalists. On January 18, Jefferson Pureza Lopes, host of the radio program A Voice of the People, was killed in his home in Goias State. He had received death threats for years, and both his home and radio station office were burned down in response to denunciations of city irregularities made on his radio show. According to the international organization Reporters without Borders, a third Brazilian journalist was killed on August 16.

In August media outlets reported physical attacks against journalists by demonstrators in the states of Ceara and Sao Paulo as journalists were covering protests against the decision by the Federal Court of Parana on the imprisonment of former president Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or systematically censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

The 2014 Marco Civil law, considered an internet “bill of rights,” enshrines net neutrality and freedom of expression online and provides for the inviolability and secrecy of user communications online, permitting exceptions only by court order. Nevertheless, several legal and judicial rulings citing the Marco Civil law had the potential to threaten freedom of expression on the internet. Anonymous speech is explicitly excluded from constitutional protection, which left little privacy protection for those who used the internet anonymously through a pseudonym. Police and prosecutors may obtain data pursuant to three main statutes: the Wiretapping Act, Secrecy of Financial Data Act, and Money Laundering Act. In August President Temer approved a new data protection law regulating the use, protection, and transfer of personal data. NGOs praised the new law, with the NGO Article 19 calling it “an important advancement in the right to privacy and freedom of expression.” The local NGO Intervozes said the new law “creates an important legal framework that guarantees privacy and protection of fundamental rights” and puts the country in line with other international legislation in the field of data protection.

The electoral law regulates political campaign activity on the internet. The law prohibits paid political advertising online and in traditional media. During the three months prior to an election, the law also prohibits online and traditional media from promoting candidates and distributing content that ridicules or could offend a candidate.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 65 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government generally respected the right of freedom of peaceful assembly, but police occasionally intervened in citizen protests that turned violent.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The National Committee for Refugees cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF 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. By law refugees are provided official documentation, access to legal protection, and access to public services. The migration law signed by President Temer in May 2017 went into effect in November 2017, with implementing regulations developed during 2018. The law codifies protections for asylum claimants but overall made few changes to existing practices. It creates a new humanitarian visa as well as a new residency status that serves as an alternative to refugee claims for some categories of regional migrants, particularly from Venezuela.

During the year increasing numbers of Venezuelan economic migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees arrived in Roraima State in the north. As of August, 75,000 Venezuelans had applied for asylum or temporary residency in Brazil. The influx of Venezuelans into the small state of Roraima aggravated relations between local residents and the migrants and refugees, leading to some incidents of violence. On August 18, an anti-Venezuelan riot broke out in the border town of Pacaraima after a group of Venezuelans allegedly assaulted a local restaurant owner. While no deaths were reported, 1,200 Venezuelans were temporarily forced to return to their country.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. The Maria da Penha Law criminalizes physical, psychological, and sexual violence against women, as well as defamation and damage to property or finances by someone with whom the victim has a marriage, family, or intimate relationship. Persons convicted of killing a woman or girl in cases of domestic violence may be sentenced to 12 to 30 years in prison.

In July Parana state officials accused Luis Felipe Manvailer of killing his wife, Tatiane Spitzner. Security camera footage showed Manvailer hitting and choking his wife and dragging her body into an elevator of their apartment building. As of November 30, he was in detention and awaiting trial.

The federal government maintained a toll-free nationwide hotline for women to report instances of intimate partner violence. Hotline operators have the authority to mobilize military police units to respond to such reports and follow up regarding the status of the case.

Each state secretariat for public security operated police stations dedicated exclusively to addressing crimes against women. State and local governments also operated reference centers and temporary women’s shelters, and many states maintained domestic violence hotlines. Despite these protections, allegations of domestic violence were not always treated as credible by police; a study in the state of Rio Grande do Sul found 40 percent of femicide victims had previously sought police protection.

On October 4, Claudecir Kuster dos Soares shot his ex-wife Celia Oliveira on a public bus in Lages, in the state of Santa Catarina. Soares then shot himself. Both were taken to a hospital for emergency surgery and were expected to recover. Oliveira had a restraining order against Soares and had reported receiving a death threat from him in September. As of November 30, Soares was in police custody.

The law requires health facilities to contact police regarding cases in which a woman was harmed physically, sexually, or psychologically and to collect evidence and statements should the victim decide to prosecute.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a criminal offense, punishable by up to two years in prison. NGOs reported sexual harassment was a serious concern, and perpetrators were frequently not held accountable.

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

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in all circumstances. The government did not enforce the law effectively. According to the recruitment agency Catho, women received 62 percent of the amount men received for equal work as of March.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from birth in the country or from birth to a Brazilian citizen parent. The National Council of Justice, in partnership with the Secretariat of Human Rights, acted to reduce the number of children without birth certificates by registering children born in maternity wards.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse and negligence. Abuse and neglect of children and adolescents were problems. Child pornography carries a prison sentence of up to eight years and a fine.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 (16 with parental or legal representative consent). According to 2017 data from UNICEF, 11 percent of women ages 20-24 were married by age 15, and 36 percent of women ages 20-24 were married by age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children, adolescents, and other vulnerable persons is punishable by four to 10 years in prison. The law defines sexual exploitation as child sex trafficking, sexual activity, production of child pornography, and public or private sex shows. The government enforced the law unevenly. The law sets a minimum age of 14 for consensual sex, with the penalty for statutory rape ranging from eight to 15 years in prison.

In August police arrested former civil police officer Alzemar da Conceicao dos Anjos for running a child sex ring in the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area. A joint telephone wiretap investigation by the Public Ministry and civil police revealed that dos Anjos notified staff about the arrival of police and instructed that girls younger than age 18 be removed from the home where they were kept.

While no specific laws address child sex tourism, it is punishable under other criminal offenses. The country was a destination for child sex tourism. In addition girls from other South American nations were exploited in commercial sex in the country.

The law criminalizes child pornography. The penalty for possession of child pornography is up to four years in prison and a fine.

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 Abductiontravel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to the Jewish Federation, there were approximately 120,000 Jewish citizens, of whom approximately 50,000 were in the state of Sao Paulo and 30,000 in Rio de Janeiro State.

Several leaders of the Jewish and interfaith communities stated overt anti-Semitism was limited. Small neo-Nazi groups existed in the southern states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, and Parana.

In September the Israeli Federation of Rio de Janeiro reported that in Zona Sul, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, individuals spray-painted a swastika on a wall of a residence decorated with a mezuzah. Police were investigating the incident.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities, and the federal government generally enforced these provisions. While federal and state laws mandate access to buildings for persons with disabilities, states did not enforce them effectively.

The Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities Act, a legal framework on the rights of persons with disabilities, seeks to promote greater accessibility through expanded federal oversight of the City Statute (a law intended to foster the safety and well-being of urban citizens, among other objectives). The act also includes harsher criminal penalties for conviction of discrimination based on disability and inclusive health services with provision of services near residences and rural areas.

The National Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the National Council for the Rights of the Elderly have primary responsibility for promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. The lack of accessible infrastructure and schools significantly limited the ability of persons with disabilities to participate in the workforce.

Civil society organizations acknowledged monitoring and enforcement of disability policies remained weak and criticized a lack of accessibility to public transportation, weak application of employment quotas, and a limited medical-based definition of disability that often excludes learning disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits racial discrimination, specifically the denial of public or private facilities, employment, or housing to anyone based on race. The law also prohibits the incitement of racial discrimination or prejudice and the dissemination of racially offensive symbols and epithets, and it stipulates prison terms for such acts.

Approximately 52 percent of the population identified themselves as belonging to categories other than white. Despite this high representation within the general population, darker-skinned citizens, particularly Afro-Brazilians, encountered discrimination. Afro-Brazilians were underrepresented in the government, professional positions, and middle and upper classes. They experienced a higher rate of unemployment and earned average wages below those of whites in similar positions. There was also a sizeable education gap. Afro-Brazilians were disproportionately affected by crime.

The 2010 Racial Equality Statute continued to be controversial, due to its provision for nonquota affirmative action policies in education and employment. In 2012 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of racial quota systems at universities. The 2010 law requires 20 percent of federal public administration positions be filled by Afro-Brazilians.

The Ministry of Planning requires government ministries to create internal committees to validate the self-declared ethnicity claims of public-service job applicants by using phenotypic criteria, assessing “blackness” in an attempt to reduce abuse of affirmative action policy and related laws. Universities also had race evaluation committees.

In April the Supreme Court ruled that 20 percent of vacancies for the military services must be filled by Afro-Brazilians, either men or women.

