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Algeria

Executive Summary

Algeria is a multiparty republic whose president, the head of state, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The president has the constitutional authority to appoint and dismiss cabinet members and the prime minister, who is the head of government. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune won the 2019 presidential election, which followed mass popular demonstrations (known as the Hirak) throughout 2019 calling for democratic reforms. Observers characterized the elections as well organized and conducted without significant problems or irregularities, but they noted restrictions on civil liberties during the election period and lack of transparency in vote-counting procedures. The country held a constitutional referendum in November 2020, followed by legislative elections on June 12. Official voter turnout was 23 percent, the lowest in the country’s history for a parliamentary election.

The 130,000-member National Gendarmerie, which performs police functions outside urban areas under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defense, and the 200,000-member General Directorate of National Security or national police, under the Ministry of Interior, share responsibility for maintaining law and order. The army is responsible for external security and has some domestic security responsibilities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by members of the security forces; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary and impartiality; unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including criminal defamation laws, unjustified arrests of journalists, government censorship and blocking of websites; substantial interference with freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, including squelching a resumption of the Hirak and overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; restrictions of religious freedom; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face a threat to their life or freedom; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence against women; trafficking in persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish public officials who committed human rights abuses, especially corruption. The General Directorate of National Security conducted investigations into allegations of mistreatment and took administrative actions against officers it deemed to have committed abuses. The Ministry of Justice reported no prosecutions or convictions of civil, security, or military officials for torture or other abusive treatment. Impunity for police and security officials remained a problem.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no reports during the year 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 torture and prescribes prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for government agents found guilty of torture. Human rights activists reported police occasionally used excessive force against suspects, including protesters exercising their right to free speech, that could amount to torture or degrading treatment.

On January 26, authorities transferred political activist and prominent Hirak detainee Rachid Nekkaz from Kolea prison in Tipaza (30 miles from Algiers) to Labiod Sidi Cheikh prison (450 miles from Algiers) and placed him in solitary confinement despite Nekkaz’s suffering from prostate cancer and liver complications. On February 19, authorities released Nekkaz and other Hirak detainees ahead of the Hirak movement’s two-year anniversary. Authorities prevented Nekkaz from leaving Algeria on March 27 and arrested him twice in May for traveling within the country.

On February 2, during university student Walid Nekkiche’s trial for allegedly “distributing and possessing leaflets undermining the interest of the country,” “participating in a conspiracy to incite citizens to take up arms against the State,” “organizing secret communication with the aim of undermining national security,” and “undermining security and national unity,” Nekkiche accused intelligence officers of torture during the 14 months he spent in pretrial detention. Abdelghani Badi, Nekkiche’s lawyer, said the intelligence services forced Nekkiche to undress and then raped him. The public prosecutor’s office ordered an investigation into Nekkiche’s claims, although no details of the investigation were released by year’s end.

On March 2, Hirakist Sami Dernouni testified that he suffered mistreatment and torture while in the custody of the intelligence service in Algiers. Dernouni faced charges of “inciting an illegal gathering,” “undermining national unity,” and “undermining national security.” Dernouni’s lawyer, Fellah Ali, said the intelligence services forced Dernouni to undress, before beating and shocking him. Authorities denied his request to seek medical care for his injuries.

On April 3, authorities arrested 15-year-old Said Chetouane and several other youths during a Hirak protest. Upon his release, Chetouane publicly accused the police of sexual assault. The DGSN launched an investigation into Chetouane’s claims, accusing the other arrested youth of manipulating Chetouane, and stated authorities would publicize the investigation’s results, if the prosecutor approves. Authorities have not yet publicized the investigation’s findings.

The Ministry of Justice did not provide figures concerning prosecutions of police officers for abuse during the year. Local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) asserted that impunity in security forces was a problem.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were some significant reports of mental and physical abuse in detention centers that raised human rights concerns. Human rights lawyers and activists also expressed concern with prisons’ COVID-19 management.

The penal code prohibits the detention of suspects in any facilities not designated for the alleged crime. The local prosecutor has the right to visit detention facilities at any time.

Physical Conditions: The Ministry of Justice reported a total prisoner population of 94,749 individuals as of September and an average overcrowding rate of 19 percent, and stated it balanced the prison population across facilities to alleviate overcrowding. Convicted terrorists had the same rights as other inmates but were held in higher security prisons based on the danger they posed.

Prison authorities separated vulnerable persons but provided no consideration for sexual orientation. There were no legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons in prison, but authorities stated civil protections extend to all prisoners regardless of gender orientation.

The government used specific facilities for prisoners younger than age 27. The Ministry of Justice’s General Directorate for Prison Administration and Resettlement (DGAPR) maintained different categories of prisons that also separated prisoners according to the lengths of their sentences. The Ministry of Justice stated cell sizes exceeded international standards under the UN’s Nelson Mandela Rules. Some observers, including government-appointed human rights officials, attributed overcrowding in pretrial detention facilities to continued overuse of pretrial detention.

Authorities generally transferred pretrial detainees, after presenting them before the prosecutor, to prisons rather than holding them in separate detention facilities. The government stated pretrial detainees were normally held in cellblocks separate from those that confined the general prison population.

Administration: The DGSN reported it conducted investigations into 210 allegations of mistreatment and took administrative actions against officers it deemed to have committed abuses, including suspensions and termination. Religious workers reported they had access to prisoners during the year, and authorities allowed detainees access to religious observance. The DGSN reported it conducted four human rights-focused training sessions for 237 police officers during the year.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and local human rights observers to visit prisons and detention centers. ICRC staff visited prisons, police, and gendarme stations under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, and an administrative detention center operated by the Ministry of Interior. The ICRC hosted training sessions on human rights standards related to arrest, detention, and interrogation procedures for judicial police from the DGSN and National Gendarmerie, as well as for judges.

Improvements: During the year the Ministry of Justice reported it opened two new prisons, bringing the total number of prisons to 51, and the new prisons provided better detention conditions in line with international standards. The new prison in Messerghine reduced overcrowding at the nearby Oran prison. The ministry also reported that it renovated and reopened the prison in Sfisef, which it closed in December 2020 for renovations. The Ministry of Justice reported the government included prisoners in their nationwide COVID-19 vaccination campaign, and that the ministry, in coordination with the Ministry of Health, trained prison medical staff in COVID-19 vaccination and treatment, electrocardiogram use, and emergency first response. The DGAPR also increased weekly bank-transfer limits from 2,500 dinars ($19) to 4,500 dinars ($34) , permitting prisoners more money to purchase staple goods in the prison, and expanded public telephone use in 93 prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. A detainee has the right to appeal a court’s pretrial detention order and, if released, seek compensation from the government. Nonetheless, overuse of pretrial detention remained a problem. The government increasingly used pretrial detention after the beginning of the Hirak popular protest movement in 2019. The Ministry of Justice reported that, as of September, 19 percent of the prisoners were in pretrial detention. Security forces routinely detained individuals who participated in unauthorized protests. Arrested individuals reported that authorities held them for four to eight hours before releasing them without charges.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

According to the law, police must obtain a summons from the prosecutor’s office to require a suspect to appear in a police station for preliminary questioning. With this summons, police may hold a suspect for no more than 48 hours. Authorities also use summonses to notify and require the accused and the survivor to attend a court proceeding or hearing. Police may make arrests without a warrant if they witness the offense. Lawyers reported that authorities usually carried out procedures for warrants and summonses properly.

If authorities need more than 48 hours to gather additional evidence, they may extend a suspect’s time in police detention with the prosecutor’s authorization in the following cases: if charges pertain to an attack on data processing systems, they may extend the time in detention once; if charges relate to state security, they may do so twice; for charges concerning drug trafficking, organized and transnational crime, money laundering, and other currency-related crimes, they may do so three times; and for charges related to terrorism and other subversive activities, they may do so five times for a maximum of 12 days. The law stipulates detainees should immediately be able to contact a family member, receive a visit, or contact an attorney.

The law provides detainees the right to see an attorney for 30 minutes if authorities extend the time in detention beyond the initial 48-hour period. In these cases authorities permit the arrested person to contact a lawyer after one-half of the extended time has expired. Prosecutors may apply to a judge to extend the period before arrested individuals can have access to an attorney. The court appearance of suspects in terrorism cases is public. At the end of the detention, the detainee has the right to request a medical examination by a physician of choice within the jurisdiction of the court. Otherwise, the judicial police appoint a doctor. Authorities enter the medical certificate into the detainee’s file.

In nonfelony cases and in cases of individuals held on terrorism charges and other subversive activities that exceed a 12-day period plus any authorized extension, the law calls for the release of suspects on provisional liberty, referred to as “judicial control,” or release on own recognizance while awaiting trial. Under provisional liberty status, authorities subject suspects to requirements such as reporting periodically to the police station in their district, stopping professional activities related to the alleged offense committed, surrendering all travel documents, and, in some terrorism-related cases, residing at an agreed-upon address. The law provides that foreigners may be required to furnish bail as a condition of release on provisional liberty status, while citizens may be released on provisional liberty without posting bail.

Judges rarely refused requests to extend pretrial detention. During the year the Ministry of Justice reported an average pretrial detention of four months. The defendant has the right to request compensation if a court overturns the detention. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. There were reports that authorities held some detainees without access to their lawyers and abused them physically and mentally.

Arbitrary Arrest: Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities used vaguely worded provisions such as “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “insulting a government body” to arrest and detain individuals considered to be disturbing public order or criticizing the government. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations criticized the law prohibiting unauthorized gatherings as a significant source of arbitrary arrests intended to suppress political activism. Police arrested protesters throughout the year for violating the law against unregistered public gatherings.

According to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD), at least 74 persons were arbitrarily detained for expressing their opinion, and 48 of them were in pretrial detention as of May 5. On March 5, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported on the use of arbitrary arrest to suppress peaceful demonstrations and highlighted those hundreds of individuals arrested since the Hirak protests resumed in February.

Local and international organizations reported arbitrary detention and prosecution of human rights activists Said Boudour, Jamila Loukil, and Kaddour Chouicha. According to press reports, on March 12, police beat Chouicha and his son during a protest, and one police officer tried to strangle Chouicha’s son. Chouicha and Loukil also accused police of violence during an arrest in April. Boudour claimed police physically assaulted him during his arrest on April 23.

On April 20, the police arrested Nacer Meghnine, head of Hirak-affiliated youth and cultural NGO SOS Bab El-Oued, and placed him in pretrial detention. The DGSN called SOS Bab El-Oued a “criminal organization” and accused Meghnine of “acts of incitement and receiving foreign funding from a diplomatic mission of a major country.” The police stated the NGO used foreign funding to purchase equipment used to produce “provocative films” and “publications used during Hirak demonstrations.” Authorities seized 677 posters, seven computers, one camera, three scanners, and 12 printers. On September 26, the Bab-El Oued court sentenced Meghnine to eight months in prison.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem. Nongovernmental observers believed pretrial detainees were a significant portion of the total detainee and prisoner population but did not have specific statistics. According to the Ministry of Justice’s figures, 19 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention, and of those, 7 percent were under preliminary investigation.

The law limits the grounds for pretrial detention and stipulates that before it can be imposed, a judge must assess the gravity of a crime and whether the accused is a threat to society or a flight risk. Judges rarely refused prosecutorial requests to extend pretrial detention. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. Human rights activists and attorneys, however, asserted that some detainees were held without access to lawyers.

The law prohibits pretrial detention for crimes with maximum punishments of less than three years’ imprisonment, except for infractions that resulted in deaths or to persons considered a “threat to public order.” In these cases the law limits pretrial detention to one month. In all other criminal cases, pretrial detention may not exceed four months. Amnesty International alleged that authorities sometimes detained individuals on security-related charges for longer than the 12-day prescribed period.

On January 6, authorities at El-Harrach prison transferred three Hirak detainees – Mohamed Tadjadit, Noureddine Khimoud, and Abdelhak Ben Rahmani – to a hospital. The detainees had begun a hunger strike in December 2020, to protest the extension of their pretrial detention. On January 21, authorities convicted and released the three men, as they served their full sentences while in pretrial detention. On March 26, Tadjadit was among the 190 demonstrators arrested during a Hirak protest in Algiers, and although police released most of those arrested later that same day, Tadjadit was one of eight remanded into custody.

On September 22, the court of Dar El-Beida sentenced Major General Ali Ghediri – a candidate in the 2019 presidential election – to four years in prison after the court convicted Ghediri of “participating in times of peace to an endeavor aimed at weakening the morale of the National People’s Army.” The prosecutor initially requested a 10-year sentence and expressed his hope that the “severe sentence will serve as an example.” In February the Indictment Chamber at the Court of Algiers rejected Ghediri’s request for release from pretrial detention, and during his sentencing, Ghediri questioned the length of his pretrial detention, which was 832 days at that time.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary was not always independent or impartial in civil matters and lacked independence according to some human rights observers. Some alleged family connections and status of the those involved influenced decisions. While the constitution provides for the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government, the executive branch’s broad statutory authorities limited judicial independence. The constitution grants the president authority to appoint all prosecutors and judges. These presidential appointments are not subject to legislative oversight but are reviewed by the High Judicial Council, which consists of the president, minister of justice, chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court, 10 judges, and six individuals outside the judiciary who the president chooses. The president serves as the president of the High Judicial Council, which is responsible for the appointment, transfer, promotion, and discipline of judges.

In May the Superior Council of the Judiciary (CSM) removed National Union of Judges president Saad Eddine Merzouk for “violating an obligation of confidentiality.” The CSM suspended Merzouk in 2019 for supporting the Hirak movement. In May the CSM filed suit against Prosecutor Sid-Ahmed Belhadi for sharing pictures of himself and Merzouk on social media. In 2020 Belhadi requested that the courts release Hirak demonstrators. In May the CSM also suspended judge Fatma Zohra Amaili for alleged “insults on social networks.”

In September, President Tebboune appointed Tahar Mamouni as Supreme Court first president, replacing Abderrachid Tabi after his appointment as minister of justice. Tebboune also appointed 15 new appeal courts presidents, 20 attorneys general, and 20 administrative courts presidents. Tebboune did not indicate if the High Judicial Council reviewed his decision.

On November 18, according to media reports, authorities arrested and placed Judge Chentouf El Hachemi, president of the Court of Oran, in pretrial detention for allegedly accepting a bribe. Media also reported that the Ministry of Justice promoted El Hachemi to his position, despite facing previous disciplinary actions. El Hachemi presided over several high-profile corruption cases.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, but authorities did not always respect legal provisions that protect defendants’ rights. The law presumes defendants are innocent and have the right to be present and consult with an attorney provided at public expense if necessary. Most trials are public, except when the judge determines the proceedings to be a threat to public order or “morals.” The penal code stipulates that defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to be present during their trial but may be tried in absentia if they do not respond to a summons ordering their appearance. Courts tried defendants without legal representation and denied defendants’ requests to delay court proceedings when their lawyers were not present.

Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The testimony of men and women has equal weight under the law.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

International and local observers alleged that authorities occasionally used antiterrorism laws and restrictive laws on freedom of expression and public assembly to detain political activists and outspoken critics of the government.

According to the CNLD, more than 200 political prisoners associated with the Hirak protest movement were in government detention during the year, an increase from 61 in 2020. In June the CNLD reported more than 300 prisoners of conscience. They included journalists, activists, lawyers, opposition figures, and Hirak protesters. International human rights organizations and local civil society groups repeatedly called on the government to release all political prisoners. In September 2020 former minister of communication and government spokesperson Ammar Belhimer stated there were no political detainees in the country.

On May 4, authorities sentenced Amira Bouraoui, founder of two opposition movements (Barakat “Enough” and al-Muwatana “Citizenship”), to four years imprisonment. She had initially received a one-year prison sentence in June 2020 on charges of “inciting an unarmed gathering, offending Islam, offending the President, publishing content which may harm national unity, publication of fake news that may harm safety and public order, and undermining the lives of others,” and the sentence was increased on appeal.

On May 24, authorities sentenced Hirak activist Slimane Hamitouche, a codefendant in the high-profile prosecution of Reporters Without Borders journalist Khaled Drareni, to one year in prison on “illegal assembly and incitement to illegal assembly” charges.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may bring lawsuits, and administrative processes related to amnesty may provide damages to the victims or their families for human rights abuses and compensation for alleged wrongs. Individuals may appeal adverse decisions to international human rights bodies, but their decisions cannot be legally enforced.

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

The constitution provides for the protection of a person’s “honor” and private life, including the privacy of home, communication, and correspondence. According to human rights activists, citizens widely believed the government conducted frequent electronic surveillance of a range of citizens, including political opponents, journalists, human rights groups, and suspected terrorists. Security officials reportedly visited homes unannounced and conducted searches without a warrant. The government charged the Ministry of National Defense cybercrime unit with coordinating anticybercrime efforts and engaging in preventive surveillance of electronic communications in the interests of national security, but it did not provide details regarding the limits of surveillance authority or corresponding protections for persons subject to surveillance. The Ministry of Justice stated the agency was subject to all existing judicial controls that apply to law enforcement agencies. In 2019 the government moved the agency from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Defense. A new decree allowed authorities to conduct domestic surveillance and required internet and telephone providers to increase cooperation with the Defense Ministry.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. Independent media outlets regularly criticized and satirized government officials and policies, but the government on some occasions restricted these rights. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics, arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws, and informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists. Some media figures alleged the government used its control over most printing houses and significant funding of public-sector advertising preferentially, and that the lack of clear regulations over these practices permitted it to exert undue influence on press outlets.

Freedom of Expression: While public debate and criticism of the government were widespread, journalists and activists were limited in their ability to criticize the government on topics crossing unwritten “red lines.” Authorities arrested and detained citizens for expressing views deemed damaging to state officials and institutions, including the use of the Berber flag during protests, and citizens practiced self-censorship in expressing public criticism. The law criminalizing speech regarding security force conduct during the internal conflict of the 1990s remained in place, although the government stated there had never been an arrest or prosecution under the law. A separate law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for publications that “may harm the national interest” or up to one year for defaming or insulting the president, parliament, army, or state institutions. Government officials monitored political meetings.

Authorities have summoned, arrested, and prosecuted journalist Mustapha Bendjama in at least six different cases for charges such as “offense to public bodies” and “undermining national unity.” On June 27, the court in Annaba convicted Bendjama, and the judge sentenced him to two months in prison and 2,500 dinars ($19) fine.

Police arrested former parliamentarian Nordine Ait-Hamouda on June 26 in Bejaia for making “inappropriate statements towards various important national figures.” On August 29, authorities released Ait-Hamouda from El-Harrach prison after two months of incarceration. The Court of Ruisseau in Algiers granted Ait-Hamouda’s provisional release, pending the completion of the investigation and determination of the trial date.

On June 30, security personnel arrested Fethi Ghares, national coordinator of the opposition party Democratic and Social Movement and searched his home. His wife, Messaouda Cheballah, posted a live video of her husband’s arrest and denounced the police’s “indiscreet search of her belongings.”

NGOs reported in 2020 that they stopped holding events outside private locations due to longstanding government suppression and pressure on owners of public gathering spaces.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controlled public advertising for print media, and most daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. Press outlets reported taking extra caution before publishing articles critical of the government or government officials due to fear of losing revenue from ANEP. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders, private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. ANEP stated its support for a pluralistic press and freedom of information and noted that it funded opposition newspapers.

In April 2020 parliament adopted amendments to the penal code that criminalize spreading “false news” that harms national unity. Penalties for convictions under the bill, which does not distinguish among news reports, social media, and other media, include prison terms of two to five years and fines. Civil society groups reported that the amendments gave authorities excessive power to prosecute activists and human rights defenders.

On May 10, authorities found journalist Khellaf Benhedda guilty in absentia and fined him 100,000 dinars ($750) for an “offense to the President.”

On May 14, police arrested Maghreb Emergent journalist Kenza Khatto during a Hirak march in Algiers on charges of “incitement to unarmed gathering,” “contempt of police,” and “noncompliance with the instruction of the wali (governor) of Algiers on the ban of marches.”

On May 18, authorities placed journalist El Kadi Ihsane, director of Radio M and Maghreb Emergent websites, on probation. The judge issued a travel ban and confiscated Ihsane’s passport. According to Radio M, authorities charged Ihsane with “undermining national security and territorial unity” and “sharing publications undermining national interest.” The CNLD said the charges emanated from a complaint filed by the Minister of Communication Ammar Belhimer.

On September 6, authorities arrested Hassan Bourras at his home in El Bayadh and charged him with “belonging to a terrorist organization,” “conspiracy against the security of the State to change the system of governance,” and “use of technical and media tools to enlist individuals against the authority of the State.” Bourras is a well known human rights’ activist with the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH). According to the CNLD, authorities transferred Bourras on September 12 to a court in Algiers, which ordered him into pretrial detention.

On September 12, police arrested Mohamed Mouloudj, a reporter for Liberte, and raided his home. On September 14, the Sidi M’hamed Court in Algiers placed Mouloudj in custody and charged him with spreading false news, harming national unity, and belonging to a terrorist group. The court placed him in pretrial detention which was ongoing at year end.

Many civil society organizations, government opponents, and political parties had access to independent print and broadcast media and used them to express their views. Opposition parties also disseminated information via the internet and published communiques but stated they did not have access to the national television and radio stations. Journalists from independent print and broadcast media expressed frustration regarding the difficulty of receiving information from public officials. Except for several daily newspapers, most print media outlets relied on the government for physical printing materials and operations.

Organizations wishing to initiate regular publications must obtain authorization from the government. The law requires the director of the publication to hold Algerian citizenship. The law additionally prohibits local periodicals from receiving direct or indirect material support from foreign sources.

The ministry’s Media Directorate is responsible for issuing and renewing accreditations to foreign media outlets operating in the country. Although this accreditation is required to operate legally, the ministry did not accredit most foreign media. Regulations require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be citizens and prohibit them from broadcasting content that offends “values anchored in Algerian society.”

The law mandates that online news outlets must inform the government of their activities but does not require them to request authorization to operate.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected some journalists to harassment and intimidation. Journalists reported that selective prosecutions served as a mechanism for intimidation. According to Reporters without Borders, the government intimidated activists and journalists. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics, arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws, and informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation from the Audiovisual Regulatory Authority (ARAV) for criticism of the government. According to state-run Algerie Presse Service (APS), in March, Algerian authorities warned France 24 to tone down its “biased Hirak coverage.”

On June 13, Communication Minister Ammar Belhimer cancelled France 24’s accreditation for its “clear and repeated hostility towards our country and its institutions.” Upon the withdrawal of France 24’s accreditation, several foreign news outlets said all journalists in Algeria – both foreign and local – faced bureaucratic hurdles and must navigate murky procedural processes to operate.

In June the ARAV suspended El Hayet TV for one week after it broadcast an interview with Nordine Ait Hamouda, the founding member of the opposition party Rally for Culture and Democracy and son of independence war hero Colonel Amirouche Ait Hamouda. During the interview, Nordine Ait Hamouda called several Algerian historical figures “traitors.” The interview prompted the Ministry of Communication to summon El Hayet TV director Habet Hannachi to the ARAV headquarters to explain his decision to broadcast the controversial interview. On June 26, authorities arrested Ait Hamouda and placed him in pretrial detention, although authorities granted his provisional release on August 29 pending trial on charges of “attacking symbols of the nation and the revolution.”

On July 31, the ARAV withdrew the accreditation of Saudi-funded al-Arabiya TV for “propagating misinformation.” In a statement the Ministry of Communication stated al-Arabiya failed to “respect the rules of professional ethics and practiced media misinformation and manipulation.”

On August 16, the Ministry of Communication announced “the immediate and final closure” of the private television channel Lina TV at the request of the ARAV. Communication Minister Ammar Belhimer stated the ARAV had previously warned Lina TV for its “noncompliance with ethical principles.” Belhimer characterized the channel as a “danger to national unity.” The Ministry added that Lina TV did not have the required accreditation to operate.

On August 23, the Ministry of Communication suspended the private progovernment television channel El Bilad TV for one week. The ARAV based its decision on “noncompliance with the requirements of public order” and due to legal proceedings against Ayoub Aissiou, a station shareholder who also owns El Djazairia One. The government accused Aissiou of violating the law on broadcast activity, which forbids holding shares in more than one television station.

On August 23, the Ministry of Communication shut down the private television channel El Djazairia One, after the ARAV recommended its immediate closure. On August 24, officials at the ARAV said El Djazairia One’s owners violated the law on audiovisual activity by purchasing shares in more than one television channel. The station’s owners, brothers Ayoub and Tayeb Aissiou, were close associates of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Bouteflika-era prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia.

On August 24, the ARAV censured state-run EPTV after one of its reporters said the suspects arrested for lynching Djamel Bensmail were charged with belonging to a “terrorist region” instead of a “terrorist organization.” The ARAV stated this was “an unforgivable breach,” prompting EPTV to apologize and discipline the reporter.

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and stated the definitions in the law failed to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but a serious misdemeanor that carries a fine. The Ministry of Justice did not provide information on the percentage of defamation claims that originated from private citizens, as opposed to government officials. Defamation laws specify that former members of the military who make statements deemed to have damaged the image of the military or to have “harmed the honor and respect due to state institutions” may face prosecution.

The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Muhammed or “messengers of God.”

Internet Freedom

The government monitored certain email and social media sites.

Internet users regularly exercised their right to free expression and association online, including through online forums, social media, and email. Activists reported that some postings on social media could result in arrest and questioning; observers widely understood that the intelligence services closely monitored the activities of political and human rights activists on social media sites, including Facebook.

There was some disruption of communication prior to planned antigovernment demonstrations during the year, namely internet shutdowns, the blocking of access to certain online news sites and social media platforms, and the restricting or censorship of content. When the Hirak protests resumed in February, parts of the country experienced internet outages during the demonstrations.

The law on cybercrime establishes procedures for using electronic data in prosecutions and outlines the responsibilities of internet service providers (ISPs) to cooperate with authorities. Under the law the government may conduct electronic surveillance to prevent terrorist or subversive acts and infractions against state security, pursuant to written authorization from a competent judicial authority.

By law ISPs face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” The Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Post, Information Technology, and Communication have oversight responsibilities. The law provides sentences of six months to five years in prison and fines for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.

For a fifth year, the government blocked access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, for several days during nationwide high school examinations. The decision was in response to previous leaks of examination materials, which were posted on social media.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Academic seminars generally occurred with limited governmental interference. The Ministry of Culture reviewed the content of films before they could be shown, as well as books before importation. The Ministry of Religious Affairs did the same for all religious publications. The law gives authorities broad power to ban books that run counter to the constitution, “the Muslim religion and other religions, national sovereignty and unity, the national identity and cultural values of society, national security and defense concerns, public order concerns, and the dignity of the human being and individual and collective rights.” It further prohibits books that “make apology for colonialism, terrorism, crime, and racism.”

Importers must submit to the ministry the title, author’s name, editor’s name, edition, year, International Standard Book Number, and number of copies to be imported. Importers of books covering the “national movement and the Algerian Revolution” must submit the entire text of the books for review, including a secondary review by the Ministry of the Moudjahidine (veterans of the revolution). The Ministry of Culture can also require a full content review of books on other topics if it chooses. The ministry has 30 days to review the importation application; in the absence of a response after 30 days, the importer may proceed with distribution of the publication. After deciding, the ministry notifies the customs service of the decision to allow or ban the importation of the publication. Appeals may be made to the ministry, with no independent or judicial review provided for in the decree.

A 2017 decree covering religious texts other than the Quran stated, “The content of religious books for import, regardless of format, must not undermine the religious unity of society, the national religious and public order, good morals, fundamental rights and liberties, or the law.” The importer must submit the text and other information, and the ministry must respond within 30 days. A nonresponse after this period is considered a rejection. Religious texts distributed without authorization may be seized and destroyed.

On April 23, authorities sentenced Sufi Muslim academic Said Djabelkheir to three years in prison and a fine of 50,000 dinars ($375) for “offense to the precepts of Islam,” based on his personal Facebook account publications regarding Islamic rituals and theology. Djabelkheir wrote that the sacrifice of sheep predates Islam and denounced child marriage. He said authorities did not inform him or his lawyers ahead of the court proceedings. Djabelkheir appealed the conviction and was free on bail pending the appeal.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the government severely restricted the exercise of these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, but the government curtailed this right. A ban on demonstrations in Algiers remained in effect. Authorities utilized the ban to prohibit assembly within the city limits. Nationwide, the government required citizens and organizations to obtain permits from the local governor, who is appointed by the national government, before holding public meetings or demonstrations. The government restricted licenses to political parties, NGOs, and other groups to hold indoor rallies or delayed permission until the eve of the event, thereby impeding organizers’ publicity and outreach efforts. The DGSN reported it arrested 10,943 protesters during the year, up from 3,017 protesters arrested in 2020. Of those, authorities interviewed and released 9,900 protesters, typically on the same day as the arrest. Of the remainder, police charged 545, and the remaining 489 were placed in pretrial detention. The Hirak protest movement, which began in 2019, consisted of mass, peaceful protest marches taking place every Tuesday and Friday in many locations throughout the country. The protests paused with the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020.

On February 22 and 26, Hirak marches resumed in cities throughout the country, with thousands of demonstrators returning to the streets to commemorate the movement’s two-year anniversary. Student protests also resumed their weekly Tuesday marches on February 23 in Algiers, but by May they had largely ceased.

On April 3, police arrested 23 Hirak protesters on alleged charges of “holding an unarmed gathering or protest.” The court placed them in pretrial detention on April 5. On April 14, El Harrach prison officials relocated the detainees to the hospital after they engaged in a hunger strike because, they asserted, they were arbitrarily detained.

On April 28, police arrested Kaddour Chouicha, a university professor and vice president of the LADDH, and journalist Jamila Loukil, as they left an Oran court following a hearing on “unarmed assembly” charges.

In May security forces further increased arrests and use of force against Hirak protesters, drawing negative international attention and condemnation from human rights groups. Amnesty International said authorities’ “illegal and constant use of violence…against demonstrators” was unacceptable and called for the government to allow peaceful protests without resorting to force, and for the government to release prisoners of conscience.

On May 5, according to purported official documents leaked on social media, authorities asked the police to intervene – using force, if necessary – to maintain public order during demonstrations. On May 7, Hirakists unexpectedly changed their usual procession route, prompting the Ministry of Interior to issue a communique on May 9 requiring the organizer to provide names, start and stop times, routes, and slogans in advance of marches. When the Hirak protests resumed, some public transportation was not operational on Fridays, which Hirakists claimed was another mechanism the government used to prevent protesters from gathering.

On May 14 and 21, police blocked Hirak protests in Algiers and several other cities and arrested many protesters including journalists, politicians, and academics. The CNLD reported that police arrested more than 800 demonstrators nationwide. Marches took place without incident in Tizi Ouzou and Bejaia, while in Bouira the protest turned violent after police intervened to prevent the march. The Ministry of Interior denied receiving a request for the May 21 Hirak march; however, a group of pro-Hirak lawyers publicized the protest request, which bore signatures from wilaya (state) officials.

On May 21 and May 25, security forces created new checkpoints in locations throughout Algiers to prevent protesters from reaching Hirak rally points or changing their protest routes. Police checked identification documents and individuals who did not reside in Algiers were arrested and taken to various police stations throughout the city. Hotels in Algiers and other major cities continued their practice of refusing to sign rental contracts for meeting spaces with political parties, NGOs, and civil associations without a copy of written authorization from the Ministry of Interior for the proposed gathering. NGOs reported instances of not receiving the written authorization in time to hold planned meetings. NGOs reported that the government threatened hotel and restaurant owners with penalties if they rented rooms to NGOs without official authorization. In most cases the NGOs continued to hold their meetings and police came to the hotels to end the gatherings.

Throughout the year police dispersed unauthorized gatherings or prevented marching groups of protesters from demonstrating. Police typically dispersed protesters shortly after a protest began and arrested and detained organizers for a few hours.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government restricted this right.

The law’s extensive requirements and uneven enforcement served as major impediments to the development of civil society. The law grants the government wide-ranging oversight of and influence in the day-to-day activities of civil society organizations. It requires national-level civil organizations to apply to the Ministry of Interior for permission to operate. Once registered, organizations must inform the government of their activities, funding sources, and personnel, including notification of personnel changes. The law imposes an additional requirement that associations obtain government preapproval before accepting foreign funds. If organizations fail to provide required information to the government or attempt to operate with or accept foreign funds without authorization, they are subject to fines and individuals may face up to six months’ imprisonment.

According to the law, associations that apply for accreditation are entitled to receive a response within two months for national organizations, 45 days for interregional-level associations, 40 days for provincial-level associations, and 30 days for communal organizations. While the Ministry of Interior oversees the accreditation process for most associations, the president of a local assembly approves applications for communal associations. Although the Ministry of Interior is responsible for authorizing associations, the government stated COVID-19 spurred the ministry to relax registration rules, specifically for health-care charities operating on the local level, as these organizations were better positioned to assist during the pandemic.

The Ministry of Interior may deny a license to or dissolve any group regarded as a threat to the government’s authority or to public order, and on several occasions it failed to grant in an expeditious fashion official recognition to NGOs, associations, religious groups, and political parties. According to the ministry, organizations receive a receipt after submitting their application for accreditation and after the relevant time frame based on the type of association, this slip is legally sufficient for them to begin operating, to open a bank account, and to rent office or event space. The law does not explicitly include this provision. If the application is approved, the ministry issues a final accreditation document.

Many organizations reported they never received a deposit slip and that even with the receipt, it was difficult to conduct necessary administrative tasks without formal accreditation. Other organizations reported they never received any written response to their application request even after calling the ministry and trying to register at local police stations. The ministry maintained that organizations that were refused accreditation or that did not receive a response within the specified period could appeal to the State Council, the administrative court responsible for cases involving the government.

On October 13, an administrative court ruled in favor of the Ministry of Interior’s request to dissolve the Youth Action Rally, a prominent civic association. The Ministry of Interior stated the group’s political activities violated its bylaws, which its leaders denied, contending that authorities targeted the association because of its support for the Hirak movement.

