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Czech Republic

Executive Summary

Czech Republic is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in a bicameral parliament, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies (Poslanecka snemovna) and a Senate (Senat). The president is head of state and appoints a prime minister from the majority party or coalition. On October 5 and 6, the country held local and senate elections. In January voters also re-elected President Milos Zeman to another five-year term. Observers considered both elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included crimes involving violence or threats of violence against members of the Romani minority.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses in the security services and elsewhere in the government.

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

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

The law prohibits such practices. In September the Czech General Inspection of Security Forces (GIBS) investigated two police officers from Ceske Budejovice, who were later charged with felonies for torturing a 32-year-old handcuffed Romani man and forcing him to confess to a crime he did not commit. The case was pending.

The public defender of rights, or ombudsperson, also criticized police regarding excessive use of power by a police officer leading to the death of a mentally disabled patient who started acting uncontrollably at a hospital. The officer used a taser, which in combination with two sedative injections caused the death of the patient.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

High prison populations and overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions in some prisons, cases of mistreatment of inmates, and generally unsatisfactory conditions for inmates with physical or mental disabilities remained the main concerns during the year.

Conditions in migrant detention facilities run by the government improved as the number of migrants from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia entering the country significantly decreased. Children remained with their families in one detention facility for irregular migrants but were able to leave the facility when accompanied by staff. International observers criticized the length of detention for families with children, as it took weeks on average to adjudicate a case.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding was a problem. Facilities for prisoners serving their sentences were at almost 105 percent of capacity in the first seven months of the year in prisons for men. There was no overcrowding in prisons for women.

According to the Czech Prison Service, there were 34 deaths in prisons and detention facilities in 2017, of which 10 were suicides and eight were still under investigation. The rest were due to natural causes.

The ombudsperson reported that, in general, prison conditions noticeably improved, but conditions of imprisonment for convicts with physical or mental disabilities remained unsatisfactory. She also noted inadequate prison health care standards due to a lack of physicians motivated to work in prisons.

In January the regional court confirmed one- and one-and-a-half year suspended sentences for three police officers for degrading treatment of a female detainee who was under the influence of alcohol.

Administration: Public prosecutors are responsible for regular prison visits, a circumstance that was welcomed by the ombudsperson. The ombudsperson investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and made random checks.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups and by the media. The ombudsperson raised concerns, however, about the refusal of police to allow a monitoring officer to accompany expelled foreigners in escort vehicles as provided by the law.

Improvements: The Prison Service established a transparent system for relocating convicts to prisons closer to their homes. In August the Ministry of Justice increased salaries of working prisoners for the first time in 18 years.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police report to the Ministry of Interior and are responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining public order, including protecting the border and enforcing immigration law. The GIBS, which reports to the Office of the Prime Minister, oversees police, customs, fire fighters, and the prison service, and is responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct. The Ministry of Defense oversees the Army of the Czech Republic. GIBS inspectors investigated allegations of criminal misconduct and carried out “integrity tests,” or sting operations, to catch violators in action. In 2017 inspectors opened proceedings in 251 cases nationwide.

Corruption remained a problem among law enforcement bodies and the most common forms of corruption were leaking information for payments; unauthorized use of law enforcement databases, typically searching for derogatory information; unlawful influencing of law enforcement procedures; blackmail; allowing prohibited items into prisons; and accepting bribes to for traffic offenses. The GIBS reported that the decrease of numbers of corruption crimes since 1994 may reflect a shift of criminal activities to cyberspace.

In March the GIBS charged a customs officer and a civilian employee of the Czech Customs Service for indirect bribery and misuse of public official power for trying to influence the customs proceedings for financial benefit.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Ministry of Interior, the GIBS, and the Army, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

In most cases police use judicial warrants to arrest persons accused of criminal acts. Police may make arrests without a warrant when they believe a prosecutable offense has been committed, when they regard arrest as necessary to prevent further offenses or the destruction of evidence, to protect a suspect, or when a person refuses to obey police orders to move.

Police must refer persons arrested on a warrant to a court within 24 hours. A judge has an additional 24 hours to decide whether to continue to hold the individuals. For suspects arrested without a warrant, police have 48 hours to inform them of the reason for the arrest, question them, and either release them or refer them to a court, after which a judge must decide within 24 hours whether to charge them. Authorities may not hold detainees for a longer period without charge.

The law provides for bail except in cases of serious crimes or to prevent witness tampering. A defendant in a criminal case may request a lawyer immediately upon arrest. If a defendant cannot afford a lawyer, the government provides one. The court determines whether the government partially or fully covers attorneys’ fees. Authorities generally respected these rights.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. In most instances authorities respected court orders and carried out judicial decisions.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence and the right to receive prompt and detailed information about the charges against them (with free interpretation as necessary). They have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, the right to be present at their trial, and the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense if they are unable to pay. They generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. They cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Convicted persons have a right of appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution provides for a separate, independent judiciary in civil matters and for lawsuits seeking remedies for human rights violations. Available remedies include monetary damages, equitable relief, and cessation of harmful conduct. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported increased coherence between criminal and civil procedures that simplified the process for victims, although remedies and relief still required a lengthy legal process and were difficult to obtain, particularly for members of disadvantaged groups, such as the Romani minority. Plaintiffs may appeal unfavorable rulings that involve alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights. Administrative remedies are also available.