Indigenous People

According to data from the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) and the 2010 census, there were approximately 897,000 indigenous persons, representing 305 distinct indigenous ethnic groups that spoke 274 distinct languages. The law grants the indigenous population broad protection of their cultural patrimony, exclusive use of their traditional lands, and exclusive beneficial use of their territory.

According to the constitution, all aboveground and underground minerals as well as hydroelectric power potential belong to the government. Congress must consult with the tribes involved when considering requests to exploit mineral and water resources, including ones with energy potential, on indigenous lands. Human rights groups expressed concerns that most of the requirements for indigenous consultation were not met.

Illegal logging, drug trafficking, and mining, as well as changes in the environment caused by large infrastructure projects, forced indigenous tribes to move to new areas or make their demarcated indigenous territories smaller than established by law. In some areas of Maranhao State, there were nightly curfews that applied only to indigenous persons.

According to FUNAI, the federal government established rules for providing financial compensation following the occupation in good faith of indigenous areas, as in the cases of companies that won development contracts affecting indigenous lands. Various indigenous groups protested the slow pace of land demarcations. In a case that lasted more than 30 years, during the year a court ordered the return of 20,000 acres of land to the Pankararu indigenous community in the municipalities of Tacaratu, Petrolandia, and Jatoba in the state of Pernambuco.

On August 11, indigenous leader Jorge Guajajara was killed in Maranhao. Police were investigating the case.

The Quilombola population–descendants of escaped African slaves–was estimated to include 6,000 communities and approximately five million individuals, although the government had no official statistics. The constitution recognizes Quilombola land ownership rights. In February the Supreme Court rejected the president’s attempt to apply “marco temporal” to Quilombola land claims, which would have prevented claims to lands the Quilombolas did not physically occupy in 1988, when the constitution was promulgated. In March the governor of Para State concluded a 23-year land dispute by signing over titles for more than 543,000 acres of Amazon forest to the Quilombola community in Cachoeira Porteira.

Of the 70 land-conflict deaths recorded by the NGO Pastoral Land Commission in 2017, 11 victims were Quilombola leaders. In April Quilombola leader Nazildo dos Santos Brito was killed in Para State, following threats to his physical safety after protesting a palm oil plantation’s alleged illegal deforestation and pollution practices.

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

Federal law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, but several states and municipalities have administrative regulations that prohibit such discrimination and provide for equal access to government services. The criminal code states offenses subject to criminal prosecution fall under federal statutes, leaving hate crimes subject to administrative, not criminal penalties. Sao Paulo was the only state to codify punishments for hate-motivated violence and speech against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. In the state of Rio de Janeiro, the law penalizes commercial establishments that discriminate against individuals on the basis of their LGBTI status. In Brasilia the law penalizes both individuals and businesses for discrimination against LGBTI persons. In both Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, sanctions vary from warnings and fines to the temporary suspension or termination of a business license.

Violence against LGBTI individuals was a serious concern. Through June there were 85 killings of LGBTI individuals. On April 5, five persons accused of the 2017 murder of a transgender woman, Dandara dos Santos, in Fortaleza, Ceara State, were convicted and sentenced to imprisonment ranging from 14 years and six months to 21 years.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS is punishable by up to four years in prison and a fine. Civil society organizations and the press reported discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

In August and September, unknown perpetrators committed acts of arson, vandalism, and destruction of sacred objects against seven Afro-Brazilian temples or places of worship (terreiros) on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. The state secretary of human rights said the incidents were likely the work of an unidentified “religious militia.” There were eight similar incidents in the state of Sao Paulo in September. In another case an individual entered a terreiro during a meeting of practitioners and stabbed four persons, including one minor.

Russia

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

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

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, numerous credible reports indicated law enforcement personnel engaged in torture, abuse, and violence to coerce confessions from suspects, and authorities only occasionally held officials accountable for such actions.

There were reports of deaths as a result of torture (see section 1.a.).

Physical abuse of suspects by police officers was reportedly systemic and usually occurred within the first few days of arrest in pretrial detention facilities. Reports from human rights groups and former police officers indicated that police most often used electric shocks, suffocation, and stretching or applying pressure to joints and ligaments because those methods were considered less likely to leave visible marks. The problem was especially acute in the North Caucasus.

There were multiple reports of the FSB using torture against young anarchist and antifascist activists who were allegedly involved in several “terrorism” and “extremism” cases. Multiple defendants, whom authorities alleged were planning terrorist attacks under the auspices of previously unknown supposed organizations called “the Network” and “New Greatness,” alleged they were subjected to torture to coerce confessions, including severe beatings and electric shocks.

In one of many cases with a similar pattern of allegations, on January 23, FSB officers detained software engineer and antifascist activist Viktor Filinkov at St. Petersburg airport, placed him in a minivan, and subjected him to electric shocks for more than five hours while attempting to force him to memorize a confession to planning a terrorist act. On January 25, the Dzerzhinskiy District Court in St. Petersburg authorized Filinkov’s pretrial detention for two months on charges of alleged involvement in a terrorist organization the FSB called “the Network,” which was allegedly comprised of young activists in St. Petersburg and Penza. After visiting him in detention, Filinkov’s lawyer and two members of the St. Petersburg Public Oversight Commission noted burns on his right thigh and chest and handcuff marks on both hands that were consistent with his allegations of torture by electric shock. On a later visit the Public Oversight Commission members noted that the Prison Service did not allow Filinkov to take prescribed medications with him to the St. Petersburg pretrial detention center. As of mid-November, Filinkov remained in pretrial detention.

In the North Caucasus region, there were widespread reports that security forces abused and tortured both alleged militants and civilians in detention facilities. (see section 1.a. for reports of torture against members of the LGBTI community in the Republic of Chechnya). For example, on January 16, the media outlet Republic published an article describing the mass arrest and torture of at least 70 suspected drug addicts in the Shali District of the Republic of Chechnya. One victim described how in August 2017 Chechen police tortured both him and his brother with electric shocks for a week to coerce confessions of drug possession.

Police and persons who appeared to be operating with the tacit approval of authorities conducted attacks on political and human rights activists, critics of government policies, and persons linked to the opposition (see sections 2.b. and 3).

Observers noted an emerging pattern of poisoning of government critics. For example, on September 11, Pyotr Verzilov, the 30-year-old manager of Pussy Riot and editor of the human rights-focused media outlet Mediazona, fell ill after attending a court hearing in Moscow and later suffered seizures and began losing his sight, speech, and mobility. On September 15, he was transported for treatment to Germany, where doctors stated that it was “highly likely” he had been poisoned by an undetermined substance. Press reports indicated that, on the day he was hospitalized, Verzilov was planning to receive a report from “foreign specialists” investigating the July killings of a team of independent Russian journalists who were investigating the activities of the Wagner Battalion, a private militia linked to the Russian government, in the Central African Republic.

Reports by refugees, NGOs, and the press suggested a pattern of police and prison personnel carrying out beatings, arrests, and extortion of persons whom they believed to be Roma, Central Asian, African, or of a Caucasus nationality.

There were multiple reports of authorities detaining defendants for psychiatric evaluations for 30 days or longer to exert pressure on them, or sending defendants for psychiatric treatment as punishment. Beginning July 19, new amendments to the administrative procedure code gave prosecutors the ability to request suspects be placed in psychiatric clinics on an involuntary basis; the law previously only allowed certified medical professionals to make this request, although human rights activists noted that in practice, prosecutors already had this ability.

For example, on August 31, a court in Barnaul ruled to send Andrey Shisherin to a psychiatric clinic for a one-month evaluation. Shisherin was facing blasphemy charges for posting memes on his social network account that ridiculed the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. The court ignored independent psychiatric assessments attesting to Shisherin’s good mental health and sided with the prosecutor, who argued that psychiatric incarceration was required because Shisherin had behaved suspiciously by renouncing a confession he alleged he had previously given under duress.

Nonlethal physical abuse and hazing continued in the armed forces, although violations related to hazing in the military were fewer than in previous years. Activists reported hazing was often tied to extortion schemes.

There were reports Russian-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region and Russian occupation authorities in Crimea engaged in torture (see Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers varied but were often harsh and life threatening. Overcrowding, abuse by guards and inmates, limited access to health care, food shortages, and inadequate sanitation were common in prisons, penal colonies, and other detention facilities.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding remained a serious problem. While the penal code establishes the separation of women and men, juveniles and adults, and pretrial detainees and convicts into separate quarters, anecdotal evidence indicated not all prison facilities followed these rules.

The NGO Penal Reform International reported conditions were generally better in women’s colonies than in those for men, but they remained substandard.