The government issued licenses and subsidies to domestic associations, especially youth, medical, and neighborhood associations. According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 117,801 local and 1,799 regional NGOs registered as of September, including 5,864 new local NGOs and 52 new national NGOs. Unlicensed NGOs remained active, but rarely received government assistance, and citizens at times hesitated to associate with these organizations.

According to the Ministry of Interior, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government significantly eased local association requirements, giving local organizations the space to operate. The government determined local civil society organizations, specifically health-care-related charities, were better positioned to assist locally than the federal government. The Ministry of Interior relaxed its registration rules, allowing local governments to authorize local associations, resulting in more than 1,000 new local charity associations. National associations must still submit their applications to the Ministry of Interior for authorization.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted the exercise of these rights.

In-country Movement: The constitution provides citizens “the right to freely choose their place of residence and to move throughout the national territory.” Citing the threat of terrorism, the government prevented overland tourist travel between the southern cities of Tamanrasset, Djanet, and Illizi.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states that citizens have the right to enter and exit the country. The law does not permit those younger than 18 to travel abroad without a guardian’s permission. Married women younger than 18 may not travel abroad without permission from their husbands, but married women older than 18 may do so. The government did not permit young men eligible for the draft who had not completed their military service to leave the country without special authorization. The government granted such authorization to students and persons with special family circumstances.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated 90,000 migrants enter the country annually, and the Ministry of Interior reported approximately 100,000.

According to UNHCR’s September report on refugees in Algeria and Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf, there were 7,830 refugees in urban areas, 2,450 asylum seekers in urban areas, and an estimated 90,000 “vulnerable” Sahrawi refugees. The government protected a significant number of refugees in five large refugee camps in Tindouf and ran two other smaller camps near Tindouf, one surrounding a women’s boarding school, and another used for administrative purposes. UNHCR reported many Sahrawi refugees lost their jobs and other sources of income due to COVID-19. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, the Algerian Red Crescent, the Sahrawi Red Crescent, and other organizations assisted Sahrawi refugees.

As of September, UNHCR continued registering asylum seekers, determining refugee status, issuing documentation, and advocating for the adoption of legislation to protect persons in need of international protection. Despite the ongoing border closures, asylum applications rose during the year, with 1,570 recorded in the first half of the year, an increase of 20 percent compared with 2020, due to the progressive easing of COVID-19 restrictions. UNHCR monitored and advocated for the release of refugees.

Access to Asylum: While the law generally provides for asylum or refugee status, the government has not established a formal system through which refugees can request asylum. There were no reports that the government granted refugee status and asylum to new refugee applicants during the year. According to UNHCR, the government did not accept UNHCR-determined refugee status for individuals. From the beginning of January to June, UNHCR recommended 35 refugees for resettlement to France, Canada, and Sweden, and submitted 41 refugees for resettlement to Canada and Sweden during the same period. UNHCR assisted eight refugees to depart Algeria for family and educational reasons. UNHCR reported the majority of its registered refugees came from Syria, the Palestinian Territories, Yemen, Mali, and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. There was no evidence of any pattern of discrimination toward asylum applicants, but the lack of a formal asylum system made this difficult to assess.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Since the outbreak of violence in northern Mali in 2012, international observers reported an influx of individuals into Algeria across the Mali border inconsistent with traditional migratory movements.

In 2019 the National Human Rights Council stated the government had dedicated 1.6 billion dinars ($12 million) to ensure the human rights of migrants during repatriation operations (to include accommodation, food, clothing, health care, medicines, and transportation). Authorities conducted repatriations in coordination with consular officials from the migrants’ countries of origin, but the migrants were not permitted to challenge their removal. The government stated it maintained a policy of not removing migrants registered with UNHCR, and that in a few cases it worked with UNHCR to return registered refugees who were mistakenly removed. Air Algerie signed an agreement with the IOM agreeing to provide charter flights for humanitarian supplies and migrants returning voluntarily.

Since January the NGO Alarme Phone Sahara (APS) reported the government deported 18,749 individuals from Algeria to Niger, an increase from 4,722 individuals in 2020. APS reported two types of deportation convoys from Algeria to Niger: official deportation convoys and nonofficial deportation convoys. Official deportations from Algeria to Niger take place pursuant to a 2014 bilateral agreement for the deportation of Nigerien nationals. According to APS, however, Algeria also deports numerous nationals from other countries to Niger in nonofficial convoys, and the Nigerien authorities lacked the power or the will to stop this practice. Convoys also left citizens of various nationalities near Assamaka where they must walk the last 10 to 15 miles into Nigerien territory. APS reported the IOM, Doctors without Borders, and Nigerien security forces looked for deportees lost in the desert. According to APS, deportees includes nationals from Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Togo.

In April the NGO Doctors Without Borders reported that authorities forcibly returned more than 4,000 migrants to Niger. Many migrants travelled on trucks that returned them to Agadez, a Nigerien city that has become a crossroads on the migration route.

On September 29, APS reported that the country deported 894 individuals in a nonofficial convoy to the Assamaka border post.

On October 1, APS reported an additional 1,275 individuals in an official convoy were transported to the Assamaka border post.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR reported refugees and migrants traversing land routes to and through the country continued to risk death, kidnapping, sexual- and gender-based violence, physical abuse, and other violence.

Employment: The government does not formally allow refugee employment; however, many worked in the informal market and were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status in the country. Other migrants, asylum seekers, and Malians and Syrians who had a “special status” with the government, relied largely on remittances from family, the support of local family and acquaintances, and assistance from the Algerian Red Crescent and international aid organizations.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR provided registered refugees with modest food assistance and lodging support. Sahrawi refugees lived predominantly in five camps administered by the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) near the city of Tindouf. The POLISARIO (through the Sahrawi Red Crescent Society), UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, and partner NGOs provided basic services including food aid, primary health care, and primary and secondary education. The Algerian government invested heavily in developing the camps’ infrastructure and also provided free secondary and university educations, as well as advanced hospital care, to Sahrawi refugees. The remote location of the camps and lack of government presence resulted in a lack of access by police and courts. Other refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants had access to free public hospitals, but independent NGOs reported instances of migrants being turned away.

School administrators must allow migrant and refugee children to enroll in primary school through high school and require only that they present their passport and documentation showing their level of schooling from their home country. International organizations reported some children had trouble integrating into the educational system but that migrants’ access to education was improving, particularly in the north of the country. These organizations reported that migrant parents were often reluctant to enroll their children in Algerian schools due to language barriers or cultural differences. NGOs also indicated that some migrants were denied treatment at health-care facilities.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement. The Sahrawi refugees have not sought local integration or naturalization during their over 40-year stay in the refugee camps near Tindouf, and the Polisario Front continued to call for a referendum on independence in Western Sahara. The IOM led an Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration program to help migrants return to their homes willingly with economic and social support, including personalized professional training and other socioeconomic assistance. Although the government was not a financial donor to the initiative, it did cooperate.

Temporary Protection: The law does not address formal temporary protection, but authorities provided informal, temporary protection to groups such as Syrians and Malians.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution 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

On March 10, President Tebboune enacted a new electoral law. Typically, new laws must obtain parliamentary approval, but on February 18, Tebboune dissolved parliament’s lower house, thus necessitating the law’s promulgation via decree.

The new law outlines a significant procedural change to the way voters elect members of parliament. Under the previous system, electors voted for a political party’s candidate list rather than for individual candidates, and the candidates on the top of the list would obtain a seat in parliament. The government stated it made the change as part of its efforts to fight corruption. Opposition parties from across the political spectrum criticized the electoral law for creating a more complex process for qualifying for the ballot, as well as for establishing an electoral-monitoring body whose members would be appointed by the president and parliament, which is controlled by a coalition headed by the president’s party.

Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in a 2016 revision of the constitution to limit the president to two five-year terms. The new 2020 constitution maintains term limits. The National Independent Authority for Elections (ANIE), established in 2019 to replace the High Independent Election Monitoring Body, is responsible for organizing the election and voting processes, monitoring elections, and investigating allegations of irregularities.

Recent Elections: In November 2020 the country held a constitutional referendum. Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association as well as restrictions on political party activities inhibited the activity of opposition groups. The referendum passed with 66.8 percent support and 23.7 percent turnout, according to the ANIE.

On June 12, the country held legislative elections. Official voter turnout was 23 percent, the lowest in the country’s history for a parliamentary election. The vote was the first held under the new electoral law. The new parliament did not have an established opposition party presence, as traditional opposition parties chose to boycott. After the polls closed, Mohamed Charfi, head of the ANIE, announced an “average final turnout rate” of 30.2 percent based on the average turnout percentage in each of the country’s 58 wilayas (states) – not of the percentage of all eligible voters who cast their ballots.

On November 27, the country held local elections and municipal level elections for wilaya (state) and commune-level legislative bodies, plus mayors. The ANIE announced a final turnout rate of 36 percent for municipal elections and 34.9 percent for provincial elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Ministry of Interior must approve political parties before they may operate legally.

Opposition political parties claimed they did not have access to public television and radio. Occasionally security forces dispersed political opposition rallies and interfered with the right to organize. Since taking office in 2019, Tebboune’s government has blocked foreign funding and pressured media to limit government criticism. The government used COVID-19 restrictions to prevent political opposition meetings; however, the National Liberation Front and the Democratic National Rally continued to meet despite restrictions.

The law prohibits parties based on religion, ethnicity, gender, language, or region, but there were various political parties commonly known to be Islamist, notably members of the Green Alliance. According to the Ministry of Interior, in September there were 72 registered political parties, one more than in 2020. Parties must hold a party congress to elect a party leader and confirm membership before the Ministry of Interior counts them as a registered party.

The law does not place significant restrictions on voter registration.

Membership in the Islamic Salvation Front, a political party banned since 1992, remained illegal. The law also bans political party ties to nonpolitical associations and regulates party financing and reporting requirements. By law political parties may not receive direct or indirect financial or material support from any foreign parties. The law also stipulates resources from party members’ domestic contributions, donations, and revenue from party activities, in addition to possible state funding, must be reported to the Ministry of Interior. President Tebboune publicly stated his administration was revising political funding laws and that the new constitution would change campaign finance and funding laws.

On April 22, the Ministry of the Interior initiated legal action against the opposition party Union for Change and Progress (UCP). Authorities alleged that the UCP and its president Zoubida Assoul, who was also a lawyer and political activist, lacked legal status. The UCP denied these accusations and said it followed the law on political parties. On May 2, the Interior Ministry requested that the Council of State temporarily suspend the UCP, pending a legal ruling on its outright dissolution.

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

The electoral law eliminated gender quotas in parliament, and women’s representation in parliament fell from 120 to 34. During the 2017 legislative election campaign, the regulatory election body that preceded the ANIE sent formal notices asking parties and individuals to display candidates’ photos on posters. The ANIE did not require female candidates to use their photos on the campaign posters and ballots for this year’s legislative election for cultural and religious reasons.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Authorities continued their anticorruption campaign against political, military, and security officials, as well as prominent business leaders from the Bouteflika era.

The law provides for criminal penalties of two to 10 years in prison for official corruption, but the government did not fully implement the law. Although President Tebboune’s administration has emphasized rooting out corruption, corruption remained a problem. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: On May 3, the Ministry of Justice released a progress report on the government’s efforts to recover funds embezzled during former president Bouteflika’s tenure. According to the report, the government successfully recovered 52 billion dinars ($390 million) in assets, 39 billion dinars ($293 million), $214 million, and two million euros ($2.2 million). The government also seized vehicles, plots of land, residences, and businesses. The report accounted for assets recovered in the country but not funds or assets located abroad, primarily in Europe.

On August 28, President Tebboune amended the process for pursuing corruption-related charges or investigating corruption-related offenses against local officials. The Ministry of Interior must first authorize security services to pursue legal proceedings in corruption cases. Lawyers claimed the president’s executive order violates the penal code stipulating the public prosecutor is the “sole authority to assess whether or not to initiate investigative or legal proceedings.”

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic human rights groups operated with varying degrees of government restriction and cooperation. The law requires all civil associations to apply for operating permission, and at year’s end several major civil associations remained unrecognized but tolerated.

Amnesty International maintained an office and actively reported on human rights matters, but it did not receive official authorization to operate from the Ministry of Interior. Amnesty International has received authorization to open a bank account, although the organization awaits final documentation from the government to open the account.

Although the government did not renew the accreditation of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, the organization had members countrywide, received independent funding, and was one of the most active independent human rights groups. The Algerian League for Human Rights, a separate but licensed organization based in Constantine, had members throughout the country monitoring individual cases.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated budget restrictions and time constraints delayed the visit of several UN delegations in charge of human rights but asserted that the country responds to all UN requests stemming from special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council.

The government officially recorded 3,200 forced disappearances during the 1990s and noted families remained dissatisfied with the government’s official response surrounding the disappearances of their family members. The government reported the working group was tasked with addressing questions posed by the families of “the disappeared.” The Foreign Affairs Ministry asserted the working group took on the role of a UN investigative body, which was outside its mandate and ran contrary to the country’s constitution. The ministry added that it extended invitations to the working group in 2014 and again in 2015, but UN financial and scheduling constraints delayed their visit. The ministry claimed the United Nations would not be able to visit until at least 2023 due to continued financial and scheduling issues.

The country joined the Human Rights Council in 2014 but continued to deny requests for visits from the UN special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions (pending since 1998) and counterterrorism and human rights (pending since 2006), the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention (pending since 2009), and the UN Security Council Mali Panel of Experts on Sanctions (since 2016). The Foreign Ministry stated that even during the 1990s, the country did not record many extrajudicial executions, but the perception caused numerous human rights groups to request special rapporteurs.

On March 5, Rupert Colville, the Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), called on authorities to put an end to violence against peaceful demonstrators of the Hirak movement. Colville expressed OHCHR’s concern regarding the deteriorating human rights situation in the country and the continued and increasing crackdown on Hirak members, as “authorities are responding in the same repressive manner seen in 2019 and 2020.”

In May, OHCHR urged authorities to stop using violence to disperse peaceful Hirak demonstrations. OHCHR also urged authorities to stop arbitrarily arresting and detaining protesters for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and peaceful assembly. OHCHR called on authorities to conduct “prompt, impartial and effective investigations into all allegations of human rights violations and to ensure that the victims obtain reparations.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Council (CNDH) has budget autonomy and the constitutional responsibility to investigate alleged human rights abuses, officially comment on laws the government proposes, and publish an annual report that is submitted to the president, the prime minister, and the two speakers of parliament. The CNDH releases the report to the public. The CNDH reported representation in 1,548 communes and five regional delegations located in Chlef, Biskra, Setif, Bechar, and Bejaia. The CNDH reported it had 123 local volunteers and 245 representatives.

The CNDH reported COVID-19 hampered its activities. Nevertheless, the CNDH noted that during the year it had conducted prison visits; ensured children were connected to their schools and facilitated distance learning; held sessions with the Danish Human Rights Institute, the Arab League, and Penal Reform International; interceded to guarantee that all citizens had equal access to health care; signed a convention with the Republic Ombudsman; and took steps to set up a database to track human rights-related statistics.

Between January 1 and September 30, the CNDH reported receiving 943 requests for assistance, examined 473 of them, and completed 46. The CNDH stated 424 remained under review. A CNDH representative reported the organization’s focus during the year was on health measures, especially for vulnerable groups such as the elderly and migrants.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution allows for the right of workers to join and form unions of their choice, provided they are citizens. The country has ratified the ILO’s conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining but failed to enact legislation needed to implement these conventions fully. It was unclear whether the government enforced applicable laws commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination. The law requires that workers obtain government approval to form a union, and the Ministry of Labor must approve or disapprove a union application within 30 days. To form a union, an applicant must be Algerian by birth or have held Algerian nationality for 10 years. The law also provides for the creation of independent unions, although the union’s membership must account for at least 20 percent of an enterprise’s workforce. Unions have the right to form and join federations or confederations, and the government recognized four confederations. Unions may recruit members at the workplace. The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers and provides mechanisms for resolving trade union complaints of employers’ antiunion practices.

The law permits unions to affiliate with international labor bodies and develop relations with foreign labor groups. For example, the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), which represented most public-sector workers, is an affiliate of the International Trade Union Confederation. Nevertheless, the law prohibits unions from associating with political parties and receiving funds from foreign sources. The courts are empowered to dissolve unions that engage in illegal activities. The government may invalidate a union’s legal status if authorities perceive its objectives to be contrary to the established institutional system, public order, good morals, law, or regulations in force.

The law provides for collective bargaining by all unions, and the government permitted the exercise of this right for authorized unions. Nevertheless, the UGTA remained the only union authorized to negotiate collective bargaining agreements during the annual tripartite meeting. Other authorized unions can bargain with specific ministries but are excluded from the tripartite meeting.

The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes, and workers exercised this right, subject to conditions. Striking requires a secret ballot of the whole workforce. The decision to strike must be approved by majority vote of workers at a general meeting. The government may restrict strikes on several grounds, including economic crisis, obstruction of public services, or the possibility of subversive actions. Furthermore, all public demonstrations, including protests and strikes, must receive prior government authorization. By law workers may strike only after 14 days of mandatory conciliation or mediation. The government occasionally offered to mediate disputes. The law states that decisions reached in mediation are binding on both parties. If mediation does not lead to an agreement, workers may strike legally after they vote by secret ballot to do so. The law requires that a minimum level of essential public services must be maintained during public-sector service strikes, and the government has broad legal authority to requisition public employees. The list of essential services included banking, radio, and television. Penalties for unlawful work stoppages range from eight days’ to two months’ imprisonment. The law protects union members from discrimination or dismissal based on their union activities. Penalties for abusing union members’ rights are not sufficient to deter abuses. The law says any firing or other employment action based on discrimination against union members is invalid. The government did not effectively enforce these laws.

The government reported 99 registered trade unions and 59 employers’ organizations, up from 91 and 47, respectively, in 2020. Many trade unions remained unrecognized by the government; they identified delayed processing and administrative hurdles as the primary obstacles to establishing legal status. The ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations reiterated in 2017 that the lengthy registration process seriously impeded the establishment of new unions.

Attempts by new unions to form federations or confederations suffered similar challenges. Representatives of the National Autonomous Union for Public Administration Personnel (SNAPAP) stated that the union continued to function without official status.

The government continued to deny recognition to the General Autonomous Confederation of Workers in Algeria (CGATA), an independent trade union confederation that includes public and economic-sector unions and committees. CGATA membership included workers from unions representing government administrators, diplomatic personnel, state electricity and gas employees, university professors, public transport and postal workers, and lawyers. The confederation also included migrants working in the country. In 2019 authorities shut down CGATA’s offices and authorities arrested and jailed an executive member of CGATA, Kaddour Chouicha. On April 29, authorities arrested Chouicha, journalists Jamila Loukil and Said Boudour, and 12 others on charges of “enlistment in a terrorist or subversive organization active abroad or in Algeria.” The court in Oran heard the case on May 18 but did not notify the defendants’’ lawyers. The court granted Chouicha and Loukil’s provisional release and placed Boudour under judicial supervision.

SNAPAP and other independent unions faced government interference throughout the year, including official obstruction of general assembly meetings and police harassment during sit-in protests. Furthermore, the government restricted union activities and the formation of independent unions in certain critical public services sectors, such as oil and gas and telecommunications. The International Trade Union Confederation reported that judicial abuse of trade union leaders had intensified.

On April 5, authorities arrested Mourad Ghedia, president of the SNAPAP/CGATA Justice Sector Workers. A judge placed Ghedia in pretrial detention. Ghedia did not have access to a lawyer, and the judge did not inform him of the charges.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

NGOs reported that irregular migrants sometimes worked in forced labor and that their lack of work permits made them more vulnerable to exploitation. For example, migrant women were subjected to debt bondage as they worked to repay smuggling debts through domestic servitude, forced begging, and exploitation. Construction workers and domestic workers were reportedly vulnerable. Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit and criminalize all the worst forms of child labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The law prohibits employment by minors in dangerous, unhealthy, or harmful work or in work considered inappropriate because of social and religious considerations, yet the country has not determined by national law or regulation the types of work that are hazardous for children. Under the law there is no legislative provision prohibiting the use, procuring, or offering of a child younger than age 18 for the production and trafficking of drugs. The minimum legal age for employment is 16, but younger children may work as apprentices with permission from their parents or legal guardian. The law prohibits workers younger than 19 from working at night. The ILO noted, however, that the country’s standard of “night” for children is only eight hours, less than the 11 hours recommended by the ILO.

Although specific data were unavailable, children reportedly worked mostly in the informal sales market, often in family businesses. There were isolated reports that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and refers violators to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. There is no single office charged with this task, but all labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing laws regarding child labor. The Ministry of Labor conducted inspections and, in some cases, investigated companies suspected of hiring underage workers. The ministry’s Labor Inspector Service in 2019 conducted 124,698 inspections and reported 10 children were found working illegally but did not provide updated statistics for the year. The Ministry of Labor attributed the low figure to the fact that most children worked in the informal economy, and inspections were limited to registered businesses. Monitoring and enforcement practices for child labor were ineffective.

The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and Women led a national committee composed of 12 ministries and NGOs that meets yearly to discuss child labor issues. The committee was empowered to propose measures and laws to address child labor as well as conduct awareness campaigns.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment, salary, and work environment based on age, gender, social and marital status, family links, political conviction, disability, national origin, and affiliation with a union. It was not clear whether penalties for violations were commensurate with other laws on civil rights, such as election interference. The law restricts women from working during certain hours of the day and does not permit women to work in jobs deemed arduous. In addition to the legislative provisions in force, employers must ensure that the work entrusted to women, minors, and persons with disabilities does not “require an effort exceeding their strength.”

Men held a large percentage of positions of authority in government and the private sector, and women reported facing employment discrimination with job offers being extended to less qualified male applicants. Although the law states women should receive a salary equal to men, leaders of women’s organizations reported discrimination was common and that women were less likely to receive equal pay for equal work or promotions, particularly in the private sector.

Few businesses abided by the law requiring that they reserve 1 percent of jobs for persons with disabilities. NGOs reported that the government did not enforce payment of fines for failing to abide by the law. The government usually highlighted its efforts in March to coincide with the National Day of the Disabled. The ministry, however, reported it had increased efforts to enforce the 1 percent quota during the year. The ministry reported it inspected 276 businesses, encompassing 88,718 workers, to verify compliance with the 1 percent quota. The ministry issued 44 formal notices to 68 noncompliant employers for failure to adhere to the quota.

The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment based on sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, or religion. The government did not adequately enforce the law, since discrimination reportedly existed, specifically against migrant workers in the informal economy who lacked a legal means to address unfair working conditions. Particularly vulnerable were women, girls, and young men from sub-Saharan Africa who were lured into the country to accept jobs in restaurants and hair salons but were subjected to forced labor conditions. NGOs reported instances in which unaccompanied migrant girls were exploited as domestic workers and were known to be loaned out to families for extended periods to work in homes or exploited as prostitutes.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: A tripartite social pact among business, government, and the official union established a national, monthly minimum wage which is above the poverty income level. In June 2020 President Tebboune directed the Ministry of Labor to increase the monthly minimum wage. He also eliminated tax obligations for low-income workers.

The standard workweek was 40 hours, including one hour for lunch per day. Half of the lunch hour is considered compensated working time. Employees who worked longer than the standard workweek received premium pay on a sliding scale from time-and-a-half to double time, depending on whether the overtime occurred on a normal workday, a weekend, or a holiday. It was unclear whether penalties for violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were appropriate for the main industries in the country. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with OSH experts and not the worker based on hazards inherent to the nature of work. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts and not the worker. It was not clear whether the law provides workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment. There were no known reports of workers dismissed for removing themselves from hazardous working conditions. If workers face such conditions, they may renegotiate their contracts or, failing that, resort to the courts. While this legal mechanism existed, the high demand for employment in the country gave an advantage to employers seeking to exploit employees. The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws. It was unclear whether penalties for violations were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence.

Informal Sector: The government’s labor laws do not formally allow refugee employment or adequately cover migrant laborers; therefore, many economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere who worked in the informal sector, primarily in construction and as domestic workers, were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status.

The government requires employers to declare their employees to the Ministry of Labor and to pay social security benefits. The government allowed undeclared workers to gain credit for social security and retirement benefits for time spent in the informal economy if they repay any taxes owed after registering. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Labor Ministry did not employ sufficient inspectors.

The government prioritized pregnant women and women raising children, as well as individuals with chronic illnesses and those with health vulnerabilities, for exceptional leave. In 2020 authorities extended exceptional leave to the private sector.

On August 8, the government increased the unemployment allowance. The government set an age limit for qualified job seekers and introduced a system to control unemployment cards.

Bahrain

Executive Summary

Bahrain is a hereditary monarchy. King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa is the head of state and holds ultimate authority over most government decisions. The king appoints the prime minister, the head of government, who is not required to be a member of parliament. In November 2020 the king appointed his son, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, as prime minister, following the death of the incumbent. The prime minister proposes ministers, who are appointed and dismissed by the king via royal decree. The cabinet, or Council of Ministers, consists of 22 ministers, of whom seven are members of the ruling Al Khalifa family. The parliament consists of an upper house appointed by the king, the Shura (Consultative) Council, and an elected Council of Representatives, each with 40 seats. The country holds parliamentary elections every four years, most recently in 2018. Representatives from two formerly prominent opposition political societies, al-Wifaq and Wa’ad, could not participate in the elections due to their court-ordered dissolution in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The government did not permit international election monitors. Domestic monitors generally concluded authorities administered the elections without significant procedural irregularities.

The king is supreme commander of the armed forces, and the crown prince is deputy commander. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for internal security and oversees the civilian security force and specialized security units responsible for maintaining internal order. The Coast Guard is also under its jurisdiction. The Bahrain National Guard is responsible for internal threats. The chief of the National Intelligence Agency (previously the National Security Agency) is appointed by royal decree and reports to the prime minister. The agency has arrest authority, but reportedly did not conduct arrests during the year. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government; harsh and life threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations; restrictions on freedom of movement, including revocation of citizenship; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; and significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.

The government prosecuted some low-level security force members responsible for human rights abuses, following investigations by government institutions. The government took steps to investigate allegations of corruption. Nongovernmental human rights organizations claimed investigations were slow and lacked transparency.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no reports that government security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year.

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 prohibits “harm[ing] an accused person physically or mentally.” Domestic and international human rights organizations, as well as detainees and former detainees, maintained that torture, abuse, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government security officials continued during the year.

Human rights groups alleged security officials beat detainees, placed detainees in stress positions, humiliated detainees in front of other prisoners, and insulted detainees’ religious beliefs. Detainees reported that security forces committed abuses during searches, arrests at private residences, and during transportation. Detainees reported intimidation, such as threats of violence, took place at the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) headquarters facility. Some detainees at the CID reported security officials used physical and psychological mistreatment to extract confessions and statements under duress or to inflict retribution and punishment.

Human rights groups reported authorities subjected children, sometimes younger than age 15, to various forms of mistreatment, including beating, slapping, kicking, and verbal abuse. On August 18, the criminal age of majority was raised from 15 to 18, although the law has been inconsistently applied.

Human rights organizations reported that four prison detainees, convicted on terrorism, illegal assembly, and rioting charges, began a hunger strike in November to protest prison mistreatment and denial of contact with their families. The four ranged in age from 17 to 20. Several of the juvenile detainees reported they were held in solitary confinement and were subject to abuse during their interrogations.

Human rights organizations and families of inmates also reported authorities denied medical treatment to injured or ill detainees and prisoners of conscience (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). In June, 73-year-old Hasan Mushaima, a prominent leader of a dissolved political society sentenced to life in prison on terrorism charges related to his role organizing protests in 2011, issued a recorded message from Jaw Prison to complain of his deteriorating health and prison authorities’ refusal to refer him to outside medical specialists. The government offered to release Mushaima on house arrest under the alternative sentencing law, but he declined, reportedly refusing to accept restrictions on his activities (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces. The government stated that all prisons, detention facilities, and interrogation rooms at local police stations and the CID were equipped with closed-circuit television cameras that monitored facilities at all times. The Ministry of Interior police code of conduct requires officers to abide by 10 principles, including limited use of force and zero tolerance for torture and mistreatment. The Royal Academy of Police included the police code of conduct in its curriculum, required all recruits to take a course on human rights, and provided recruits with copies of the police code of conduct in English and Arabic. The ministry reported it took disciplinary action against officers, although it did not publish details of which principles the officers violated and what disciplinary steps were taken.

According to its eighth annual report released in December, the Interior Ministry’s Office of the Ombudsman received 209 complaints and 691 requests for assistance between May 2020 and April 30. Alleged victims or their families submitted multiple complaints regarding police mistreatment, along with human rights organizations and other international organizations. The complaints were levied against a variety of police directorates, Reform and Rehabilitation Centers (prisons), and other Ministry of Interior units. The Ombudsman rejected some cases as being outside of its jurisdiction and referred several more to other investigative bodies. The majority of cases investigated by the Ombudsman were considered resolved at the time of the report’s release, although several were still considered pending.

The Special Investigation Unit (SIU), an element of the Public Prosecutor’s Office (PPO) that reports to the king-appointed attorney general, is responsible for investigating security force misconduct, including complaints against police. The SIU investigated and referred cases of misconduct to the appropriate court, including civilian criminal courts, the Ministry of Interior’s Military Court, and administrative courts. The ministry generally did not release the names of officers convicted, demoted, reassigned, or fired for misconduct. The SIU did not provide detailed reports regarding the nature of police misconduct, abuse, or excessive use of force. According to compiled local media reports during the year, the SIU received 68 formal complaints, questioned 107 who were tied to those complaints, and prosecuted 16 members of the security forces in the criminal court on police misconduct charges. Three police officers faced trials in military courts, and at least 11 former police officers were referred to psychological evaluations.

The Ministry of Interior organized various human rights training programs for its employees, including a year-long human rights curriculum and diploma at the Royal Police Academy. The academy regularly negotiated memoranda of understanding with the government-linked National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR) to exchange expertise. The academy included a unit on human rights in international law in the curriculum for its master’s degree in Security Administration and Criminal Forensics program.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Human rights activists reported conditions in prisons and detention centers were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Human rights organizations and prisoners reported gross overcrowding in pretrial detention facilities that placed a strain on prison administration and led to a high prisoner-to-staff ratio.

Authorities held detainees younger than age 15 at the Juvenile Care Center; criminal records are expunged after detainees younger than 15 are released. The government housed convicted male inmates ages 15 to 17 and those 18 to 21 in separate buildings located on the grounds of the Dry Dock Facility. Upon reaching 21, prisoners enter the general population at Jaw Prison. The Ministry of Interior reserved one ward in the pretrial detention center for elderly and special needs detainees. Officials reported they offered these detainees special food, health care, and personal services to meet their needs.

The government reported detention centers were staffed with experienced medical specialists and outfitted with modern equipment, but prisoners needing medical attention reported difficulty in alerting guards to their needs. Some prisoners reported delays in scheduling offsite treatment or very short stays in the hospital, especially those needing follow-up care for complex or chronic conditions. Some prisoners spent extended periods at external hospitals, with prison guards posted to monitor them.

In response to complaints that prisoners were not receiving appropriate medical attention, the Ministry of Interior stated that all inmates received full health-care services and medication under the law and in line with humanitarian standards. After calls from human rights groups to investigate the death of 50-year-old inmate Abbas Hassan Ali, the ministry confirmed he died of a heart attack April 6. Separately, the NIHR reported it found no evidence prison guards deliberately denied medical services to Ali.

The government announced on February 17 that COVID-19 vaccines were available for detainees. The Ministry of Interior later stated that most detainees received vaccines and that detainees could choose which version. Nonetheless, both prisoner families and human rights organizations raised concerns regarding COVID-19 outbreaks in detention centers. On March 25, families of detainees protested in front of the Ombudsman’s office and Jaw Prison against “the spread of COVID-19 in prison” and called for the release of their relatives. After reviewing Ministry of Health data, human rights groups reported that more than 39 positive cases had been detected in Jaw prison as of March. The human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Salam for Democracy and Human Rights published the names of detainees who tested positive, calling for their immediate release.

On June 8, Hussain Barakat, who was serving a life sentence for terrorism due to his alleged participation in the “Zulfiqar Brigades,” an allegedly Iran-linked militant group, died in prison from COVID-19 complications. Human rights activists alleged that prison authorities had failed to properly implement COVID-19 mitigation measures. The Ministry of Interior’s General Directorate of Reformation and Rehabilitation stated it disinfected cells daily and provided prisoners with medical kits and hygiene products. New inmates were quarantined for 14 days before joining the general prison population.

According to the government, six prisoners died during the year for reasons unrelated to COVID-19; the causes of three of these deaths were deemed by the government to be the result of chronic diseases, one was due to an overdose, and two were reported suicides. On July 25, Hasan Abdulnabi Mansoor, age 35, died from sickle cell anemia complications while serving a three-month sentence at Dry Dock Detention Center. Human rights groups accused prison authorities of delaying his medical treatment; authorities denied the allegations.

Human rights organizations reported food was adequate for most prisoners; however, prisoners with medical conditions had difficulty obtaining special dietary provisions. During the year some prisoners submitted complaints regarding the quality and quantity of food, allegedly after the prison contracted with a new catering company. Prisoners complained outdoor activities were limited to one hour and a half per day.

The ministry operated a center for rehabilitation and vocational training, including various educational, drug addiction, and behavioral programs.

Administration: Authorities generally allowed prisoners to file complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, and officials from the Ombudsman’s Office were available to respond to complaints. Human rights groups reported that it was sometimes necessary to file multiple complaints to receive assistance. Prisoners had access to visitors at least once a month, often more frequently. Authorities permitted 30 minutes of phone calls each week in principle, but at times prevented prisoners from communicating with family members and others. In-person family visits remain suspended at year’s end after a March 2020 decision by the General Directorate of Reformation and Rehabilitation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Detainees were permitted to hold video conferences with their families in lieu of in-person visits.