The law recognizes children, persons with disabilities, victims of human trafficking, and victims of sexual and brutal crimes as the most vulnerable populations. It lists the rights of crime victims, such as to claim compensation and access to an attorney.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The law provides for restitution of private property confiscated under the communist regime as well as restitution of, or compensation for, Jewish property seized during the Nazi era. Although it was still possible during the year to file claims for artwork confiscated by the Nazi regime, the claims period for other types of property had expired. The law allows for restitution and compensation for property of religious organizations, including Jewish religious communities, confiscated under the communist regime. Churches are also to receive compensation of 59 billion Czech korunas ($2.4 billion) for property that is not returnable. The law requires that the state pay compensation over a period of 30 years while simultaneously phasing out state subsidies for registered religious groups over a 17-year period.

The government has laws and mechanisms in place, and local NGOs and advocacy groups reported that the government made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens, although outstanding claims remain. Some NGOs outside the country continued to push for more progress, particularly on the disposition of heirless property and complex cases involving non-Czech citizens.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, 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. The law provides for some limitations to this freedom, including in cases of hate speech, Holocaust denial, and denial of communist-era crimes.

Freedom of Expression: The law mandates prison sentences of six months to three years for persons who deny communist-era crimes or the Holocaust. The law prohibits speech that incites hatred based on race, religion, class, nationality, or other group affiliation and provides for prison sentences of up to three years for violations.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Concerns that consolidated ownership of Czech media outlets could influence politics increased after the May 2017 release of audio recordings allegedly showing the then-finance minister and present prime minister, Andrej Babis, instructing a reporter at one of Babis’ newspapers to write a negative article about a political rival. Babis denied any wrongdoing.

In October 2017 President Milos Zeman attacked the media at a news conference, where he brandished a dummy Kalashnikov rifle bearing the inscription “for journalists.” In May he “joked” that a few journalists should be “liquidated” because “there are too many of them.”

The law providing limits on denial of communist-era crimes and the Holocaust and on hate speech applies to the print and broadcast media as well as online newspapers and journals.

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.

The law prohibits, among others, speech that denigrates a nation, race, ethnic or other group of persons; incites hatred towards a group of persons or advocates the restriction of their civil rights; and publicly denies, questions, endorses, or vindicates genocide.

According to Czech Statistical Office data from 2017, 77 percent of households had internet access but only 30 percent had high-speed internet during the year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. In 2017 the Constitutional Court sided with President Zeman in his refusal to appoint three professors in 2015, despite that the law requires the president to do so, and all nomination requirements were fulfilled. The court ruled that a letter sent by the president to the minister of education rejecting the three appointments was sufficient despite that it did not provide a justification for the decision.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government may legally restrict or prohibit gatherings, including marches, demonstrations, and concerts, if they promote hatred or intolerance, advocate suppressing individual rights, or jeopardize the safety of the participants.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law requires organizations, associations, foundations, and political parties to register with the Ministry of Interior. The courts may dissolve or ban, and the Ministry of Interior may refuse to register, groups that incite hatred based on race, religion, class, nationality, or other affiliation or that use prohibited symbols.

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.

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.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Acts of physical intimidation and, vandalism, remained a serious concern. NGOs focusing on migration issues reported an increase in telephone and email threats, including death threats (see section 6, Other Societal Violence and Discrimination).

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees and other specifically endangered foreigners.

According to Ministry of Interior statistics for the first eight months of the year, the average length of asylum procedures was 67 days. The length of asylum procedures in 92.6 percent of all cases met the requirements of the Law on Asylum. In the remaining cases, applicants for asylum received information about the new deadline for completing the asylum procedure in compliance with the law. Under the law, the Ministry of Interior should decide on asylum cases within six months of the date of the asylum application if the applicant has submitted all required documents.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country generally adheres to the Dublin III Regulation, which calls for authorities to return asylum seekers to the first EU country they entered. The Ministry of Interior accepted asylum applications from persons arriving from or through countries deemed to be safe, as defined by law. Authorities usually did not grant international protection to these applicants but reviewed all cases individually.

Freedom of Movement: As a result of the implementation of a voluntary returns system, the length of detention of illegal migrants and rejected asylum seekers in detention was shortened. Under the law migrants facing deportation or waiting for voluntary repatriation because of ordered deportation can be detained for a maximum of 180 days. If there were children accompanying the adults, the deportation procedure could last no more than 90 days with no possibility of further extension. Vulnerable persons, including families, cannot be detained if they apply for international protection.

According to a Ministry of Interior report in September, there were approximately 70 migrants detained in facilities in the country. According to the report, during the year there were five persons in a detention facility specifically designed for vulnerable groups of persons, single women without children, and families with children. The Interior Ministry reported there were no displaced children in the country during the year.

Durable Solutions: A national resettlement and integration program managed by the government in close cooperation with UNHCR continued. Under the State Integration Plan, beneficiaries of international protection are entitled to temporary accommodation, social services, Czech language training, and assistance with finding employment and permanent housing. Children are entitled to school education.

The government agreed to resettle 400 refugees from the Middle East, including Turkey, based on voluntary EU quotas. In June 2017 the government decided, however, to suspend this resettlement program, citing security concerns.