Physical abuse by prison guards was systemic. For example, on July 20, Novaya Gazeta published a YouTube video provided by the NGO Public Verdict that showed 17 prison guards from prison IK-1 in Yaroslavl Oblast appearing to torture prison inmate Yevgeniy Makarov in June 2017. At least 11 prison officials, including the deputy head of the prison and an investigator who had refused to act on prior complaints, were arrested for abusing Makarov and at least five other inmates. On July 24, Makarov’s lawyer, Irina Biryukova, fled the country after receiving death threats, but she later returned. By the time the video was published, Makarov had been transferred to IK-8 in Yaroslavl Oblast, where he reported prison guards severely beat him on several occasions. On September 19, the Investigative Committee announced it had opened a criminal investigation into Makarov’s beatings in IK-8. On October 1, Makarov was released from prison. The Makarov case sparked significant public outcry and led to the public reporting of many other similar cases of inmate torture from prisons across the country, including some instances resulting in the prosecution of prison personnel.

Prisoner-on-prisoner violence was also a problem. For example, according to media reports, on July 5, Ukrainian prisoner Pavlo Hryb was admitted to a medical facility with broken legs and severe bruises. His lawyer alleged Hryb had been beaten by his fellow prisoners while being transported to Rostov-on-Don.

There were also reports prison authorities recruited inmates to abuse other inmates. For example, on August 1 in Vladimir, two inmates and six officials were charged with torture after authorities discovered a torture chamber at a pretrial detention facility. A previous court decision had noted that the pretrial detention center “held inmates that used physical and psychological violence to force other detainees to self-incriminate.”

Overcrowding, nutrition, ventilation, heating, and sanitation standards varied among facilities but generally were poor. The NGO Russia Behind Bars reported minimal opportunities for movement and exercise. Potable water was sometimes rationed and food quality was poor; many inmates relied on food provided by family or NGOs. Access to quality medical care remained a problem.

A 2017 Amnesty International report described the country’s prison transport practices as part of a “Gulag-era legacy” and documented how authorities often transported prisoners for weeks in tiny train compartments with no ventilation, natural light, little water, and infrequent access to toilets and other sanitation.

NGOs reported many prisoners with HIV did not receive adequate treatment.

There were reports political prisoners were placed in particularly harsh conditions of confinement and subjected to punitive treatment within the prison system, such as solitary confinement or punitive stays in psychiatric units. For example, on September 21, Ukrainian prisoner Oleksander Kolchenko was put in solitary confinement for three days in a prison in Chelyabinsk. His attorneys believed the action was in retaliation for his request for a visit from the Ukrainian consul.

Administration: Convicted inmates and individuals in pretrial detention have visitation rights, but authorities can deny visitation depending on circumstances. By law prisoners with harsher sentences are allowed fewer visitation rights. The judge in a prisoner’s case can deny the prisoner visitation. Authorities can also prohibit relatives deemed a security risk from visiting prisoners.

While prisoners can file complaints with public oversight commissions or with the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, they often did not do so due to fear of reprisal. Prison reform activists reported that only prisoners who believed they had no other option risked the consequences of filing a complaint. Complaints that reached the oversight commissions often focused on minor personal requests.

NGOs reported that some prisoners who alleged torture were later charged with making false accusations, which often resulted in additional prison time. For example, on January 11, the Investigative Committee of Kirov Oblast opened a criminal case against an unidentified inmate for allegedly making false accusations of torture in a complaint alleging he had been beaten and subjected to electric shocks at prison IK-1. According to press reports, this was the second inmate in two years to be prosecuted for filing a torture complaint against the facility.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities permitted representatives of public oversight commissions to visit prisons regularly to monitor conditions. According to the Public Chamber, there were public oversight commissions in 81 regions with a total of 1,154 commission members. Human rights activists expressed concern that some members of the commissions were individuals close to authorities and included persons with law-enforcement backgrounds.

A law adopted on July 19 gave members of oversight commissions the right to videotape and photograph inmates in detention facilities and prisons with their written approval. Commission members may also collect air samples and conduct other environmental inspections, and they may also conduct safety evaluations and access prison psychiatric facilities.

Authorities allowed the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture to visit the country’s prisons but continued to withhold permission for it to release any reports, with the exception of one released in 2013 on a visit conducted in 2012.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the government increasingly restricted this right. During the year the government instituted several new laws restricting both freedom of expression and of the press, particularly in regards to online expression. 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, such as the Russian Orthodox Church. 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 issues, especially of Ukraine and Syria, LGBTI issues, the environment, elections, criticism of local or federal leadership, as well as issues of secessionism, or federalism. Censorship and self-censorship in television and print media and on the internet was increasingly widespread, particularly regarding points of view critical of the government or its policies. 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.

Freedom of Expression: 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 climate intolerant of dissent.

Authorities continued to misuse the country’s expansive definition of extremism as a tool to stifle dissent. As of September 11, the Ministry of Justice expanded its list of extremist materials to include 4,507 books, videos, websites, social media pages, musical compositions, and other items, an increase of more than 200 items from 2017. According to the prosecutor general, authorities prosecuted 1,500 extremism cases in 2017, some of which included charges of “extremism” levied against individuals for exercising free speech on social media and elsewhere.

Several persons were charged with extremism under the criminal code for comments and images posted in online forums or social networks. For example, on February 11, a court in Stariy Oskol sentenced 23-year-old doctoral student Aleksandr Kruze to 2.5 years in prison for extremism for reposting four nationalist images on social media in 2016. Kruze had been writing a dissertation on radicalization and maintained that the posts had been a part of a research experiment in online discourse around radicalism.

In September the Supreme Court amended its 2011 decree regarding publication of extremist material online to require authorities to have proof of criminal intent in order for them to prosecute. Authorities must now prove in court that publications or reposts were made with the intent “to incite hate or ill will.”

By law authorities may close any organization that 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.

During the year authorities invoked a 2013 law prohibiting the “propaganda” of “nontraditional sexual relations” to minors to punish the exercise of free speech by LGBTI persons and their supporters. For example, on August 7, a court in Biysk fined 16-year-old Maxim Neverov 50,000 rubles ($750) for posting images of shirtless men on a social network. The Russia LGBT Network attributed the case against Neverov to his organizing of a May public protest called “Gay or Putin.” On October 26, an appeals court overturned the lower court decision.

During the year authorities prosecuted individuals for speech allegedly violating a law that prohibits “offending the feelings of religious believers.” On May 8, authorities raided the home and seized the computers of Barnaul resident Maria Motuznaya. Motuznaya was interrogated and shown pictures of her social media posts from 2015 in which she shared memes that satirized the Russian Orthodox Church. On June 23, she was charged with “offending the feelings of religious believers” and “extremism.” On October 9, a judge returned the case to prosecutors for further development.

During the year authorities prosecuted individuals for speech that allegedly violated a law prohibiting the “rehabilitation of Nazism.” On August 6, police in the Tyva Republic detained journalist Oyuuma Dongak because of photographs of Nazi Germany which contained a swastika posted on her Facebook page in 2014. Dongak said that the photos accompanied an article she had shared about the rebirth of fascism. A court fined her 1,000 rubles ($15) on August 8. Observers described the case as retribution for Dongak’s support of opposition politicians.

During the year authorities prosecuted individuals for speech that allegedly “insulted government officials.” For example, on August 3, a court in Magadan fined two men for “insulting” local mayor Yuri Grishan when they demanded his resignation in messages on the platform WhatsApp, using language authorities deemed “unacceptable.”

During the year authorities used a law banning the “propaganda of narcotics” to prosecute the independent press for their coverage of independent political candidates. On June 20, a court in Syktyvkar fined the independent online news outlet 7×7 800,000 rubles ($12,000), and fined its editor 40,000 rubles ($600) for publishing an interview in March with a libertarian politician who noted that synthetic drugs killed people at a higher rate than heroin. Authorities considered this statement an endorsement of heroin.

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. On February 26, a St. Petersburg court sentenced opposition activist Artem Goncharenko to 25 days in prison for “organizing an unsanctioned meeting” because he displayed a large inflatable rubber duck in the window of his apartment. Yellow rubber ducks have been used to signal support for the anticorruption protests organized by opposition leader Navalny.

Press and Media Freedom: The government continued to restrict press freedom. As of 2015, the latest year for which data was available, the government and state-owned or state-controlled companies directly owned more than 60 percent of the country’s 45,000 registered local newspapers and periodicals. Government-friendly oligarchs owned most other outlets. The federal government or progovernment individuals completely or partially owned all of the 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. 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 seemingly 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.”

A 2017 law requires the Ministry of Justice to maintain a list of media outlets that are designated “foreign agents.” As of September 20, there were nine outlets listed. The decision to designate media outlets as foreign agents could be made outside of court by other government bodies, including law enforcement agencies.