The NIHR stated Shia inmates were given additional time to practice Ashura rituals in common areas, adding that religious rituals were not allowed in prison cells as a matter of general policy.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities permitted access for the NIHR and the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission (PDRC), as well as the Ombudsman’s Office and the SIU (see section 5). The Ombudsman also serves as the chair of the PDRC, which maintained an office at Jaw Prison to conduct regular investigations and privately meet with inmates and their families. The PDRC also conducted a formal monitoring visit to Jaw Prison August 30-31.

International human rights organizations questioned the independence and effectiveness of these organizations.

In April inmates in Building 17 of Jaw Prison undertook a hunger strike to protest mistreatment, including religious discrimination, lack of access to medical facilities, and limits on family visitation. On April 17, human rights groups reported prison officials violently assaulted inmates after an extended sit-in and protest in Jaw Prison. The Ministry of Interior issued a statement the same day claiming that the prisoners had “blocked the hallways and obstructed the services inside the facility.” A delegation from NIHR visited Jaw Prison and disputed the ministry’s claims in an April 18 statement. Human rights NGOs reported that 33 prisoners were held in solitary confinement following the prison assault, and the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights called on the government to launch an investigation into the “violent repression of the sit-in at Jaw Prison.”

Separately, in response to a request for assistance for prisoner Sayed Mahmood al-Alawi from a human rights organization, the Ombudsman’s Office confirmed it facilitated a family visit in November and stated it would investigate allegations of mistreatment. No public information on the status of the investigation was available by year’s end.

In May, Interior Ministry officials invited senior diplomatic representatives to view prison conditions at Jaw Prison facilities and speak with prison officials regarding prisoner treatment. The Interior Ministry stated it was seeking to address prison overcrowding, including through early releases of inmates, and adequate medical care for prisoners. The government facilitated a second visit for diplomats in September to the Nasser Vocational Training Center in Jaw Prison. Diplomats were allowed to speak freely with prisoners concerning prison conditions, their treatment in the prison, and vocational training and courses offered by the prison.

Improvements: On January 30, the Ministry of Interior’s undersecretary stated that the ministry offered inmates video calls, e-court hearings, e-documentation, and online medical consultations in response to the outbreak of COVID-19. The undersecretary cited safety measures, such as social distancing between inmates, repurposing an empty building to a field hospital, moving inmates to other buildings to alleviate overcrowding, opening new prison buildings, and quarantining incoming inmates to isolate COVID-19 cases. The official also stated the inmates underwent random COVID-19 tests, and the prison provided masks, gloves, and sanitizers.

The government released prisoners under the alternative sentencing law, and on September 9, the king issued a royal decree further expanding the use of alternative sentencing (see section 1.e., Trial Procedures).

In February the king issued the Restorative Justice Law for Children and Protection from Mistreatment, which came into effect August 18 (see section 1.e., Trial Procedures and section 6, Children). The law, which raised the criminal age of majority from 15 to 18, mandates alternative noncustodial sentences for juvenile offenders.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Local and international human rights groups reported that individuals were detained without being notified at the time of the arrest of the legal authority of the person conducting the arrest, the reasons for the arrest, and the charges against them. Human rights groups claimed Ministry of Interior agents conducted many arrests at private residences without presenting an arrest warrant or presenting an inaccurate or incomplete one. Government officials disputed these claims.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law stipulates law enforcement officers may arrest individuals without a warrant only if they are caught in the act of committing certain crimes and there is sufficient evidence to press charges. Additionally, the code of criminal procedure requires execution of an arrest warrant before a summons order to appear before the public prosecutor. Human rights activists reported that police sometimes made arrests without presenting a warrant, and that the PPO summoned political and human rights activists for questioning without a warrant or court order.

By law the arresting authority must interrogate arrested individuals within seven days following their arrest. A lower criminal court judge may extend detention of a suspect for no more than 30 days or release the suspect. The PPO may extend the suspect’s detention for 30 days, if the investigation is still pending, in coordination with the higher criminal court. Suspects may be held in pretrial detention for up to three months, after which the case is referred to the attorney general. Pretrial detention should not exceed six months, according to the law. The High Criminal Court must authorize any extensions beyond that period, and any renewals at 30-day intervals. Detained suspects have the right to legal counsel during questioning. A functioning system of bail provides maximum and minimum bail amounts based on the charges; however, judges often denied bail requests without explanation, even in nonviolent cases. The law allows the presiding judge to determine the bail amount within these parameters on a case-by-case basis.

Attorneys reported difficulty in gaining access to their clients in a timely manner through all stages of the legal process. They reported difficulty registering as a detainee’s legal representative because of arbitrary bureaucratic hurdles and lack of official government notaries; arbitrary questioning of credentials by police; lack of notification of clients’ location in custody; arbitrary requirements to seek court orders to meet clients; prohibitions on meeting clients in private; prohibitions on passing legal documents to clients; questioning of clients by the PPO on very short notice; lack of access to clients during police questioning; and lack of access to consult with clients in court. While the state provides counsel to indigent detainees, there were reports detainees never met with their state-appointed attorney before or during their trial.

According to reports by local and international human rights groups, authorities held some detainees for a week or more with limited access to outside resources. The government sometimes withheld information from detainees and their families regarding detainees’ whereabouts for as long as two weeks.

Arbitrary Arrest: Human rights groups reported that the Ministry of Interior sometimes arrested individuals for activities, such as calling for and attending protests and demonstrations, expressing their opinion in public or on social media (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.), and associating with persons of interest to authorities. Some detained individuals reported that arresting forces did not show them warrants.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: There were reports that authorities sometimes delayed or limited an individual’s access to an attorney. There were no reports of courts finding individuals to have been unlawfully detained and recommending compensation.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political opposition figures asserted the judiciary was vulnerable to political pressure, especially in high-profile cases. The judiciary is divided into civil law courts that deal with commercial, civil, and criminal cases, and family matters of non-Muslims, and family law courts that handle personal status cases for Muslims. Under the Unified Family Law, there are separate family courts for Sunni and Shia sharia-based proceedings. Some judges were foreign citizens, serving on limited-term contracts and subject to government approval for renewal and residence. The Supreme Judicial Council reported working with the Judicial Legal Studies Institute to prepare 10 new local judges per year, in an effort to increase their number. The Supreme Judicial Council is responsible for supervising the work of the courts, including judges, and the PPO.

Trial Procedures

The constitution presumes defendants are innocent until proven guilty. By law authorities should inform detainees of the charges against them upon arrest. Civil and criminal trial procedures provide for a public trial. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney of their choice within 48 hours (unless the government charges them pursuant to counterterrorism legislation); however, there were reports that defendants and their lawyers had difficulty getting police, public prosecutors, and courts to recognize or register legal counsel. The government provides counsel at public expense to indigent defendants. Plaintiffs are required to provide their own interpreters, except in labor dispute cases, when the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments may provide assistance.

Defendants have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. While defendants have the right to question witnesses against them, judges may declare questions to be irrelevant and prohibit a line of questioning without providing reasoning. Prosecutors rarely present evidence orally in court but provide it in written and digital formats to judges in their chambers. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or to confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The government may try defendants in their absence; during the year some defendants with terrorism-related charges were convicted and sentenced in absentia.

On January 31, the Supreme Criminal Court sentenced eight defendants to life imprisonment on terrorism charges for reportedly forming an Iran-backed terrorist cell, known as the “Qassem Soleimani Brigades.” According to a January 2020 Ministry of Interior statement, the cell planned to carry out terrorist activities in retaliation for the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. The court convicted 10 other members in absentia, sentencing them to prison terms ranging from five to 15 years. Local human rights defenders criticized the lack of transparency of court hearings and questioned how the group could have planned retaliatory terrorist activities months before Soleimani’s death in January 2020.

In August the government launched an e-courts platform to streamline judicial proceedings.

Family status law varied according to Shia or Sunni interpretations of Islamic law, especially for women (see section 6).

On September 9, the king issued a royal decree expanding the use of alternative sentencing. The decree allows the Ministry of Interior to recommend an alternative sentence before sentencing, removing the requirement that prisoners serve at least half of their prison term to be eligible for noncustodial sentences. On September 12, more than 30 prisoners had their punishments converted to noncustodial sentences under the new rules. Prisoner advocates asserted that the requirement that prisoners not pose a threat to public security was sometimes used to limit the eligibility of prisoners of conscience or political prisoners for alternative noncustodial sentences.

According to the minister of justice, Islamic affairs, and endowments, inmates released provisionally under the alternative sentencing law were allowed to work at government offices, both in service and administrative positions, to complete the remainder of their prison sentences. Officials in 21 government offices were providing jobs and vocational training to prisoners released on alternative sentences, as well as seven private sector companies and civil society institutions.

In February the king issued the Restorative Justice Law for Children and Protection from Mistreatment (see section 1.d., Prison and Detention Center Conditions and section 6, Children). The law, which came into effect August 18, mandates alternative noncustodial sentences for juvenile offenders. In addition to raising the criminal age of majority from 15 to 18, the law also established children’s courts, a child protection center, and a special children’s judicial committee to review criminal cases involving juveniles. The law also imposes harsher penalties on adults who incite or coerce children to commit crimes.

On August 7, the attorney general issued an order to define the PPO’s Family and Child Prosecution Unit’s procedures for investigating complaints involving children, to align it with the provisions of the new juvenile justice law and better protect children’s basic rights. The order instructs the PPO to examine victims’ social and psychological reports from the Child Protection Center before requesting their testimony. Children may request that an adult accompany them to any questioning. The order also requires the PPO to question children in their preferred language or dialect and in a manner that focuses on the child’s needs and protects the child’s privacy. The attorney general also directed the PPO to coordinate with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development’s Child Protection Center on complaints related to children and offer support and aftercare for victims.

On March 11, a court sentenced four defendants ages 16 and 17 to a six-month prison term for illegal assembly and planning to attack security forces. The judge provisionally released the four on alternative noncustodial sentences. They were accused of burning tires, blocking the streets, and possessing and using Molotov cocktails in Karrana village in February 2020.

On August 29, a special judicial committee issued its first ruling against a child younger than age 15. The child, who was accused of misuse of a mobile phone, was placed under judicial supervision for a year. On August 31, the Ministry of Labor and Social Development announced having received six law-enforcement orders from the special judicial committee. The ministry enrolled juveniles implicated in criminal activity in training and volunteer programs through the Child Protection Center, in lieu of prison sentences.

NGOs have expressed concerns regarding some terms of alternative noncustodial releases from prison. Volunteer work requirements as part of the alternative sentence could limit the released prisoner’s ability to work for an income and juveniles’ ability to attend school.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees.

According to NGOs the government held numerous political prisoners. The government released several under the alternative sentencing law during the year, although most remained in prison. The government did not permit access to such persons by independent humanitarian organizations. Charges against individuals identified by NGOs as political prisoners included terrorism, treason, espionage, and attempting to overthrow the monarchy.

On April 2, Shia religious figure Abdulnabi al-Sammak was released from prison under an alternative sentence. Al-Sammak was arrested in 2020 for reciting a Shia prayer during the first 10 days of Muharram and charged with publicly insulting symbols and defaming the Islamic faith.

On April 9, Mohammad Jawad Barweez (“Parweez”), age 75, was provisionally released on April 9 after completing most of a 15-year sentence for conspiracy and sedition related to his participation in the 2011 antigovernment protests. The same day, Shia cleric Sayed Kamel al-Hashemi was released under an alternative sentence after serving most of his three-year prison term for criticizing the government.

A former Bahrain Defense Force officer, Ali al-Ghanimi, was released on April 9 after serving 10 years of a 12-year sentence for protesting in uniform.

On April 26, Zakiya al-Barbouri was released after serving nearly three years of a five-year sentence on terrorism charges related to the transport of explosives. Activists alleged that the charges were politically motivated and based solely on her confession, which they allege was obtained under duress.

On May 10, Abdulhadi Mushaima’a, the father of a young protester killed by police in 2011, was released under an alternative sentence. Mushaima’a was arrested in 2019 after protesting his son’s death and calling for increased police accountability.

On August 5, Mohamed al-Aali, age 29, a prisoner with lung cancer, was released on an alternative sentence due to deteriorating health. He spent 20 days at a military hospital prior to his release. He had been sentenced to life in prison and had his citizenship revoked after being convicted on terrorism charges.

On September 13, Kumeel Juma, age 19, was released after serving two years in prison. Juma was convicted on 15 charges and sentenced in 2019 to consecutive sentences totaling 29 years in prison. Juma’s case was cited in a UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention report. International human rights NGOs considered his imprisonment a case of family reprisal due to his mother’s political activities and imprisonment. NGOs alleged that the terms of Juma’s alternative noncustodial release were exceedingly restrictive, including a travel ban and banning him from cultural and religious activities.

Human rights groups have called for the release of other imprisoned political opposition figures, including Sheikh Mohammed Habib al-Muqdad and Abdulwahab Husain, who were sentenced to life in prison in 2011, and Sheikh Ali Salman who received a life sentence in 2018. On May 9, relatives of Jaw prisoners marched in Karzakan, Sanabis, A’ali, Diraz, Bani Jamra, Sitra, and Hamala calling on authorities to release political prisoners. While some individuals were questioned by authorities, there were no reported arrests due to “illegal gatherings.”

Prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a dual Danish-Bahraini citizen, remained imprisoned on a life sentence. A military court tried and convicted al-Khawaja in 2011 on charges related to terrorism and attempting to overthrow the government. His family formally requested an alternative sentence in September but, according to his relatives, the government has not formally responded to the request. Al-Khawaja was the former president and cofounder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

Political prisoner Abduljalil al-Singace began refusing solid food in April to protest prison authorities confiscating his manuscript discussing Arabic dialects. He has been serving a life sentence since 2011, after being convicted of attempting to overthrow the monarchy.

On April 16, the family of Shia scholar Sheikh Abdullah Isa al-Mahroos reported he had started a hunger strike due to not receiving proper medical care and being prevented from seeing his son, who is also incarcerated in Jaw Prison. Al-Mahroos was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2011 along with 20 other opposition activists. His family said he should be eligible for an alternative sentence and had chronic medical problems.

On April 20, Jaw Prison authorities granted Sheikh Abduljalil al-Meqdad temporary release to attend his mother’s funeral. Sheikh al-Meqdad was arrested in March 2011 and charged with attempting to overthrow the government; he was sentenced to life in prison. At least five of his relatives, including his brother Sheikh Habib al-Meqdad, were serving prison sentences ranging from 10 to 15 years.

In June a prominent leader of a dissolved political society, Hasan Mushaima, reportedly refused to accept the conditions of an alternative sentence offered due to his deteriorating health. He has been serving a life sentence on terrorism charges since 2011.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens may submit civil suits before a court seeking cessation of or damages for some types of human rights abuses. In many such situations, however, the law prevents citizens from filing civil suits against security agencies.

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

Although the constitution prohibits such actions, the government reportedly violated prohibitions against interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence. Human rights organizations reported security forces sometimes entered homes without authorization and destroyed or confiscated personal property. The law requires the government to obtain a court order before monitoring telephone calls, email, and personal correspondence. Many citizens and human rights organizations believed police used informant networks, including ones that targeted or used children younger than age 18.

Reports also indicated the government used computer and mobile phone programs to surveil political activists and members of the opposition inside and outside the country. At least 13 activists were specifically targeted using Pegasus spyware by the Israeli company NSO Group, according to cybersecurity watchdog Citizen Lab, with at least one of the individuals residing in the United Kingdom when the hacking occurred.

According to local and international human rights groups, security officials sometimes threatened a detainee’s family members with reprisals for the detainee’s unwillingness to cooperate during interrogations and refusal to sign confession statements.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and for members of the press and other media, “provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord and sectarianism are not aroused.” This constitutional provision, however, does not extend protection to social media. The government limited freedom of expression and press freedom through prosecutions of individuals under libel, slander, and national security laws that targeted both professional and citizen journalists.

Freedom of Expression: The law forbids any speech that infringes on public order or morals. Speech was curtailed in both traditional media and social media. While individuals openly expressed critical opinions regarding domestic political and social issues in private settings, those who expressed such opinions publicly often faced repercussions. During the year the government took steps against what it considered acts of civil disobedience, which included critical speech. The penal code allows penalties of no less than one year and no more than seven years of imprisonment, plus a fine, for anyone who “offends the monarch of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the flag, or the national emblem.”

On January 21, authorities released Shia preacher Sheikh Abdul Mohsin Mulla Atiyya al-Jamri after a one-year prison sentence. Al-Jamri was convicted of delivering a sermon “disdaining a figure that is revered by a religious group,” according to the PPO.

On July 8, retired military officer and social media activist Mohamed al-Zayani was sentenced to a two-year noncustodial sentence after posting a video criticizing the PPO and the judiciary. Al-Zayani was an outspoken critic on sensitive topics, such as political prisoners and corruption.

International and local NGOs reported that police summoned three clerics in August during the days leading up to, and following, the Ashura religious rites. Authorities reportedly summoned and interrogated them for the content of their sermons, and specifically for “inciting sectarian hatred.” Police held two of them overnight; the third cleric remained in police custody as of year’s end.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The government did not own any print media, but the Ministry of Information Affairs and other government entities exercised considerable control over privately owned domestic print media.

The government owned and operated all domestic radio and television stations. Audiences generally received radio and television broadcasts in Arabic and English from stations based outside the country, including by satellite. The Ministry of Information Affairs reviewed all books and publications prior to issuing printing licenses. The Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments also reviewed those books that discussed religion.

Violence and Harassment: According to local journalists and human rights groups, authorities sometimes harassed, arrested, or threatened journalists, photographers, and “citizen journalists” active on social media due to their reporting. Authorities claimed, however, that some individuals who identified themselves as journalists and photographers were associated with violent opposition groups and produced propaganda and recruiting videos for these groups. International media representatives reported difficulty in obtaining visas to work as journalists.

In June authorities detained a Sunni former member of parliament, Osama al-Tamimi, who had been critical on social media and in parliament of the ruling family and the treatment of prisoners. He was in the hospital for medical treatment at the time of his arrest. On June 27, he posted a message from prison, accusing authorities of penalizing his family by laying off his siblings from their government jobs, expelling his children from school, conducting multiple raids on his house, and vandalizing his property. Al-Tamimi also accused authorities of seizing his assets, freezing his local bank accounts, and injecting him with toxic substances. He remained in prison without charges at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government censorship occurred. Ministry of Information Affairs personnel actively monitored and blocked stories on matters deemed sensitive, especially those related to sectarianism, national security, or criticism of the royal family, the Saudi royal family, or the judiciary. Journalists widely practiced self-censorship. Some members of media reported government officials contacted editors directly and told them to stop publishing articles on certain subjects.

The press and publications law prohibits anti-Islamic content in media and mandates imprisonment for “exposing the state’s official religion to offense and criticism.” The law states, “Any publication that prejudices the ruling system of the country and its official religion may be banned from publication by a ministerial order.” In November, after a movie studio refused to edit out certain scenes, the Ministry of Information banned the screening of a film due to its portrayal of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) character and a same-sex relationship.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government enforced libel and national security-related laws restricting freedom of the press. The penal code prohibits libel, slander, and “divulging secrets,” and it stipulates a punishment of imprisonment of no more than two years or a fine. Application of the slander law was selective.

National Security: National security laws provide for substantial fines and prison sentences of at least six months for criticizing the king or inciting actions that undermine state security, as well as fines for 14 related offenses. Punishable activities include publicizing statements issued by a foreign state or organization without prior government approval, publishing reports that adversely affect the value of the dinar (BHD), the local currency, saying anything offensive against a head of state that maintains diplomatic relations with the country, and publishing offensive remarks concerning accredited representatives of foreign countries.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, but several laws restrict the exercise of this right. The Ministry of Interior maintained a prohibition on public demonstrations for the sixth year, stating the ban was intended to maintain public order in view of sectarian attacks in the region. According to the government, no applications were submitted to hold a demonstration or protest during the year.

The law outlines the locations where public gatherings are prohibited, including areas close to hospitals, airports, commercial locations, security-related facilities, and downtown Manama. The General Directorate of the Police may prevent any public meeting it deems to threaten security or public order, or for any other “serious” reason. According to the law, the Ministry of Interior is not obligated to justify its approval or denial of permits for demonstrations.

The law prohibits mourners from turning funeral processions into political rallies and allows security officials to be present at any public gathering, including funerals.

The penal code penalizes any gathering of five or more individuals that is held for the “purpose of committing crimes or inciting others to commit crimes.” Authorities prohibit the use of vehicles in any demonstration, protest, or gathering unless organizers obtained special written permission from the head of public security.

The law states every public gathering shall have a committee consisting of a head and at least two other members who are responsible for its supervision and for preventing any illegal acts during the function. Organizers of unauthorized gatherings face prison sentences of three to six months. Sentences for participating in an illegal gathering range from one month to two years in prison. Judicial authorities pronounced longer sentences in cases where demonstrators used violence during illegal gatherings.

The law regulates election campaigning and prohibits political activities at worship centers, universities, schools, government buildings, and public institutions. The government did not allow individuals to use mosques, maatams (Shia religious halls), or other religious sites for political gatherings.

On April 8, a criminal court sentenced five individuals to a 1,000 BHD ($2,652) fine each for violating a ministerial decree banning gatherings of more than five persons in public places to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

On October 17, the Ministry of Interior released 10 protesters arrested while protesting against normalization of relations with Israel on October 8. Social media reports suggested that as a condition of their release, the detainees were required to sign pledges to refrain from participating in any protests.

The government did not routinely prevent small, nonviolent opposition demonstrations that occurred in traditional Shia villages that protested government policies or were intended to show solidarity with prisoners. Police reportedly broke up at least one of these protests with tear gas during the year. Groups participating in these protests normally posted photographs on social media, but photographers and participants were careful to hide their faces to avoid retribution.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government limited this right. The government required all civil society groups and labor unions to register with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, and political society groups to register with the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments. The government decided whether a group was social or political in nature, based on its proposed bylaws. The law prohibits any activity by an unlicensed society group, as well as any political activity by a licensed civil society group. Some unlicensed society groups were active in the country (see section 3).

A civil society group applying for registration must submit its bylaws signed by all founding members, together with minutes of the founding committee’s meetings containing the names, professions, places of residence, and signatures of all founding members. The law grants the Ministry of Labor and Social Development the right to reject the registration of any civil society group if it finds the group’s services unnecessary, already provided by another group, contrary to state security, or aimed at reviving a previously dissolved civil society group. Associations whose applications are rejected or ignored may appeal to the High Civil Court.

NGOs and civil society activists asserted the ministry routinely exploited its oversight role to stymie the activities of NGOs and other civil society organizations. Local NGOs asserted that officials actively sought to undermine some groups’ activities and imposed burdensome bureaucratic procedures on NGO board members and volunteers. The Ministries of Justice and Interior must vet funding from international sources and sometimes did not authorize it.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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

Foreign Travel: The law provides that the government may reject for “reasonable cause” applications to obtain or renew passports, but the applicant has the right to appeal such decisions before the High Civil Court. Individuals, including citizens of other countries, reported authorities blocked them from leaving over unpaid debts or other fiduciary obligations to private individuals or lending institutions, as well as for open court cases. The government maintained an online website enabling individuals to check their status before travel, although some persons claimed the website’s information was unreliable. Authorities relied on determinations of “national security” when adjudicating passport applications. The government sometimes prevented civil society activists and others who publicly criticized the government from leaving the country, including for travel to Geneva and other western capitals that host UN agencies. Reports alleged that four minor children were denied issuance of passports in retaliation for their exiled family members’ activities.

Exile: There were no reports the government prohibited the return of individuals it considered citizens. The government, however, prohibited the return of those whose citizenship it had formally revoked, or those it no longer considered citizens.

Citizenship: The government may revoke citizenship in both criminal and political cases, including for natural-born citizens. Authorities maintained the revocation of citizenship of some opposition political and religious figures. The government did not consider whether individuals may become stateless by these actions. At times it threatened to halt payments of pensions or remove families from government-assisted housing if the head of household lost his citizenship. Some family members, especially women and adult and minor children, reported difficulties renewing or obtaining their own passports, residence cards, and birth certificates. The government did not report how many persons had their citizenship revoked during the year; international human rights NGOs placed the total number at more than 900 since 2012, with the government reinstating more than 55 percent of revoked citizenships as of 2019.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government at times provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees 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. Such protection was mostly limited to those who were able to obtain and maintain employment in the country. Such individuals generally had access to health care and education services while employed but were at risk of deportation if they became unemployed or their country of origin revoked their passports. UNHCR reported that as of October, there were 255 refugees and 123 asylum-seekers registered with the agency.

g. Stateless Persons

Individuals generally derive citizenship from the father, but the king may also confer or revoke citizenship. The government considers only the father’s citizenship; it does not generally grant citizenship to children born to citizen mothers and foreign fathers, even if they were born within the country (see section 6, Children). Similarly, the government does not provide a path to citizenship for foreign men married to citizen women, while allowing foreign women married to citizen men to become citizens. Human rights organizations reported these laws resulted in stateless children, particularly when the foreign father was unable or unwilling to secure citizenship for the child from the father’s country of nationality, or when the father was stateless, deceased, or unknown. The number of stateless persons residing in the country was unknown. Stateless persons had limited access to social services, education, and employment.

NGOs confirmed multiple cases of authorities refusing applications for birth certificates and passports for children whose fathers were in prison because the fathers were not able to submit the applications in person or if their father’s citizenship had been revoked (see section 6, Children).

The government charged individuals whose citizenship it revoked with violating immigration law if they remained in the country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens have limited ability to choose their government and do not have the ability to choose their political system. The constitution provides for an elected Council of Representatives, the lower house of parliament. The constitution permits the king to dissolve the Council of Representatives after consulting the chairpersons of the upper and lower houses of parliament and head of the Constitutional Court. The king may not dissolve the Council of Representatives for the same reasons more than once. The king has the power to amend the constitution and to propose, ratify, and promulgate laws.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government did not permit international election monitors for the 2018 parliamentary elections. Domestic monitors generally concluded that authorities administered the elections without significant irregularities. Some observers expressed broader concerns regarding limitations on freedom of expression and association, as well as continued concerns over voting district boundaries. According to Human Rights Watch, a number of measures created a political environment that was not conducive to free elections, including the dissolution of the country’s principal opposition political groups and laws restricting their former members from running for office; the absence of an independent press; and the criminalization of online criticism.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not allow the formation of political parties, but some existing “political societies” developed political platforms, held internal elections, and hosted political gatherings. In 2016 and 2017 the government dissolved the two most prominent opposition political societies, al-Wifaq and Wa’ad, through legal actions.

To apply for registration, a political society must submit its bylaws signed by all founding members, a list of all members and copies of their residency cards, and a financial statement identifying the society’s sources of funding and bank information. The society’s principles, goals, and programs must not run counter to sharia or national interest, as interpreted by the judiciary, nor may the society base itself on sectarian, geographic, or class identity.

The government authorized registered political societies to nominate candidates for office and to participate in other political activities. The law bans practicing clerics from membership in political societies (including in leadership positions) and involvement in political activities, even on a voluntary basis.

Political societies are required to coordinate their contacts with foreign diplomatic or consular missions, foreign governmental organizations, or representatives of foreign governments with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which may send a representative to the meeting. Although this requirement was enforced in the past, there were no reports of the government enforcing the order during the year.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. In the 2018 elections, six women won seats in the 40-member Council of Representatives, doubling the number of women, and the body elected its first female speaker in that year. The royal court appointed nine women that same year to the Shura Council, the appointed 40-member upper house, and the prime minister appointed a woman to the 26-seat cabinet. Approximately 9 percent of judges were women, including the deputy chief of the Court of Cassation. Two women in the police force held the rank of brigadier general and general director.

Shia and Sunni citizens have equal rights before the law, but Sunnis dominated political life, although the majority of citizens were Shia. In 2018 11 Shia candidates were elected to the Council of Representatives. The appointed Shura Council included 19 Shia members, one Jewish member, and one Christian member. Four of the 22 appointed cabinet ministers were Shia citizens, including one of four deputy prime ministers.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: The law subjects government employees at all levels to prosecution if they use their positions to engage in embezzlement or bribery, either directly or indirectly. Penalties range up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

The National Audit Office, an arm of the prime minister’s office, is responsible for combating government corruption. The Government Executive Committee, chaired by the prime minister, reviews any offenses cited in the office’s annual report, released in October.

The Interior Ministry’s General Directorate of Anticorruption and Economic and Electronic Security held workshops for various ministries throughout the year.

There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. According to the Ministry of Interior, the General Directorate of Anti-Corruption and Economic and Electronic Security investigated 96 embezzlement, bribery, and abuse of power cases, in addition to three offenses stemming from the National Audit Office report to the cabinet.

On November 23, the High Criminal Court referred two government employees, suspected of embezzlement charges related to renovating mosques, to a court specialized in trying cases linked to financial corruption. Separately, two Ministry of Interior employees appeared before the High Criminal Court on December 9 on corruption charges.

Significant areas of government activity, including the security services, the Bahrain Defense Force, and other off-budget government expenditures, lacked transparency, and the privatization of public land for profit remained a concern among opposition groups.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Government officials sometimes met with local human rights NGOs but generally were not responsive to the views of NGOs they believed were politicized and unfairly critical of the government.

Domestic human rights groups were restricted by the government, with some activists imprisoned, exiled, or coerced into silence, according to international human rights organizations. Domestic human rights groups included: the Bahrain Human Rights Society, a licensed human rights organization in the country; the Bahrain Center for Human Rights which, although dissolved by the government in 2004, continued to operate and maintain an online presence; and the unlicensed Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. The unlicensed umbrella human rights organization, Bahrain Human Rights Observatory, issued numerous reports and had strong ties to international human rights NGOs.

The government imposed restrictions on domestic human rights groups, and they faced significant difficulties operating freely and interacting with international human rights organizations. Although there were no reports of the government depriving local NGO leaders of due process, local leaders and activists did report other types of harassment, including police surveillance, delayed processing of civil documents, “inappropriate questioning” of their children during interviews for government scholarships, and restricting their ability to travel internationally. Activists reported forgoing travel, in particular to international human rights events, fearing a reimposition of international travel bans.

Individuals affiliated with international human rights and labor organizations, or who were critical of the government, reported authorities indefinitely delayed or refused their visa applications, or at times refused entry to the country for individuals who possessed a valid visa or qualified for the country’s visa-free entry program.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman’s Office within the Ministry of Interior, the SIU within the PPO, and the PDRC worked with each other throughout the year. The Ombudsman’s Office maintained a hotline for citizens to report police abuse via telephone, email, WhatsApp, or in person. The National Intelligence Agency Office of the Inspector General, created as a result of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, worked with the Ombudsman’s Office. While both offices were responsible for addressing allegations of mistreatment and abuses by the security forces, there was little public information available regarding the activities of the agency’s parent Office of the Inspector General.

The PDRC monitored prisons, detention centers, and other places where persons may be detained, such as hospital and psychiatric facilities. The PDRC was empowered to conduct inspections of facilities, interview inmates or detainees, and refer cases to the Ombudsman’s Office or SIU. The Ombudsman also concurrently served as the PDRC chair. The NIHR conducted human rights workshops, seminars, and training sessions, as well as prison visits, and referred complaints to the PPO. It also operated a hotline for citizens and residents to file human rights-related complaints and offered a walk-in option for filing complaints.

On February 22, NIHR launched an online introductory meeting regarding its human rights training program, Foras (opportunities). The training was open to citizen students in local universities and abroad.

Many human rights groups asserted that investigations into police abuse were slow and ineffective, and they questioned the independence and credibility of investigations by government-sponsored organizations.

Local and international observers and human rights organizations continued to express concern the government had not fully implemented recommendations from the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, including dropping charges against individuals engaged in nonviolent political expression, criminally charging security officers accused of abuse or torture, integrating Shia citizens into security forces, and creating an environment conducive to national reconciliation.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, although the penal code allows men accused of rape to marry female survivors to avoid punishment. The law does not address spousal rape. Penalties for rape include life imprisonment or execution when the survivor is younger than age 16, the rapist is the survivor’s custodian or guardian, or the rape causes death.

The law states violence against women is a crime. Nevertheless, domestic violence against women was common, according to several women’s rights organizations. Although government leaders and some members of parliament participated in awareness-raising activities during the year, including debates on additional legislation, authorities devoted little attention to supporting public campaigns aimed at the problem. The government maintained a shelter for women and children who were survivors of domestic violence. The law provides that local police officials should be contacted in cases of domestic violence and that the public prosecutor may investigate if information is passed from police to them. Survivors of domestic violence, however, reported difficulty knowing whom to contact or how to proceed when filing a complaint.

The government did not provide statistics on documented instances or prosecutions physical or sexual abuse of women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was rarely practiced. No specific law prohibits the practice, although legal experts previously indicated the act falls under criminal code provisions that prohibit “permanent disability to another person.”

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: By law “honor” killings are charged as a homicide and punishable with life in prison or a death sentence. The penal code provides a prison sentence for killing a spouse caught in an act of adultery, whether male or female. There were no cases of honor killings reported during the year.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, including insulting or committing an indecent act towards a woman in public, with penalties of imprisonment and fines. Although the government sometimes enforced the law, sexual harassment remained a widespread problem for women, especially foreign female domestic workers.

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

There are no known legal barriers or penalties for accessing contraception. Health centers did not require women to obtain spousal consent for provision of most family planning services but did require such consent for women seeking sterilization procedures. Mothers giving birth out of wedlock in public or government-run hospitals often faced challenges in obtaining birth certificates for their children.

Contraceptives were available without prescription throughout the country regardless of nationality, gender, age, or marital status. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, although emergency contraception was not available.

Discrimination: Women have the right to initiate divorce proceedings in family courts, but unlike for men, both Shia and Sunni religious courts may refuse the request. In divorce cases the courts routinely granted custody of daughters younger than age nine and sons younger than age seven to Shia mothers, with Shia fathers typically gaining custody once girls and boys reached the ages of nine and seven, respectively. Sunni women were able to retain custody of daughters until age 17 and sons until age 15. Regardless of custody decisions, the father retains guardianship, or the right to make all legal decisions for the child, until age 21. A noncitizen woman automatically loses custody of her children if she divorces their citizen father “without just cause.” Any divorced woman who remarries loses custody of her children from a prior marriage.