The Ministry of Interior effectively used the system of voluntary returns. In January 2017, faced with increasing numbers of foreigners in difficult economic situations willing to return home, the ministry started its own program of assisted voluntary returns from the Czech Republic to the countries of origin in addition to the voluntary return program managed by the International Organization for Migration. In 2017 the ministry assisted approximately 400 persons to return to their country of origin. In the first seven months of the year, approximately 225 persons were voluntarily returned to their countries of origin.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (called “subsidiary protection” in the EU) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of September 1, subsidiary protection was granted to 90 persons. Under EU guidelines individuals granted subsidiary protection are eligible for temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, equal access to health care and housing, and school education for children.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR statistics, there were approximately 1,500 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2017. The Ministry of Interior reported 12 stateless persons who applied for international protection during the year. The country did not grant refugee status to stateless persons but provided subsidiary protection in six cases by September. Under certain circumstances stateless persons can obtain citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In October 2017 the country held parliamentary elections. In January voters re-elected Milos Zeman to a five-year term as president in the country’s second direct presidential election. Observers considered both elections free and fair, and there were no reports of irregularities.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women and minorities remained underrepresented in elected bodies. Four of 15 government ministries are headed by women.

Participation of Roma in politics and governance remained minimal in comparison to their estimated percentage of the population. There were no Romani members of parliament, cabinet ministers, or Supreme Court justices. There were some Romani appointees to national and regional advisory councils dealing with Romani affairs. Two Romani candidates ran unsuccessfully in senate elections. Roma were elected to 13 seats in local governments.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. An offender may face up to 12 years in prison and property forfeiture. The government generally implemented the law effectively, although officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Court procedures were administratively demanding and courts sometimes artificially prolonged the cases in order to allow for lower sentencing.

Corruption: In September 2017 a newly assigned district court judge in Jicin sentenced two district judges from Litomerice to relatively light penalties for accepting bribes in exchange for influencing legal proceeding. The original presiding judge in the case was removed from the case to provide for more lenient sentencing from the new judge.

Financial Disclosure: The asset disclosures of public officials are available on the internet in a very limited form or by request submitted to the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Justice can impose penalties of up to 50,000 koruna ($2,000) for noncompliance, but this measure did not prove to be much of a deterrent. The law requires also judges, prosecutors, directors of research institutions, and selected professional army personnel to disclose their assets. Their information is not available to the public for security reasons.

After the Czech NGO Law in Public Interest turned to the courts several times to force the release of asset disclosures by high-level officials in the Office of the President, Presidential Chief of Staff Mynar released his asset report in November 2017, but only for 2016.

In 2017 financial limits were introduced for financing political parties and electoral campaigns. Additionally, the government created an office to monitor compliance with the new regulations, although most parties manage to find a way around these regulations.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without governmental restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views; however, some high-level politicians, including President Zeman and Zlin regional governor Jiri Cunek, disparaged some NGOs in public remarks.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The new government abolished the post of the Minister for Human Rights. The director of the Section for Human Rights at the Office of the Government holds the position of the commissioner for human rights.

The Office of the Government had several advisory and working-level bodies related to human rights, such as the Government Council for Human Rights, the Interministerial Commission for Romani Community Affairs, the Council for National Minorities, the Anticorruption Committee, and the Board for People with Disabilities.

The Office of the Public Defender of Rights (ombudsperson) operated without government or party interference and had adequate resources. Human rights observers generally regarded it as effective. The office issued quarterly and annual reports to the government on its activities in addition to reports and recommendations on topics of special concern. The most frequent discrimination complaints reported to the ombudsperson related to discrimination based upon health conditions, disabilities, and ethnicity.

In addition to the public defender of rights, there were ombudspersons for security forces and for education.

Estonia

Executive Summary

Estonia is a multiparty, constitutional democracy with a unicameral parliament, a prime minister as head of government, and a president as head of state. The prime minister and cabinet generally represent the party or coalition of parties with a majority of seats in the parliament. The most recent parliamentary elections took place in 2015, with a coalition government taking office the following month. The government coalition changed in 2016 when Prime Minister Juri Ratas’s government, composed of the Center Party, Social Democrats, and Pro Patria and Res Publica Union, took office. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed violations.

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

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports that police used excessive physical force and verbal abuse during the arrest and questioning of some suspects. The number of cases brought against police officers for excessive use of force declined from previous years. During the first half of the year, authorities filed three cases against police officers for excessive use of force. In one case, a police officer was tried on charges of using excessive force and physically assaulting a man in a bar.

On June 28, a court of appeal upheld the Viru County Court’s 2017 sentence of a police officer found guilty of using excessive force in 2016. The court fined the officer 3,000 euros ($3,450) and a similar amount to cover court costs.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: During the first eight months of the year, there was a killing of a detainee by another detainee in a detention center as well as four suicides in prisons. While inspecting several institutions in 2017, the legal chancellor found a number of deficiencies in prison and detention center conditions, particularly in the latter. The continuing use of the worn, outdated Soviet-era prison in Tallinn for a large number of prisoners remained a problem. The legal chancellor reported inmates did not have sufficient access to legal documentation in some prisons and detention centers. The legal chancellor focused on restrictions upon prisoners’ use of the internet and considered some of the restrictions obsolete and unreasonable.