In some cases courts imposed extremely high fines on independent media outlets, which observers believed were intentionally disproportionate and designed to bankrupt the outlets and force their closure. For example, on October 26, a Moscow court fined independent news outlet The New Times 22.3 million rubles ($338,000) for errors in information it had provided to the government, as required by the “foreign agents” law. Press reports indicated this was the highest fine imposed on a media outlet in the country’s history. Prosecutors alleged that the newspaper had not properly accounted for money it received from a foundation affiliated with the paper, the Press Freedom Support Foundation, which is designated by the government as a “foreign agent.” Observers believed the case against The New Times to be in retaliation for the newspaper publishing an interview with opposition leader Navalny.

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 Fund, as of September incidents of violence and harassment against journalists included two killings, 42 attacks, 82 detentions by law-enforcement officers, 14 prosecutions, 42 threats, 21 politically motivated firings, and one attack on media offices. Journalists and bloggers who uncovered forms of 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 security or livelihood, frequently through legal prosecution.

On April 14, Maksim Borodin, a Yekaterinburg journalist with the independent newspaper Novyy Den, died in a fall from his fifth-floor apartment balcony in an incident seen by observers as suspicious. Borodin had been reporting on the foreign activities of the Wagner battalion, a private oligarch-sponsored militia aligned with the government.

On April 12, two unknown assailants in Yekaterinburg attacked Dmitriy Polyanin, editor in chief of the regional progovernment newspaper Oblastnaya Gazeta, which had recently published articles about local disputes related to the housing market. Polyanin was hospitalized with a concussion and a broken rib.

On January 31, the FSB raided the apartment of journalist Pavel Nikulin and brought him to their headquarters for several hours of interrogation in response to a 2017 article he wrote about a man who had gone to Syria to fight for ISIS. A regional court named Nikulin as a witness in a criminal investigation into “illegal terrorist training” in connection with the article and had approved a search warrant for his apartment. In July, Nikulin and a colleague were detained by police in Krasnodar on suspicion of extremist activity and attacked by unknown assailants with pepper spray. On September 16, Nikulin and two colleagues were again arrested in Nizhniy Novgorod on suspicion of distributing “extremist materials.”

There was no progress during the year in establishing accountability in a number of 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 the media, much of which occurred online (see Press Freedom, Internet Freedom, and Academic Freedom and Cultural Events sections). Self-censorship in independent media was also reportedly widespread.

There were multiple reports that the government retaliated against those who published content it disliked. For example, on January 23, the website Russiagate.com was blocked with no formal notification hours after it published evidence of corruption by the head of the FSB, Aleksandr Bortnikov. The website’s editor reported that investors in the website immediately informed her that they were ending their financing of the project.

On April 4, the independent Kaliningrad newspaper Novyye Kolesa announced it would cease publication following a campaign of harassment and censorship by authorities. Following an FSB raid in November 2017, authorities arrested the newspaper’s editor, Igor Rudnikov, and charged him with extortion. Human rights organizations believed there to be no legitimate basis for the charges, which could bring 15 years in prison. On March 29, unidentified individuals went to newsstands, seized all copies of the newspaper on sale, and threatened vendors. The lead story in that edition of the newspaper alleged that the FSB had tortured to death a local resident in detention. Distribution network representatives gave orders to hide all remaining copies, and later informed Novyye Kolesa leadership it would no longer be profitable for them to continue to sell the newspaper.

Libel/Slander Laws: Officials at all levels used their authority to restrict the work of journalists and bloggers who criticized them and to retaliate against them, including taking legal action for alleged slander or libel. For example, on July 23, a Moscow court ruled in favor of Nizhigorodskiy Prison Colony Number 2, which had filed a lawsuit against the newspaper Sobesednik and Pussy Riot-member Maria Alekhina for damaging its reputation in a 2017 article describing forced labor conditions at the prison. The court obliged the newspaper to print a retraction and pay a 3,000-ruble ($45) fine.

On April 23, President Putin signed a law allowing the state to block online information that “offends the honor and dignity” of an individual, if the author of the information has defied a court order to delete it.

On October 3, President Putin signed a law that strengthened penalties for the dissemination of “false” information related to defamation or information that violates privacy restrictions. International and domestic experts believed the introduction of criminal responsibility for noncompliance with court decisions ordering the takedown or retraction of content in civil defamation cases would expand the tools available to officials and public figures to interfere with public access to information detrimental to their interests.

National Security: Authorities cited laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies or officials, or to retaliate against critics.

On May 18, authorities raided the home of independent Omsk journalist Viktor Korb, conducted a 10-hour search, and charged him with incitement to terrorism, justification of terrorism, and terrorist propaganda, which carry a sentence of up to seven years in prison. The charges stemmed from Korb’s 2015 publication on a news and discussion website of a portion of remarks given by political activist Boris Stomakhin, during Stomakhin’s trial on terrorism charges. Korb did not endorse Stomakhin’s remarks.

Authorities also charged independent journalists with espionage. On June 4, a Moscow court convicted Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko of espionage and sentenced him to 12 years in prison. Sushchenko, a Paris-based correspondent for the Ukrinform news agency, was detained in Moscow in 2016 on suspicion of collecting classified information, an allegation human rights groups claimed was politically motivated.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government took significant new steps to restrict free expression online. According to data compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 76 percent of the country’s population used the internet in 2017.

The government monitored all internet communications and prohibited online anonymity (see also section 1.f.). The government continued to employ its longstanding use of the System for Operative Investigative Activities, which requires internet service providers (ISPs) to install, at their own expense, a device that routes all customer traffic to an FSB terminal. The system enabled police to track private email communications, identify internet users, and monitor their internet activity.

The law requires domestic and foreign businesses to store citizens’ personal data on servers located in the country. In 2016 Roskomnadzor blocked the foreign-based professional networking website LinkedIn for failure to comply with the law. Telecommunications companies are required to store user data and make it available to law enforcement bodies. As of July 1, companies are required to store users’ voice records for six months. As of October 1, companies are required to store electronic correspondence (audio, images and video) for three months.

Observers believed that the country’s security services were able to intercept and decode encrypted messages on at least some messaging platforms. The law requires telecommunications providers to provide authorities with “backdoors” around encryption technologies. Providers face fines of one million rubles ($15,000) for noncompliance.

On April 13, a Moscow court ruled in favor of Roskomnadzor’s 2017 request to block the Telegram messaging service for failing to share with the FSB encryption keys to users’ correspondence. Telegram maintained that the FSB’s request was both unconstitutional and technically impossible, as the messenger uses end-to-end encryption (when the encryption keys are stored only by users). The Supreme Court upheld the FSB’s arguments on August 8. For several months beginning in mid-April, Roskomnadzor actively attempted to block Telegram. Since the messenger was using dynamic internet protocol (IP) addresses, however, blocking it proved impossible. Roskomnadzor was forced to block more than 20 million other IP addresses, which resulted in a major loss in accessibility to a wide range of unrelated online services. Despite Roskomnadzor’s efforts, Telegram remained mostly accessible to users. In August press reports indicated that Roskomnadzor and the FSB were testing systems designed to allow more precise blocking of individual sites to enable blocking Telegram.

The law requires commercial virtual private network (VPN) services and internet anonymizers to block access to websites and internet content prohibited in the country. The law also authorizes law enforcement agencies, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB, to identify VPN services that do not comply with the ban by Roskomnadzor. Under the law Roskomnadzor can also block sites that provide instructions on how to circumvent government blocking. When the law came into force in 2017, Roskomnadzor announced that the majority of commercial VPNs and anonymizers used in the country had registered and intended to comply with the law, although most foreign-based VPNs had not. In May, Roskomnadzor reported it had blocked 50 VPN services.

The law prohibits companies registered as “organizers of information dissemination,” including online messaging applications, from allowing anonymous users. Messaging applications and platforms that fail to comply with the requirements to restrict anonymous accounts can be blocked. The law came into force in January. On August 27, Roskomnadzor expanded the list of designated “organizers of information dissemination” to include several new sites, such as the blogging platform Livejournal, the online dating site LovePlanet, and the car sharing app BlaBlaCar. Beginning in July these “organizers of information dissemination” were required to store and provide to the FSB in-depth user information, including user name; full real name; date of birth; exact address; internal passport number; lists of relatives, friends, contacts, all foreign languages spoken; date and time of account’s creation; date and time of all communications; full text of all communications; full archives of all audio and video communications; all shared files; records of all e‑payments; location for use of each service; IP address; telephone number; email address; and software used.

On November 6, Prime Minister Medvedev signed a decree requiring anonymous messenger applications to obtain verification of a user’s phone number from mobile phone network providers within 20 minutes of initial use of the application. If the phone network provider cannot verify the phone number, then messenger services are required to block the user. The government also required network operators to keep track of messenger apps for which users have registered.