The basis for family law is sharia, as interpreted by Sunni and Shia religious experts. In 2017 King Hamad ratified the Shia portion of the Unified Family Law codifying the rights of Shia citizens, in particular women, according to the civil code on issues such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Shia and Sunni family law is enforced by separate judicial bodies composed of religious authorities charged with interpreting sharia. The revised civil law provides access to family courts for all women, providing the standardized application of the law and further legal recourse, since decisions made by family court judges are subject to review by the Supreme Judicial Council. In instances of mixed Sunni-Shia marriages, families may choose which court hears the issue.

Lawyers expressed concern regarding the long waiting periods for final judgments in Shia courts, particularly in divorce cases.

Women may own and inherit property and represent themselves in all public and legal matters. In the absence of a direct male heir, Shia women may inherit all of their husband’s property, while Sunni women inherit only a portion, with the brothers or other male relatives of the deceased also receiving a share. The government respected wills directing the division of assets according to the deceased.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law grants citizenship to ethnic Arab applicants who have resided in the country for 15 years and non-Arab applicants who have resided in the country for 25 years. There were numerous reports that authorities did not apply the citizenship law uniformly. NGOs stated the government allowed foreign Sunni employees of the security services who had lived in the country fewer than 15 years to apply for citizenship, while there were reports authorities had not granted citizenship to Arab Shia residents who had resided in the country for more than 15 years and non-Arab foreign residents who had resided for more than 25 years.

Children

Birth Registration: Individuals derive citizenship from their father or by decree from the king. Women do not transmit their nationality to their children, rendering stateless some children of citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers (see section 2.d.).

Authorities do not register births immediately. From birth to the age of three months, the mother’s primary health-care provider holds registration for the children. When a child reaches three months, authorities register the birth with the Ministry of Health’s Birth Registration Unit, which then issues the official birth certificate. Children not registered before reaching their first birthday must obtain a registration by court order. The government does not provide public services to a child without a birth certificate.

Education: Schooling is compulsory for children until age 15 and is provided free of charge to citizens and legal residents through grade 12. Authorities segregated government-run schools by gender, although girls and boys used the same curricula and textbooks. Islamic studies based on Sunni doctrine are mandatory for all Muslim public school students and are optional for non-Muslim students.

Child Abuse: The Family Courts have jurisdiction over child abuse matters.

There were reports police approached children outside schools and threatened or coerced them into becoming police informants.

In February the king issued the Restorative Justice Law for Children and Protection from Mistreatment, which came into effect August 18 (see sections 1.d., Prison and Detention Center Conditions and 1.e., Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies). The law raised the criminal age of majority from 15 to 18 and established children’s courts, a child protection center, and a special children’s judicial committee to review criminal cases involving juveniles. The law also mandates alternative noncustodial sentences for juvenile offenders.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: According to the law, the minimum age of marriage is 16 years for girls and 18 years for boys, but special circumstances allow marriages before reaching these ages with approval from a sharia court.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits exploitation of a child for various crimes, including in commercial sex and child pornography. The Restorative Justice Law for Children and Protection from Mistreatment, which came into effect August 18, imposes harsher penalties on adults who sexually exploit children or incite or coerce children to commit crimes, including increasing the mandatory minimum prison sentence for child pornography crimes to two years.

The age of consent is age 21 and there is no close-in-age exemption.

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/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to community members, there were between 36 and 40 Jewish citizens (six families) in the country. On August 22, a former ambassador announced the celebration of the first Shabbat minyan (traditional service with a quorum of 10 adult Jewish males) in the country since 1947. Diplomats, members of Jewish communities throughout the Gulf, and local and Emirati Muslims also attended.

In October the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities organized the first Jewish wedding in the country in 52 years. The event, done under the auspices of the Orthodox Union, the world’s largest kosher certification agency, was the first strictly kosher wedding in the kingdom’s history.

In response to Israeli Foreign Minister Lapid’s September 30 visit to inaugurate Israel’s new embassy and sign memoranda of understanding on expanding bilateral cooperation, opposition and pro-Iran factions posted antinormalization statements on social media and organized several small street protests. Protesters burned an Israeli flag, chanted “Death to Israel,” and carried posters of the Palestinian flag.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The constitution provides for social security, social insurance, and health care for persons with disabilities. The government administered a committee to oversee the provision of care for persons with disabilities that included representatives from all relevant ministries, NGOs, and the private sector. The committee was responsible for monitoring abuses against persons with disabilities. During the year the government did not prosecute any cases for offenses against persons with disabilities.

Building codes require accessible facilities in all new government and public buildings in the central municipality. The law does not mandate access to private, nonresidential buildings for persons with disabilities.

No information was available on the responsibilities of government agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. According to anecdotal evidence, persons with disabilities routinely lacked access to education, accessible housing, and employment. The sole government school for children with hearing disabilities did not operate past the 10th grade. Some public schools had specialized education programs for children with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, speech disabilities, and intellectual and developmental disabilities, including Down syndrome. The law stipulates equal treatment for persons with disabilities with regard to employment, and abuses of the law are punishable with fines.

Eligible voters may vote either in their regular precincts or in a general polling station. Local precincts, which are mostly in schools, sometimes posed problems to voters with mobility disabilities due to lack of physical accessibility. General polling stations in public spaces such as malls allowed for assistive devices. There was no absentee ballot system.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Development continued to work with the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in cooperation with the UN Development Program.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no known cases involving societal violence or discrimination against persons based on HIV or AIDS status, but medical experts acknowledged that discrimination existed. The government mandated screening of newly arrived migrant workers for infectious diseases, including HIV and AIDS. In prior years the government deported migrant workers found to be HIV-positive; the status of deportations during the year was unclear.

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

The law does not criminalize same-sex sexual conduct between consenting adults at least age 21, but it allots fines, imprisonment, deportation, or any of them for persons engaging in “immoral behavior,” and this provision has been used against individuals suspected of being LGBTQI+ or cross-dressing.

The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBTQI+ individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity occurred, including in employment and obtaining legal identity documents. In some cases, however, courts permitted transgender individuals to update identity documents if they had undergone sex reassignment surgery.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and labor code recognize the right to form and join independent trade unions, as well as the right to strike, but with significant restrictions. The law does not provide for the right to collective bargaining. The government did not effectively enforce all applicable laws, including prohibitions on antiunion discrimination. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

The law prohibits trade unions in the public sector. Public sector workers may join private sector trade unions and professional associations, although these entities may not bargain on their behalf. The law also prohibits members of the military services and domestic workers from joining unions. Foreign workers, composing nearly 80 percent of the civilian workforce, may join unions if they work in a sector that allows unions, although the law reserves union leadership roles for citizens. The law prohibits unions from engaging in political activities.

The law specifies that only an official trade union may organize or declare a strike, and it imposes requirements for legal strikes. The law prohibits strikes in 12 “vital” sectors, the scope of which exceeds international standards, including the oil, gas, education, telecommunications, transportation, and health sectors, as well as pharmacies and bakeries. The law makes no distinction between “vital” and “nonvital” employees within these sectors. Workers must approve a strike with a simple majority and provide 15 days’ notification to the employer before conducting a strike.

The law allows multiple trade union federations but prohibits multisector labor federations. The law bars individuals convicted of violating criminal laws that lead to trade union or executive council dissolution from holding union leadership posts. The law gives the labor minister, rather than the unions, the right to select the federation to represent workers in national-level bargaining and international forums. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination; however, independent unions faced government resistance. The law does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

Some workers and union affiliates complained union pluralism resulted in company management interfering in union dues collection and workers’ chosen union affiliation. They stated that management chose to negotiate with the union it found most favorable to the detriment of collective bargaining agreements and the legitimate voice of workers.

In 2020 the government reported that it considered completed efforts at reinstatement, which had been required by a 2014 tripartite agreement with the International Labor Organization (ILO). Union representatives reported that nearly all the roughly 5,000 cases of arbitrary dismissal or labor discrimination had been resolved through either reinstatement or by financial compensation. Human rights organizations and activists questioned the government’s claims and reported continuing, systemic labor discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor except in national emergencies; however, the government did not enforce the law effectively. The antitrafficking law prescribes penalties ranging from three to 15 years’ imprisonment, a significant fine, and the cost of repatriating the victim(s), which were sufficiently stringent, and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

There were reports of forced labor in the construction and service sectors. The labor law covers foreign workers other than domestic workers. Enforcement was lax, and cases of debt bondage were common. There were also reports of forced labor practices among domestic workers and others working in the informal sector; labor laws did not protect most of these workers. Domestic workers from third countries have the right to see the terms of their employment contract before leaving their home countries or upon arrival. The law requires domestic workers hired through employment offices to have a tripartite contract, with the signature of the employer, recruitment office, and employee. In the case of direct hiring of a domestic worker, the employer must submit a pledge of the employer’s obligations to the Ministry of Labor and Social Development.

According to reports by third-country labor officials and human rights organizations, employers withheld passports illegally, restricted movement and communication, substituted contracts, or did not pay wages. Some employers also threatened workers and subjected them to physical, psychological, and sexual abuse.

In 2016 the ministry instituted procedures that allow workers to change the employer associated with their visa without permission from their former employer or without their passport, under certain conditions including abuse or withheld wages. The ministry threatened employers who withheld passports with criminal and administrative violations and prohibited at-fault employers from hiring new workers. The PPO did not prosecute any individuals for withholding their employees’ passports. During the year the government shut down recruitment agencies and revoked licenses of others for infringing on workers’ rights. Recruitment agencies complicit in illegal practices may be subject to license revocation, legal action, shutdown of business operations, or a forfeit of license deposits.

The ministry’s Protective Inspection Directorate (PID) employed 70 inspectors who were responsible for enforcement of employment violations, immigration violations, and worksite inspections. The PID reported conducting 2,264 inspections during the reporting year, 152 of those for recruitment agencies. Through these inspections the government permanently shut down six companies and suspended one recruitment agency. It also suspended 15 additional companies due to noncompliance with regulations and having workers without legal status employed in the establishments.

The ministry employed inspectors who were sworn officers of the court, with the authority to conduct official investigations. Inspector reports may result in fines, court cases, loss of work permits, and termination of businesses. These inspectors focus on the legal and administrative provisions under which individuals fall, including work permits, employer records, and licenses.

In July the Ministry of Interior launched two new hotlines – one to report human trafficking cases and another to report sponsors who demand money from workers before transferring sponsorship. Complaints from both hotlines fed into the National Referral Mechanism for trafficking victims.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Laws and regulations related to child labor generally meet international standards. After thorough consultations with local government officials, diplomats of labor-sending countries, representatives from local civil society organizations, and the International Organization for Migration, experts determined that child labor occurred but was not a prevalent problem in the country. The government generally enforced the law. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The minimum age for employment is 15, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. Children younger than 18 may not work in industries the Ministry of Health deems hazardous or unhealthy, including construction, mining, and oil refining. They may work no more than six hours a day and no more than four consecutive workdays and may not be present on the employment premises more than seven hours a day. Child labor regulations do not apply to family-operated businesses in which the only other employees are family members.

The law requires that before the Ministry of Labor makes a final decision on allowing a minor to work, the prospective employer must present: documentation from the minor’s guardian giving the minor permission to work; proof the minor underwent a physical fitness examination to determine suitability; and assurance from the employer the minor would not work in an environment the ministry deemed hazardous.

There was evidence that children continued to engage in domestic work and sell items on the street. The government did not conduct research to determine the nature and extent of child labor in the country.

The law does not allow expatriate workers younger than 18 to work in the country.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: There is no national private sector minimum wage law. A standardized government pay scale covers public sector workers, with a set minimum monthly wage. While the minimum wage for citizens is generally considered a living wage, there is no minimum wage for foreign workers in the public sector; however, the government issued “guidelines” advising employers in the public and private sectors to pay a minimum monthly wage. There was no official poverty level.

Subject to the provisions of the private-sector law, employers may not employ a worker for more than 48 hours per week without including contract provisions for overtime pay. Employers may not employ Muslim workers during the month of Ramadan for more than six hours per day or 36 hours per week. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

On May 1, the government launched the Wage Protection System (WPS) for employees working in the private sector. The government implemented WPS in phases, which required wages be paid through licensed commercial banks, based on the number of workers employed by businesses. According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, WPS secures workers’ rights, combats trafficking in persons, protects employers’ rights by documenting money transfers, and provides documentation to settle labor disputes. The ministry stated it would penalize employers who fail to pay monthly salaries on time and per contractual obligations.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were not appropriate for the main industries in the country; the government did not effectively enforce existing OSH standards. Workers risked jeopardizing their employment for refusal to work in hazardous conditions or if they took legal action against employers who retaliated against them for exercising their right to remove themselves from such conditions.

The Ministry of Labor sets occupational safety and health standards. The labor law and relevant protections apply to citizens and noncitizens alike, with the exception of domestic workers. The law stipulates that companies in violation of occupational safety standards may be subject to fines. Penalties for violations of occupational, safety, and health laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes such as negligence.

The Ministry of Labor employed general inspectors and occupational safety inspectors. Their roles are to inspect workplaces, occupational health and safety conditions, and the employer/employee work relationship. The ministry used a team of engineers from multiple specialties primarily to investigate risks and standards at construction sites, which were the vast majority of worksites. Inspectors have the authority to levy fines and close worksites if employers do not improve conditions by specified deadlines. A judge determines fines per violation, per worker affected, or both. A judge may also sentence violators to prison. For repeat violators, the court may double the penalties. NGOs expressed concern that resources for enforcement of the laws would be inadequate for the number of worksites and workers, that worksites would not be inspected, and that violations would continue despite the new regulations.

A ministerial decree prohibits outdoor work between noon and 4 p.m. during July and August because of heat conditions. Authorities enforced the ban with regard to large firms, but according to local observers, violations by smaller businesses were common and without consequences. Employers who violate the ban are subject to up to three months’ imprisonment, fines, or both, but enforcement was inconsistent. The ministry documented 27 companies that violated the summer heat ban during the year.

On February 25, a criminal court sentenced an official found guilty of causing the death of construction workers at a sewage treatment plant to three years in prison and a fine.

The government and courts generally worked to rectify labor abuses brought to their attention. The government published pamphlets on foreign workers’ rights in several languages and provided manuals on these rights to local diplomatic missions. Workers could file complaints with the government via email, in person, or through government hotlines. The Ministry of Interior reported it received 450 calls to its hotline since its establishment in July. There were 6,769 combined and individual labor-related complaints during the year, including complaints filed by domestic workers. The vast majority of cases involving abused domestic workers, however, did not reach the ministry or the public prosecutor. The government provided victims with a range of services, including shelter, food, clothing, medical and psychological care, legal counsel, and grants from the Victim Assistance Fund. The National Committee for Combating Trafficking in Persons provided shelter and services to victims and potential victims on a case-by-case basis.

Local organizations reported that they visited unregistered camps and accommodations, including accommodations of irregular “free visa” workers, who they observed often lived in overcrowded apartments with poor safety standards.

Informal Sector: Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common in sectors employing informal foreign workers, such as construction, automotive repair, and domestic service. Unskilled foreign workers, mostly from South and Southeast Asia, constituted approximately 60 percent of the total workforce, and many were employed informally. These workers were vulnerable to dangerous or exploitive working conditions. According to NGOs workplace safety inspection and compliance were substandard.

The labor law does not fully protect domestic workers, and this group was particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to the difficulties of oversight and access to private residences. Additionally, NGOs report employers and recruitment agencies provided employees contracts with differing terms in different languages.

The Ministries of Labor and Interior acknowledge severe underreporting of abuse and labor exploitation. NGOs and activists provided credible reports that employers forced many of the country’s 86,000 domestic workers, most of them women, to work 12- to 16-hour days, and illegally seized their passports and cell phones. Some domestic workers reported that their employers permitted very little time off, left female workers malnourished, and subjected them to verbal and physical abuse, including sexual molestation and rape. The press, embassies, and police received numerous reports of abuse of domestic workers. As a response the National Committee for Combating Trafficking in Persons provided workers with shelter. Most women in these cases sought assistance with unpaid wages and complaints of physical abuse.

On October 11, the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs reported that 91 distressed Filipino workers had been repatriated, including minors, pardoned prisoners, individuals without residency status, pregnant women, medical patients, and others who had sought refuge in the Philippines Embassy.

The Flexi Permit, a renewable one- or two-year permit that allows foreign workers to remain in the country and work without a sponsor, authorizes previously out-of-status workers to legalize their residency; the government issues these permits as an alternative to the kafala work sponsorship system. In December an NGO noted that its high cost precludes many from enrolling in the program.

According to NGOs the construction sector employed more Indians, Bangladeshis, and Pakistanis than other nationalities. Worker deaths generally were due to a combination of inadequate enforcement of standards, violations of standards, inadequate safety procedures, worker ignorance of safety procedures, and inadequate safety standards for equipment. The level of freedom foreign workers enjoyed directly related to the type of work they performed.

A Ministry of Labor order requires employers to register any living accommodations provided to employees. The order also mandates minimum housing standards for employer-provided accommodations. Of the 14,000 labor accommodations, 62 percent of them were in unauthorized areas. Many migrant workers lived in unregistered accommodations that included makeshift housing in parking garages, apartments rented by employers from private owners, family houses modified to accommodate many persons, and single beds for rent. Conditions in the many unregistered or irregular worker camps were often squalid and overcrowded. Inspectors do not have the right to enter houses or apartment buildings not registered as work camps to inspect conditions.

Egypt

Executive Summary

According to its constitution, Egypt is a republic governed by an elected president and bicameral legislature, with the upper house reconstituted in 2020 as the Senate after a six-year absence. Presidential elections were held in 2018. Challengers to incumbent President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi withdrew ahead of the election, citing personal decisions, political pressure, legal troubles, and unfair competition; in some cases they were arrested for alleged abuses of candidacy rules. Domestic and international organizations expressed concern that government limitations on association, assembly, and expression severely constrained broad participation in the political process. A progovernment coalition won an overwhelming majority of seats in multistage, multiround elections for parliament’s reconstituted Senate and House of Representatives. Domestic and international observers said government authorities professionally administered parliamentary elections in accordance with the country’s laws and that their results were credible. Observers noted restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, political association, and expression significantly inhibited the political climate surrounding the elections.

The Interior Ministry supervises law enforcement and internal security, including the Public Security Sector Police, the Central Security Force, the National Security Sector, and the Passports, Immigration, and Nationality Administration. The Public Security Sector Police are responsible for law enforcement nationwide. The Central Security Force protects infrastructure and is responsible for crowd control. The National Security Sector is responsible for internal security threats and counterterrorism along with other security services. The armed forces report to the minister of defense and are responsible for external defense, but they also have a mandate to assist police in protecting vital infrastructure during a state of emergency. On October 25, President Sisi announced he would not renew the state of emergency that expired on October 24 and had been in place almost continuously nationwide since 2017 after terrorist attacks on Coptic churches. On November 11, President Sisi ratified legislation allowing the president to take appropriate measures, not to exceed six months, to maintain public order and security, such as curfews or evacuations of specified areas, in the event of a natural disaster or terrorism event. The amendments also authorize the military to assist local authorities in protecting critical infrastructure. Defense forces operate in North Sinai as part of a broader national counterterrorism operation with general detention authority. The Border Guard Forces, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for border control. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents, and by terrorist groups; forced disappearance by state security; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals located in another country; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in a conflict, including reportedly enforced disappearances, abductions, physical abuses, and extrajudicial killings; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the abuse of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; restrictions on freedom of movement, including travel bans imposed on human rights defenders, journalists, and activists; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government restrictions on domestic and international human rights organizations; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons and use of the law to arrest and prosecute arbitrarily such persons.

The government failed to consistently punish or prosecute officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government, including for corruption. In most cases the government did not comprehensively investigate allegations of human rights abuses, including most incidents of violence by security forces, contributing to an environment of impunity.

Attacks by terrorist organizations caused arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life. Terrorist groups conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets. Authorities investigated terrorist attacks and prosecuted alleged perpetrators. Terrorists and other armed groups abducted and killed civilians in North Sinai. There were incidents of societal sectarian violence against Coptic Christians.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings that occurred while making arrests or holding persons in custody or during disputes with civilians.

There were also reports of civilians killed during military operations in North Sinai.

There were reported instances of persons tortured to death and other allegations of killings in prisons and detention centers by security forces. The government charged, prosecuted, and convicted perpetrators in some cases, but lack of accountability remained a problem.

On May 25, an Italian judge ordered four senior members of the country’s security services to stand trial in Italy concerning their suspected role in the killing of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni, who was found dead in Cairo in 2016 bearing what forensics officials said were signs of torture. On June 15, the prosecutor general gave the Italian ambassador a document for the Italian court outlining a lack of evidence in the case. On October 14, the Italian judge suspended the trial and sent the case back to a preliminary hearings judge to determine whether the defendants knew they had been charged. According to Italian media, a hearing before the preliminary hearings judge was scheduled for January 2022.

There were several reports of groups of suspected terrorists and other suspected criminals killed during security raids conducted by security forces. On August 5, Amnesty International called on the country’s Public Prosecution to investigate a video released on August 1 by the armed forces spokesperson allegedly showing two extrajudicial killings in North Sinai.

ISIS-Sinai Province (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis) conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets in North and South Sinai. Other terrorist groups, including Harakat al-Suwad Misr, reportedly continued to operate. There were no official, published data on the number of victims of terrorist violence during the year. A combination of local and international press reporting, government press releases, and social media accounts tracking events in Sinai suggested terrorist groups killed or wounded more than 90 civilians in 2020. Approximately 15 of these civilians were reported to have been killed by booby traps left by ISIS-Sinai Province between October and December 2020.

b. Disappearance

International and local human rights groups reported continuing large numbers of enforced disappearances, alleging authorities utilized this tactic to intimidate critics.

Authorities detained individuals without producing arrest or search warrants. According to a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), authorities detained many of these individuals in unspecified National Security Sector offices and police stations, but they were not included in official registers. Authorities held detainees incommunicado and denied their requests to contact family members and lawyers.

Photojournalist Hamdy al-Zaeem was arrested on January 4 and held without knowledge of his whereabouts by his family or attorneys until he appeared on January 17 before the Supreme State Security Prosecution (State Security Prosecution), a branch of the Public Prosecution specialized in investigating national security threats, who ordered his detention pending investigation into charges of spreading false news, joining an unspecified banned group, and misusing social media. Journalist Ahmed Khalifa was arrested on January 6, the day after he covered a labor protest, and was held without knowledge of his whereabouts by his family or attorneys until he appeared on January 16 before the State Security Prosecution, who ordered his detention pending investigation into the same allegations as al-Zaeem. Khalifa was released in July, while Zaeem remained in pretrial detention at year’s end.

On June 25, 1,000 days after the 2018 disappearance of former parliamentarian Mustafa al-Naggar, 15 local and international organizations called on the government to investigate and disclose information on his whereabouts, as ordered by the Administrative Court in 2020.

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

The constitution states that no torture, intimidation, coercion, or physical or moral harm shall be inflicted upon a person whose movements are restricted or whom authorities have detained or arrested. The penal code forbids torture to induce a confession from a detained or arrested suspect but does not account for mental or psychological abuse against persons whom authorities have not formally accused, or for abuse occurring for reasons other than securing a confession. The penal code also forbids all public officials or civil servants from “employing cruelty” or “causing bodily harm” under any circumstances. Nonetheless, there were reports that government officials employed them.

Local rights organizations reported torture was systemic, including deaths that resulted from torture. According to domestic and international human rights organizations, police and prison guards resorted to torture to extract information from detainees, including minors. Reported techniques included beatings, electric shocks, psychological abuse, and sexual assault. On July 15, Human Rights First issued a report documenting alleged abuses, including torture, by security forces based on testimony from prisoners released between 2019 and 2021. Human Rights First characterized torture and other abuse as pervasive in prisons.

On March 1, detained activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was sentenced to five years in prison on December 20, claimed during a pretrial detention hearing that he had been subjected to incidents of intimidation after he reported hearing fellow prisoners being subjected to torture with electric shocks.

The government released journalist Solafa Magdy and her photographer husband Hossam el-Sayed on April 14 and journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah on July 18 from pretrial detention. International organizations reported that Magdy and Abdel Fattah were abused while in pretrial detention following their 2019 arrests. The abuse reportedly included beatings and suspension from a ceiling.

On September 17, a local human rights attorney said that secretary general of the Foundation for the Defense of the Oppressed, Ahmed Abd-al-Sattar Amasha, had been deprived of visits, exercise, sunlight, and access to health care for more than a year. He had been detained since his June 2020 arrest and was previously arrested in 2017, allegedly abused, and released in 2019. He joined an international campaign in 2016 urging authorities to close the maximum-security branch of Tora Prison and cofounded the League of Families of the Disappeared in 2014.

There were reports that prisoners detained on politically motivated charges were held in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement. Local media reported that the state detained Strong Egypt party deputy president Mohamed el-Kassas in solitary confinement and had prevented him from exercising, reading, or listening to the radio since his initial arrest in 2018 on allegations of joining an unspecified banned group and spreading false news. El-Kassas was re-arrested in three new cases during continuous confinement without release, all on similar charges in 2019, in August 2020, and again on July 28.

According to human rights activists, impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. The Prosecutor General’s Office (for Interior Ministry actions) and the Military Prosecution (for military actions) are responsible for pursuing prosecutions and investigating whether security force actions were justifiable.

On April 4, the Court of Cassation upheld as a final verdict a 2019 acquittal of six police officers and two noncommissioned police personnel charged with torturing to death a citizen and forging official documents inside a police station in 2017. According to local media, the victim was arrested with his brother on charges of murdering and robbing their grandmother.

On April 10, a criminal court reconvicted, in absentia, two noncommissioned police personnel on charges of torturing to death Magdy Makeen, a donkey-cart driver, in a Cairo police station in 2016. In December 2020 a criminal court sentenced a police officer and eight other noncommissioned personnel to three years in prison in this case. A police corporal also charged in the case was acquitted.

On August 5, a criminal court acquitted 11 police officers in a retrial that challenged their suspended one-year prison sentences and their convictions for the killing of protesters during the January 25 revolution in 2011.

On December 28, a court ruled that the family of Khaled Said, who died of police brutality in 2010, would receive one million Egyptian pounds (EGP) ($62,500) in compensation. Two police officers were convicted of the crime in 2011.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were two allegations submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). This follows one allegation of attempted transactional sex in 2020 and another of sexual assault in 2016, both of which also occurred in MINUSCA. As of September investigations into the three most recent allegations were pending. A separate investigation substantiated the 2016 allegation, leading to the repatriation and, imprisonment of the perpetrator.

Human rights organizations said the Public Prosecution continued to order forced medical exams in “family values” or “debauchery” cases. On July 5, the New York Times published testimony from women who claimed sexual abuse in detention by police, prison guards, and state-employed doctors, including forced stripping, invasive examinations, so-called virginity tests, and forced anal examinations in front of onlookers (see section 6).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to widespread overcrowding and lack of adequate access to medical care, proper sanitation and ventilation, food, and potable water.

Physical Conditions: According to domestic and international NGO observers, prison cells were overcrowded On April 11, a local human rights organization estimated the total prison population at more than 119,000 located in an estimated 78 prisons, including approximately 82,000 convicted prisoners and 37,000 pretrial detainees. Human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned between 20,000 and 60,000 individuals on politically motivated grounds.

Authorities did not always separate juveniles from adults and sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. In a March 24 report based on research conducted between February 2020 and November 2020 from the experiences of 67 individuals (10 of whom had died in custody) in 16 prisons (three for women and 13 for men) in seven governorates, a local human rights organization reported that conditions in prisons and detention centers included medical negligence; solitary confinement; and the denial of visits, telephone calls, academic studies, and the provision of outside food, or some kinds of foods, to prisoners and detainees.

In July, Human Rights First released a report alleging recruitment by ISIS in the prison system. The report said that prisoners were more susceptible to recruitment in part because of poor prison conditions.

The large number of arrests and the use of pretrial detention during the year exacerbated harsh conditions and overcrowding, contributing to a significant number of deaths in prisons and detention centers. Human rights groups and the families of some deceased prisoners claimed that prison authorities denied prisoners access to potentially life-saving medical care and in some cases denied requests to transfer the prisoners to the hospital, leading to deaths in prison.

On January 5, an Interior Ministry security source denied social media accounts of the spread of COVID-19 among prison inmates and the deaths of several inmates from COVID-19. On May 17, the Minister of Health announced the government’s intent to give COVID-19 vaccines to prisoners across the country. On June 26, the Interior Ministry filed a court document in response to several lawsuits, stating that it had vaccinated 5,000 prison inmates, officers, and those working in prisons, according to local media. On August 23, the Administrative Court denied a request for COVID-19 vaccines for researcher Patrick Zaki, lawyer Mohamed Elbakr, and other high-profile detainees and prisoners, according to local media. Zaki was released on December 8 pending trial (see section 2.b.). At year’s end it remained unclear whether Elbakr had received the COVID-19 vaccine.

On July 24, imprisoned former presidential candidate and Strong Egypt Party leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh survived a “severe heart attack” but did not receive medical treatment despite calling out for help, according to statements by Aboul Fotouh’s son on social media. Aboul Fotouh’s son said that in the weeks prior to his heart attack, Aboul Fotouh had been prevented from buying anything from the prison canteen and from receiving injections for spinal pain. According to an August 18 report by four international organizations, 10 detainees died in custody between July 6 and August 11. Activist Mona Seif quoted her brother, imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, saying that one of his prison mates, Ahmad Sabir, died in prison on July 11 after Sabir became ill and his cellmates shouted to guards for medical help without any response for five hours.

Inmates often relied upon outside visitors for food and other supplies or were forced to purchase those items from the prison canteen at significantly inflated prices, according to local NGOs. In September a local human rights organization reported that skin diseases were widespread among prisoners in high security prisons due to unhygienic conditions and a lack of sunlight, and in the Qanater women’s prison due to lack of clean water and overcrowding. Provisions for temperature control and lighting generally were inadequate. Reports that guards abused prisoners, including juveniles in adult facilities, were common. Prison conditions for women were reported to be marginally better than those for men. Media reported some prisoners protested conditions by going on hunger strikes.

Local media reported that the Interior Ministry’s social protection sector sent medical providers from various specialties to eight prisons (male and female) in July and August to provide medical services to prisoners. According to reports, 55 prisoners received medical evaluations and medications at Mansoura prison and 39 prisoners received limb prostheses at the Borg al-Arab prison.

There were reports authorities sometimes segregated prisoners accused of crimes related to political or security matters from other prisoners accused of nonpolitical crimes and subjected the former to verbal or physical abuse and punitive solitary confinement. On May 11, Amnesty International called for the release of political activist Ahmed Douma after what it called a “grossly unfair and politically motivated” trial that resulted in a 15-year prison sentence in 2020. Since his arrest in 2015, Douma had been held in solitary confinement for more than 2,200 days.

The law authorizes prison officials to use force against prisoners who resist orders.

Administration: Prisoners could request investigation of alleged inhuman conditions, but NGO observers claimed prisoners were reluctant to do so due to fear of retribution from prison officials. The government did not investigate most of these allegations. As required by law, the public prosecutor inspected prisons and detention centers.

The criminal procedure code and the law regulating prisons ostensibly provide for reasonable access to prisoners, but according to NGO observers and relatives, the government regularly prevented visitors’ access to detainees. Rights groups also claimed that state security emergency court hearings and trials were not accessible to family or legal counsel and detainees lacked full access to legal counsel and documents related to their charges. Authorities cited restrictions put in place during the year as part of COVID-19 preventive measures.

Independent Monitoring: The government arranged visits between January and May for delegations of local and foreign media correspondents, representatives of human rights organizations, religious leaders, and the National Council for Human Rights to Tora Prison, Borg al-Arab Prison, El Marag General Prison, Wadi al-Natroun Prison, Fayoum Prison, and three prisons in Minya Governorate.

Improvements: In October the country opened its new Wadi al-Natroun Reform and Rehabilitation Center, which included new medical facilities, vocational training spaces, and worship areas including a mosque and a church. Officials stated inmates from 12 aging prisons planned for closure would be transferred to the new prison, and the new prison will provide improved onsite medical care, including treatment for addiction and mental health, psychological therapy and services, dialysis, dental treatment, dermatology, and computerized tomography scans.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court but reported incidents of arbitrary arrests and detentions remained frequent, according to local and international rights groups.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

For persons other than those apprehended in the process of committing a crime, the law requires that police act based on a judicial warrant issued either under the penal code or the code of military justice, but there were numerous reports of arrests without a warrant.

Ordinary criminal courts and misdemeanor courts hear cases brought by the prosecutor general. Arrests under the penal code occurred openly and with warrants issued by a public prosecutor or judge. There was a functioning bail system, although some defendants claimed judges imposed unreasonably high bail.

Criminal defendants have the right to counsel promptly after arrest, and usually, but not always, authorities allowed access to family members. The court is obliged to provide a lawyer to indigent defendants. Nevertheless, defendants often faced administrative and, in some cases political or legal obstacles, and could not secure regular access to lawyers or family visits. A prosecutor may order four days of preventive detention for individuals suspected of committing misdemeanors or felonies. In regular criminal cases, the period of preventive detention is subject to renewal in increments of 15 days by the investigative judge up to a total of 45 days, for both misdemeanors and felonies. Before the 45th day, the prosecutor must submit the case to a misdemeanor appellate court panel of three judges, who may release the accused person or renew the detention in further increments of 45 days. In cases under the jurisdiction of the State Security Prosecution, prosecutors may renew preventive detention in increments of 15 days up to a total of 150 days, after which the prosecutor must refer the case to a criminal court panel of three judges to renew the detention in increments of 45 days.