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

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, including human rights groups, media, and international bodies.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and laws prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention in court, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Police and Border Guard Board and the Internal Security Service maintain internal security. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The Police and Border Guard Board and the Internal Security Service report to the Ministry of the Interior. The Estonian Defense Forces report to the Ministry of Defense. The Prosecutor’s Office leads investigations and prosecutes cases in court. The Police and Border Guard Board and the Internal Security Service investigate civilian cases, while the military police investigate defense force cases. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Police and Border Guard Board, the Internal Security Service, and the army, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate abuse.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Apart from those arrested during the commission of a crime, the law requires that in making arrests, authorities must possess warrants issued by a court based on evidence and must inform detainees promptly of the grounds for their arrest. There is a functioning bail system and other alternatives for provisional release pending trial. Authorities may hold individuals for 48 hours without charge; further detention requires a court order. Police generally complied with these requirements. Criminal procedure rules provide for a maximum detention of two months during preliminary investigations in cases where the accused is a minor and four months in cases of second-degree (less serious) crimes. Detainees are entitled to immediate access to legal counsel, and the government pays for legal counsel for indigent persons.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence, prompt and detailed notification of the charges (with free interpretation if necessary), a fair and public trial without undue delay, be present at their trial, communicate with an attorney of their choice, adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, as well as the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, and to present one’s own witnesses and evidence. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal. A single judge, a judge together with public assessors, or a committee of judges may hear cases. In criminal proceedings, an attorney is available to all defendants at public expense, although individuals often preferred to hire their own attorneys. In civil proceedings, the government provides an attorney for indigents. Authorities generally respected these rights and extended them to all residents regardless of citizenship.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations in domestic courts. They may appeal unfavorable decisions to the European Court for Human Rights after exhausting all domestic remedies.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government has laws and mechanisms in place for property restitution, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and advocacy groups reported no issues with the government’s resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

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 speech, including for 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 that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to statistics compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, 88.1 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 provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected these freedoms.

The annual remembrance ceremony commemorating the Battle of Sinimae mentioned in previous years’ reports again occurred.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

While the constitution provides for freedom of association, the law specifies that only citizens may join political parties. There were no restrictions on the ability of noncitizens to join other civil groups.

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 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, 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. The NGO Estonian Human Rights Center (EHRC) and other NGOs provided legal and social assistance to asylum seekers in cooperation with authorities. Government officials indicated that access to legal aid was available at every stage of the asylum procedure. The EHRC continued to raise concerns about the prolonged detention of asylum seekers during adjudication of cases.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government has a policy of denying asylum to applicants from a “safe” country of origin or transit. Authorities asserted that they granted interviews to all individual asylum seekers.

Durable Solutions: The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of some refugees to their countries of origin under a program of the International Organization on Migration. The country worked with the EU and UNHCR to implement a refugee resettlement program. Naturalization is open to all permanent residents of the country after five years’ residence, provided they pass mandatory citizenship and language examinations.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government granted temporary protection via residence permits to 10 individuals during the first seven months of the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

UNHCR categorized 85,301 persons as stateless as of the end of 2015. As of January 1, according to government statistics, there were 75,628 residents of undetermined citizenship, or 5.7 percent of the population. Nearly all were ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, or Belarusians. These persons are eligible to apply for naturalized citizenship, and some of them may hold Russian, Ukrainian or Belarusian citizenship.

There are statutory procedures that offer persons over the age of 18 opportunities for obtaining citizenship by naturalization, but some human rights observers regarded them as inadequate, and their rate of naturalization remained low. To facilitate acquisition of citizenship, authorities adopted such policies as funding civics and language courses and simplifying naturalization for persons with disabilities. The government also simplified the Estonian language requirements so that applicants older than 65 are no longer required to take a written language examination, although they still must pass an oral one. The government also provides citizenship, without any special application by the parents, to persons younger than 15 who were born in the country and whose parents were not citizens of Estonia or of any other country, and had lived in Estonia for five years at the time of the birth of the child.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Parliamentary elections in 2015 were considered free and fair and led to the formation of a three-party coalition government comprising the Reform Party, Social Democrat Party (SDE), and Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL). The Reform Party-led coalition dissolved, and in accordance with the constitution, a new coalition, consisting of the Center Party, the SDE, and the IRL took office in 2016, led by Prime Minister Juri Ratas.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The law allows only citizens to organize or join political parties.

Noncitizens who are long-term residents may vote in local elections but cannot vote in national elections or hold public office.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were isolated reports of official corruption during the year.

Corruption: In September 2017 the Prosecutor General’s Office pressed charges against two former top managers of the state-owned Port of Tallinn, former CEO Ain Kaljurand and former board member Allan Kiil, who were indicted on charges of accepting bribes on multiple occasions and engaging in money laundering from 2005 to 2015. Each was charged with receiving millions of euros in bribes. The court case was pending.

In 2017 the number of corruption cases in progress fell compared with the previous five years. The number of prosecutions remained the same as in 2016-2017.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all public officials to disclose their income and assets. Designated offices have responsibility for monitoring and verifying disclosures. The financial declarations of high-level government officials were available to the public, and there are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance with the law.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The legal chancellor, an independent official with a staff of more than 45, performs the role of human rights ombudsman. The chancellor reviews legislation for compliance with the constitution; oversees authorities’ observance of fundamental rights and freedoms and the principles of good governance; and helps resolve accusations of discrimination based on gender, race, nationality (ethnic origin), color, language, religion, social status, age, disability, or sexual orientation. The legal chancellor also makes recommendations to ministries and local governments, requests responses, and has authority to appeal to the Supreme Court. The chancellor compiles an annual report for the parliament. Public trust in the office was high, and the government was responsive to its reports and decisions.