The government blocked access to content and otherwise censored the internet. Roskomnadzor maintained a federal blacklist of internet sites and required ISPs to block access to web pages that the agency deemed offensive or illegal, including information that was already prohibited, such as items on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. The law gives the prosecutor general and Roskomnadzor authority to demand that ISPs block websites that promote extremist information, and “mass public events that are conducted in violation of appropriate procedures.” According to the internet freedom NGO Roskomsvoboda, as of October, a total of 3.8 million websites were unjustly blocked in the country.

On November 26, Roskomnadzor filed a civil law suit against Google seeking to fine the company 700,000 rubles ($10,500) for declining to connect its search engine to an automated system that prevents blocked web sites from appearing in search results. On December 11, a court fined Google 500,000 rubles ($7,530).

During the year authorities blocked websites and social network pages that either criticized government policy or purportedly violated laws on internet content. For example, on April 28, Roskomnadzor blocked the LGBTI health awareness site Parni Plus. The site’s administrators said they received a notice from Roskomnadzor on April 28 informing them about a January 26 ruling by a district court in the Altai Territory to block Parni Plus for distributing information that “challenges family values” and “propagates nontraditional sexual relations.” The notice did not specify what content broke the law, and the notice came so late that the website missed its opportunity to appeal the verdict.

In some cases authorities coerced sites into taking down content by threatening to block entire platforms. For example, on February 13, Roskomnadzor threatened to block YouTube, Instagram, and several dozen media outlets if, based on a court decision, they did not delete an anticorruption investigation video made by opposition activist Navalny that described a meeting between government-linked oligarch Oleg Deripaska and Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Prikhodko on a luxury yacht. All but YouTube complied. On February 20, Roskomnadzor stated it would not seek to block YouTube for its noncompliance.

In 2017 amendments to the Federal Law on Information, Information Technologies, and Protection of Information and to the administrative code came into force requiring owners of internet search engines (“news aggregators”) with more than one million daily users to be accountable for the truthfulness of “publicly important” information before its dissemination. Authorities can demand that content deemed in violation be removed and impose heavy fines for refusal. Dunja Mijatovic, the special representative on freedom of the media of the OSCE, raised concerns the law “could result in governmental interference of online information and introduce self-censorship in private companies.”

A law on the “right to be forgotten” allows individuals in the country to request that search engine companies block search results that contain information about them. According to Freedom House’s 2018 Freedom on the Net report, there were several instances of courts ordering that content be removed from search results on these grounds in 2017.

There was a growing trend of social media users being prosecuted for the political, religious, or other ideological content of posts, shares, and “likes,” which resulted in fines or prison sentences (see Freedom of Expression).

There were reports of disruption of communications during demonstrations. For example, media reported that, during opposition protests in Moscow on May 7, authorities switched off phone and mobile internet coverage in the protest area.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government took new steps during the year to restrict academic and cultural freedom.

On June 21, the Federal Education and Science Supervision Agency revoked the accreditation of the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences (Shaninka), claiming the school violated multiple education standards. Shaninka, a Russian-British higher education institution founded in 1995, continued to operate but will not be not be able to issue state-approved diplomas or provide deferment from military service. Media outlet Meduza speculated the loss of accreditation was due to the school’s extensive international connections, and constituted a move to disable the country’s only remaining private institution of higher education.

On November 7, the trial began of well known theater director Kirill Serebrennikov for embezzlement of state funds to stage a Shakespeare play that the government alleged he never produced. According to media outlets, however, the play had been staged more than 15 times and observers believed the charges were politically motivated, citing Serebrennikov’s participation in antigovernment protests and criticism of government policies. Serebrennikov has been in custody since August 2017.

Authorities often censored or shut down cultural events or displays they considered offensive or that expressed views in opposition to the government and in some cases initiated criminal proceedings against organizers. Citing a bomb threat, police disrupted a June 13 theater production about imprisoned Chechen human rights activist Oyub Titiyev in Moscow and evacuated the theater.

In November media outlets reported a notable increase in the number of incidents in which authorities forced the cancellation of concerts of musicians who had been critical of the government. Monitoring by Meduza identified 13 such cases across the country during the month of November, compared with 10 during the rest of the year. Of the 13 cases, nine involved the rapper Husky or the electronic music group IC3PEAK, both of whom perform songs containing lyrics critical of the government. In most cases the concerts were canceled after the FSB or other security forces visited and threatened the managers or owners of music venues.

Persons expressing views of historical events that run counter to officially accepted narratives faced harassment. For example, on January 23, the Ministry of Culture recalled the rights to air the comedy film The Death of Stalin after a number of cultural figures sent a complaint to the department. The authors of the collective letter claimed Death of Stalin was a “spit in the face” of veterans that “blackened the memory of our citizens who defeated fascism.” Police disrupted a January 25 screening of the film at the Pioneer cinema in Moscow. On February 22, a Moscow court fined the theater 100,000 rubles ($1,500) for the screening.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of assembly, but local authorities restricted this right. The law requires organizers of public meetings, demonstrations, or marches by more than one person to notify the government, although authorities maintained that protest organizers must receive government permission, not just provide notification. Failure to obtain official permission to hold a protest resulted in the demonstration being viewed as unlawful by law enforcement officials, who routinely dispersed such protests. While numerous public demonstrations took place, on many occasions local officials selectively denied groups permission to assemble or offered alternate venues that were inconveniently or remotely located.

Although they do not require official approval, authorities restricted single-person pickets, and required that there be at least 164 feet separating protesters from each other. In 2017 the Constitutional Court decreed that police officers may stop a single-person picket to protect the health and safety of the picketer.

The law requires that “motor rallies” and “tent city” gatherings in public places receive official permission. It requires gatherings that would interfere with pedestrian or vehicle traffic to receive official agreement 10 days prior to the event; those that do not affect traffic require three days’ notice. The law prohibits “mass rioting,” which includes teaching and learning about the organization of and participation in “mass riots.” The law allows authorities to prohibit nighttime demonstrations and meetings and levy fines for violating protest regulations and rules on holding public events.

The law provides heavy penalties for engaging in unsanctioned protests and other violations of public assembly laws–up to 300,000 rubles ($4,500) for individuals, 600,000 rubles ($9,000) for organizers, and one million rubles ($17,140) for groups or companies. Protesters with multiple violations within six months may be fined up to one million rubles ($15,000) or imprisoned for up to five years.

On May 10, President Putin signed a decree limiting freedom of assembly in cities hosting the 2018 International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) World Cup in conjunction with enhanced security, although protests in cities that did not host the tournament were allowed to take place.

Arrests for organizing or taking part in unsanctioned protests were common. For instance, on August 25, police arrested opposition leader Navalny for allegedly organizing an unsanctioned “voters’ strike” rally on January 28. His arrest came shortly before planned rallies in opposition to pension reform scheduled nationwide on September 9. Immediately following his release on September 24, police from a different precinct rearrested Navalny for 20 more days for allegedly organizing the unsanctioned September 9 demonstration, which purportedly caused “bodily harm to a government official.”

There was a reported increase in authorities charging individuals with “inciting mass riots” based upon their social media activities. For example, following the May 5 antigovernment protests, 28 organizers and activists with opposition leader Navalny’s Anticorruption Foundation were detained and charged with inciting mass riots based on their tweets or retweets. While some were fined and released, others were sentenced to 30-day prison terms.

Activists were at times subject to threats and physical violence in connection with organizing or taking part in public events or protests. On May 5, police stood by as unknown persons in Cossack uniforms beat participants in peaceful opposition rallies in Moscow and other cities. More than 1,300 persons were arrested during these protests, 572 in Moscow alone.

Police often broke up demonstrations that were not officially sanctioned, at times using disproportionate force. For example, on September 9, police throughout the country detained 1,195 persons who were demonstrating against pension reform. Media reports of the Moscow protest described unprovoked and disproportionate police beatings of protesters with rubber batons.

Authorities regularly arrested single-person picketers. For example, on June 14 authorities arrested UK-based activist Peter Tatchell in Moscow for staging a single-person picket against restrictions on LGBTI persons in the country, citing a breach of antiprotest rules put in place for the World Cup. Tatchell was released the same day and departed the country before appearing in court.

Authorities continued to deprive LGBTI persons and their supporters of free assembly rights. Despite a Supreme Court ruling that LGBTI persons should be allowed to engage in public activities, the law prohibiting “propaganda” of homosexuality to minors (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) provides grounds to deny LGBTI activists and supporters the right of assembly and was often used to interrupt public demonstrations by LGBTI activists. On November 27, the ECHR ruled that the country’s blanket refusal to grant permission to hold public assemblies related to LGBTI issues could not be justified by public safety concerns and constituted a violation of the right to freedom of assembly.