Detention may extend from the stage of initial investigation through all stages of criminal judicial proceedings. The combined periods of prosecutor- and court-ordered detentions prior to trial may not exceed six months in cases of misdemeanors, 18 months in cases of felonies, and two years in cases involving the death penalty or life imprisonment. After the pretrial detention reaches its legal limit without a conviction, authorities must release the accused person immediately. Rights groups claimed accused persons may face additional charges after their detention limit was reached, thereby “recycling” the accused person into indefinite pretrial detention. Legal experts offered conflicting interpretations of the law in death penalty or life imprisonment cases once the trial has commenced, with some arguing there was no time limit on detention during the trial period, which may last several years.

Charges involving the death penalty or life imprisonment, such as joining an unspecified banned group that is claimed to undermine state institutions, sometimes were added to cases related to expression or other politically motivated cases. As a result, authorities might hold some individuals charged with nonviolent crimes by prolonging the duration of their trial or rearresting them into new cases to avoid the two-year pretrial detention limit.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arrest, search, or detention without a judicial warrant, except for those caught in the act of a crime. These rights are suspended during a state of emergency, the most recent of which expired in October. There were frequent reports of arbitrary arrest and detention. Local activists and rights groups stated that hundreds of arrests did not comply with due-process laws. For example, authorities did not charge the detainees with crimes or refer them to prosecutors and denied access to their lawyers and families (see section 1.b.).

According to a local human rights attorney, police arrested journalist Gamal el Gaml on February 22 upon his return from his “voluntary” exile since 2017 in Istanbul. Local media noted el Gaml had gained limited notoriety in 2014 when President Sisi called him directly regarding el Gaml’s assertions that the country did not provide basic services; al-Masry al-Youm newspaper halted his regular column in 2015. On July 18, el Gaml was released pending trial.

In 2019 Ramy Kamel, a Coptic Christian human rights activist, was arrested in his home in Cairo. On June 22, the Criminal Court renewed for 45 days his pretrial detention on accusations of joining an unspecified terror group and spreading false news. An international organization stated Kamel had been held in solitary confinement since his arrest. He remained in custody at year’s end.

Inmate Abdulrahman el-Showeikh’s mother, father, and sister were arrested on April 27, which international human rights organizations claimed was in retaliation for his mother’s reports in early April that el-Showeikh had been abused in Minya Prison, as well as his brother’s April 26 social media posts from Turkey condemning the alleged abuse. El-Showeikh’s father and sister were released shortly after their arrest and his mother was accused of joining a terrorist group and publishing and broadcasting false news. On December 30, a human rights organization reported that el-Showeikh’s mother remained in pretrial detention in solitary confinement without visits or medical care for certain medical problems, according to a son’s social media post. Kholoud Said, the head of the translation unit of the publication department at Bibliotheca Alexandria, was charged on January 11 in a new case with joining an unspecified terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media, the same charges as in the original case for which she had been arrested in April 2020. Despite a December 2020 order for her release in the original case, Said was not released and remained in pretrial detention. Freelance translator Marwa Arafa remained in pretrial detention after her April 2020 arrest on similar charges. Representatives of a women’s rights organization said they could not identify any apparent reason for these arrests.

On March 17, a criminal court convicted activist Sanaa Seif, sister of imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and sentenced her to 18 months in prison for broadcasting false news by making allegations the government asserted were false concerning the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, defaming and insulting a public employee, and using an electronic account to commit a crime. Seif was arrested in June 2020 outside the New Cairo Public Prosecutor’s office where her family was filing a complaint seeking to receive communications from Abdel Fattah. On December 23, Seif was released after serving the entirety of her sentence.

Pretrial Detention: The government did not provide figures on the total number of pretrial detainees. Rights groups and the quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights alleged excessive use of pretrial detention and preventive detention during trials for nonviolent crimes. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees in the same facilities as convicted prisoners. Large backlogs in the criminal courts contributed to protracted periods of pretrial detention. Estimates of the number of pretrial and preventive detainees were unreliable. According to human rights organizations, the government sometimes rearrested detainees on charges filed in new cases to extend their detention beyond a two-year maximum.

Media reported that after four years of pretrial detention, al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein was released on February 6 with precautionary measures that required him to report to a police station two days per week. Hussein continued to face charges in several cases pending trial, including spreading false news and receiving foreign funds to defame the state’s reputation. On August 21, Reporters Without Borders called for the release of al-Jazeera journalist Rabie el Sheikh, who was arrested at Cairo International Airport on August 1, and three other al-Jazeera journalists in pretrial detention since 2019 and 2020. All were charged with spreading false news and membership in a terrorist group.

On August 23, the State Security Prosecution referred human rights lawyer and executive director of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms Ezzat Ghoneim to trial before the Emergency State Security Criminal Court on charges including joining and financing the Muslim Brotherhood, deliberately broadcasting false news, and disturbing security. Ghoneim had been in pretrial detention since his 2018 arrest and was added to second case in May 2020 and a third case on May 29, all on similar charges.

Political activist Sameh Saudi, whom authorities arrested in 2018 and added to new cases in 2019 and 2020 remained in pretrial detention.

On November 20, the State Security Prosecution released journalist Ahmed Shaker after exceeding the maximum limit of 24 months of pretrial detention, according to local media. Security forces had arrested Shaker in 2019 and charged him with spreading false news and participating in a terrorist group.

The Public Prosecution released Ola Qaradawi on December 12, according to local media. Authorities had arrested Qaradawi and her husband, Hosam Khalaf, in 2017 on charges of communicating with and facilitating support for a terrorist group. At year’s end Khalaf remained in pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Individual courts sometimes appeared to lack impartiality and to arrive at outcomes that were politically motivated or without individual findings of guilt. The government generally respected court orders. Human rights organizations claimed the State Security Prosecution bypassed court orders to release detainees by arresting them again in a new case, in some instances on the same charges.

The law imposes penalties on individuals designated by a court as terrorists, even without criminal convictions. The government has designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group and prosecutes individuals for membership in or support for the Muslim Brotherhood group. The effects of a designation include a travel ban, asset freeze, loss of political rights, and passport cancellation. The court designation may be appealed directly to the country’s highest appeals court, and authorities do not inform most individuals of their impending designation before the court rules.

The constitution states: “Civilians may not stand trial before military courts except for crimes that represent an assault against military facilities, military barracks, facilities protected by the military, designated military or border zones; military equipment, vehicles, weapons, ammunition, documents, military secrets, public funds or military factories; crimes related to conscription; or crimes that represent an assault against its officers or personnel because of the performance of their duties.”

Under the state of emergency that expired on October 24, authorities regularly used military courts to try civilians accused of threatening national security. Public access to information concerning military trials was limited. Military trials were difficult to monitor because media were usually subjected to restraint orders. Rights groups and lawyers said defense attorneys in military trials had difficulty gaining access to their clients and to documentation related to the cases.

Authorities released journalist Moataz Wadnan on July 18. Police arrested Wadnan in 2018, after he conducted a press interview with the former head of the Central Audit Organization, and charged Wadnan with joining an unspecified banned group and spreading false news. Two days after a court ordered Wadnan’s release in May 2020, the State Security Prosecution added him to a new case with the additional charges of inciting terrorist crimes. Before his July 18 release, Wadnan had been in continuous pretrial detention for more than three years. Journalist Mostafa al-Asaar, who was also arrested in 2018, and lawyer Mahienour al-Masry, who was arrested in 2019 after she defended detainees arrested during street protests, were released on July 18. Police charged all three with joining a banned group and spreading false news.

Some trials involving hundreds of defendants continued, particularly in cases involving demonstrators sympathetic to former president Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 and 2014.

On April 8, Mahmoud Ezzat was sentenced to life in prison for inciting violence and other terrorism-related charges, stemming from clashes outside the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in 2013 that resulted in the killing of nine persons and injuring of 91 others.

On June 14, the Court of Cassation issued a final ruling upholding the death penalty sentences for 12 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including three senior Brotherhood leaders: Mohamed El-Beltagy, Safwat Hegazy, and Abdel-Rahman El-Bar. The court also commuted the death sentences to life imprisonment for 31 others in the same case, the 2013 Rabaa sit-in.

On July 11, in a separate case, the Court of Cassation upheld the 2019 sentencing of 10 Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including Mohamed Badie, to life imprisonment on charges of killing policemen, organizing mass jail breaks, and undermining national security by allegedly conspiring with foreign militant groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah, during 2011 unrest. The Court of Cassation in the same case also overturned the convictions of eight mid-level Muslim Brotherhood members who had been sentenced in 2019 to 15 years in prison. It remained unclear at year’s end whether they were released or were held pending charges in other cases.

In an August 23 statement, a local human rights organization said the Public Prosecution refused to allow attorneys to visit blogger Mohamed Ibrahim (aka “Mohamed Oxygen”) after Ibrahim reportedly attempted suicide in pretrial detention in July. According to his attorneys, Ibrahim had been suffering mentally from mistreatment, including because of authorities depriving him family visits for a period exceeding 15 months, which the government said was due to COVID-19 preventive measures. Ibrahim had been in pretrial detention between his 2019 arrest and his December 20 conviction on allegations of joining an unspecified banned group, spreading false news, and misusing social media, after he tweeted a list of protesters and journalists detained in 2019 who had protested alleged military corruption. On October 16, the State Security Prosecution referred Ibrahim, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and human rights lawyer Mohamed Elbakr to trial before an emergency court. On December 20, an emergency court sentenced Abdel Fattah to five years in prison, and Ibrahim and Elbakr to four years in prison. Human rights groups and activists said the trial lacked due process and called for presidential commutation or pardon for all three individuals; at year’s end their sentences remained in place.

Khaled Lotfy, founder of the Tanmia bookstores and publishing house, remained in custody at year’s end. He was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to five years in prison by a military court for distributing the Arabic edition of The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, as well as charges of spreading false news and allegedly divulging military secrets.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary often failed to uphold this right.

The law presumes defendants are innocent, and authorities usually inform defendants promptly of charges against them. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials. Attendance is mandatory for individuals charged with felonies and optional for those charged with misdemeanors. Civilian criminal and misdemeanor trials usually are public. During the year authorities denied entrance to representatives of civil society, media, foreign embassies, and family members attempting to attend trial and pretrial detention hearings. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney, and the government is responsible for providing counsel if the defendant cannot afford a lawyer. Defendants have the right to free interpretation by a court-assigned interpreter from the moment charged through all appeals. The law allows defendants to question witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The constitution provides for the right of an accused person to remain silent in his own trial. Defendants have the right of appeal up to the Court of Cassation. Judicial and executive review is available to individuals sentenced to the death penalty. Judges must seek the nonbinding review of the grand mufti on all death sentences, and the president must confirm all such sentences.

The law permits individual members of the public to file charges with the prosecutor general, who is charged with deciding whether the evidence justifies referring the charges for a trial. Observers reported, however, that due to unclear evidentiary standards, the Prosecutor General’s Office investigated and referred for trial most such cases, regardless of the strength of the evidence.

On June 15, President Sisi ratified law 70/2021, which criminalizes, with a fine, the filming, photographing, or recording of criminal court hearings without prior permission from the presiding judge and prosecutor general.

On November 11, the president ratified amendments to a 2015 terrorism law that ban the photography, recording, or live broadcasting of trial sessions involving any terrorism crimes without prior approval.

On May 24, an international human rights organization said there had been at least 53 mass trials since 2011, in which 2,182 persons were sentenced to death.

On August 13, Amnesty International said the government had executed at least 81 persons in 2021. On July 4, authorities executed engineering student Moataz Hassan, who was convicted of participating in the 2018 attempted assassination of Major General Mustafa al-Nimr. A human rights organization claimed security forces had coerced Hassan’s confession with torture and threats after his 2018 arrest.

Military courts are not open to the public. Defendants in military courts nominally enjoyed the same fair trial assurances as those in civilian courts, but the military judiciary has wide discretion to curtail these rights on public security grounds and regularly did so. Military courts often tried defendants in a matter of hours, frequently in groups, and sometimes without access to an attorney, leading lawyers and NGOs to assert they did not meet basic standards of due process. Consequently, the rapid rulings by military courts sometimes prevented defendants from exercising due process rights and undermined fair trial assurances. Defendants in military courts have the right to consult an attorney, but sometimes authorities denied them timely access to counsel. According to rights groups, authorities permitted defendants in military trials visits from their attorneys only once every six months, in contrast with the civilian court system, where authorities allowed defendants in detention attorney visits every 15 days.

The military judiciary law governing the military court system grants defendants in the military court system the right to appeal up to the Supreme Military Court of Appeals. The president or his delegate must certify sentences by military courts. There were limited media reports concerning the ratification of military court sentences. In 2019 local independent media reported that the military ruler ordered the retrial of one military case presented for ratification. State security emergency courts, which were activated pursuant to the nationwide state of emergency in effect between 2017 and October, had jurisdiction concerning cases related to the state of emergency, which had been broadly interpreted to include several politically motivated cases. By law verdicts in state security emergency courts have no avenue for judicial appeals and require ratification, annulment, amendment, or an order for retrial by the president or his delegate.

On June 13, the Cairo 24 private news website asked the prime minister not to ratify the June 10 state security emergency misdemeanor court’s convictions against journalists Islam Saadi and Moamen Samir for publishing and spreading false news. Local media had reported on June 12 that their arrests came after they took photographs of Saadi’s mother in a government hospital where she was being treated for COVID-19.

On June 22, the state security emergency misdemeanor court convicted Central European University researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy and sentenced him to four years in prison and a fine for joining a terrorist group and publishing false news. International and local human rights organizations condemned the action and called on the president, in the absence of the possibility for judicial appeal, to commute the sentence. At year’s end Santawy’s conviction remained subject to ratification by the president or his delegate. According to local media, Santawy was questioned in December 2020 upon his arrival in the country to visit family, regarding his research on women’s rights for his graduate studies program in Vienna. On January 23, security forces searched his family’s apartment in South Sinai and ordered Santawy to report to the National Security office in Cairo. Santawy voluntarily reported to a police station in Cairo on February 1 and appeared before the State Security Prosecution on February 6. Local human rights organizations reported that Santawy and former member of parliament Ziyad el-Aleimy, whose five-year emergency court prison sentence on November 17 was ratified on November 24 (see section 2.a.), were physically abused in detention by security forces on May 21.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of significant numbers of political prisoners and detainees, although verifiable estimates of their total number were not available. Human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned between 20,000 and 60,000 persons solely or chiefly because of their political beliefs or activities.

Amnesty: The government periodically issued pardons of prisoners, sometimes including individuals whose cases human rights organizations considered to be politically motivated. Local press reported that the Interior Ministry Prisons Authority ordered the release of thousands of inmates based on presidential decrees in April, May, July, and October on the Eid al-Fitr, Eid El Adha, Sinai Liberation Day, and Armed Forces Day holidays.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: According to local media and international human rights organizations, on February 10, police raided a house in Luxor belonging to the family of Germany-based academic and political activist Taqadum al-Khatib, seizing personal property and documents belonging to Khatib’s parents. Khatib previously served in the National Association for Change in Egypt and had posted recollections of Mubarak’s overthrow in the weeks leading up to the Luxor raid. In February security forces raided the homes of six relatives of a prominent human rights activist based abroad. Two family members were arrested, while others were questioned regarding their contact with the activist.

On February 11, Human Rights Watch called on the government to reverse its December 2020 decree, published in the official gazette, that revoked the citizenship of Ghada Naguib, a political activist and frequent critic of the government who lived in Turkey. The government’s decision stated Naguib falsely claimed she was born in Cairo and cited Law 26 of 1975, which gives the government the power to revoke citizenship without judicial review. Naguib denied any false statements and said she was born in the country to a Syrian father.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals had access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights abuses and filed such lawsuits during the year. Nonetheless, courts often dismissed such cases or acquitted defendants claiming insufficient evidence or conflicting witness testimonies. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights (Standing Committee) and the National Council for Human Rights (National Council) released reports in April and February, in part to review grievances faced by North Sinai residents following government counterterrorism operations in 2018 that resulted in demolition of homes and commercial buildings and seizure of farmland to establish a buffer zone in North Sinai Governorate, which authorities stated was needed to interdict weapons smuggling and incursions, including to and from the Gaza Strip. The government implemented plans to expand the commercial and military capacity of the Arish Airport, south of al-Arish, which local NGOs said threatened to displace 4,000 families.

The Standing Committee reported $224 million (out of a total $260 million budgeted) in government expenditures as of April 2020 used to compensate North Sinai residents for houses or land lost or damaged in counterterrorism operations, compensation for the families of “martyrs” and injured, as well as for humanitarian and medical aid and social assistance. The Standing Committee report detailed $196 million in housing and agricultural compensation. The Ministry of Planning’s Citizen Investment Plan for North and South Sinai governorates was established to provide $548 million to further develop housing infrastructure and public services in the area.

According to the National Council, North Sinai residents complained that slow compensation distribution coincided with rising construction costs and inflation, which complicated efforts to use reimbursements to acquire a comparable house or plot of land elsewhere. Residents also complained of lack of documentation regarding ownership, maximum compensation limits, the government’s inability to conduct assessments due to security problems, and rent previously owed to the government for farming on government land.

On March 17, Human Rights Watch alleged the military’s continuing home demolitions and forced evictions during the armed conflict in North Sinai were abuses of international humanitarian law and likely amounted to war crimes.

On March 19, local media reported that police detained five residents of Tersa district in Giza during a small gathering of 30 residents to protest the February cabinet decision to demolish 27 legally registered residential buildings. According to local media, local officials tried to persuade the residents to sign eviction notices, which most refused to do without sufficient guarantees of compensation. On March 20, local media reported the administrator of a Facebook page campaigning against the government actions, also a Tersa district resident, was detained at his home.

In December a Cairo governorate source told media that the government paid 454 million EGP ($28.4 million) to residents in compensation for demolishing their homes to accommodate a highway expansion project.

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

The constitution provides for the privacy of the home, correspondence, telephone calls, and other means of communication. Nevertheless, there were reports that security agencies placed political activists, journalists, foreigners, and writers under surveillance; monitored their private communications; screened their correspondence, including email and social media accounts; examined their bank records; searched their persons and homes without judicial authorization; and confiscated personal property in an extrajudicial manner. Ahead of planned protests or demonstrations, there were reports police stopped young persons in public places and searched their mobile phones for evidence of involvement in political activities deemed antigovernment in nature.

The constitution protects the right to privacy, including on the internet. The constitution provides for the confidentiality and “inviolability” of postal, telegraphic, and electronic correspondence; telephone calls; and other means of communication. They may not be confiscated, revealed, or monitored except with a judicial order, only for a definite period, and only in cases defined by law. The law allows the president to issue written or oral directives to monitor and intercept all forms of communication and correspondence, impose censorship prior to publication, and confiscate publications.

Surveillance was a significant concern for internet users. The constitution states that private communications “may only be confiscated, examined, or monitored by causal judicial order, for a limited period of time, and in cases specified by the law.” Judicial warrants are required for authorities to enter, search, or monitor private property such as homes. During a state of emergency, warrantless searches are allowed provided the Public Prosecution is notified within 24 hours, and police may detain suspects for up to seven days before handing them over to the prosecution. The government’s surveillance operations lacked transparency, potentially violating the constitution’s privacy protections. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority, including cyberattacks to gain access to devices and accounts belonging to critics of the government.

On February 5, the government released film director and screenwriter Moamen Hassan from detention pending trial on allegations of using social media for the purpose of “promoting a terrorist act.” Local media reported that on January 25, security forces arrested Hassan after stopping his taxi in the vicinity of Tahrir Square, searching his mobile phone, and alleging he had sent suspicious texts containing inappropriate political comments regarding the government. Hassan reportedly appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 31, and a court ordered his release on February 4.

On August 9, a local human rights organization claimed the Public Prosecution’s Communication, Guidance, and Social Media Department, established in 2019 to monitor the internet for crimes, facilitated mass surveillance without due process of law.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

The conflict in North Sinai involving government security forces, terrorist organizations, and other armed groups (including militias and criminal gangs) continued. According to press releases and international media reports, at least 135 armed forces soldiers were killed in attacks on government positions or in counterterrorist operations during the year. The government continued to impose restrictions on North Sinai residents’ travel to the country’s mainland and movement within North Sinai Governorate and severely restricted media access to North Sinai.

Killings: The government acknowledged no civilian deaths due to security force actions. Human rights organizations alleged that some persons killed by security forces were civilians. According to an international NGO, at least 26 civilian deaths, 51 security force deaths, and 31 terrorist deaths occurred in the conflict in Sinai between January and July. According to an ISIS media affiliate, ISIS-Sinai Province claimed 101 attacks resulting in 206 casualties during the year.

Terrorist and other armed groups continued to target the armed forces and civilians, using gunfire, improvised explosive devices, and other tactics.

According to another international organization’s July 31 report covering January through July, ISIS-Sinai Province killed approximately 22 civilians, including a woman and a child; kidnapped 26 civilians; and killed approximately 51 members of the armed forces, including seven from an armed group of North Sinai tribes fighting alongside the army. The same report documented four civilian deaths by security forces.

Abductions: Terrorist groups and other armed groups abducted civilians in North Sinai, almost always alleging cooperation with the government as the rationale. According to human rights groups, terrorist groups and other armed groups sometimes released abductees; some abductees were shot or beheaded. According to media and social media reports, at least 30 civilians were abducted by terrorist and militant elements in Sinai between January and August. In June, ISIS-Sinai Province reportedly abducted five construction contractors supporting a government developmental project near the al-Salam canal.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Explosions caused by hidden explosive devices killed at least two children during the year. Approximately 15 civilians died between October and December 2020 due to improvised explosive devices left behind by ISIS-Sinai Province members following an offensive in North Sinai.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but includes a clause stating, “It may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.” The government frequently did not respect this right. Human rights defenders, journalists, activists, and others regularly faced criminal prosecution on charges that observers assessed were brought in response to criticism of the government. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association. According to the law, newspapers are required to print their issues at licensed printing houses registered with the Supreme Council for Media Regulation; news websites must host their servers in the country; newspapers must submit 20 copies of each printed issue to the council; and news websites and television outlets must keep copies of all published or broadcast material online for one year and submit a copy of their published or broadcast material to the council every month. The law also prohibits any recording, filming, or interviews in public places with the intention of broadcasting them on a media outlet without a permit issued by the council.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. The government initiated investigations and prosecutions based on allegations of incitement of violence, insults to religion, insults to public figures and institutions such as the judiciary and the military, or abuse of public morals.

The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.” Human rights observers noted that authorities regularly used the ambiguous definition to stifle nonviolent speech and nonviolent opposition activity.

On January 6, the General Authority for Health Insurance banned photography inside hospitals and banned mobile phones from intensive care units. The decision reportedly came after citizens published videos from hospitals showing deaths and suffering of COVID-19 patients due to alleged shortages in the oxygen supplies. The government denied oxygen shortages had contributed to COVID-19-related deaths.

Housing rights researcher Ibrahim Ezzedine remained in pretrial detention since 2019, more than the two years permitted by law. According to a local human rights organization, he was detained after criticizing the government’s urban slums policies and appeared in 2019 before the State Security Prosecution, where he was accused of joining a banned group and spreading false news.

Between January and June, a local organization that tracks freedom of association and speech recorded 65 abuses of the freedoms of media and artistic and digital expression. For example, in 2019 several political figures, including former member of parliament Ziyad el-Aleimy and journalists Hossam Moanes and Hisham Fouad, were arrested on criminal charges of joining a banned group and spreading false news after they met to form the Alliance of Hope political group to run in parliamentary elections. On July 14, they were referred to trial before a misdemeanor emergency court. On November 17, the emergency court sentenced el-Aleimy to five years in prison and a fine, and Moanes and Fouad to four years in prison and a fine, all for spreading false news inside and outside the country. On November 24, the prime minister, as President Sisi’s delegate, ratified the sentences. The defense team told local press that “many legal violations took place in this case” and claimed they were not given access to more than 1,000 prosecution documents. Local human rights lawyers said the sentences issued by the emergency court could not be appealed and that only the president or his delegate could choose to annul, amend, or not implement the sentences. At year’s end the three remained imprisoned. On July 14, the Court of Cassation upheld an April 2020 ruling to include 13 Alliance of Hope defendants on the terrorism list, including el-Aleimy and activist Ramy Shaath, for alleged collaboration with the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

According to media reports, on February 22, the State Security Prosecution transferred Hazem Hosni, spokesperson for Sami Anan’s 2018 presidential campaign and Cairo University political science professor, to house arrest pending further investigations. On June 27, a human rights lawyer announced the criminal court reduced Hosni’s house arrest from seven to three days per week. Hosni had been held in pretrial detention since his 2019 arrest.

Sinai activists Ashraf al-Hefni and Ashraf Ayoub were released on May 27, according to local media. Al-Hefni, who advocated for human rights and the rights of residents of Sinai but publicly rejected “normalization” with Israel, was detained in 2019. Ayoub had been detained since August 2020.

After a criminal court ordered human rights lawyer Mohamed Ramadan’s release on June 13, Ramadan appeared on June 15, still detained, before the State Security Prosecution in a new case on allegations of joining a banned group and spreading false news. Ramadan had been arrested in 2018 for “inciting social unrest” after he posted a photograph of himself wearing a yellow vest akin to those worn by political protesters in France. As of year’s end, he remained in pretrial detention.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media expressed a variety of views but with significant restrictions. The constitution, penal code, and the media and publications law govern media topics. The government regulated the licensing of newspapers and controlled the printing and distribution of most newspapers, including private newspapers. The law does not impose restrictions on newspaper ownership.

More than 20 state-owned media outlets broadly supported official state policy. The National Press Authority held the power to appoint and dismiss editorial leadership of state-owned print outlets. The governmental Egyptian Radio and Television Union appointed the heads of state-owned radio and television channels. Both state-owned and private media (including television and online journalism) occasionally broadcast and published mild criticism of government policies, but dominant media narratives supported the president and his policy initiatives.

Police arrested several journalists during the year for covering politically sensitive topics, some of whom were released, while others remained in detention. Photojournalist Hamdy al-Zaeem was arrested on January 4, one day after he covered worker protests at a chemical plant. Al-Zaeem appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 16, where he was detained pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news on social media, according to local media. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

Journalist Hamdy Atef Hashem Abdel Fattah was arrested on January 4, after publishing a video showing lack of oxygen for COVID-19 patients at a hospital in Gharbia Governorate. He appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 11 and was subsequently detained on charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news on social media, according to media. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

According to a local NGO, cartoonist Ashraf Hamdy was released between August and September pending trial on allegations of misusing social media and spreading false information. He was arrested on January 25 after posting a video on the 10th anniversary of the January 25 revolution.

Business News company owner Mustafa Saqr was released on March 8. He had been held in pretrial detention on allegations of colluding with a terrorist organization, spreading false news, and misusing social media since his April 2020 arrest after publishing an article that discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. On March 8, Islam al-Kalhy, a journalist affiliated with Daarb news website, who was arrested while covering a demonstration in Monieb, Giza, in September 2020, and freelance journalist Hassan al-Qabbani, who was arrested in 2019, were also released.

On April 13, the State Security Prosecution released journalist and former al-Dostour Party leader Khaled Dawoud pending investigation of charges of colluding with a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media. Dawoud had been held in pretrial detention since his arrest in 2019.

According to the organization, a plainclothes security officer arrested laborer Ahmed al-Araby on May 12 in Banha based on political social media posts he made. The organization added that during the 19 days after his arrest, al-Araby was subjected to beating and electric shocks, interrogated as to whether he had links to the Muslim Brotherhood, and forced to confess involvement in street demonstrations, which he later recanted. He remained in pretrial detention pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media.

As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported 25 journalists were imprisoned in the country.

Violence and Harassment: According to media reports and local and international human rights groups, state actors arrested, imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated journalists. The family of detained journalist Mohamed Salah said on social media that Salah had been subjected to severe physical assault and abuse in pretrial detention on January 9. Human rights organizations added that the abuse included stripping Salah and his cell mates of their clothes, hanging them in a hallway, and beating them with metal objects. Amnesty International reported in May that Salah was arrested in 2019, beaten at a police station in December 2020, ordered released, and rearrested in a new case without release. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. The emergency law allows the president to censor information during a state of emergency.

On January 25, an administrative court ordered the Media Regulating Authority to ban YouTube channels that broadcast a film produced in 2013 regarding the Prophet Mohammed that was found to be offensive. On June 30, authorities asked al-Maraya Publishing House to not display and sell a book by imprisoned political activist Ahmed Douma at the Cairo International Book Fair, according to local media.

Media rights organizations said the government blocked thousands of websites, including 127 news websites, including Mada Masr, alManassa, and Daarb.

The law considers websites and social media accounts with at least 5,000 subscribers to be media outlets, requires them to pay a licensing fee, and grants the Supreme Council for Media Regulation broad discretion to block their content. On August 23, the council announced that it blocked some websites it said failed to apply for such a license.

The number of arrests for social media posts reportedly had a chilling effect on online speech. Some activists and many journalists reported privately they self-censored criticism of the government or comments that could be perceived as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, due to the government designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and the progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine. Online journalists were also reluctant to discuss sensitive topics.

Libel/Slander Laws: Blasphemy is a criminal offense. Local and international rights groups reported cases of authorities charging and convicting individuals with denigrating religion under the so-called blasphemy law, targeting primarily Christians but also Muslims.

National Security: The law allows government censors to block the publication of information related to intelligence and national security.

The law imposes a fine on any person who “intentionally publishes…or spreads false news.” The fine is many times the average annual salary of most local journalists. The government maintained hotlines for members of the public to call or leave text messages reporting fake news in either traditional or social media that endangers state security.

On May 29, former ambassador to Venezuela Yehia Negm was arrested on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media after he posted a tweet criticizing the government’s management of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam topic.

Atef Hasballah, editor in chief of Alkarar Press website, was released during the year on precautionary measures pending trial, according to a local NGO. Hasballah was arrested in March 2020 following a post on his Facebook page questioning official statistics on the spread of COVID-19 cases in the country.

Judges may issue restraining orders to prevent media from covering court cases considered sensitive on national security grounds. Rights groups stated authorities misused the orders to shield government, police, or military officials from public scrutiny. Citing safety and security measures, the government and military restricted media access to many parts of North Sinai.

Internet Freedom

The constitution prohibits the government from “arbitrarily” interrupting, disconnecting, or depriving citizens seeking to use all forms of internet communications.

Telecommunications services and internet service providers are regulated by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority under the telecommunication regulation law. The law does not guarantee the independence of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. The government centralized internet infrastructure and fiber-optic cables, allowing considerable state control over internet access, including restricting and disrupting user access and censoring online content. Law enforcement agencies restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage. The public prosecutor prosecuted individuals accused of posting “insulting” material.

The counterterrorism law criminalizes the use of the internet to “promote ideas or beliefs that call for terrorist acts” or to “broadcast what is intended to mislead security authorities or influence the course of justice in relation to any terrorist crime.” The law also authorizes the public prosecutor and investigators to monitor and record online communications among suspects in terrorism cases for a period of 30 days, renewable in 30-day increments. The law does not specify a maximum period for this surveillance.

The cybercrime law states, “The relevant investigating authority may, when the evidence indicates that a website is broadcasting phrases, numbers, pictures, videos, or any promotional material that constitutes one of the crimes enshrined in this law and poses a threat to national security or endangers the security or economy of the country, order the blocking of the website.”

On January 12, the Cairo Economic Appeals Court annulled the two-year sentences of TikTok influencers Haneen Hossam and Mawada Eladhm and three other defendants. The court also annulled Hossam’s fine but upheld the same fine for the other defendants. Charges included violating family values, inciting “debauchery,” publishing content deemed inappropriate, and recruiting others to commit similar crimes. On June 20, in a separate case, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Hossam in absentia to 10 years in prison and a fine, and Eladhm and three others to six years in prison and fines. All five were convicted on charges of human trafficking, running social media accounts with the aim of recruiting young women for video sharing online, and publishing video content deemed inappropriate by authorities. The objectionable content included dancing and lip-syncing, which are common on the platform. After being sentenced in absentia, Hossam posted a video on June 22 in which she asked President Sisi to order a retrial and was subsequently arrested in Cairo. On November 4, a court ordered a retrial in her case, which was scheduled for January 18, 2022. In August 2020 a criminal court upheld an administrative decision to freeze the assets of Hossam and Eladhm.

TikTok influencer Manar Samy remained imprisoned serving her September 2020 sentence of three years in prison with hard labor for “inciting debauchery and violating family values” for content she posted on social media. On July 4, the Benha Criminal Court acquitted members of Samy’s family, who had been arrested in 2020 for resisting authorities. On June 13, the Economic Misdemeanor Court of Appeals upheld the Economic Misdemeanor Court’s September 30 convictions of TikTok influencers Sherifa Rifaat, known as “Sherry Hanim,” and her daughter Zumoroda for assaulting family values and inciting prostitution, based on photographs posted to social media. The court of appeals reduced their sentences from six years in prison to five years and fined each of them.

There were reports the government temporarily blocked access to internet messaging applications.

The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in Sinai by cutting mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines.

As part of investigations, security forces may apply for warrants from the prosecutor general to access mobile phone company databases to obtain information regarding activities of specific customers, which observers noted could lead to lack of online anonymity.

There were reports authorities monitored social media and internet dating sites to identify and arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex individuals (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

On May 3, a local media rights organization reported that the state had blocked hundreds of websites, including 127 news websites. The blocked sites included international NGOs, local human rights NGOs, and numerous virtual private network services. Some blockages appeared to respond to critical coverage of the government or to disrupt antigovernment political activity or demonstrations.

In 2017 the news website Mada Masr sued the government seeking information on why it was blocked. In 2018 the Court of Administrative Justice referred the case for technical review by the Justice Ministry’s Authority of Experts. This review remained pending without resolution at year’s end. According to a local human rights organization, in April the Media Regulating Authority issued licenses for 40 private news websites, including Cairo 24, while not acting on the license requests of 110 other websites. This was part of a legal requirement to regulate the status of electronic press websites in the country.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were reports of government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. The removal of references to the country’s 2011 and 2013 revolutions from high school history class curricula continued after a 2017 decree from the Ministry of Education and Technical Education. According to media and local rights groups, a degree of self-censorship, similar to that reported by nonacademic commentators, existed when academics publicly commented on sensitive political and socioeconomic matters. University faculty members and Ministry of Education employees (including teachers) needed security agency approval to travel abroad for academic or professional purposes. Faculty and officials at public universities and research centers also had to obtain Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ permission to travel abroad for any reason. Some public universities restricted campus visits of foreign speakers or delegations or required a faculty chaperone for delegations of university students traveling to the United States.