Finland

Executive Summary

The Republic of Finland is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral parliament (Eduskunta). The prime minister heads a three-party coalition government approved by parliament and appointed by the president in 2015. The presidential election on January 28 and parliamentary elections in 2015 were considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses.

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

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.

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

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police maintain internal security. Both Finnish Customs and the Border Guard have law enforcement responsibilities related to their fields of responsibility. The Border Guard has additional law enforcement powers to maintain public order when it operates in joint patrols and under police command. The defense forces are responsible for safeguarding the country’s territorial integrity and providing military training. The defense forces also have some domestic security responsibilities, such as assisting the national police in maintaining law and order in crises, participating in search and rescue operations, and providing aid in the event of a natural disaster or catastrophe. The national police and Border Guard report to the Ministry of the Interior; the Ministry of Defense oversees the defense forces.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police, the defense forces, the Border Guard, and Finnish Customs. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

The Helsinki District Court ordered the detention of the former head of the Helsinki Police Narcotics Unit, Jari Aarnio, in July due to alleged criminal negligence in the murder of a man in 2003. Aarnio was previously convicted on a range of corruption and drug trafficking crimes. In May the state prosecutor charged the former and current national police commissioners with official misconduct for their failure to oversee Aarnio’s Narcotics Unit adequately. On September 17, the daily Helsingin Sanomat reported the suspension of the director of the National Bureau of Investigation, Robin Lardot, in connection with the Aarnio case. Lardot’s criminal trial began on October 2.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police to have a warrant issued by a prosecutor to make an arrest. Police must obtain a warrant within three days if an individual is arrested while committing a crime. Arrested persons must receive a court hearing within three days of arrest, and police must promptly inform detainees of the charges against them. There is no system of bail, but most defendants awaiting trial are eligible for conditional release on personal recognizance. The law provides for a detainee’s prompt access to a lawyer. Persons detained for “minor” criminal offenses, however, do not have a right to an attorney from the outset of detention or prior to interrogation. The government must provide lawyers for the indigent. Authorities respected most of these rights.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Authorities generally informed detainees promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Trials are fair and public, and take place without undue delay. Defendants have a right to be present at their trial and to consult an attorney of their choice in a timely manner before trial. The government provides attorneys at public expense if defendants cannot afford counsel. Authorities give defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants are provided free interpretation as necessary from the moment an individual is charged through all appeals. They can confront and question witnesses for the prosecution and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right of appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies through domestic courts for human rights violations. Persons may appeal court decisions involving alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights after they exhaust all avenues of appeal in national courts.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government reports Finland did not confiscate property belonging to Jews during the Holocaust-era, that Holocaust-era restitution has not been an issue, and that no litigation or restitution claims were pending before authorities regarding real or immovable property covered by the Terezin Declaration, to which the government is signatory.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

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: Public speech intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group is a crime. Hate speech is not a separate criminal offense, but may constitute grounds for an aggravated sentence for other offenses.

Press and Media Freedom: The distribution of hate material intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group in print or broadcast media, books, or online newspapers or journals is a crime.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with little restriction.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists who covered sensitive topics, including immigration, far-right organizations, and terrorism, reported ongoing extragovernmental harassment. While prosecutors initiated cases related to the harassment of reporters, the Union of Journalists in Finland released a public statement criticizing the prosecutor’s office for its failure to protect journalists. In one notable case, a reporter who wrote about the role of an Afghan asylum seeker who rendered first aid to victims of a 2017 domestic terror attack was subjected to such intense harassment she relocated to Helsinki. Police declined to press charges against her harassers, who included members of anti-immigrant groups.

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 law provides for everyone to have a “subjective right to a telephone subscription and an internet connection.” According to International Telecommunication Union statistics, an estimated 88 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

Courts can fine persons found guilty of inciting racial hatred on the internet. There were a few reports that individuals incurred fines for publishing and distributing such material via the internet. On June 26, Ilja Janitskin, founder of the anti-immigrant website MV-lehti, was freed to await a verdict in his trial on charges of ethnic agitation and defamation. On October 18, the Helsinki District Court found Janitskin guilty on multiple counts of aggravated incitement against an ethnic group and sentenced him to 22 months in prison.

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 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, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were several reports of violence against asylum seekers. In January an asylum seeker at the Joutseno migrant reception center committed suicide while awaiting deportation, sparking protest among other residents at the converted prison facility. Right-wing extremist groups hostile to asylum seekers and immigrants, including the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) and the vigilante group Soldiers of Odin, maintained an active presence both online and in street demonstrations.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Lawyers specializing in asylum cases alleged the government deported asylum seekers to countries where they are likely to face persecution or torture, most notably Iraq and Afghanistan. In September the Immigration Service announced it would suspend deportations to Afghanistan following new guidance from UNHCR regarding safety conditions in the country.

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. Parliament sets an annual quota for refugee admissions, and the government decides its allocation. Asylum seekers have the right to free legal representation throughout their application procedure. There were numerous reports by media and civil society organizations, including the president of the Supreme Administrative Court responsible for reviewing asylum decision appeals, that asylum seekers lacked adequate access to legal assistance during the initial stages of the asylum application process and during subsequent appeals.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government adheres to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation that establishes which EU member state is responsible for examining the asylum application. The government does not, however, return asylum seekers to Greece or Hungary under the Dublin Regulation.