On April 8, police detained approximately 30 gay rights activists who took part in an unsanctioned rally in St. Petersburg. City authorities had turned down their request to hold a parade, so each participant demonstrated alone, in a bid to avoid the protest being called a gathering, which did not prevent their arrest.

Moscow authorities refused to allow an LGBTI pride parade for the 13th consecutive year, notwithstanding a 2010 ECHR ruling that the denial violated the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom from discrimination.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association. During the year, however, the government instituted new measures and expanded existing restrictive laws to stigmatize, harass, fine, close, and otherwise raise barriers to membership in organizations that were critical of the government.

Public organizations must register their bylaws and the names of their leaders with the Ministry of Justice. The finances of registered organizations are subject to investigation by tax authorities, and foreign grants must be registered.

The government continued to use a law, which requires NGOs that receive foreign funding and engage in “political activity” to register as “foreign agents,” to harass, to stigmatize, and in some cases to halt their operation, although fewer organizations were registered than in previous years. As of October the Ministry of Justice had added five NGOs to the “foreign agents” registry during the year, and its registry of organizations designated as “foreign agents” included 73 NGOs.

For the purposes of implementing the foreign agents law, the government considered “political activities” to include organizing public events, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets; organizing and conducting public debates, discussions or presentations; ‎participating in election activities aimed at influencing the result, including election observation and forming commissions; public calls to influence local and state government bodies, including calling for changes to legislation; disseminating opinions and decisions of state bodies by technology; and attempting to shape public political views, including public opinion polls or other sociological research.

To be delisted, an NGO must submit an application to the Ministry of Justice proving that it did not receive any foreign funding or engage in any political activity within the previous 12 months. If the NGO received any foreign funding, it must have returned the money within three months. The ministry would then initiate an unscheduled inspection of the NGO to determine whether it qualified for removal from the list.

The law on “foreign agents” requires that NGOs identify themselves as “foreign agents” in all their public materials. Authorities fined NGOs for failing to disclose their “foreign agent” status on websites or printed materials. For example, on August 13, a court in the Mari-El Republic fined the human rights group Man and Law 300,000 rubles ($4,500) for failing to mark its Facebook page as belonging to a “foreign agent.” According to the NGO, the page had previously been marked but the marking disappeared when Facebook had updated its user interface.

The government placed additional restrictions on NGOs designated as “foreign agents.” On October 11, President Putin signed a law prohibiting “foreign agent” NGOs and foreign NGOs from receiving an accreditation from the Ministry of Justice that would allow them to submit anticorruption analysis of legislation. NGOs designated “foreign agents” were already prohibited from participating in election observation.

Organizations the government listed as “foreign agents” reported experiencing the social effects of stigmatization, such as being targeted by vandals and online criticism, in addition to losing partners and funding sources and being subjected to smear campaigns in the state-controlled press.

The law requires the Ministry of Justice to maintain a list of “undesirable foreign organizations.” The list expanded during the year as the Ministry of Justice added the European Platform for Democratic Elections, the International Elections Study Center, the German Marshall Fund, and Pacific Environment. As of October the total number of “undesirable foreign organizations” was 15. According to the law, a foreign organization may be found “undesirable” if that group is deemed “dangerous to the foundations of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation, its national security, and defense.” Authorities have not clarified what specific threats the “undesirable” NGOs posed to the country. Any foreign organization deemed “undesirable” must cease its activities, any money or assets found by authorities may be seized, and any citizens found to be continuing to work with the organization in contravention of the law may face up to seven years in prison.

NGOs engaged in political activities or activities that purportedly “pose a threat to the country” or that receive support from U.S. citizens or organizations are subject to suspension under the “Dima Yakovlev” law, which also prohibits NGOs from having members with dual Russian-U.S. citizenship.

Authorities continued to misuse the country’s expansive definition of extremism as a tool to stifle freedom of association. In 2017 the Supreme Court criminalized the activity of members of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The decision prohibited all activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal entities throughout the country, effectively banning their worship. The parent organization of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country and 395 regional branches were formally placed on the Justice Ministry’s list of “extremist” groups, a procedural move following the Supreme Court’s decision. As of October more than 50 Jehovah’s Witnesses were facing criminal charges for taking part in the activities of a banned extremist organization (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).

There were reports civil society activists were beaten or attacked in retaliation for their professional activities and that in most cases law enforcement officials did not adequately investigate the incidents. As of September the legal NGO Agora had identified more than 80 such attacks during the year. For example, there were multiple reports of physical attacks on the Memorial and its activists in the North Caucasus during the year, which human rights organizations believed to be a coordinated campaign of pressure aimed at silencing Memorial and halting its human rights work. On January 17, two masked men set fire to the Memorial office in Nazran, Ingushetia. On January 23, unknown perpetrators set fire to one of Memorial’s cars in Makhachkala, Dagestan. On March 29, Sirazhutdin Datsiyev, the head of Memorial’s office in the Republic of Dagestan, was hospitalized with a head injury after an attack by unknown assailants.

In multiple cases authorities arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted civil society activists in political retaliation for their work (see section 1.e.).

There were reports authorities targeted NGOs and activists representing the LGBTI community for retaliation (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported it had a working relationship with the government on asylum and refugee problems. NGOs reported, however, that the government failed to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. In one case NGOs reported that 102,944 refugees remained in the country, including 101,019 Ukrainians, of whom nearly 2,000 struggled to maintain legal status. The government considered Ukrainian asylum seekers to be separate from asylum seekers from other countries, such as Afghanistan, Georgia, Syria, and Yemen. According to NGOs, two Syrian refugees and 150 Ukrainian refugees received citizenship in during the year. In some cases temporary asylum holders who received refugee status from third countries were not granted exit visas or allowed to depart the country.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: NGOs reported that police detained, fined, and threatened with deportation migrants, refugees, and stateless persons. NGOs also reported racially motivated assaults by civilians.

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 new 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 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 on procedures for departing from and entering the country stipulates that a person who violates a court decision does not have a right to leave the country. A court may 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 a bankrupt citizen’s right to leave the country. Authorities imposed travel restrictions on individuals facing prosecution for political purposes. For example, the government temporarily stopped opposition leader Navalny from leaving the country to attend an ECHR hearing on November 13 because he had an outstanding debt from embezzlement charges that most observers considered politically motivated. He was permitted to leave the country the following day.

According to press reports, since 2014 the government restricted the foreign travel of approximately five million of its employees. This included employees of the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the Federal Prison Service, the Federal Drug Control Service, the Federal Bailiff Service, the General Administration for Migration Issues, and the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

In 2017 the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) estimated the country was home to 19,000 internally displaced persons, down from 22,600 in 2016. Of the 19,000 IDPs, the IDMC asserted that 5,900 were new displacements. According to the government’s official statistics, the number of forced migrants decreased from 25,359 in the beginning of 2016 to 19,327 in January 2017. The government indicated that the majority of forced migrants came from former USSR republics, namely Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, with between 3,500 and 4,000 persons displaced due to the first Chechen conflict in 1995-96.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: 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 Main Directorate for Migration Affairs of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (GAMI), did not maintain a presence at airports or other border points and did not adequately publicize that asylum seekers could 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. There were no known statistics on the number of persons subjected to such actions.

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 between 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. International organizations reported six cases of refoulement of asylum seekers during the year, and NGOs cited cases in which officials detained persons (most commonly from Central Asia) and returned them clandestinely to their country of origin.

Access to Asylum: The country’s laws provide 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 ($495) to GAMI 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 refugees and temporary asylum seekers in large cities, in particular Moscow and St. Petersburg, were forced to apply in other regions, allegedly due to full quotas. With the exception of Ukrainians, GAMI approved a small percentage of applications for refugee status and temporary asylum.

Some observers pointed out that GAMI data failed to include asylum seekers who were forcibly deported or extradited before exhausting their legal remedies. Moreover, some individuals who might otherwise have sought international protection, especially those from Central Asia, reportedly chose not to make formal applications for asylum because doing so often led to criminal investigations and other unwanted attention from the security services.

Human rights organizations noted the country’s tendency during the year not to accept more Ukrainian and Syrian applicants for refugee status and temporary asylum. NGOs also 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 GAMI had not renewed the temporary asylum of hundreds of Syrians and, in some cases, encouraged applicants to return to Syria.

Employment: Employers frequently refused to hire applicants who lacked residential registration.

Access to Basic Services: By law successful temporary asylum seekers and persons whose applications were being processed have the right to work, receive medical care, and attend school. 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.