In May the prosecutor general renewed University of Washington doctoral student Walid Salem’s travel ban, according to a statement by local and international human rights organizations. Their statement added that Salem was also prevented from traveling in May 2020 when authorities at Cairo International Airport confiscated his passport. Salem had been on probation since 2018 pending trial on charges of spreading false news and belonging to a terrorist group.

On July 12, authorities released Alia Mossallam, a postdoctoral fellow at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin, on bail pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media after they arrested her at the Cairo International Airport on July 11 upon her arrival from Berlin, according to a human rights lawyer. Mosallam was researching the history of the country’s social and political movements through popular memory, according to local media.

On November 17, authorities reportedly released Ayman Mansour Nada pending trial on allegations of insulting the president of Cairo University and several university officials and using social media to commit the crime. Nada, a Cairo University media professor, was arrested in September after he criticized the government-appointed president of Cairo University and government-aligned media professionals.

There was censorship of cultural events. A prime ministerial decree declares it unlawful to hold a special event or festival without “prior license from the Ministry of Culture and liaising with relevant state entities.” This requirement adds to existing regulations, under which organizations must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Culture’s Censorship Board, as well as permits from the Interior Ministry and the relevant artists’ union for concerts, performances, and other cultural events. The Ministry of Culture must approve all scripts and final productions of plays and films. The ministry censored foreign films to be shown in theaters but did not censor the same films sold as DVDs.

On June 27, the Musicians Syndicate banned five singers of Mahraganat music, a popular street-music genre, from performing in the country because they did not obtain a permit to work or belong to the syndicate. The syndicate banned nine others on November 17 for the same reasons.

On July 25, the Administrative Court ordered the Central Administration for Censorship of Audio and Audiovisual Works to grant the film The Last Days of the City, which deals with the January 25 revolution, a license to be shown inside the country. According to local media, the ruling was final and had to be implemented. The film, which was produced in 2016 and won several international film festival awards, was first denied presentation in the country at the 2016 Cairo International Film Festival.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly “according to notification regulated by law.” The demonstrations law includes an expansive list of prohibited activities, giving a judge the authority to prohibit or curtail planned demonstrations after submitting an official memorandum. Domestic and international human rights organizations asserted the law did not meet international standards regarding freedom of assembly. A government-imposed exclusion zone prohibits protests within 2,600 feet (790 meters) of vital governmental institutions.

The Prison Regulation Law prevents the conditional release of those convicted of assembly crimes, among other crimes.

There were protests during the year, mostly small, and some occurred without government interference. In most cases the government rigorously enforced the law restricting demonstrations, in some instances using force, including in cases of small groups of protesters demonstrating peacefully.

On December 8, Patrick George Zaki, a student at the University of Bologna, was released pending trial before an emergency court. He faced charges of inciting individuals to protest in 2019, spreading false news, promoting terrorism, and harming national security. He had been held in pretrial detention since his February 2020 arrest at Cairo International Airport, after which media reported he was beaten and subjected to electric shocks.

According to a local human rights organization, thousands of persons whom authorities arrested during 2013 and 2014 due to their participation in demonstrations (some of which were peaceful) remained imprisoned; however, authorities released others who had completed their sentences. Authorities reportedly held such individuals under charges of attending an unauthorized protest, incitement to violence, or “blocking roads.” Human rights groups claimed authorities inflated or used these charges solely to target individuals suspected of being members of groups in opposition to the government or those who sought to exercise the rights to free assembly or association.

On June 4, security forces broke up a demonstration in the Shooting Club area in Alexandria and arrested approximately 30 residents protesting government plans to relocate them to a new location in the governorate. While most detained residents were immediately released, 13 remained in detention until June 17 on charges of inciting protests, throwing stones at security forces, and injuring security forces. The 13 were acquitted on December 29.

Since his 2018 arrest, activist Mohamed Adel remained in pretrial detention in three separate cases, related to allegations of violating the protest law, joining a banned group, and spreading false news.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law governing associations, however, significantly restricts this right.

A 2019 law governing NGOs eliminated prison sentences as penalties and removed formal oversight roles for security and intelligence authorities. On January 14, the government published executive regulations clarifying that NGOs would have exclusive access to and control of NGO funds as well as procedural protections, such as impartial administrative and judicial appeal mechanisms. The 2019 law stipulates that NGOs are established through notification; however, the executive regulations require NGOs to provide extensive data to register with authorities, including information on founders and planned activities. All NGOs must receive the approval of the Ministry of Social Solidarity to register, receive funding, or conduct activities. Further, international NGOs are required to receive approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to register to operate. NGOs must also comply with money laundering and antiterrorism legislations.

The penal code criminalizes the request for or acceptance of foreign funds, materiel, weapons, ammunition, or “other things” by any individual or group from states or local or international nongovernmental organizations “with the intent to harm the national interest.” Those convicted may be sentenced to life in prison (or the death penalty in the case of public officials) for crimes committed during times of war or with “terrorist purpose.”

At year’s end lawyer Amr Emam remained in pretrial detention pending investigations on charges of colluding with a terrorist organization, publishing false news, and misusing social media to spread false information. Emam was arrested in 2019 after he began a hunger strike and sit-in to protest the arrests, alleged abuse, and continued detention of journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and lawyer Mohamed Elbakr. Esraa Abdel Fattah was released on June 9, while Alaa Abdel Fattah and Elbakr remained imprisoned following their December 20 convictions by an emergency state security misdemeanors court, which sentenced them to five and four years, respectively (see section 1.c.). At year’s end their convictions remained subject to ratification by the president or his delegate.

Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy, a human rights lawyer and founder of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared, remained in pretrial detention since his 2017 arrest at the Cairo International Airport while traveling to Geneva to participate in the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

The government listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a designated terrorist organization. On July 28, the Court of Cassation upheld the life sentences of Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide Mohamed Badie, his deputy Khairat el-Shater, and six others who were convicted in 2019 on charges of collaborating with Hamas.

Authorities continued investigations into local NGOs that received foreign funding under Case 173, originally brought in 2011. On October 21, local media reported that 75 locally organized NGOs had charges dismissed in Case 173 to date, although at least six continued to face charges.

On January 20, the Administrative Court annulled the Cairo Governor’s 2016 decision to close the El-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture. El-Nadeem was among the local NGOs still facing charges in Case 173 of receiving foreign funds.

On January 28, the Administrative Court ordered the Ministry of Social Solidarity to approve a 1.5 million euro ($1.76 million) grant from the embassies of Germany, Switzerland, and Norway to the Sadat Association for Development and Social Care, which was headed by former member of parliament and opposition figure Mohamed Anwar Sadat. This came in response to the Sadat Association’s 2018 lawsuit challenging the ministry’s denial of the grant based on security grounds. The court ruled a rejection on security concerns, without specifics, was insufficient. The court also declared that the Sadat Association was registered under the 2002 NGO law and the donors were working legally in the country, and that denying the grant would prevent the Sadat Association from exercising its constitutional and international convention rights to operate without restrictions as long as its activities did not disrupt public peace or safety.

On July 31, the Court of Cassation turned down the prosecution’s appeal of the 2017 acquittal of spouses Aya Hijazi and Mohamed Hassanein, founders of the Belady Foundation NGO, and their codefendants of torturing children, sexual assault, forcing children to participate in illegal demonstrations, and operating a criminal group for the purposes of trafficking, among other charges.

On February 2, the NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights announced that it was forced to vacate its office after the landlord suddenly gave the lease to the parliamentary bloc of the Youth Coalition for Parties and Politicians, a body created by President Sisi in 2018. The organization added that troubles with its lease started after the November 2020 arrests and December 2020 releases of its members Mohamed Basheer, Karim Ennarah, and Gasser Abdel Razek on charges of joining a terror group and spreading false news. The three remained subject to court-ordered travel bans and asset freezes.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, albeit with some exceptions, including the treatment of potential refugees and asylum seekers.

In-country Movement: Citizens and foreigners may not travel freely in areas of the country designated as military zones. The government sought to prevent private individuals, journalists, civil society figures, and international organizations from entering North Sinai on safety grounds, which the government stated were necessary restrictions in response to long-running counterterrorism operations. According to a local human rights organization, security forces set up security checkpoints in downtown Cairo and other locations around the anniversaries of street protests and conducted searches and arrests without warrants.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states, “No citizen may be prevented from leaving the State territory.” Nonetheless, men who have not completed compulsory military service and have not obtained an exemption may not travel abroad or emigrate. National identification cards indicated completion of military service.

Authorities required citizens between ages 18 and 40 to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to 16 countries: Georgia, Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Qatar, South Africa, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, and Yemen. Enforcement of these regulations was sporadic. The government stated it intended these regulations to make it more difficult for citizens to join terrorist groups and to stop the flight of criminals. These regulations also affected the ability of other individuals to travel outside the country. Authorities maintained a “no-fly” list that prevented some defendants in court cases from fleeing the country.

The government imposed travel bans on some human rights defenders and political activists who were under investigation or formally charged. Local human rights groups maintained that authorities used travel bans to intimidate and silence human rights defenders. A 2018 court ruling stated a travel ban “does not require the investigation of certain facts and their certainty,” but there must be “serious evidence that there are reasons for it and that the decision to prevent travel is due to security reasons and the interests of the state.” Case 173 defendants who still had travel bans or asset freezes included Hossam Bahgat, Mohamed Zarea, Bahey Eldin Hassan, Abd El Hafez Tayal, and Mostafa El Hassan. On August 24, political science professor Hassan Nafaa posted on Twitter that hours before he intended to travel abroad that day, he learned that he had been banned from traveling. Nafaa appealed to the prosecutor general to reconsider the list of those banned from traveling, claiming the ban in general had changed from a precautionary measure into punishment outside the scope of the law. In March 2020 the State Security Prosecution released Nafaa along with 14 others.

Exile: There was no government-imposed exile, and the constitution prohibits the government from expelling citizens or banning citizens from returning to the country. Some Mubarak- and Morsi-era politicians lived outside the country by choice and stated they faced threats of prosecution.

On June 6, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not have to renew the passport of Ayman Nour, the president of the opposition New Ghad Party, who was living abroad. Nour had filed a lawsuit when the ministry refused to renew his passport at the country’s consulates in Turkey and Lebanon.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the protection of political refugees, but the law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a comprehensive legal regime for providing protection to refugees. The government granted UNHCR authority to make refugee status determinations. UNHCR does not register Libyan citizens; neither does it register or assist Palestinian refugees in the country.

According to UNHCR, as of August asylum seekers in the country came mainly from Syria, as well as from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen.

In 2013 the government began applying a system of visa and security clearance requirements for Syrian nationals and Palestinian refugees from Syria, thus assuring no direct entries from Syria, since the country lacked consular services there. Following the UNHCR’s visit in 2017, the country relaxed its visa requirements for Syrians seeking family reunification.

Reports of irregular movements of individuals, including asylum seekers, and detention of foreign nationals attempting to depart the country irregularly via the Mediterranean by boat, had almost stopped, according to UNHCR, following enactment and enforcement of a law dramatically increasing patrols on the country’s Mediterranean coast in 2016.

UNHCR had limited access to detention centers and border areas, except in cases upon approval by authorities. Local rights groups faced continued resistance from the government when trying to interview detainees at Qanater men’s and women’s prisons outside Cairo, which housed most detained refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities generally released asylum seekers registered with UNHCR but frequently did not release detained migrants, many of whom were Eritrean, Ethiopian, Somali, and Sudanese, who may have had a basis for asylum claims. Authorities often held detained migrants as unregistered asylum seekers in police stations and sometimes sent them to regular prisons alongside convicted criminals or deported them.

The government did not recognize UNHCR’s mandate to offer services to Palestinians outside of the fields of operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency, reportedly due to a belief that allowing UNHCR registration would negate Palestinian refugees’ right of return. Approximately 2,900 Palestinian refugees from Syria were also present in the country, the majority reportedly in Cairo. The Palestinian Authority mission in the country provided limited assistance to this population. The Swiss Red Cross also provided some humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees from Syria.

Refoulement: Although the government often contacted UNHCR upon detaining unregistered migrants and asylum seekers, authorities reportedly sometimes encouraged unregistered detainees to choose to return to their countries of origin or a neighboring country to avoid continued detention, even in cases where the individuals expressed a fear of return. The number of these cases was unknown.

On September 10, Amnesty International called on the government to halt the threatened deportation of two Eritrean nationals to Eritrea, where they could face persecution. Local media reported the two had been detained since 2012 and 2013. At year’s end they had not been deported. The two men claimed to be Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Authorities deported eight Eritrean migrants on October 19, seven on October 31, and 24 on December 30, including several children, to Asmara, where they were detained upon arrival, according to local media and local NGOs. Despite multiple requests, UNHCR said it was not granted access to the detainees to make a refugee determination. Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on November 19 “deploring” the country’s abuse of the principle of nonrefoulement.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Media, NGOs, and UNHCR staff reported multiple cases of attacks against refugees, particularly women and children. According to UNHCR, refugees sometimes reported harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination. Refugee women and girls, particularly Sudanese and other sub-Saharan Africans, faced the greatest risk of societal, sexual, and gender-based violence.

According to UNHCR and press reports, police security sweeps continued in neighborhoods known to house Syrian, Sudanese, and other African refugees, as well as migrants, resulting in increased detentions. Detainees at times reported authorities subjected them to verbal abuse and poor detention conditions.

Employment: No law grants or prohibits refugees the right to work. Those seeking employment were hampered by lack of jobs and societal discrimination, particularly against Sudanese and other sub-Saharan Africans. Refugees who found work took low-paying jobs in the informal market, such as domestic servants, and were vulnerable to financial and sexual exploitation by employers.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees, in particular non-Arabic-speaking refugees from Sudan and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, faced barriers to accessing some services, including health care and public education. The Interior Ministry restricted access for some international organizations seeking to assist migrants and refugees in Sinai. UNHCR provided some refugees with modest support for education and health care, as well as small monthly financial assistance grants for particularly vulnerable refugees. The International Organization for Migration provided additional assistance to particularly vulnerable migrants and individual asylum cases that were either rejected or being processed by UNHCR.

Refugee children not enrolled in public schools mainly attended refugee-run schools or private schools, or they were home schooled. The law requires government hospitals to provide free emergency medical care to refugees, but many hospitals could not do so. In some cases hospitals reportedly insisted that refugees provide payment in advance of receiving services or refused to provide services to refugees. One local refugee agency reported some refugees died due to the lack of medical care.

g. Stateless Persons

Of the eight stateless persons known to UNHCR, most were Armenians displaced for more than 50 years. According to a local civil society organization, the number of stateless persons in the country was likely higher than the number recorded by UNHCR. The government and UNHCR lacked a mechanism for identifying stateless persons, including those of disputed Sudanese/South Sudanese nationality and those of disputed Ethiopian/Eritrean nationality. A majority of the approximately 70,000 Palestinian refugees were stateless.

On February 11, the Interior Ministry announced it granted citizenship to three brothers from the al-Muzaina tribe in Dahab, South Sinai. Media reported in February that some Bedouins in Sinai remained stateless after Israel handed the Sinai back to the country in 1982, and others remained stateless in disputed border areas with Sudan.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution 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. Constraints on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, however, limited citizens’ ability to do so.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: There were two rounds of elections in 2020 for the 200 elected seats in the re-established 300-seat upper house, called the Senate, and for the 568 elected seats of the House of Representatives. A progovernment coalition won an overwhelming majority of the Senate’s 200 elected seats; the president appointed the remaining 100 seats. Election observers documented visible judicial supervision, a tight security presence, and COVID-19 precautions in place. Local media noted higher than expected participation by women and youth voters. One political coalition alleged instances of vote rigging and bribery that advantaged an opponent political party during the House of Representatives’ elections. Some opposition parties questioned the youth turnout, especially in poorer areas, and claimed young persons were “bussed in” to vote. No significant acts of violence or disturbances to the election processes were observed.

Domestic and international organizations expressed concern that government limitations on freedoms of speech, association, and assembly severely constrained broad participation in the political process. On July 12, the Public Prosecution referred Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights executive director Hossam Bahgat to court on charges of insulting the National Elections Authority, spreading false rumors alleging electoral fraud, and using social media accounts to commit crimes, based on a tweet Bahgat posted in December 2020 criticizing the 2020 parliamentary elections as marred with widespread abuses. Bahgat was not detained in the case. In November the court found Bahgat guilty of insulting the National Elections Authority and fined him. Bahgat’s lawyers announced they planned to appeal.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution grants citizens the ability to form, register, and operate political parties. The law requires new parties to have a minimum of 5,000 members from each of at least 10 governorates. The constitution also states: “No political activity may be practiced and no political parties may be formed based on religion or discrimination based on gender, origin, or sectarian basis or geographic location. No activity that is hostile to democratic principles, secretive, or of military or quasi-military nature may be practiced. Political parties may not be dissolved except by virtue of a court judgment.”

On November 18, the Court of Cassation rejected the appeals of former presidential candidate and Strong Egypt Party leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, Strong Egypt Party deputy Mohamed el-Kassas, lawyer Mohamed Elbakr, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and others challenging their placement on the terrorism list for five years. Aboul Fotouh was placed on the terrorism list. On August 31, the State Security Prosecution referred Aboul Fotouh, el-Kassas, and others to criminal trial on charges of leading a terrorist group, financing a terrorist group, possessing weapons and ammunition, promoting the ideas of a terrorist group, and deliberately broadcasting false news, statements, and rumors at home and abroad. Aboul Fotouh and el-Kassas had reportedly been held in solitary confinement in pretrial detention since their 2018 arrests.

The Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamist Building and Development Party, remained banned. Authorities did not ban other Islamist parties, including the Strong Egypt Party.

On June 19, local media reported that the Supreme Administrative Court refused to hear two lawsuits demanding the cessation of all activities of the Bread and Freedom Party and the Strong Egypt Party on the grounds that the leaders were members of banned groups.

The government does not broadcast or publish parliamentary sessions in the House of Representatives or Senate. On May 26, a local human rights organization filed a lawsuit challenging this as violating the constitution’s provisions on holding parliamentary sessions in public.

In September 2020 the National Election Authority disqualified Mohamed Anwar Sadat, head of the Reform and Development Party, from running in the 2020 House of Representatives elections, citing Sadat’s failure, as a military school graduate, to obtain approval from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to run in the election as required by law for active or retired military personnel before running in presidential, parliamentary, or local council elections. In October 2020 the Administrative Court rejected Sadat’s lawsuit to challenge the decision.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The law requires that women receive at least 10 percent of Senate seats and 25 percent of House seats. Women held 40 seats in the 300-seat Senate (13 percent) and 148 seats in the 568-seat House of Representatives (26 percent).

No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Social and cultural barriers, however, limited women’s political participation and leadership in most political parties and some government institutions.

Eight women led cabinet ministries, including one Christian woman, and two women served as deputy ministers. There were two Christians (in Ismailia and Damietta Governorates) among the appointed governors of the 27 governorates. In 2018 authorities appointed Manal Awad Michael, a Christian woman, governor of Damietta. On June 2, President Sisi announced that for the first time, women could work at the State Council and the Public Prosecution starting on October 1. On June 14, the Administrative Prosecution Authority appointed two female chief administrative prosecutors (in Menoufia and Qena Governorates), which it stated brought to 24 the number of female chief administrative prosecutors appointed since June 2020. In December 2020 a female academic was appointed as deputy to the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court. In September 2020 the General Assembly of the Cairo Economic Court appointed for the first time a female judge as the head of civil division circuit of an appellate court. In 2018 the Supreme Judiciary Council promoted 16 female judges to higher courts, including the Qena Appeals Court. Legal experts stated there were approximately 66 female judges serving in family, criminal, economic, appeals, and misdemeanor courts; that total was less than 1 percent of judges. Several senior judges were Christian.

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. There were reports of government corruption during the year, sometimes with impunity.

Corruption: On April 7, the Cairo Criminal Court acquitted Ahmed Shafik, former prime minister and presidential candidate, Captain Tawfiq Mohamed Assi, former chair of EgyptAir Holding Company, and Ibrahim Manaa, former civil aviation minister, of misappropriation of public funds from 2002 to 2011, according to local media.

On April 13, the Control Authority referred former member of parliament Gamal al-Showeikh and 12 other defendants, including public officials, for prosecution on charges of accepting bribes to influence a real estate project in Cairo. Al-Showeikh was originally arrested in March 2020.

On November 8, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Abdel Azim Hussein, former head of the tax authority, to 10 years in prison and a 674,000 EGP ($42,000) fine on corruption charges.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

International and local human rights organizations stated the government continued to be uncooperative with their efforts to investigate alleged abuses of human rights. On September 11, the government launched a five-year National Human Rights Strategy that included a focus on jobs, health care, clean water, food, and affordable housing, and initiatives to enhance civil society and free expression. It also called for human rights training for police and prison officers, whistleblower protections, reforms to pretrial detention, increased government and civil society collaboration on human rights matters, and continued prison inspections by the National Council for Human Rights and civil society, to improve respect of human rights. Activists and NGOs cited a lack of details on timelines or implementation of the strategy, and a focus on quality-of-life topics and not freedom of expression and association.

The Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights, chaired by the minister of foreign affairs as an intragovernmental body, developed the strategy over 18 months of consultations with government and civil society leaders. Domestic civil society organizations acknowledged the consultations, but some criticized them as insufficient. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that with an October meeting between it and 50 NGOs led by the Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights, consultations had begun to implement the strategy and plans for the Year of Civil Society in 2022, announced concurrently with the strategy. The Awqaf and Social Solidarity Ministries created human rights units in September and November, respectively, and the Ministry of Local Development revised its human rights unit in October, all in response to the cabinet’s order that each ministry and governorate establish a human rights unit.

Extended delays in gaining government approvals and an unclear legal environment continued to limit the ability of domestic and international NGOs to operate. State-owned and independent media at times depicted NGOs, particularly international NGOs and domestic NGOs that received funding from international sources, as undertaking subversive activities. Some NGOs reported receiving visits or calls to staff, both at work and at home, from security service officers and tax officials monitoring their activities, as well as harassment.

Human rights defenders and political activists were also subjected to governmental and societal harassment and intimidation, including through travel bans (see section 2.d.).

Well established, independent domestic human rights NGOs struggled to operate as a result of pressure from security forces throughout the country. Online censorship (see section 2.a.) restricted the roles of internet activists and bloggers in publicizing information concerning human rights abuses. Authorities sometimes allowed civil society organizations not registered as NGOs to operate, but such organizations reported harassment, along with threats of government interference, investigation, asset freezes, or closure.

The government continued investigations into the receipt of foreign funding by several human rights organizations, dropping the cases against several organizations that had been charged originally while continuing cases against others (see section 2.b.). Major international human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, had not maintained offices in the country since 2014 due to security restrictions and lawsuits targeting their presence in the country.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Authorities did not allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to prisoners and detainees.

Government Human Rights Bodies: On December 29, President Sisi ratified the House of Representative’s October 4 announcement of a new 27-person National Council for Human Rights headed by Ambassador Moushira Khattab, former minister of family and population and the first woman to head the council. According to the National Council for Women (NCW), 44 percent of the new members were women. The quasi-governmental council is charged with monitoring the human rights situation, issuing reports and recommending legislation that improves human rights.

Other government human rights bodies included the Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights; Justice Ministry General Department of Human Rights; Prosecutor General Human Rights Office; State Information Service Human Rights Unit; Ministry of Foreign Affairs Human Rights and International, Social, and Humanitarian Department; Ministry of Local Development Human Rights Unit; Ministry of Social Solidarity Human Rights Unit; Awqaf Ministry Human Rights Unit; and human rights units in each of the country’s governorates.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, prescribing penalties of 15 to 25 years’ imprisonment, or life imprisonment for cases of rape involving armed abduction. Spousal rape is not illegal. The government improved its enforcement of the law. Civil society organizations reported instances of police pressuring survivors not to pursue charges.

On April 11, the Cairo Criminal Court convicted Ahmed Bassam Zaki and sentenced him to eight years’ total imprisonment – seven years for sexual assault on three minor girls and one year for drug use. The court acquitted Zaki of violating the privacy of survivors, threatening survivors, and abusing social media and telecommunications. The Cairo Economic Court convicted Zaki in a separate case in December 2020 for misuse of social media and sexual assault and sentenced him to three years in prison with labor. On March 15, an appeals court heard Zaki’s appeal in this separate case, but a decision had not been reported by year’s end. Zaki’s July 2020 arrest, after more than 50 women accused him online of rape, sexual assault, and harassment dating back to 2016, gave rise to what media referred to as the country’s #MeToo movement.

On May 11, the Public Prosecution announced that none of the men it ordered arrested in 2020 for allegedly gang raping a woman at the Fairmont Nile City hotel in 2014 would be tried, due to a “lack of evidence,” and that it had released the men it detained in the case. Prosecutors pointed to a six-year lag between the incident and its being reported, the difficulty in identifying individuals based on photographs made available, the inability of the prosecution to access a video clip of the rape, and inconsistent and recanted testimony as factors that impaired efforts to bring the case to trial. In a separate rape case, the North Cairo Criminal Court on November 9 sentenced two of the defendants released in the Fairmont Nile City case to life in prison and a third to 15 years in prison. On August 10, the Shubra El-Kheima Criminal Court sentenced a doctor to seven years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting a schoolteacher receiving treatment at his clinic.

Domestic violence was a significant problem. The law does not prohibit domestic violence or spousal abuse, but authorities may apply provisions relating to assault with accompanying penalties. The law requires that an assault survivor produce multiple eyewitnesses, a difficult condition for domestic abuse survivor. Police often treated domestic violence as a family matter rather than as a criminal matter.

The Interior Ministry includes a unit responsible for combating sexual and gender-based violence. The NCW was responsible for coordinating government and civil society efforts to empower women. In September the prime minister issued a decree to establish the country’s first integrated governorate-level units to serve survivors of violence. These units are mandated to coordinate and improve integrated survivor-centered services to women. An NCW study found that approximately 1.5 million women reported domestic violence each year. According to NCW and UNICEF data, the COVID-19 pandemic increased the risks of violence and economic hardships for women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal, and the government strengthened legislation banning the practice, but it remained a serious problem. Although declining, FGM/C continued to be widely practiced. The prevalence, however, was reportedly much higher among older age groups. Type 3 FGM/C (infibulation) was more prevalent in the South (Aswan and Nubia), and in some cases was associated with difficulty in giving birth, obstructed labor, and higher rates of neonatal mortality. The government enlisted the support of religious leaders to combat cultural acceptance of FGM/C and encourage family planning. According to international and local observers, the government took steps to enforce the FGM/C law. In 2019 the government formed a national task force to end FGM/C, led by the National Council for Women and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood.

On April 28, President Sisi ratified amendments to the penal code that increase FGM/C minimum sentences from one to 15 years to five to 20 years in prison, removed the “medical exception” in the law, introduced bans for medical providers and medical institutions from providing medical services for a period after involvement in the crime, and extended criminal liability to anyone supporting the crime, including family members of the survivor. On March 28, a local human rights organization said the extended criminal liability to anyone involved in the crime could inhibit some survivors and family members from reporting the crime due to fear their relatives might be arrested.

According to local media reports, authorities arrested a father and a retired nurse on February 2 after they allegedly conducted FGM/C on a 15-year-old girl at her home in a poor district in Qalyoubia Governorate. The father took his daughter, who suffered severe complications, to a nearby hospital, where the attending physician reported the incident to the Public Prosecution, resulting in the two arrests. National Council for Women head Maya Morsi praised the quick action of authorities and called on parliament to quickly pass draft legislation (formally introduced on January 24 and ratified April 28), to sharpen the FGM/C penalties.

On September 25, using the new FGM/C law, a criminal court sentenced a nurse to 10 years in prison, the longest sentence ever given in the country for FGM/C. In the same case, the court also sentenced the father to three years in prison for subjecting his eight-year-old daughter to FGM/C.

On October 13, the Public Prosecution detained a doctor who reportedly performed FGM/C operations in Beni Suef pending investigation and released the mother of an FGM/C survivor on bail.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law allows leniency towards men who kill their wives upon discovering them in an act of adultery. The law does not specifically address “honor” crimes, which authorities treated as any other crime. In January a local NGO said there were at least 14 “honor killings” in the country in 2020. In March local media reported that the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced a man to five years in prison for killing his sister because he believed she committed “inappropriate” and “suspicious” acts. On May 9, a court in Abbasiya sentenced three defendants to 10 years in prison for the death of a female doctor who was thrown to her death from the balcony in her Cairo apartment after she invited a man to her apartment. On November 17, an Assiut criminal court sentenced a man to three years in prison for killing his mother after a video reportedly showed her in an “immoral relationship” with another person.

Sexual Harassment: While the government took several steps to prevent sexual harassment, it remained a serious problem. On August 18, the president ratified amendments to the penal code that upgrade sexual harassment to a felony offense, increase minimum sentences to two to seven years in prison (up from six months to five years), increase minimum fines, and add a provision that repeat offenders may face double the prison time. On October 17, under the new amendments, a misdemeanor court sentenced a young man accused of harassing a girl at a Cairo Metro station to three years and six months in prison.

Media and NGOs reported that sexual harassment by police was also a problem and that the potential for further harassment, lengthy legal procedures, and lack of survivor protections further discouraged women from filing complaints. On November 9, the North Cairo Criminal Court sentenced physician Michael Fahmy to life imprisonment for forcibly molesting six girls inside his clinic. The court acquitted his wife. Charges against the two included the kidnapping of six girls by luring them to his residence and a private clinic and making them believe that they needed “special treatment and examination.” Some survivors spoke out regarding harassment on social media in September 2020.

On July 15, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced dentist Bassem Samir to 16 years in prison for sexual harassment and misconduct against male patients and visitors to his clinic, including actor Abbas Aboul Hassan and singer Tameem Youness.

On October 31, the Mansoura Economic Misdemeanors Court convicted two lawyers for defamation of and threats against the survivor of mass harassment in Mit Ghamr in December 2020. One lawyer was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine, and the other lawyer to six months in prison and a fine. Media reported the two lawyers published videos and personal photographs of the survivor with the aim of threatening her to change her statements against their clients, who were accused of sexual assault but acquitted by the Mansoura Criminal Court on March 21 on a procedural error. On March 23, local media quoted the survivor saying during the trial that she was threatened with murder, maiming, and rape. The prosecution appealed the verdict on May 17 that acquitted the seven defendants.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There were no reports regarding the ability of vulnerable populations (individuals with disabilities, members of minorities, etc.) to provide informed consent to medical treatment affecting reproductive health, including for sterilization.

The Ministry of Health and Population distributed contraception and assigned personnel to attend births, offer postpartum care to mothers and children, and provide treatment for sexually transmitted diseases at minimal or no cost. The government also did not restrict family-planning decisions. Gender norms and social, cultural, economic, and religious barriers inhibited some women’s ability to make reproductive decisions and to access contraceptives. Some women lacked access to information on reproductive health, and the limited availability of female health-care providers reduced access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth, in view of the preference many women had for female health-care providers for social and religious reasons.

There was limited information on government assistance to survivors of sexual assault, including whether emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal rights for male and female citizens. While the government took steps to improve their situation, women did not enjoy the same legal rights and opportunities as men, and discrimination was widespread. Aspects of the law and traditional societal practices disadvantaged women in family, social, and economic life.

Women faced widespread societal discrimination, threats to their physical security, and workplace bias in favor of men, thus hindering women’s social and economic advancement.

Laws affecting marriage and personal status generally corresponded to an individual’s religious group. A female Muslim citizen cannot legally marry a non-Muslim man. If she were to do so, authorities could charge her with adultery and consider her children illegitimate. Under the government’s interpretation of Islamic law, any children from such a marriage could be placed in the custody of a male Muslim guardian. Khula (divorce) allows a Muslim woman to obtain a divorce without her husband’s consent, provided she forgoes all her financial rights, including alimony, dowry, and other benefits. The Coptic Orthodox Church permits divorce only in rare circumstances, such as adultery or conversion of one spouse to another religion. Other Christian churches permitted divorce on a case-by-case basis.

On January 3, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the penal code unconstitutionally discriminates against women by stipulating longer prison terms for adultery for women, in hearing the appeal of a women sentenced to two years in prison for adultery.

The law follows sharia in matters of inheritance; therefore, a Muslim female heir generally receives one-half the amount of a male heir’s inheritance, and Christian widows of Muslims have no inheritance rights. A sole Muslim female heir receives one-half her parents’ estate, and the balance goes to the siblings of the parents or the children of the siblings if the siblings are deceased. A sole male heir inherits his parents’ entire estate.

In marriage and divorce cases, a woman’s testimony must be judged credible to be admissible. Usually, the woman accomplishes credibility by conveying her testimony through an adult male relative or representative. The law assumes a man’s testimony is credible unless proven otherwise.

In a June 2 meeting with top judicial figures, President Sisi announced that for the first time in the country’s history women would be allowed to work at the State Council and the Public Prosecution, starting on October 1. He also announced that the State Lawsuits Authority would be required to state a reason for rejecting any judicial applicants, and that personnel of the same rank in the State Council, Administrative Prosecution, State Lawsuits Authority, and judiciary would receive the same financial entitlements, including equal wages. A local NGO said in a Facebook statement on August 22 that the Supreme Judicial Council approved the prosecutor general’s request to transfer 11 female judges, including one Copt, to work in the Public Prosecution for the judicial year from September until September 2022.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution states all citizens “are equal in rights, freedoms, and general duties without discrimination based on religion, belief, gender, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason.” It does not specify age, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive or other communicable disease status. The main groups facing racial or ethnic violence and discrimination included Nubians and Bedouins.

Nubians are indigenous to northern Sudan and the south of the country. Population estimates for this ethnolinguistic group ranged from 100,000, according to a government census in the early 1960s, to approximately four million in other estimates.