Employment: Asylum seekers who have valid travel documents, but do not yet have a valid residence permit, are allowed to begin working three months after they have submitted their asylum application. Asylum seekers who do not have valid travel documents must wait six months after they have submitted their asylum application before they can begin working.

Durable Solutions: According to UNHCR the government accepted 1,094 refugees for resettlement during 2017, a number similar to previous years. The government also assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants to their home countries. Between January and June, the Finnish Immigration Service and the International Organization for Migration helped more than 480 persons to return voluntarily to their homes in 29 different countries.

Temporary Protection: From January to May the government provided temporary protection to 191 individuals who did not qualify as refugees but who were deemed to qualify for subsidiary protection. From January to May, the government also offered protection to 209 individuals based on “other grounds,” including medical and compassionate grounds.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR 2,749 stateless persons resided in the country at the end of 2017. Involuntarily stateless persons and certain other special groups, such as refugees, have a shorter residency requirement–four years instead of six–than other persons before they are eligible to apply for citizenship. A child may obtain citizenship from either the mother or father regardless of the place of birth and may also acquire citizenship if the child is born in the country and would otherwise be stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country’s presidential election on January 28 and national parliamentary elections in 2015 were considered free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: By law appointed and elected officials must each year declare their income, assets, and other private interests that could overlap with their official duties. Officials must make their initial declaration within two months of assuming office and declare any potential conflicts of interest that arise during their tenure. The law does not provide for specific criminal penalties for nondisclosure. By law income and asset information from the tax forms of all citizens must be made public each year.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The parliamentary ombudsman enjoyed the government’s cooperation, operated without government or party interference, and had adequate resources. The parliamentary ombudsman investigates complaints that a public authority or official failed to observe the law, fulfill a duty, or appropriately implement fundamental human rights protections. The main targets of the complaints were social welfare agencies, police, and health care.

The Human Rights Center operated as part of the parliamentary ombudsman’s office. The center’s functions include promoting human rights, reporting on the implementation of human rights obligations, and cooperating with European and international bodies on human rights matters. The center does not have authority to investigate individual human rights abuses. A delegation of representatives from civil society who participated in promoting and safeguarding human rights frequently cooperated with the center.

The parliamentary Constitutional Law Committee analyzes proposed legislation for consistency with international human rights conventions. The committee deals with legislation relating to criminal and procedural law, the courts, and the prison system.

The law requires the ombudsman for children, the nondiscrimination ombudsman, and the ombudsman for equality impartially to advance the status and legal protection of their respective reference groups. These ombudsmen operate under the Ministry of Justice.

Responsibility for developing antidiscrimination policies and legislation as well as for the Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations resides with the Ministry of Justice’s Unit for Democracy, Language Affairs, and Fundamental Rights.

The nondiscrimination ombudsman also operated as an independent government-oversight body that investigates discrimination complaints and promotes equal treatment within the government. The nondiscrimination ombudsman also acted as the national rapporteur on trafficking in human beings and supervised the government’s removal of foreign nationals from the country.

Latvia

Executive Summary

The Republic of Latvia is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. A unicameral parliament (Saeima) exercises legislative authority. Observers considered the elections on October 6 for the 100-seat parliament to be free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses in some instances, although significant concerns remained regarding accountability on corruption-related issues.

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

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

The law prohibits such practices. In the first seven months of the year, the ombudsman received eight complaints from prison inmates of prison officials’ using violence against them. These complaints were forwarded to the Internal Security Bureau for investigation. Separately, in the first six months of the year, the prison administration received 27 complaints from prison inmates (four from the same person) of prison officials’ using violence against them. These complaints were also forwarded to the Internal Security Bureau for investigation. As in previous years, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) reported in 2017 there were complaints of physical mistreatment of detained individuals.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The prison system overall had an aging infrastructure, but most facilities provided satisfactory conditions and met minimum international requirements. Some reports regarding prison or detention center conditions raised human rights concerns. Prisoners complained mostly about insufficient lighting and ventilation.

Physical Conditions: In 2017 the CPT noted that most of the prisoner accommodation areas in the unrenovated Griva Section of Daugavgriva Prison were in poor condition and severely affected by humidity due to the absence of a ventilation system. It also found the Valmiera Police Station to be in a “deplorable state of repair.” In the Limbazi Police Station, according to the CPT, custody cells had no natural light due to opaque glass bricks in the windows. In addition, the in-cell toilets were not fully partitioned, and most of them were extremely dirty. Health care in the prison system remained underfunded, leading to inadequate care and a shortage of medical staff. As of August, 6.5 percent of health-care positions were vacant.

Through August the ombudsman received eight complaints from prisoners regarding living conditions and 22 complaints about health care in prisons. Most patients in the Psychiatric Unit (located in the Olaine Prison Hospital), as well as the great majority of sentenced minimum security prisoners at the Daugavgriva and Jelgava Prisons, were locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day.