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. When parents encountered difficulties enrolling their children in school, authorities generally cooperated with UNHCR to resolve the problem.

Temporary Protection: A person who did not satisfy the criteria for refugee status, but who could not be expelled or deported for humanitarian reasons, could receive temporary asylum after submitting a separate application. There were reports, however, of authorities not upholding the principle of temporary protection.

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. Laws, policies and procedures allow stateless persons to gain nationality, and for their children born in the country to gain nationality. Some NGOs estimated there were approximately 500,000 stateless persons in the country and reported that authorities urged stateless persons to depart the country, but, in most cases, they failed to provide temporary legal status that would facilitate their departure.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, and the law provides the same punishment for a relative, including the spouse, who commits rape as for a nonrelative. The penalty for 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.

For example, on June 1, online news portal Meduza published allegations by an actress that the director of the Vologorodskiy Drama Theater, Zurab Nanobashvili, had raped her in 2015. Three other actresses also accused Nanobashvili of attempted rape and sexual harassment. Two of the women, one of whom was 17 years old, filed a complaint with the local Investigative Committee that Nanobashvili had groped, licked, and attempted to rape them in April. On June 8, the local Ministry of Culture fired Nanobashvili from his position. On the same day, the Investigative Committee informed the women that, while Nanobashvili’s actions “bore the hallmarks of sexual abuse,” no criminal case would be opened against him because the women were older than age 16.

Domestic violence remained a major problem. There is no significant domestic violence provision in the criminal code and no legal definition of domestic violence. The 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. Federal law prohibits battery, assault, threats, and killing, but most acts of domestic violence did not fall within the jurisdiction of the prosecutor’s office.

According to an HRW report on domestic violence published in October, when domestic violence offenses were charged, articles 115 and 116.1 under the country’s Criminal Procedure Code were usually applied, which use the process of private prosecution. These private prosecutions are launched only if the injured party or their guardian takes the initiative to file a complaint with a magistrate judge. In such cases the injured party bears the burden of gathering all evidence necessary for prosecution and must pay all costs of the prosecution, which HRW believed severely disadvantaged survivors.

According to NGOs, police were often unwilling to register complaints of domestic violence, often saying that cases are “family matters,” frequently discouraged victims from submitting complaints, and often pressed victims to reconcile with abusers. HRW’s report on domestic violence described the case of a woman from a small town in western Russia, who complained to police after her husband severely beat her. The police officer who arrived at her home joked with her husband, insulted her, advised her to reconcile with him, and left, after which her husband beat her again and broke her jaw. He then left for several months with their eight-year-old son. When she called police again, they suggested, mockingly, that she was bitter because the husband must have left her for another woman.

A 2017 law made 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. According to official statistics released during the year, since this law was passed, the number of reported domestic violence cases has fallen by half, with 25,667 cases of domestic violence against women reported in 2017, compared with 49,765 cases reported in 2016. NGOs working on domestic violence noted that official reporting of domestic violence decreased because the decriminalization deterred women suffering domestic violence from going to the police. In contrast, HRW’s October report stated that women’s rights groups and crisis centers noted an increase in the number of domestic violence complaints after the 2017 amendments were enacted and said that they considered the increase to be a direct effect of decriminalization. HRW identified three major impacts of the 2017 decriminalization: fostering a sense of impunity among abusers, weakening protections for victims by reducing penalties for abusers, and creation of new procedural shortcomings in prosecuting domestic violence.

According to Ministry of Internal Affairs statistics cited by NGOs, approximately 12,000 women died annually from domestic violence in the country. The NGO Center for Women’s Support asserted that a majority of 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.

HRW’s report noted there are few state-run shelters for victims of domestic violence, citing a study that found only 434 shelter spaces nationally reserved for women in crisis situations (which includes, but is not limited to, domestic violence). HRW noted that these shelters set a high entry threshold, require a daunting amount of paperwork and long wait times to determine whether a space may be granted, and often emphasize “preserving the family” and protecting children over women’s safety needs.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not specifically prohibit FGM/C. NGOs in Dagestan reported FGM/C was occasionally practiced in some villages. On November 27, Meduza reported that a Moscow clinic conducted FGM/C procedures on girls ages five and 12. After the report was published, the clinic ceased advertising FGM/C services.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Human rights groups reported that “honor killings” of women in Chechnya, Dagestan, and elsewhere in the North Caucasus were rarely prosecuted, although there were rare instances in which such killings led to convictions. For example, on September 5, a court in Ingushetia sentenced a man to eight years in prison for an “honor killing” of his 31-year-old daughter. The woman’s body had been found on the side of a highway on February 20, and her father confessed to strangling her. In some parts of the North Caucasus, women continued to face bride kidnapping, polygamy, forced marriage (including child marriage), legal discrimination, and forced adherence to Islamic dress codes.

Sexual Harassment: The criminal code 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. Sexual harassment was reportedly widespread.

In early March, three female journalists accused a senior parliamentarian in the State Duma, Leonid Slutskiy, of sexual assault and harassment, including unwanted and inappropriate touching, kissing, and sexualized comments. On March 7, State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin remarked that journalists who feel unsafe reporting from the Duma should “change jobs.” On the same day, Tamara Pletneva, the head of the State Duma Committee on Family, Women, and Children stated that female journalists seeking to avoid harassment should “look more decent and dress more appropriately” and that “if it’s frightening for them, if they are offended here, then they don’t have to come here.” On March 21, the parliamentary ethics committee cleared Slutskiy of any wrongdoing.

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

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide that men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights, but women often encountered significant restrictions, including bans on their employment in certain types of jobs in sectors like mining and construction.

Children

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 cannot 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: A 2013 estimate by the Ministry of Internal Affairs indicated that one in four children in the country was subjected to abuse by a parent or foster parent. According to a 2011 report published by the NGO Foundation for Assistance to Children in Difficult Life Situations, 2,000 to 2,500 children died annually from domestic violence. A 2017 law that 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 also.

The country does not possess a law on child abuse, but its criminal code outlaws murder, battery, and rape. The range of penalties for such crimes can be from five to 15 years in jail and, if they result in the death of a minor, up to 20 years in jail.

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 and even earlier in some regions.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering or procuring for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. The authorities generally enforced the law. The age of consent is 16. In 2015 the Investigative Committee reported filing charges in 1,645 cases of rape involving children and in more than 5,300 cases of sexual assault of children. For example, according to press reports, on February 1, police arrested a man in the Moscow region after his 13-year-old stepdaughter reported he had raped her on a regular basis for three years.

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 age 18 is punishable by two to eight years in prison or to three to 10 years in prison if it involves children younger than age 14. 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. In 2014 approximately 15 percent of the 45,700 links Roskomnadzor shut down related to child pornography.

Institutionalized Children: There were reports of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse in state institutions for children. Children with disabilities were especially vulnerable. For example, on February 19, press reported that law enforcement bodies in Chelyabinsk charged a man with child sexual abuse and charged the leadership of a local orphanage with negligence after the man reportedly sexually abused at least seven children with disabilities at the orphanage over several years. According to witness accounts in the press, several teachers may have been aware of and complicit in the abuse.

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

Anti-Semitism

The 2010 census estimated the Jewish population at slightly more than 150,000. In 2015, however, the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia stated that the actual Jewish population was nearly one million.

One violent attack with possible anti-Semitic motives was reported. On October 15, the president of the Jewish community of Tatarstan, Mikhail Abramovich Skoblionok, and his aide, were injured by a bomb he received in the mail. Kazan police opened an investigation to determine if it was an anti-Semitic attack; the attack was being investigated as attempted murder.

A number of leading figures in the Jewish community reported the level of anti-Semitism in the country was decreasing but that during the year some political and religious figures made anti-Semitic remarks publicly.

In a March 10 interview, President Putin responded to a question concerning reports of Russian meddling in foreign elections, by suggesting that instead “Ukrainians, Tatars, and Jews” may have been involved.

On January 15, Russia Insider, an English language publication linked to progovernment oligarchs, published an anti-Semitic essay by its founder, Charles Bausman, that attacked dozens of Jewish writers and journalists, claiming Jews were the reason for “unreasonable hostility towards Putin’s Russia” and solicited anti-Semitic contributions.

On June 30, the FIFA fined the country’s soccer federation $10,100 after Russian fans displayed a neo-Nazi banner during a World Cup match in Samara. The banner reportedly featured the number 88, which is far-right code for “Heil Hitler.”