Although positive steps regarding compensation reportedly were made for the damage Nubians suffered because of the building of the Aswan Low Dam in 1902 and later the construction of the Aswan High Dam, completed in 1971, no land return had occurred as of year’s end.

During the year the government provided compensation to a limited number of Nubians (11,500 according to government estimates). Nubian activists complained compensation was disbursed only to those who provided documents proving their properties had been destroyed.

Conflict and war in the Sinai Peninsula over decades contributed to the disruption of the lives of Bedouin there.

The country also hosted approximately 6.3 million migrants, according to 2020 estimates from the International Organization for Migration. More than half of the migrants were from Sudan and South Sudan, where conflicts continued to displace tens of thousands of persons annually. Migrants reported incidents of racial insults and sexual harassment due to their skin color.

In October 2020 the killing of a 12-year-old Sudanese boy, Mohamed Hassan, by a local man led to large protests, which security forces dispersed using tear gas and a water cannon and reportedly arrested 70 Sudanese refugees and migrants. The local man was later arrested and convicted of murdering the boy.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship through their parents. The mother or the father transmits citizenship and nationality. The government attempted to register all births soon after delivery, but some citizens in remote and tribal areas such as the Sinai Peninsula registered births late or could not document their citizenship. In some cases failure to register resulted in denial of public services, particularly in urban areas where most services required presentation of a national identification card.

On March 29, local media reported that a mother was pursuing a paternity lawsuit she filed in July 2020 to receive a birth certificate for her daughter conceived through rape. The report added that the woman needed to file a lawsuit, since the law requires the names of both biological parents and the biological father had refused to acknowledge his paternity.

On June 19, the Supreme Administrative Court in Alexandria issued a final verdict ruling that a wife has the right to obtain a birth certificate for her child without the husband’s presence if she submits an official marriage contract and her husband’s data. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by a woman whose husband claimed that evidence for the birth certificate could only come from him.

Education: Education is compulsory, free, and universal until the ninth grade. The law provides this benefit to stateless persons and refugees. Public schools enrolled Syrian, Yemeni, Sudanese, and South Sudanese refugees. Refugees of other nationalities often chose not to attend public schools because of administrative barriers, discrimination and bullying, and preferences for English-language instruction or for other curricula.

Child Abuse: The constitution stipulates the government shall protect children from all forms of violence, abuse, mistreatment, and commercial and sexual exploitation. According to a local rights group, authorities recorded hundreds of cases of alleged child abuse each month. The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, which operated a telephone hotline, worked on child abuse matters, and several civil society organizations assisted runaway and abandoned children.

Rights organizations reported children faced mistreatment in detention, including torture, sharing cells with adults, denial of their right to counsel, and authorities’ failure to notify their families. Media reported that six detained children died and 19 were seriously injured in a fire that broke out on June 3 during a fight between detained minors inside a juvenile detention center in Cairo Governorate. Local media reported that on June 7, the Public Prosecution ordered the detention pending investigation of four members of the center’s management, who were later sentenced by a lower court and then acquitted by an appellate court on December 27.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18. A government study published in March 2020 reported that 2.5 percent of the population in Upper Egypt governorates were married between the ages of 15 and 17, and the percentage of girls in that age group who had previously been married exceeded that of boys. Informal marriages could lead to contested paternity and leave female minors without alimony and other claims available to women with registered marriages. Families reportedly sometimes forced adolescent girls to marry wealthy foreign men in what were known locally as “tourism” or “summer” marriages for the purpose of sexual exploitation, prostitution, or forced labor. According to the law, a foreign man who wants to marry a local woman more than 25 years younger than he must pay her 50,000 EGP ($3,030). Women’s rights organizations argued that allowing foreign men to pay a fine to marry much younger women represented a form of trafficking and encouragement of child marriage. They called on the government to eliminate the system.

The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and governorate child protection units identified several attempted child marriages. In an April 4 statement, the council said it had identified an attempt by parents to marry their daughter, age 15, in Minya Governorate based on an April 3 citizen notification to the council’s hotline. The statement added that the girl’s parents had subsequently signed an affidavit with the girl’s fiance promising to not complete the marriage until the girl was 18 and agreeing to periodic government-led counseling sessions regarding the negative effects of child marriage and verification that the marriage would not be completed before the promised date.

On May 8 and August 10, local media reported that the Dar al-Salam child protection unit in Sohag Governorate identified a total of 11 attempts by several parents to marry their minor children, several reported through the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood hotline. The reports added that the parents of the minors subsequently signed affidavits agreeing to not complete the marriages until the minors reached the age of 18.

On March 10, the child protection unit at the Akhmeem Center in Sohag announced it had stopped a marriage of a minor in the village of al-Sawamah Sharq after receiving a report that a person was preparing to marry off his 16-year-old sister.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for sentences of not less than five years’ imprisonment and fines for conviction of commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. The government did not adequately enforce the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is age 18.

On May 24, the Giza Criminal Court sentenced four defendants to prison for the May 2020 sexual assault against Tik Tok influencer Menna Abdel Aziz, a minor. The first defendant was sentenced to 11 years in prison for rape under threat, kidnapping with fraud and coercion, drug use, and breaking the COVID-19 curfew. The second defendant was sentenced to nine years in prison for indecent assault by force and threat, possession of a weapon, beating the survivor, theft, drug possession, and violating the COVID-19 curfew. The third defendant was sentenced to eight years in prison for indecent assault, violating the survivor’s privacy by publishing a video without her consent, beating the survivor, theft, and drug possession. The fourth defendant was sentenced to four years in prison for theft and drug possession. On May 24, a local human rights organization said that the Public Prosecution should have protected Abdel Aziz from the beginning instead of arresting and detaining her for 114 days after the May 2020 incident, when Abdel Aziz claimed in a social media video that an acquaintance and others had sexually assaulted her.

On April 27, a Cairo criminal court sentenced a man to 10 years in prison for sexually assaulting a minor girl in Maadi. According to local media, the man lured the girl, who was selling tissues in the street in Maadi, into a residential building where he committed the crime.

Displaced Children: The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics estimated in 2014 there were 16,000 homeless children in the country living in the streets. More recent data was not available, but experts estimated that up to two million children were on the streets. The ministry offered shelters to street children, but many chose not to use them because staff reportedly treated the children as if they were criminals, according to local rights groups. According to rights groups, the incidence of violence, prostitution, and drug dealing in these shelters was high. Religious institutions and NGOs provided services for street children, including meals, clothing, and literacy classes. The Ministry of Health and Population provided mobile health clinics staffed by nurses and social workers. The Ministry of Social Solidarity also provided 17 mobile units in 10 governorates that offered emergency services, including food and health care, to street children. The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood in cooperation with UN Office on Drugs and Crime implemented targeted interventions to reduce drug abuse by displaced children by training social workers and police officers on problem identification and treatment options. The program also worked to shift the perception of displaced children by authorities and service providers from criminals to survivors.

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/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community reportedly numbered as few as 10 individuals.

On March 9, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Ministry of Education approved a school subject that allows children to study verses from Jewish scripture.

On June 22, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said that school textbooks contained both positive and negative information regarding Jews. There were also isolated reports of anti-Semitic comments and examination questions in classrooms. The ADL also reported that a broad array of anti-Semitic books was displayed by exhibitors at the annual, state-run Cairo International Book Fair.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Organ Harvesting

The government’s interagency National Coordinating Committee for Preventing and Combating Illegal Migration and Trafficking in Persons reported that between April 2020 and March 31 the Interior Ministry processed eight criminal cases for organ trafficking with 29 defendants and 39 victims.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution states persons with disabilities are equal without discrimination before the law. The law prohibits discrimination in education, employment, health, political activity, rehabilitation, training, and legal protection. On December 23, President Sisi ratified new amendments to the law that stipulate a prison sentence of no less than two years, a fine, or both for bullying persons with disabilities, with prison terms and fines doubled for repeat offenders. Persons with disabilities do not have access on an equal basis with others to education, health services, public buildings and transportation. The new National Human Rights Strategy included a section on the rights for persons with disabilities. The strategy calls for helping persons with disabilities enjoy all rights under the law and calls for increased medical and educational services for persons with disabilities.

The law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment. Government policy sets a quota for employing 5 percent of workers with disabilities for companies with more than 50 employees. Authorities did not enforce the quota requirement, and companies often had persons with disabilities on their payroll to meet the quota without employing them. Government-operated treatment centers for persons with disabilities, especially children, were of poor quality.

The National Council for People with Disabilities, an independent body, aimed to promote, develop, and protect the rights of persons with disabilities and their constitutional dignity. The council signed a cooperation protocol with the Justice Ministry to address the rights of persons with disabilities and to train employees in the government on how to help persons with hearing disabilities.

Persons with disabilities rode government-owned mass transit buses without charge, but the buses were not wheelchair accessible. Persons with disabilities received subsidies to purchase household products, wheelchairs, and prosthetic devices. Some children with disabilities attended schools with their nondisabled peers while others attended segregated schools. Some of the segregated institutions were informal schools run by NGOs. Some parents of children with disabilities complained on social media of the lack of experience of teacher assistants assigned to help their children.

On May 5, local media reported that EgyptAir announced a 20 percent discount for passengers with disabilities on international flights and a 10 percent discount to their flight companions.

On May 11, local media reported that the National Telecom Regulatory Authority announced a 50 percent discount for customers with disabilities on their monthly voice and internet packages.

On August 29, local media reported that the minister of social solidarity announced the addition of sign language to the state-run digital platform to raise awareness for youth regarding marriage.

On September 3 and November 16, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders issued official statements of concern regarding the continued pretrial detention of university student Oqaba Alaa Labib Hashad, who she said was unable to walk without his prosthetic limb. The November 16 statement reported Hashad was arrested in 2019 and was allegedly subjected to physical and psychological torture, including being suspended from a ceiling and subjected to electric shocks. The statement said that a prison investigator reportedly took Hashad’s prosthetic leg in January in retaliation for a human rights report his exiled brother had published. The statement added that Hashad was held in solitary confinement without family visits for three months after he complained on March 5 of the lack of his prosthetic leg.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV-positive individuals faced significant social stigma and discrimination in society and the workplace. The health-care system provided anonymous counseling and testing for HIV, free adult and pediatric antiretroviral therapy, and support groups.

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

While the law does not explicitly criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons were arrested and prosecuted on charges such as “debauchery,” “prostitution,” and “violating family values,” for which the law provides for prison sentences of up to 10 years. According to a local rights group, there were more than 250 reports of such arrests since 2013. Rights groups and activists reported harassment by police, including physical assault and forced payment of bribes to provide information concerning other LGBTQI+ individuals or to avoid arrest. There were reports that authorities used social media, dating websites, and mobile phone apps to entrap persons they suspected of being gay or transgender, a method LGBTQI+ advocates described as especially effective since LGBTQI+-friendly public spaces had largely closed in recent years. Rights groups reported that authorities, including the Forensic Medical Authority, conducted forced anal examinations, which rights groups indicated primarily targeted LGBTQI+ individuals. The law allows for conducting forced anal exams in cases of “debauchery.”

Authorities did not use antidiscrimination laws to protect LGBTQI+ individuals. Legal discrimination and social stigma impeded LGBTQI+ persons from organizing or advocating publicly in defense of their rights. Information was not available on discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination. There were reports of arrests and harassment of LGBTQI+ individuals. Intimidation and the risk of arrest greatly restricted open reporting and contributed to self-censorship. The government has the authority to deport or bar entry to the country of LGBTQI+ foreigners.

The Egyptian Medical Syndicate allows for gender-affirming treatment with approval by a special committee composed of medical doctors and al-Azhar clergy, according to international media citing a local LGBTQI+ activist on February 6. The committee relies on a fatwa that stipulates gender affirming treatment must be “medically necessary” and justified by a “biological,” not a “mental” matter. According to Human Rights Watch, the surgery was allowed only for intersex persons, which left transgender individuals to seek treatment from unregulated and often unsafe clinics. On August 26, according to Human Rights Watch, Ezz Eldin, a 26-year-old transgender man, bled to death following surgery in an underground clinic.

On May 6, border guards prevented two transgender Israelis from entering Sinai for tourism because they did not appear to belong to the sex listed in their passports.

According to a LGBTQI+ rights organization 2020 annual report issued in January, authorities arrested 25 LGBTQI+ individuals in 2020 and conducted forced anal exams on six persons.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, but it imposes significant restrictions. The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law prescribes union elections every four years and imposes a strict hierarchy for union formation consisting of a company-level trade union committee, a profession or industry-level general union, and a national-level union. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws or levy penalties commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. However, penalties for engaging in illegal strikes were more stringent. The law requires centralized tripartite negotiations that include workers, represented by a union affiliated with the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (Union Federation), business owners, and the Ministry of Manpower overseeing and monitoring negotiations and agreements. The government seldom followed the requirement for tripartite negotiations in collective disputes, leaving workers to negotiate directly with employers, typically after resorting to a strike. In March 2020 workers from al-Masryia Company for Weaving and Textile struck for alleged unpaid raises and bonuses. Media reported in late December 2020 that management and worker representatives reached an agreement on compensation and back pay without the participation of the Ministry of Manpower.

The constitution provides for the right to “peaceful” strikes, and the law permits them but imposes significant restrictions, including prior approval by a general trade union affiliated with the Union Federation. In April the International Labor Organization (ILO) removed the country from the preliminary list of cases for discussion by the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards, which discusses discrepancies between a country’s law and practice and ILO conventions the country has ratified.

In July more than 1,200 workers at the Nile Linen Group, based in Alexandria’s special economic zone, went on strike concerning the company’s refusal to implement agreed-upon wage increases and add workers’ family members to company health insurance policies. Four days later, local media reported that the Nile Linen Group’s union committee reached an agreement with management regarding certain aspects of the wage dispute and agreed to resume negotiations on the remaining demands.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. In March the head of the union at the Alexandria Spinning and Weaving Company, Ashraf Abdel Moneim, alleged that the company had transferred seven committee members to new positions in retaliation for the workers’ refusal to implement the company’s decision to stop production and dismiss workers. According to media reports, Lord International Company terminated 84 workers in August following strikes by approximately 2,000 workers demanding that the company comply with the country’s minimum wage laws.

The Ministry of Manpower and affiliated directorates did not allow trade unions to adopt any bylaws other than those provided in the law. This position, according to local workers’ rights organizations, was contrary to the law, which states that unions may use the statutory bylaws as guidance to develop their own.

The government occasionally arrested workers who staged strikes or criticized the government, and it rarely reversed arbitrary dismissals. On January 22, local media reported that the government released two doctors arrested in 2020 for posting comments to Facebook critical of the government’s coronavirus response. Labor union activist Khalil Rizk was released on May 21 pending trial on charges of spreading false news, misuse of social media, and membership in a banned group. Authorities had first arrested Rizk in 2019 while he was advocating for workers in a pharmaceutical factory engaged in a dispute with management concerning wages.

In March the Ministry of Manpower announced, without stating when, that it had previously established a trade union grievance committee to examine complaints submitted by trade union organizations and provide unions with technical assistance in meeting regulatory requirements.

Independent unions continued to face pressure to dissolve. In many cases the Ministry of Manpower delayed responding to unions’ applications for legal status, leaving many in legal limbo. In other instances the Ministry of Manpower refused to legalize proposed unions if a Union Federation-affiliated counterpart existed.

Workers sometimes staged sit-ins on government and private property, often without obtaining the necessary permits. In July the Court of Cassation ruled that prison sentences for organizing protests without permits would apply to protest organizers and participants.

For a period of 12 months ending in August, a monthly 1 percent deduction was made from the net income of all public-sector employees and 0.5 percent of the net income of pensioners to fund efforts to address the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution states no work may be compulsory except by virtue of a law. The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the prohibition. The government conducted awareness-raising activities for migrant laborers, and domestic workers, a population vulnerable to trafficking, and worked with NGOs to provide some assistance to survivors of human trafficking, including forced labor. Penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit or criminalize all the worst forms of child labor or provide sufficient protection for children from exploitation in the workplace, including limitations on working hours, and occupational safety and health restrictions.  Children were subjected to the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking, quarrying limestone, and organized begging.  The law sets the minimum age for regular employment at age 15 and at age 13 for seasonal employment.  The constitution defines a child as anyone younger than 18.  A Ministry of Manpower decree bars children younger than 18 from 44 specific hazardous occupations, while the law prohibits employment of children younger than 18 from work that “puts the health, safety, or morals of the child into danger.”  Provincial governors, with the approval of the minister of education, may authorize seasonal work (often agricultural) for children age 13 and older, provided duties are not hazardous and do not interfere with schooling.  The law limits children’s work hours and mandates breaks.

The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws.  The maximum penalties for violating laws against child labor were fines and therefore not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.  The Ministry of Manpower, in coordination with the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and the Interior Ministry, enforced child labor laws in state-owned enterprises and private-sector establishments through inspections and supervision of factory management.  Labor inspectors generally operated without adequate training on child labor matters, although the Ministry of Manpower offered some child labor-specific training.  The government did not inspect noncommercial farms for child labor, and there were very limited monitoring and enforcement mechanisms for children in domestic service.  Authorities implemented several social, educational, and poverty reduction programs to reduce children’s vulnerability to exploitative labor.  The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, working with the Ministries of Education and Technical Education and of Social Solidarity, sought to provide working children with social security safeguards and to reduce school dropout rates by providing families with alternative sources of income.

Estimates on the number of child laborers varied. According to the 2012 joint International Labor Organization and Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics child labor survey, of the 1.8 million children working, 1.6 million were engaged in hazardous or unlawful forms of labor, primarily in the agricultural sector in rural areas but also in domestic work and factories in urban areas, often under hazardous conditions. Children also worked in light industry, the aluminum industry, limestone production, construction sites, brick production, and service businesses such as auto repair. According to government, NGO, and media reports, the number of street children in Cairo continued to increase due to deteriorating economic conditions. Such children were at greater risk of sexual exploitation or forced begging. In some cases employers abused or overworked children.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution states all citizens “are equal in rights, freedoms, and general duties without discrimination based on religion, belief, gender, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason.” It does not specify age, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive or other communicable disease status. The law does not specifically protect some categories of workers, including agricultural and domestic workers, and other sectors of the informal economy. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

No law grants or prohibits refugees the right to work. Those seeking employment were hampered by lack of jobs and societal discrimination, particularly against Sudanese and other sub-Saharan Africans. Refugees who found work took low-paying jobs in the informal market, such as domestic servants, and were vulnerable to exploitation by employers.

Labor laws provide for equal rates of pay for equal work for men and women in the public but not the private sector. Educated women had employment opportunities, but social pressure against women pursuing a career was strong. On April 19, the Ministry of Manpower issued new labor regulations that removed gender-based restrictions preventing women from working in the evenings and performing jobs related to manufacturing spirits, fireworks, fertilizers, pesticides, asphalt, painting metals, radioactive substances, and moving machines. The new regulations require employers to provide women safe transportation and working conditions at night and grant women the right to perform any job function except in fields with chemical, physical, biological, and engineering risks during pregnancy and lactation periods.

Large sectors of the economy controlled by the military excluded women from high-level positions. While the law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment, the government did not effectively enforce prohibitions against such discrimination. Discrimination also occurred against women and migrant workers (see sections 2.d. and 6), as well as workers based on their political views.

An employee facing discrimination may file a report with the local government labor office. If the employee and the employer are unable to reach an amicable settlement, they may file their claim in administrative court, which may order the employer to redress the complaint or to pay damages or legal fees. According to local rights groups, implementation of the law was inadequate. Additionally, the lengthy and expensive litigation process could deter employees from filing claims. On January 21, the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development announced the creation of an Equal Opportunities Unit to prevent discrimination and promote gender equity and inclusiveness in the ministry. On July 3, the Supreme Administrative Court reversed a decision by the Health Insurance Board to terminate a female worker for being sexually harassed in the street. The board had previously said the employee’s termination was necessary since she would be “offensive to her colleagues” as a woman who had been sexually harassed.

Local rights groups reported several cases of employers dismissing workers or depriving them from work for expressing antigovernment opinions. On August 1, President Sisi ratified new amendments to the civil service law that authorize the government to summarily dismiss public employees who commit certain acts against the state. The minister of transportation had asked parliament to pass such a law to enable the ministry to terminate 162 employees, whom the minister claimed were members of the Muslim Brotherhood and had contributed to several railway crashes. According to progovernment media reports, the Supreme Council for Universities tasked university presidents on July 26 with compiling a list of “terrorist employees” to terminate pursuant to the new law. The law allows employees to appeal termination decisions to the Administrative Court and protects the pension and severance pay of terminated individuals.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The government sets a monthly minimum wage for government employees and public-sector workers, which is above the poverty line. The law stipulates a maximum 48-hour workweek for the public and private sectors and provides for premium pay for overtime and work on rest days and national holidays. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. According to labor rights organizations, the government implemented the minimum wage for public-sector workers but applied it only to direct government employees and included benefits and bonuses in calculating total salaries. For government employees and public business-sector workers, the government also set a maximum wage limit per month. The government sets worker health and safety standards, for example, by prohibiting employers from maintaining hazardous working conditions. The law excludes agricultural, fisheries, and domestic workers from regulations concerning wages, hours, and working conditions.

The law does not require equal pay for equal work. Penalties for violating laws on acceptable conditions of work were not commensurate with crimes such as fraud, which are punishable by imprisonment.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards were not always appropriate for the main industries, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and services. The Ministry of Manpower is responsible for enforcing labor laws and standards for working conditions. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations included imprisonment and fines, but they were not effectively enforced. It was unclear whether such penalties were commensurate with laws such as negligence. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to employment, although authorities did not reliably enforce this right. Little information was available on workplace fatalities and accidents. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts and the employer and not the worker.

On November 10, the medical syndicate announced that approximately 633 doctors had died of COVID-19 since March 2020. According to media reports, laborers in some remote areas worked in extremely dangerous environments. In March, 20 persons were killed (and 24 others injured) when a fire broke out in a garment factory north of Cairo. In the following month, approximately eight individuals died (with two others injured) when a 10-story building housing a garment factory collapsed. On August 14, five persons were killed in an oil refining plant in the Abu Rawash Industrial Zone. Local media reported the arrest of the plant owners by authorities following an investigation, which revealed that the plant had been operating unlicensed and illegally for four years. In North Sinai workers’ movements were restricted by local government-established curfews and checkpoints run by both the military and nonstate armed groups in the area due to the military’s campaign against militants.

The government provided services, such as free health care, to all citizens, but the quality of services was often poor. Other benefits, such as social insurance, were available only to employees in the formal sector. Many private-sector employers reportedly required workers to sign undated resignation letters as a condition of employment, which the employers could use to terminate employees at will. On June 18, the minister of manpower utilized an emergency fund created to pay workers’ wages in the event of economic hardship to assist 257 workers of the Egyptian Company for Modern Food Industries.

Informal Sector: The Ministry of Manpower did not attempt to apply labor standards to the informal sector. Many persons throughout the country faced poor working conditions, especially in the informal economy, which employed up to 40 percent of workers, according to some estimates. According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, approximately 11.9 million of the 25.7 million workers in the labor force did not have formal contracts with employers and were categorized as “informal” workers. Obstacles to improving working conditions in both the private sector and informal sector included uneven application or lack of regulations and restrictions on engaging in peaceful protests as a means of negotiating resolutions to workplace disparities. Domestic workers, agricultural workers, workers in rock quarries, and other parts of the informal sector were most likely to face hazardous or exploitative conditions. There were reports of employer abuse of citizen and undocumented foreign workers, especially domestic workers, particularly Sudanese and other sub-Saharan Africans.

Iran

Executive Summary

The Islamic Republic of Iran is an authoritarian theocratic republic with a Shia Islamic political system based on velayat-e faqih (guardianship of the jurist). Shia clergy – most notably the rahbar (supreme leader) – and political leaders vetted by the clergy dominate key power structures. The supreme leader is the head of state and holds constitutional authority over the judiciary, government-run media, and other key institutions. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has held the position since 1989. The Assembly of Experts selects and may dismiss the supreme leader. Although assembly members are nominally directly elected in popular elections, the supreme leader has indirect influence over the assembly’s membership via the Guardian Council’s vetting of candidates and control over the election process. The supreme leader appoints half of the 12-member Guardian Council, while the head of the judiciary (who is appointed by the supreme leader) appoints the other half. The supreme leader also has indirect influence over the legislative and executive branches of government. The Guardian Council vets candidates for the presidential and Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament or majles) elections, routinely disqualifying some based on political or other considerations, and controls the election process. Neither 2021 presidential elections nor 2020 parliamentary elections were considered free and fair.

The supreme leader holds ultimate authority over all security agencies. The Ministry of Intelligence and Security and law enforcement forces under the Interior Ministry, which report to the president, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which reports to the supreme leader, share responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order. The Basij, a nationwide volunteer paramilitary group, sometimes acts as an auxiliary law enforcement unit subordinate to the Revolutionary Guard. The Revolutionary Guard and the national army (artesh) provide external security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses throughout the year.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government and its agents, most commonly executions for crimes not meeting the international legal standard of “most serious crimes” or for crimes committed by juvenile offenders, as well as after trials without due process; forced disappearance attributed to the government and its agents; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the government and its agents; arbitrary arrest or detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners and detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country, including killings, kidnappings, or violence; serious problems with independence of the judiciary, particularly the revolutionary courts; unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious abuses in a conflict, including military support for terrorist groups throughout the region, Syrian President Bashar Assad, pro-Iran Iraqi militia groups, and Yemeni Houthi rebels, all of which were credibly accused of abuses (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Syria, Iraq, and Yemen), as well as unlawful recruitment of child soldiers by government actors in Syria; severe restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and criminalization of libel and slander; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions on religious freedom; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic or international human rights organizations; lack of meaningful investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; violence against ethnic minorities; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took few steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or corruption. Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of the government and security forces.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

The government and its agents reportedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, most commonly executions for crimes not meeting the international legal standard of “most serious crimes” or for crimes committed by juvenile offenders, as well as executions after trials without due process. As documented by international human rights observers, so-called revolutionary courts (see section 1.e., Trial Procedures) continued to issue the vast majority of death sentences and failed to grant defendants due process. The courts regularly denied defendants legal representation and, in many cases, solely considered as evidence confessions often extracted through torture. Judges also may impose the death penalty on appeal, which deterred appeals in criminal cases. On October 25, the UN special rapporteur (UNSR) on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javaid Rehman, told the UN General Assembly that almost all executions in the country constituted an arbitrary deprivation of life, noting “extensive, vague and arbitrary grounds in Iran for imposing the death sentence, which quickly can turn this punishment into a political tool.”

According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Activists in Iran, the government did not disclose accurate numbers of those executed and kept secret as many as 60 percent of executions. NGOs Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), Human Rights News Activists (HRANA), Iran Human Rights (IHR), and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center reported there were almost 150 executions as of mid-August, while the government officially announced approximately 20 executions in that time. Amnesty International and IHR stressed that the real numbers of persons at risk of execution and those who had been secretly executed were likely much higher, since officials and domestic media avoided reporting figures. The government often did not release further information, such as names of those executed, execution dates, or crimes for which they were executed.

In early January IHR and the digital news outlet IranWire reported that authorities executed two Baloch prisoners, Hassan Dehvari and Elias Qalandarzehi, in Zahedan Prison; both were sentenced to death for “armed rebellion” based solely on their affiliation with family members belonging to dissident groups.

On January 30, according to Amnesty International and other NGOs, authorities executed Javid Dehghan in Zahedan Central Prison after sentencing him to death for “enmity against God” based on a “confession” extracted through torture. Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court in Zahedan sentenced Dehghan to death in 2017 for alleged membership in the banned armed group Jaish al-Ald and alleged involvement in an armed ambush that killed two Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) soldiers. Following Dehghan’s 2015 arrest, authorities concealed his whereabouts from his family for three months. IRGC intelligence agents held him in solitary confinement in an undisclosed detention facility affiliated with Zahedan Central Prison, where they subjected him to beatings, floggings, and nail extraction. On February 4, UN human rights experts expressed their shock at the execution of Dehghan in an open letter to the Iranian government, which took place despite their public appeal to have it halted because of “serious fair trial violations,” “lack of an effective right to appeal,” and a “torture-induced forced confession.” In the letter they noted that Dehghan’s execution was one of several carried out against prisoners from the Baloch ethnic minority in a short time; at least 21 Balochi prisoners were executed between mid-December 2020 and January 30. Many had been convicted on drug or national security charges, following flawed legal processes.

In a February letter to the UN secretary-general, imprisoned human rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh asked the international community to “pay attention to the issue of executions in Iranian society, especially that of religious, ethnic minorities, and women, and take necessary measures to prevent such extensive executions.” Sotoudeh cited the case of Zahra Esmaili, who was executed on February 17 with eight other prisoners. According to the United Kingdom-based Iran International television station, Esmaili was sentenced to death for shooting and killing her husband, Alireza Zamani, a Ministry of Intelligence official, in 2018. Media reports during her trial suggested Zamani abused his children and threatened to kill Esmaili. Didban Iran website reported a claim that one of the children had killed Zamani and her mother confessed to protect her.

On February 28, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), authorities at Sepidar Prison executed the following four ethnic Arab political prisoners: Jasem Heidary, Hossein Silawi, Ali Khasraji, and Nasser Khafajian (Khafaji). Security forces summoned the prisoners’ relatives without informing them of the imminent executions. After a 20-minute visit, the families were told to wait near the visitation center, and a few hours later they were given the bodies of their relatives. Ministry of Intelligence agents arrested Heidary in Tehran in 2017, and he “confessed” under torture to collaborating with a group opposed to the Islamic Republic. A revolutionary court in Ahvaz convicted Heidary of “armed insurrection” and sentenced him to death, and the Supreme Court upheld the verdict. Amnesty International reported he was held for months in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer or his family and was subjected to torture and other mistreatment. Security forces detained Silawi, Khasraji, and Khafajian in 2017 as alleged suspects in an armed attack on a police station and military outpost near Ahvaz. Authorities held the three in a Ministry of Intelligence detention center in Ahvaz without access to lawyers or their families and subjected them to torture. Prior to their execution, Amnesty International reported on February 12 that Khasraji, Silawi, and Heidary had sewn their lips together as part of a hunger strike since January 23 in Sheiban Prison “in protest at their prison conditions, denial of family visits, and the ongoing threat of execution.”

In February authorities killed 10 fuel carriers (sookhtbars) in Sistan va Baluchestan Province at the border with Pakistan, who were protesting government blockades of cross-border shipments. On February 22, IRGC units fired lethal ammunition on protesters and bystanders, adding two more to the death toll and injuring many. The death toll was difficult to verify following the disruption of local mobile data networks, according to the United Nations (see sections 1.b., 1.c., and 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

Islamic law allows for the execution of juvenile offenders starting at age nine for girls and age 13 for boys, the legal age of maturity. The government continued to execute individuals sentenced for crimes committed before age 18. In June UN human rights experts expressed concern for the more than 85 individuals on death row for alleged offenses committed when they were younger than age 18, including Hossein Shahbazi and Arman Abdolali, who were arrested and sentenced to death for crimes they allegedly committed at age 17. According to Amnesty International, their trials included the use of “torture-tainted ‘confessions.’” According to widespread media reports, on November 24, Abdolali was executed.

According to Amnesty International and IHR, in August authorities at Kermanshah Central Prison (Dizelabad) hanged Sajad Sanjari for a murder he committed in 2010 when he was 15 years old. Sanjari claimed he acted in self-defense after the man tried to rape him, but the trial court rejected the self-defense claims after several witnesses attested to the deceased’s good character. Sanjari was granted a retrial in 2015; a criminal court resentenced him to death, and the Supreme Court later upheld the sentence.

According to UN and NGO reports, authorities executed at least six persons in 2020 who were minors at the time of their alleged crimes: Majid Esmaeilzadeh, Shayan Saaedpour, Arsalan Yasini, Movid Savadi, Abdollah Mohammadi, and Mohammad Hassan Rezaiee.

Responding to criticism from the United Nations, Majid Tafreshi, a senior official and member of the state-run High Council for Human Rights, stated in an English interview with Agence France-Presse in 2020 that the government was working to reduce juvenile executions eventually to zero by “trying to convince the victim’s family to pardon” and claimed “96 percent of cases” resulted in a pardon.

According to human rights organizations and media reports, the government continued to carry out some executions by torture, including hanging by cranes, in which prisoners are lifted from the ground by their necks and die slowly by asphyxiation. Adultery remains punishable by death by stoning, although provincial authorities were reportedly ordered not to provide public information regarding stoning sentences since 2001, according to the NGO Justice for Iran.

According to the United Nations, between January 1 and June 18, authorities executed at least 108 individuals, mostly from minority groups, including 35 for drug charges. Although the majority of executions during the year were reportedly for murder, the law also provides for the death penalty in cases of conviction for “attempts against the security of the state,” “outrage against high-ranking officials,” moharebeh (which has a variety of broad interpretations, including “waging war against God”), fisad fil-arz (corruption on earth, including apostasy or heresy; see section 1.e., Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country), rape, adultery, recidivist alcohol use, consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and “insults against the memory of Imam Khomeini and against the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic.” Capital punishment also applies to the possession, sale, or transport of more than approximately 110 pounds of natural drugs, such as opium, or approximately 4.4 to 6.6 pounds of manufactured narcotics, such as heroin or cocaine. It applies to some drug offenses involving smaller quantities of narcotics if the crime is carried out using weapons, employing minors, or involving someone in a leadership role in a trafficking ring or who was previously convicted of drug crimes and sentenced to more than 15 years’ imprisonment. Prosecutors frequently charged political dissidents and journalists with the capital offense of “waging war against God” and accused them of “struggling against the precepts of Islam” and against the state that upholds those precepts. Authorities expanded the scope of this charge to include “working to undermine the Islamic establishment” and “cooperating with foreign agents or entities.” The UNSR expressed deep concern in his July report that “vague and broadly formulated criminal offenses,” – including “waging war against God,” “corruption on earth,” and “armed rebellion” – had been used to sentence individuals to death for participation in protests or other forms of dissent, even absent evidence for the accusations. According to the report, authorities executed at least 15 individuals in 2020 for these offenses.