Administration: Prison authorities generally investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and documented the results of their investigations in a publicly accessible manner.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by international human right monitors, including the CPT and independent nongovernmental observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The State Police, Security Police, and State Border Guards are subordinate to the Ministry of Interior. Municipal police are under local government control. The armed forces, the Defense Intelligence and Security Service, Constitution Protection Bureau, and National Guard are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. The State Police and municipal police forces share responsibility for maintaining internal security. The State Border Guard and the armed forces, the Defense Intelligence and Security Service, the Constitution Protection Bureau, and the National Guard are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities.

The State Police are generally responsible for conducting criminal investigations, but the Security Police, the financial police, military police, prison authorities, the Bureau for Preventing and Combating Corruption (KNAB), the tax and customs police, the State Border Guard, and the Internal Security Bureau also have specific criminal investigative responsibilities. The Security Police are responsible for combating terrorism and other internal security threats.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the State Police, the Security Police, State Border Guards, the armed forces, the financial police, the military police, prison authorities, KNAB, and other security forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

In most cases officials require a warrant issued by an authorized judicial official to make an arrest. Exceptions are specifically defined by law and include persons caught by police in the act of committing a crime, suspects identified by eyewitnesses, or suspects who pose a flight risk. The law requires prosecutors to charge detainees and bring them before a judge within 48 hours. In 2017 the CPT found that persons remanded to custody by courts were frequently held in police detention facilities well beyond the statutory limit of 48 hours, in one case for 29 days, pending their transfer to a remand facility.

Officials generally informed detainees promptly of charges against them. Detainees did not usually receive verbal information about their basic rights immediately upon arrest, but detained persons did receive an information sheet explaining their rights and duties. Nongovernment organizations (NGOs) complained that the information sheet used legalistic language that was difficult for a nonlawyer to understand and was often available only in Latvian, although many detainees spoke Russian as a first language. While a bail system exists, judges used it infrequently and did so most often in cases involving economic crimes.

Detainees have the right to an attorney who may be present during questioning. The government generally provided attorneys for indigent defendants.

Pretrial Detention: For the most serious crimes, the law limits pretrial detention to 15 months from the initial filing of a case. The maximum allowable detention including trial is 21 months. The ombudsman and the Human Rights Center continued to express concern about lengthy pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Most final court judgments were available online.

In individual instances, the fairness of judges’ verdicts remained a concern, and allegations of judicial corruption were widespread, particularly in insolvency cases. Through August the ombudsman received nine complaints concerning lengthy proceedings, eight complaints concerning excessive pretrial detention, and 12 complaints concerning detention without timely charges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly of the charges against them. Defendants are also entitled to an expeditious and, in most cases, open trial, although officials may close trials to protect government secrets or the interests of minors. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial as well as to consult with an attorney in a timely manner and, if indigent, to representation at government expense.

The law provides for the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to the free assistance of an interpreter if they cannot understand or speak Latvian, to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, and to present witnesses and evidence in their defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and have the right to appeal.

NGOs expressed concern that defendants often exploited these legal protections in order to delay trials, including by repeatedly failing to appear for court hearings and forcing repeated postponement. Several high-profile public corruption trials have lasted nearly a decade, and NGOs were concerned that this contributed to widespread public belief that high-level officials enjoyed impunity for corruption.

According to the Ministry of Justice, judicial delays significantly diminished after judicial territorial reforms, completed in March, streamlined the judicial caseload and increased judicial efficiency of nine courts of general jurisdiction with an average of 30 judges in each court. Defendants waited up to two months for an initial hearing in administrative courts during the year, down from up to five months prior to the territorial reform. The average civil case took four months in Riga courts and three months in district courts, down from six months and four months, respectively. The average criminal case required one month in Riga courts and one and one-half months in district courts.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. It is possible for individuals and organizations to bring a lawsuit through domestic courts seeking civil remedies for human rights violations. After exhausting the national court system, individuals may appeal cases involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

No Jewish communal property or restitution law is in effect, and Jewish communal property restitution dating from the Holocaust era remained incomplete. While the Jewish community estimated that approximately 270 properties still required restitution, government ministries maintained the number was much lower. Although a government working group exists and restitution mechanisms were discussed, little progress was achieved. Government officials were unwilling to reconcile the proposed list of properties with the Jewish community and officials from the World Jewish Restitution Organization. Some government officials asserted that the issue of restitution had been resolved by the return of five properties seized during World War II under legislation approved in 2016. The unrestituted properties identified by the Jewish community included cemeteries, synagogues, schools, hospitals, and community centers.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, 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. There were legal restrictions on racial and ethnic incitement and denial or glorification of crimes against humanity and certain war crimes.

Freedom of Expression: Although the law generally provides for freedom of speech, incitement to racial or ethnic hatred and the spreading of false information about the financial system are crimes. The law forbids glorifying or denying genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes against the country perpetrated by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Violation of these provisions can lead to a sentence of five years in prison, community service, or a fine. There are also restrictions on speech deemed a threat to the country’s national security. The law criminalizes nonviolent acts committed against the state or that challenge its “independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, or authority.”

Authorities charged several individuals with inciting national, ethnic, or racial hatred.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with few restrictions. The law requires that 65 percent of all television broadcast time in national and regional electronic media be in Latvian or be dubbed or subtitled. Extensive Russian-language programming was also available. The restrictions on speech that incites racial hatred, spreads false information about the financial system, or glorifies or denies genocide, crimes against humanity, or crimes against the country by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany also apply to the print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

The Latvian Journalists Association continued to express concerns regarding the independence and viability of local newspapers. Some municipalities provided funding to local newspapers in exchange for editorial control or even published their own newspapers, driving many independent competitors out of business. NGOs also expressed concern that opaque ownership of many of the largest media outlets posed a threat to media independence and transparency.