In early October the Supreme Court upheld the revocation of the foreigner residence permit and deportation of the chief rabbi of Omsk Oblast and the Siberian Federal District, Osher Krichevskiy, and his family for advocating “forcible and violent change” in the constitution and creating a security threat to citizens. According to Novaya Gazeta’s October 4 report on the decision, the country has deported eight rabbis who held foreign citizenships in recent years.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

While several laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, the government generally did not enforce these laws. The law provides protection for persons with disabilities, including access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. NGOs reported, however, that persons with disabilities still faced widespread discrimination in securing employment and access to some forms of transportation, as well as physical accessibility throughout the country.

The conditions of guardianship imposed by courts on persons with mental disabilities deprived them of almost all personal rights. Under the family code, individuals with mental disabilities were at times prevented from marrying without a guardian’s consent.

Federal law requires that buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but authorities did not enforce the law, and many buildings and modes of public transportation remained inaccessible.

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

According to HRW, although the government began to implement inclusive education, most children with disabilities did not study in mainstream schools due to a lack of accommodations to facilitate their individual learning needs. The lack of reasonable accommodations left tens of thousands of children with disabilities isolated at home or in specialized schools, often far from their homes.

According to Ministry of Internal Affairs data, more than 45 percent of the country’s total population of children with disabilities were institutionalized. 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 legal mechanism by which individuals could contest their assignment to a facility for persons with disabilities. The classification of children with mental disabilities by category of disability often followed them through their lives. The official designations “imbecile” and “idiot,” assigned by a commission that assesses children with developmental problems at the age of three, signified that authorities considered a 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.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits discrimination based on nationality, but according to a 2017 report by the Committee on 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.”

During the year there were 15 violent attacks against Central Asians and members of other ethnic minorities, resulting in the death of three persons and injury to 12. Typically the police opened investigations into these incidents but did not disclose their conclusions or apprehend assailants. For example, on January 12, a Kyrgyz man died from multiple stab wounds in Noginsk. Media reports alleged that the assailants, who fled the scene, may have belonged to an ultraright wing group.

According to a 2017 report by the human rights group ADC Memorial, Roma faced widespread discrimination in access to resources (including water, gas, and electricity services); 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); and other forms of structural discrimination. Media outlets reported that Moscow police forcibly evacuated Romani persons from the city in advance of the June FIFA World Cup.

Indigenous People

The constitution and various statutes provide support for “small-numbered” indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East, permitting them to create self-governing bodies and allowing them to seek compensation if economic development threatened their lands. The government granted the status of “indigenous” and its associated benefits only to those ethnic groups numbering fewer than 50,000 and maintaining their traditional way of life. A 2017 report by the human rights group ADC Memorial noted the major challenges facing indigenous people included “seizure of territories where these minorities traditionally live and maintain their households by mining and oil and gas companies; removal of self-government bodies of indigenous peoples; and repression of activists and employees of social organizations, including the fabrication of criminal cases.”

Indigenous sources reported state-sponsored harassment, including interrogations by the security services, as well as employment discrimination (see section 7.d.). For example, on July 24, authorities in Khahasia charged Khahas activist Lidiya Bainova with extremism for a social media post in which she alleged that ethnic Russians subject Khahas people to discrimination. On November 26, authorities dropped the charges.

Since 2015 the Ministry of Justice has added several NGOs focusing on indigenous issues to the “foreign agents” list (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association), including the Center for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North and the International Foundation for the Development of Indigenous and Small Numbered Peoples of the North, Siberia, and Far East, making it difficult for them to operate.

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

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 wished to advocate publicly for rights or express the opinion that homosexuality is normal. Examples of what the government considered LGBTI propaganda included materials that “directly or indirectly approve of persons who are in nontraditional sexual relationships” (see section 2.a.). The law did not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing or employment or in access to government services such as health care.

During the year there were reports of state actors committing violence against LGBTI individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly in the Republic of Chechnya (see section 1.a.).

There were reports government agents harassed and threatened LGBTI activists. For example, on September 14, police in Pyatigorsk threatened a student activist after he complained about municipal denial of permission to host an LGBTI rally. Police summoned him to a meeting at the university where he studied, and demanded that he drop his request to hold the demonstration. They hinted at the homophobic “mentality of the Caucasus,” the “irritation” the request was causing the city administration, and mentioned that in the event “something should happen” during the demonstration, police might be unable to protect the participants. They also attempted to get the activist to disclose the names of other LGBTI activists and threatened to “out” him to his parents, family members, and acquaintances.

Openly gay men were particular targets of societal violence, and police often failed to respond adequately to such incidents. For example, according to LGBT Network, in June a Volgograd teenager, Vlad Pogorelov, filed a complaint with the local prosecutor’s office against the local police decision to close a criminal investigation into an attack he had suffered in November 2017. Pogorelov, then 17 years old, was lured into a meeting by homophobic persons posing as gay youth on a dating website. They beat and robbed Pogorelov, who filed a police report. Police opened a criminal investigation into the attack but closed it within a month, citing the “low significance” of the attack, and informing Pogorelov that police were unable to protect LGBTI persons. According to LGBT Network, the case was emblematic of authorities’ unwillingness to adequately investigate or consider homophobia as a motive in attacks on LGBTI persons.

On April 24, the LGBT Network released a report that documented 104 incidents of physical violence towards LGBTI persons in 2016-17, including 11 killings. The report noted the continuing trend of groups and individuals luring gay men on fake dates to beat, humiliate, and rob them. The report noted that police often claimed to have found no evidence of a crime or refused to recognize attacks on LGBTI persons as hate crimes, which impeded investigations and perpetrators’ being fully held to account. During investigations of attacks, LGBTI persons risked being “outed” by police to their families and colleagues. LGBTI persons often declined to report attacks against them due to fears police would subject them to mistreatment or publicize their sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBTI persons reported significant societal stigma and discrimination, which some attributed to official promotion of intolerance and homophobia.

High levels of employment discrimination against LGBTI persons reportedly persisted (see section 7.d.) Activists asserted that the majority of LGBTI persons hid their sexual orientation or gender identity due to fear of losing their jobs or homes as well as the threat of violence. The Russia LGBT Network recorded 13 incidents of discrimination against LGBTI teachers in 2016-17. In most cases homophobic activists wrote letters outing the teachers to the school’s administration, which then either fired the teacher, preventing his or her future employment in schools, or forced him or her to resign. The Russia LGBT Network recorded 18 cases of discrimination against LGBTI persons employed in other professions in 2016-17. Polling of LGBTI persons suggested that 17 percent had encountered employment discrimination.

Medical practitioners reportedly continued to limit or deny LGBTI persons health services due to intolerance and prejudice. The Russia LGBT Network’s report indicated that, upon disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity, LGBTI individuals often encountered strong negative reactions and the presumption they were mentally ill.

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 that LGBTI persons faced discrimination in the area of parental rights. The Russia LGBT Network reported that LGBTI parents often feared that the country’s ban on the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientation” to minors would be used to remove custody of their children. In one example, on February 12, the Ordzhonikidzevskiy District Court of Yekaterinburg denied the return of two foster children to the Savinovskiy family on suspicion that the foster mother, Yulia Savinovskiy, was transitioning following breast reduction surgery and social media posts about transgender issues. According to the court, Savinovskiy was seeking the social role of a man, which the court said contradicted the prohibition of same-sex marriages in the country. Savinovskiy lost custody of the two foster children in August 2017. In September 2017 media outlets reported that Children’s Ombudsman Anna Kuznetsova said she would investigate the case, but the results of any action were unknown.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS faced significant legal discrimination, growing informal stigma-based barriers, employment discrimination (see section 7.d.), and were prohibited from adopting children.

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. Economic migrants also concealed their HIV status and avoided treatment due to fear of deportation. 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.

Prisoners with HIV/AIDS experienced regular abuse and denial of medical treatment and had fewer opportunities for visits with their children.

Although the law provides for treatment of HIV-positive persons, drug shortages, legal barriers, and lack of funds caused large gaps in treatment. In 2017 the Ministry of Health forbade the Federal AIDS Center in Moscow from dispensing antiretroviral drugs. The center served persons who could not get treatment at Moscow hospitals because they resided in the city without permanent registration.

On June 21, the Constitutional Court deemed it unconstitutional to prohibit HIV-positive parents from adopting children.

The Ministry of Justice continued to designate HIV-related NGOs as foreign agents; at least two such groups were so designated during the year (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

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. Prior to the World Cup soccer tournament held in June and July, Moskovskiy Komsomolets reported that police rounded up homeless persons, beat them, and bussed them to camps and disused military bases.

Promotion of Acts of Discrimination

A homophobic campaign continued in state-controlled media in which officials, journalists, and others called LGBTI persons “perverts,” “sodomites,” and “abnormal” and conflated homosexuality with pedophilia. State-controlled media also promoted anti-Semitic conspiracies, such as the supposed control of the world economy by the Rothschild family.

United Kingdom

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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