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. Internet speech was subject to the same restrictions as other forms of speech and the media. According to the International Telecommunication Union data from 2017, 81 percent of the population used the internet.

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 constitution and the law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly. The government generally respected this right, but there are some restrictions. Organizers of demonstrations typically must notify authorities 10 days in advance, although this requirement can be reduced to 24 hours if the longer advance notice is “reasonably impossible” to meet. Officials may deny or modify permits to prevent public disorder.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The law prohibits the registration of communist, Nazi, or other organizations that contravene the constitution or advocate the violent overthrow of the government.

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 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, 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 to provide protection to refugees.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, which permits authorities to return asylum seekers to their country of first entry into the EU if they arrive from other EU member states, except in cases involving family reunification or other humanitarian considerations.

Durable Solutions: Some observers expressed concern that the government did not take sufficient steps to integrate asylum seekers who had been granted refugee status in the country. Refugee benefits fell well below the country’s poverty line.

Temporary Protection: In the first six months of the year, the government also provided subsidiary protection status to approximately 22 individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR, 233,571 stateless persons were in the country at the end of 2017. As of the beginning of the year, the Central Statistical Bureau (CSB) listed 214,206 persons as “noncitizen residents,” and the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs listed 176 persons as stateless. Noncitizen residents accounted for approximately 11 percent of the population. Although UNHCR included most of the country’s noncitizen population in the stateless category, the government preferred to designate this population as noncitizen residents, since they were eligible to naturalize under the law. The government recognized as stateless only those persons with no claim to foreign citizenship or noncitizen resident status.

Persons categorized by authorities as stateless may pursue citizenship through naturalization after obtaining a permanent residence permit and lawfully residing in the country for five years. According to the law, a child born to noncitizen residents in the country is automatically granted citizenship if requested by at least one parent.

Noncitizen residents, mostly persons of Slavic origin who moved to the country during the Soviet occupation and their descendants, did not automatically become citizens when the country regained independence in 1991. They have permanent residence status, equal protection in the country and consular protection abroad, the right to leave and return to the country, and the right to all government social benefits. They also have employment rights, except in some government and private-sector positions related to the legal system, law enforcement, and national security. Noncitizens may not vote in local or national elections and may not organize a political party without the participation of at least an equal number of citizens.

The law also establishes conditions whereby members of the noncitizen resident population can obtain citizenship, although the rate of application for citizenship by noncitizen residents remained low. Through July, authorities received 589 naturalization applications. In public surveys of noncitizen residents, the majority of respondents who did not seek naturalization reported that, in addition to language barriers, their reasons for not doing so included political objections to the requirement and their understanding that Latvian citizenship was not necessary for them to travel to Russia and EU-member states.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights assessed the October 6 parliamentary elections as free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Citizens may organize political parties without restriction. The law prohibits the country’s noncitizen residents from organizing political parties without the participation of at least an equal number of citizens. The election law prohibits persons who remained active in the Communist Party or other pro-Soviet organizations after 1991 or who worked for such institutions as the Soviet KGB from holding office.

On August 21, the Central Election Commission removed Tatjana Zdanoka, a member of the European Parliament and the leader of the Latvian Russian Union political party, from the party’s ticket for the 2018 parliamentary election. The decision was based on a court ruling from 1999 that found Zdanoka was an active member of the Communist Party after January 1991, which under the law made her ineligible to run in the parliamentary elections. Zdanoka unsuccessfully appealed the ban to the Administrative District Court.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Approximately 31 percent of the ethnic minority population were noncitizen residents who could not participate in elections and had no representation in government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not consistently implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices, and polling data consistently showed that the majority of the public believed corruption was widespread and officials were rarely held accountable.

Corruption: Corruption was a problem. NGOs expressed concern that prosecutions and convictions of government officials focused on minor violations rather than large-scale corruption.

In February KNAB began criminal proceedings against central bank governor Ilmars Rimsevics, who was suspected of soliciting and accepting a bribe of at least 100,000 euros ($115,000). Businessman Maris Martinsons was suspected of aiding and abetting Rimsevics. For the duration of the investigation, Rimsevics was banned from performing his duties as the head of the central bank, from leaving the country, and from contacts with certain individuals. In June the prosecutor’s office began the criminal prosecution of Rimsevics and Martinsons. At year’s end, the criminal proceedings remained pending.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to file income and asset disclosures annually. Declarations are made public, and there are sanctions for noncompliance. While authorities investigated some irregularities, NGOs complained about the lack of effective oversight of the disclosures.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often cooperated with NGOs and responded to their views and inquiries.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for monitoring the government’s performance on human rights. The ombudsman received some cooperation from the agencies it monitored and operated without direct government or political interference.

NGOs continued to criticize the Office of the Ombudsman for lacking the institutional authority or capacity to investigate and act on allegations of discrimination. They complained that the office frequently put forward problems with little follow-through and often focused on cases that involved high-level officials. As required by law, the Office of the Ombudsman published an annual report describing its activities and making recommendations to the government.

A standing committee on human rights and public affairs of parliament met weekly during the parliamentary session. It considered initiatives related to human rights but generally focused on public media policy.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future