The judiciary is required to review and validate death sentences; however, this rarely happened.

In late 2020 the Supreme Court reaffirmed the death sentence of dual-national scientist Ahmadreza Djalali, leading observers to believe his execution was imminent. A court initially sentenced Djalali to death in 2017 on espionage charges in a trial UN experts said was “marred by numerous reports of due process and fair trial violations, including incommunicado detention, denial of access to a lawyer, and forced confession.” In March UN experts described Djalali’s situation as “truly horrific” and said his “prolonged solitary confinement for over 100 days with the threat of imminent execution” in Ward 209 of Evin Prison amounted to torture. Authorities were reportedly “shining bright lights in his small cell 24 hours a day to deprive him of sleep.” On April 14, he was moved out of solitary confinement. Prison officials repeatedly denied Djalali access to medical care, which led to dramatic weight loss, stomach pain, and breathing problems to the point where he had trouble speaking, according to his wife. As of November he remained in prison.

On August 29, Ebrahim Yousefi, one of death row prisoner Heydar (Heidar) Ghorbani’s former cellmates, published an audio file describing the marks of torture he had seen on Ghorbani’s body following his interrogation by authorities in the Ministry of Intelligence’s detention center in Sanandaj in 2017. In January 2020 a revolutionary court in Kurdistan Province convicted Ghorbani of “armed rebellion” and sentenced him to death, despite the court acknowledging in the verdict that he was never armed. According to a September 2020 report by Amnesty International, authorities arrested Ghorbani in 2016 following the killing of several IRGC members in the city of Kamyaran. The court sentenced him to 90 years in prison and 200 lashes for “assisting in intentional murder” and “membership and collaboration” with the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, a banned political opposition group. On August 12, his lawyer said, “The accusation of armed rebellion against Mr. Ghorbani is not valid because a rebel is someone who is a member of an organization and uses a weapon against the Islamic Republic, and none of those apply to my client,” according to a report by CHRI.

On December 20, the government executed Ghorbani without prior notice. Authorities summoned his family to Sanandaj Prison in Kurdistan Province after his death to view his grave, but the family was not permitted to collect his body.

Media and human rights groups also documented suspicious deaths while in custody or following beatings of protesters by security forces throughout the year.

According to IHR, two days after 21-year-old Mehrdad Taleshi was arrested on February 1, he reportedly died at the Shapour criminal investigation department police station. His relatives told IHR that a Shapour police ambulance transferred his corpse to the Baharloo Hospital, where they reported seeing torture marks around his neck, as well as severe marks of injury on his head. Officials at the police station told Taleshi’s family they arrested him for marijuana possession; the family told IHR that Mehrdad was an athlete and did not even smoke cigarettes. As of August the findings of a postmortem forensic exam remained undetermined, and the family’s complaint to the criminal court had not been acknowledged.

In July UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed “extreme concern” regarding deaths and injuries, as well as widespread arrests and detentions, by authorities in response to protests that broke out across multiple cities on July 15 over severe water shortages in Khuzestan Province. According to an Amnesty International report, on July 22, security forces in Izeh attacked largely peaceful protesters with live ammunition, killing 11 persons, including 17-year-old Hadi Bahmani.

In a July report, UNSR Rehman reiterated his “alarm” that authorities had not undertaken a credible investigation into those responsible for the killing of at least 304 protesters responding to fuel price hikes in November 2019. Instead, authorities continued to prosecute individuals who participated in the protests on charges including “taking up arms to take lives or property and to create fear in the public” (moharabeh), which carries the death penalty, and national security charges that carry long prison sentences. In response, human rights organizations outside of the country held a nonbinding people’s tribunal, called the Aban Tribunal, in London to investigate the killing of protesters and numerous human rights violations that took place on November 15-18, 2019, in Iran.

On August 10, a Swedish court, drawing on the principle of universal jurisdiction, opened the trial of a former Iranian prosecutor, Hamid Nouri, for his alleged role in the executions of thousands of political prisoners in Iran in the 1980s. Human rights organizations and UNSR Rehman called for an independent inquiry into allegations of state-ordered executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, including the role played by newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi as Tehran’s deputy prosecutor at the time.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of politically motivated abductions during the year attributed to government officials. Plainclothes officials seized lawyers, journalists, and activists without warning, and government officials refused to acknowledge custody or provide information on them. In most cases the government made no efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such acts.

On February 3, 36 civil society and international human rights organizations published an open letter calling for urgent attention to “an ongoing wave of arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions, and enforced disappearances by the Iranian authorities” targeting members of the Kurdish ethnic minority. Between January 6 and February 3, the intelligence unit of the IRGC or Ministry of Intelligence agents arrested 96 Kurdish individuals across 19 cities, and at least 40 of the detainees were subjected to forced disappearances, for whom authorities refused to reveal any information regarding their fate or whereabouts to their families.

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

Although the constitution prohibits all forms of torture “for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information,” use of physical and mental torture to coerce confessions remained prevalent, especially during pretrial detention. There were credible reports that security forces and prison personnel tortured and abused detainees and prisoners throughout the year.

Commonly reported methods of torture and abuse in prisons included threats of execution or rape, forced vaginal and anal examinations, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, suspension, forced ingestion of chemical substances, deliberate deprivation of medical care, electroshock including the shocking of genitals, burnings, the use of pressure positions, and severe and repeated beatings.

Human rights organizations frequently cited some prison facilities, including Evin Prison in Tehran, Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj, Greater Tehran Penitentiary, Qarchak Prison, Adel Abad Prison, Vakilabad, Zahedan, Isfahan Central Prison (Dastgerd), and Orumiyeh Prison, for their use of cruel and prolonged torture of political opponents, particularly Wards 209 and Two of Evin Prison, reportedly controlled by the IRGC. Authorities also allegedly maintained unofficial secret prisons and detention centers outside the national prison system, where abuse reportedly occurred.

In August according to the Associated Press and widespread media reports, the hacker group Edalet-e Ali (Ali’s Justice) posted online security camera footage from Evin Prison of prison authorities beating and mistreating inmates, the attempted suicide of prisoners without authorities intervening, and emaciated inmates being dragged by their arms and left in stairwells. Human Rights Watch (HRW) assessed that the leaked footage was “likely the tip of the iceberg” of the abuses occurring in detention facilities, as it did not include footage from two prison wards inside Evin Prison controlled by the intelligence agencies, “where political prisoners often face serious abuse, including prolonged solitary confinement, use of blindfolds, and torture.”

According to a February report by IHR, authorities held a public interrogation session at the Palace of Justice for physics students Ali Younesi and Amir Hossein Moradi, both arrested in April 2020 on charges of affiliation with the Mojahedin-e Khalgh (MEK) opposition group, which the Iranian regime has banned. The session revealed that beatings by Ministry of Intelligence agents of Younesi during his interrogation caused his eye to bleed for 60 days after his arrest. In August 2020 UN human rights experts sent a letter to the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations urging that he “take all necessary measures to guarantee the right of Mr. Younesi not to be deprived of his liberty, to protection from any act of torture or ill-treatment[,] and to fair-trial proceedings,” a reference to his 59 days of solitary confinement and possible exposure to COVID-19 in overcrowded cells. On July 3, Younesi and Moradi were charged with “corruption on earth,” which carries the death penalty, and other crimes. As of November 22, both students remained in Evin Prison’s Ward 209.

Before their execution in early January (see section 1.a.), Hassan Dehvari and Elias Qalandarzehi described in a letter the seven months of torture they endured. Dehvari wrote, “In the (Ministry of) Intelligence (detention center), we were subjected to physical and psychological torture including being threatened with rape, tying us to the “miracle bed” (a bed used for flogging prisoners), all types of instruments, like whips, cable wires, a metal helmet that would be wired with electric shocks to our heads, attempting to pull out hand and toe nails, turning on an electric drill and threatening to drill our arms and legs, bringing my wife and a video camera and [telling] me that either I accept the charge or they would rape her and film it in front of me.”

Judicially sanctioned corporal punishments continued. These included flogging, blinding, stoning, and amputation, which the government defends as “punishment” and does not consider to be torture. At least 148 crimes are punishable by flogging, while 20 may carry the penalty of amputation. According to the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, between January 1 and September 2, authorities sentenced at least 77 individuals to amputation and carried out these sentences in at least eight cases. There were no recorded cases of amputation during the year.

According to Amnesty International, authorities flogged Hadi Rostami, an inmate at Orumiyeh Prison in West Azerbaijan Province, 60 times on February 14 for “disrupting prison order.” Extrajudicial punishments by authorities involving degrading public humiliation of alleged offenders were also frequently reported throughout the year. Authorities regularly forced alleged offenders to make videotaped confessions that the government later televised.

On September 9, labor rights activist Sepideh Gholian detailed, in a series of tweets while she was on temporary furlough from Bushehr Prison, the abuse she witnessed of fellow inmates in the women’s ward. Gholian described how the prison warden punished a female inmate for taking a shower “at the wrong hour” by hosing her down naked in a public space and forcing other inmates to watch and jeer. Gholian alleged the warden forcibly sent female inmates to the men’s wards where they were subjected to sexual assault under the guise of “temporary marriages” (sigheh). She also detailed officials’ abuse of an Afghan child living with his mother in prison and the denial of undergarments for female prisoners as punishment, including for some who were menstruating. On October 10, Gholian was rearrested and taken to Evin Prison, where she remained at year’s end.

Impunity remained a widespread problem throughout all security forces. Human rights groups frequently accused regular and paramilitary security forces such as the Basij of committing numerous human rights abuses, including torture, forced disappearances, and acts of violence against protesters and bystanders at public demonstrations. The government generally viewed protesters, critical journalists, and human rights activists as engaged in efforts to undermine the 1979 revolution and consequently did not punish security forces for abuses against those persons even when the abuses violated domestic law. According to Tehran prosecutor general Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi, the attorney general is responsible for investigating and punishing security force abuses. If any investigations took place during the year, the process was not transparent, and there were few reports of government actions to discipline abusers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Prisoner hunger strikes in protest of their treatment were frequent.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding, widespread infrastructure deficiencies, lack of clean water and sanitary facilities, and insufficient numbers of beds continued to represent a serious threat to prisoners’ lives and health, according to a July report by UNSR Rehman.

Overall conditions worsened significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a 2020 report by Amnesty International, which cited letters written by senior prison authorities, prisons lacked the disinfectant products and protective equipment needed to address the spread of virus. The letters reportedly acknowledged many prisons held individuals with underlying health conditions, which increased their risk of complications if infected with COVID-19. According to CHRI, the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which started in July, greatly increased the risks of outbreaks among prisoners. CHRI cited multiple political prisoners describing how authorities had not taken appropriate steps to ensure prisoner safety, such as not disinfecting prison telephones or allowing prisoners to purchase personal hygiene products in Qarchak Prison. CHRI also quoted Saeid Janfada, the head of the State Prisons Organization in Khorasan Razavi Province, who stated on June 27 that “about nine” prisoners had died of COVID-19 in the province since March. According to UNSR Rehman’s July report, authorities claimed “no one had died inside prison due to COVID-19 but acknowledged the death of 38 prisoners or prison staff in hospitals or treatment centers.” Prisoners of conscience were mostly excluded from prison furloughs in 2020, including human rights defenders, foreign and dual nationals, environmentalists, individuals detained due to their religious beliefs, and persons arbitrarily detained in connection with the November 2019 protests.

There were reported deaths in custody and prisoner-on-prisoner violence, which authorities sometimes failed to control. In April 2020 Amnesty International reported at least 35 prisoners were killed and others injured in at least eight prisons across the country when security officials used live ammunition and tear gas to suppress riots because of COVID-19 safety fears. As of September there was no indication the government had investigated these events.

According to IranWire and human rights NGOs, guards beat both political and nonpolitical prisoners during raids on wards, performed nude body searches in front of other prisoners, and threatened prisoners’ families. In some instances, according to HRANA, guards singled out political prisoners for harsher treatment.

Prison authorities often refused to provide medical treatment for pre-existing conditions, injuries that prisoners suffered at the hands of prison authorities, or illnesses due to the poor sanitary conditions in prison. Human rights organizations reported that authorities used denial of medical care as a form of punishment for prisoners and as intimidation against prisoners who filed complaints or challenged authorities. Medical services for female prisoners were reported as grossly inadequate.

A 2020 statement by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed serious concern regarding a consistent government pattern of denying medical treatment to detainees, including political prisoners, which was heightened during the year due to the spread of COVID-19 throughout prisons. The statement called for the unconditional release of human rights defenders, lawyers, political prisoners, peaceful protesters, and all other individuals deprived of their liberty for expressing their views or otherwise exercising their rights. In July UNSR Rehman’s report documented that some political prisoners in particular had become critically ill because they had not received urgently needed medical care.

According to HRW, CHRI, and media reports, two political prisoners died in the hospital after being denied adequate health care. On February 21, Behnam Mahjoubi died in the hospital of multiple seizures. He had been transferred from Evin Prison after the State Medical Examiner concluded he was not fit to be incarcerated. Mahjoubi was a Gonabadi Sufi who had been serving a two-year sentence for “national security” charges since 2020. According to the Iranian Students’ News Agency, Sassan Niknafs died on June 5 after losing consciousness in the Greater Tehran Penitentiary. Niknafs was serving a five-year sentence on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state.”

Civil rights activist Saeed Eghbali reportedly suffered permanent hearing damage in Evin Prison after prison authorities denied him treatment for a ruptured ear drum. Notably, HRW reported that according to prisoner accounts, “Evin Prison, where most high-profile detainees are kept, actually has a higher standard of hygiene and access to medical care compared to other prisons, especially those far from [Tehran].”

The United Nations and NGOs consistently reported other unsafe and unsanitary detention conditions in prisons, including contaminated food and water, frequent water and food shortages, rodent and insect infestations, shortages of bedding, intolerable heat, and poor ventilation.

Authorities occasionally held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Previous reports indicated a deliberate practice of holding political prisoners in wards with allegedly violent and dangerous criminals, with the goal of “breaking” the political prisoners’ will. A July 2020 report by UNSR Rehman noted that prisoners ordinarily held in wards controlled by the IRGC or Ministry of Intelligence were moved to public wards after the sharp increase in detainees following the 2019 protests, and child and juvenile detainees were reportedly held in the same cells as adults in some facilities, including Saghez Central Prison in Kurdistan Province. Male juvenile detainees were held in separate rehabilitation centers in most urban areas, but female juvenile detainees and male juvenile detainees in rural areas were held alongside adults in segregated detention facilities, according to NGO reports.

IranWire reported multiple prisons across the country held older children who lived with their incarcerated mothers without access to medical care or educational and recreational facilities.

There were numerous reports of attempted prisoner suicides throughout the year in response to prison conditions or mistreatment. According to a March 3 report by the human rights NGO United for Iran, political prisoner Mohammad Nourizad, who suffered from heart disease, cut his face and neck with a razor in Evin Prison during a visit with his family in March to protest being denied access to medical care. Imprisoned since 2019 for signing an open letter with 13 others calling for the resignation of the supreme leader, Nourizad was released from Evin Prison in July.

According to a June 12 report by IHR, a juvenile prisoner on death row, Ali Arjangi, attempted suicide by slitting his throat and veins in Ardabil Central Prison. Arjangi’s mother, a person with disabilities, was not able to pay the billion toman ($23,700) blood money (diya) to the victim’s family by May 12 for the alleged murder he committed at age 17. On June 30, he was released after charities and individuals helped raised the necessary funds.

Administration: In most cases authorities did not initiate credible investigations into allegations of inhuman conditions or suspicious deaths in custody. After videos of mistreatment in Evin Prison were made public, the head of the State Prisons Organization, Mohammad Mehdi Haj Mohammadi, apologized in a tweet “for these unacceptable behaviors” and promised to “deal seriously with wrongdoers.” Iran International reported that the judiciary began legal proceedings against six of the guards seen in the footage and announced, “a four-member committee to be based in Evin [Prison] to investigate the conditions and management of the prison.”

Prisoners were able to submit complaints to judicial authorities but often faced censorship or retribution in the form of slander, beatings, torture, and denial of medical care and medication or furlough requests, as well as charges of additional crimes.

In October 2020 HRW highlighted the cases of environmentalist Niloufar Bayani and student activist Parisa Rafiee, both of whom authorities had charged with “publishing false information,” and “propaganda against the state,” for reporting abuse in detention, including threats of sexual violence and rape. According to United for Iran, Rafiee was released. As of August 31, Bayani remained in Evin Prison.

According to reports from human rights NGOs, prison authorities regularly denied prisoners access to an attorney of their choice, visitors, telephone calls, and other correspondence privileges. Families of executed prisoners did not always receive notification of their scheduled executions, or if they did, it was often provided on very short notice (see section 1.a.). Authorities frequently denied families the ability to perform funeral rites or to have an impartial and timely autopsy performed.

Prisoners practicing a religion other than Shia Islam reported experiencing discrimination.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit independent monitoring of prison conditions. Prisoners and their families often wrote letters to authorities and, in some cases, to UN bodies to highlight and protest their treatment (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, the practices occurred frequently during the year. Former president Rouhani’s 2016 Citizens Rights Charter enumerated various freedoms, including “security of their person, property, dignity, employment, legal and judicial process, social security, and the like,” but the government did not implement these provisions. Detainees may appeal their sentences in court but are not entitled to compensation for detention.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The constitution and law require a warrant or subpoena for an arrest and state that arrested persons should be informed of the charges against them within 24 hours. Authorities, however, held some detainees, at times incommunicado, for prolonged periods without charge or trial and frequently denied them contact with family or timely access to legal representation.

The law obligates the government to provide indigent defendants with attorneys for certain types of crimes. The courts routinely set prohibitively high bail, even for lesser crimes, and in many cases courts did not set bail. Authorities often compelled detainees and their families to submit property deeds to post bail, effectively silencing them due to fear of losing their family property.

The government continued to use house arrest without due process to restrict movement and communication. As of November former presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, as well as Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard, remained without formal charges under house arrest imposed in 2011. Security forces continued to restrict their access to visitors and information. Concerns persisted regarding Karroubi’s deteriorating health, reportedly exacerbated by his treatment by authorities.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities commonly used arbitrary arrests to impede alleged antiregime activities, including by conducting mass arrests of persons in the vicinity of antigovernment demonstrations. According to Amnesty International, these arrests sometimes included children and bystanders at protests and were often conducted in a violent manner, to include beating detainees. Plainclothes officers arrived unannounced at homes or offices; conducted raids; arrested persons; and confiscated private documents, passports, computers, electronic media, and other personal items without warrants or assurances of due process.

Individuals often remained in detention facilities for long periods without charges or trials, and authorities sometimes prevented them from informing others of their whereabouts for several days or longer. Authorities often denied detainees access to legal counsel during this period.

According to a September 2020 report by Amnesty International, at least 7,000 persons were arrested in relation to the November 2019 protests, and at least 500 were subjected to criminal investigations on vague and unsubstantiated charges as of August 2020, although Amnesty International estimated the number to be “far higher.” There was no update on the number of detainees still in prison as of year’s end.

International media and human rights organizations documented dual nationals enduring arbitrary and prolonged detention on politically motivated charges. UNSR Rehman continued to highlight cases of dual and foreign nationals whom authorities had arrested arbitrarily and subjected to mistreatment, denial of appropriate medical treatment, or both. The UNSR noted most dual and foreign nationals did not benefit from temporary furloughs granted by authorities to many other prisoners. The UNSR previously concluded the government subjected dual and foreign nationals to “sham trials which have failed to meet basic fair trial standards and convicted them of offenses on the basis of fabricated evidence or, in some cases, no evidence at all, and has attempted to use them as diplomatic leverage.” Dual nationals, like other citizens, faced a variety of due process violations, including lack of prompt access to a lawyer of their choosing and brief trials during which they were not allowed to defend themselves.

Authorities continued to detain dual-national Siamak Namazi on spurious charges of espionage following a lower court trial with numerous procedural irregularities, according to international media and NGO reports. Authorities detained Namazi in 2015, followed by his father, Baquer, in 2016. Baquer Namazi was granted medical furlough in 2018 and was subsequently cleared of all charges, but he remained under an exit ban and was not allowed to leave the country.

In January an Iranian state-run media organization affiliated with the IRGC, the Young Journalists Club, reported that dual-citizen Emad Shargi was detained in Evin Prison. According to The New York Times, authorities initially detained Shargi in April 2018. He was reportedly detained for eight months in Ward 2A, the IRGC’s intelligence unit inside Evin Prison, and interrogated about his business ties and travels, then released on bail in December 2018. In December 2019 the revolutionary court issued an order informing Shargi that he was cleared of all spying and national security charges; however, authorities refused to return his passport. He was called before the revolutionary court three times throughout 2020. In November 2020 Judge Abolqasem Salavati summoned Shargi to inform him that he had been tried in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage. Shargi was denied access to his lawyer and family members and only allowed to make brief, monitored telephone calls. As of September he remained detained in Evin Prison.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention was often arbitrarily lengthy, particularly in cases involving alleged violations of “national security” law. Authorities sometimes held prisoners incommunicado for lengthy periods before permitting them to contact family members. Instances of unjust and arbitrary pretrial detention were commonplace and well documented throughout the year involving numerous protesters and prisoners of conscience who were not granted furloughs despite the rampant spread of COVID-19 in prison. Some were returned to prison after short furloughs despite having medical problems and the risk of COVID-19. According to HRW, a judge may prolong detention at his discretion, and pretrial detentions often lasted for months. Often authorities held pretrial detainees in custody with the general prison population.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides that the judiciary be “an independent power” that is “free from every kind of unhealthy relation and connection.” The court system, however, was subjected to political influence, and judges were appointed “in accordance with religious criteria.”

The supreme leader appoints the head of the judiciary. The head of the judiciary, members of the Supreme Court, and the prosecutor general are clerics. International observers continued to criticize the lack of independence of the country’s judicial system and judges and maintained that trials disregarded international standards of fairness.

Trial Procedures

According to the constitution and law, a defendant has the right to a fair trial, to be presumed innocent until convicted, to have access to a lawyer of his or her choice, and to appeal convictions in most cases that involve major penalties. These rights were frequently not upheld.

Panels of judges adjudicate trials in civil and criminal courts. Human rights activists reported trials in which authorities appeared to have determined the verdicts in advance, and defendants did not have the opportunity to confront their accusers or meet with lawyers. For journalists and defendants charged with crimes against national security, the law restricts the choice of attorneys to a government-approved list.

When postrevolutionary statutes do not address a situation, the government advises judges to give precedence to their knowledge and interpretation of sharia (Islamic law). Under this method judges may find a person guilty based on their own “divine knowledge.”

The constitution does not provide for the establishment or the mandate of the revolutionary courts, which were created pursuant to the former supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini’s edict immediately following the 1979 revolution, with a sharia judge appointed as the head of the courts. They were intended as a temporary emergency measure to try high-level officials of the deposed monarchy and purge threats to the regime. The courts, however, became institutionalized and continue to operate in parallel to the criminal justice system. Human rights groups and international observers often identified the revolutionary courts, which are generally responsible for hearing the cases of political prisoners, as routinely holding grossly unfair trials without due process, handing down predetermined verdicts, and rubberstamping executions for political purposes. These unfair practices reportedly occur during all stages of criminal proceedings in revolutionary courts, including the initial prosecution and pretrial investigation, first instance trial, and review by higher courts.

The IRGC and Ministry of Intelligence reportedly determine many aspects of revolutionary court cases. Most of the important political cases are referred to a small number of branches of the revolutionary courts, whose judges often have negligible legal training and are not independent.

During the year human rights groups and international media noted the absence of procedural safeguards in criminal trials, and courts routinely admitted as evidence confessions made under duress or torture. UNSR Rehman expressed concerns regarding allegations of confessions extracted by torture and a lack of due process or a fair trial, including in cases of persons arrested for participating in the 2019 protests.

The Special Clerical Court is headed by a Shia Islamic legal scholar, overseen by the supreme leader, and charged with investigating alleged offenses committed by clerics and issuing rulings based on an independent interpretation of Islamic legal sources. As with the revolutionary courts, the constitution does not provide for the Special Clerical Court, which operates outside the judiciary’s purview. Clerical courts were used to prosecute Shia clerics who expressed controversial ideas and participated in activities outside the sphere of religion, such as journalism or reformist political activities.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Official statistics regarding the number of citizens imprisoned for their political beliefs were not available. According to United for Iran, as of September 23, at least 550 prisoners of conscience were held in the country, including those jailed for their religious beliefs.

The government often charged political dissidents with vague crimes, such as “antirevolutionary behavior,” “corruption on earth,” “siding with global arrogance,” “waging war against God,” and “crimes against Islam.” Prosecutors imposed strict penalties on government critics for minor violations.

The political crimes law defines a political crime as an insult against the government, as well as “the publication of lies.” Political crimes are those acts “committed with the intent of reforming the domestic or foreign policies of Iran,” while those with the intent to damage “the foundations of the regime” are considered national security crimes. Courts and the Public Prosecutor’s Office retain responsibility for determining the nature of the crime.

The political crimes law grants the accused certain rights during arrest and imprisonment. Political criminals should be held in detention facilities separate from ordinary criminals. Political criminals should also be exempt from wearing prison uniforms, not subject to rules governing repeat offenses, not subject to extradition, and exempt from solitary confinement unless judicial officials deem it necessary. Political criminals also have the right to see and correspond with immediate family regularly and to access books, newspapers, radio, and television.

Many of the law’s provisions were not implemented, and the government continued to arrest and charge students, journalists, lawyers, political activists, women’s activists, artists, and members of religious minorities with “national security” crimes that do not fall under the political crimes law. Political prisoners were also at greater risk of torture and abuse in detention. They were often mixed with the general prison population, and former prisoners reported that authorities often threatened political prisoners with transfer to criminal wards, where attacks by fellow prisoners were more likely. Human rights activists and international media reported cases of political prisoners confined with accused and convicted violent criminals, being moved to public wards in cases of overcrowding, and having temporary furloughs inequitably applied during the COVID-19 pandemic (see section 1.c., Physical Conditions). The government often placed or “exiled” political prisoners to prisons in remote provinces far from their families as a means of reprisal, denied them correspondence rights and access to legal counsel, and held them in solitary confinement for long periods. The government reportedly held some detainees in prison for years on unfounded charges of sympathizing with real or alleged terrorist groups.

In March, as reprisal for signing an open letter accusing the government of routinely denying medical care to prisoners, authorities transferred Maryam Akbari-Monfared from Evin Prison to a prison 124 miles away from her family. Akbari-Monfared had been imprisoned for nearly 12 years for seeking justice for her siblings, who were disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret in 1988. Authorities originally tried and convicted Akbari-Monfared on charges of supporting the banned MEK opposition group in 2010, on the offense of “waging war against God.”

Lawyers who defended political prisoners were often arrested, detained, and subjected to excessive sentences and punishments for engaging in regular professional activities. The government continued to imprison lawyers and others affiliated with the Defenders of Human Rights Center advocacy group.

The government issued travel bans on some former political prisoners, barred them from working in their occupations for years after incarceration, and imposed internal exile on some. During the year authorities occasionally gave political prisoners suspended sentences and released them on bail with the understanding that renewed political activity would result in their return to prison. The government did not permit international humanitarian organizations or UN representatives access to political prisoners.

On November 16, authorities rearrested human rights defender and journalist Narges Mohammadi to serve a sentence handed down in May of 30 months in prison and 80 lashes for alleged propaganda, defamation, and “rebellion” crimes. She was arrested while attending a ceremony in Karaj to honor a protester killed during protests in 2019 and reportedly placed in solitary confinement in Evin Prison. Mohammadi had been previously arrested in 2015, convicted in 2016, and given a 16-year sentence for “propaganda against the state,” “assembly and collusion against national security,” and establishing the illegal Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty organization. After her release in October 2020, Mohammadi led a high-profile lawsuit by civil rights activists against the use by authorities of prolonged and routine solitary confinement in prisons, describing it as a form of “white torture.” She also publicly detailed via a video message in February how Evin Prison warden Gholamreza Ziaei had beaten her for participating in a peaceful sit-in inside the prison in 2019. During her previous confinement, authorities repeatedly denied her telephone contact with her family and appropriate medical treatment following her contraction of COVID-19 in 2020, as well as treatment related to a major operation she underwent in 2019.

According to CHRI and IHR, in March authorities transferred activist Atena Daemi from Evin Prison to Rasht Central Prison, far from her family. As of August 21, Daemi was on an indefinite hunger strike to protest the frequent and unjustified restrictions on prisoners’ telephone use rights. In 2020 authorities arbitrarily extended her five-year prison sentence by two years, shortly before she was due to be released after serving the full term on “national security” charges and for insulting the supreme leader. The additional two-year sentence reportedly stemmed from Daemi singing a song in prison honoring executed prisoners.

CHRI reported in July that authorities had sentenced at least three human rights attorneys to unjust prison sentences. Branch four of the Revolutionary Court of Mashhad, Judge Mansouri presiding, sentenced Javad Alikordi, a defense attorney and law professor, to prison for “creating and managing a channel on the Telegram messaging application with the intention of overthrowing the state” (six and one-half years), “insulting the supreme leader” (one and one-half years), and “propaganda against the state” (eight months). Alikordi was imprisoned in Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad. He also received a two-year ban on teaching, a two-year ban on traveling abroad, and a two-year ban on membership in political and social groups.

On July 13, the Tehran Revolutionary Court reimposed on defense attorney Amirsalar Davoudi a sentence of 30 years and 111 lashes that had been revoked by the Supreme Court. Davoudi, also imprisoned for running a Telegram channel, was required to serve 15 years of the sentence. As of November 17, Davoudi was temporarily free on bail.

Mohammad Najafi, a defense attorney imprisoned in 2018 for speaking out about the death of a protester who died in police custody, was released on medical furlough in February, according to United for Iran. He was then ordered in July to serve 10 years behind bars on new charges of “propaganda against the state” and “calling for the boycott of elections and the removal of the supreme leader.”

According to CHRI, on August 14, judicial authorities in Tehran arrested six prominent lawyers and human rights activists – Arash Keykhosravi (lawyer), Mehdi Mahmoudian (civil activist), Mostafa Nili (lawyer), Leila Heydari (lawyer), Mohammad Reza Faghihi (lawyer), and Maryam Afrafaraz (civil activist) – and confiscated their cell phones and other personal belongings without a warrant. The six were preparing to file a lawsuit in accordance with Article 34 of the constitution against state officials for grossly mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic and negligence, “causing the death of thousands of Iranians.” Heydari was released the following day and Afrafaraz and Faghihi were subsequently released. They were pressured to drop the lawsuit and charged with national security crimes ostensibly relating to previous advocacy work. As of November 18, Keykhosravi, Nili, and Mahmoudian remained in prison.

According to IranWire, on September 1, Ministry of Intelligence agents rearrested journalist and workers’ rights activist Amirabbas Azarmvand on charges of “propaganda against the regime” and transported him to Ward 209 of Evin Prison. Azarmvand worked on economic and labor stories for SMT/Samt newspaper and was previously arrested in 2009, 2017, 2018, and on July 31 for his activism.

Human rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh was temporarily released several times during the year on medical furloughs but remained in Qarchak Prison as of year’s end. A revolutionary court sentenced Sotoudeh in 2019 to a cumulative 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for providing legal defense services to women charged with crimes for not wearing a hijab. Sotoudeh was previously arrested in 2010 and pardoned in 2013. In August 2020 she launched a 46-day hunger strike in Evin Prison to protest poor health conditions in prisons.

As of August 31, seven environmentalists affiliated with the now-defunct Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation – Niloufar Bayani, Sepideh Kashani, Sam Rajabi, Taher Ghadirian, Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Houman Jokar, and Morad Tahbaz – remained incarcerated in Evin Prison. According to HRW, in February 2020 a judiciary spokesperson announced a revolutionary court had upheld the prison sentences of eight environmentalists sentenced to between six and 10 years for various “national security” crimes. Authorities arrested the eight environmentalists, including U.S.-United Kingdom-Iranian national Morad Tahbaz, in 2018, and convicted them following an unfair trial in which a judge handed down the sentences in secret, did not allow the defendants access to defense lawyers, and ignored their claims of abuse in detention. The eighth environmentalist, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, was released on medical furlough in March 2020, and Iranian-Canadian national Kavous Sayed Emami died in detention in 2018, reportedly as a result of torture. Sayed Emami died only 18 days after his arrest, supporting the claim that he died as a result of torture. His family’s request for an autopsy was denied.

Hossein Sepanta’s request for parole was repeatedly denied, despite deteriorating health conditions and denial of medical care. He had been imprisoned since 2014 in Adelabad Prison in Shiraz on a 10-year sentence for charges of “propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security.”

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside of the Country

Extraterritorial Killing, Kidnapping, Forced Returns, or Other Violence or Threats of Violence: In July a New York federal court indicted four Iranian intelligence officials – Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani (aka Verezat Salimi and Haj Ali), Mahmoud Khazein, Kiya Sadeghi, and Omid Noori – for conspiracies related to kidnapping, sanctions violations, bank and wire fraud, and money laundering. The charges were connected to plotting since at least June 2020 to kidnap U.S.-based journalist and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad, to silence her criticism of the Iranian government. It was reported that, as part of the kidnapping plot, one of the intelligence officials researched methods of transporting Alinejad out of the United States for rendition to Iran, including placing her onto a military-style speedboat in New York City and transporting her by sea to Venezuela, whose government had friendly relations with Iran. The announcement stated these intelligence officials directed a “network” that also targeted victims in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States and had conducted similar surveillance of dissidents in those countries.

In August 2020 Reuters reported Ministry of Intelligence officials detained dual-national Jamshid Sharmahd, a member of the promonarchist group Tondar (Thunder) or Kingdom Assembly of Iran, which was based outside the country. While the government did not disclose how or where its officials detained Sharmahd, his son told Radio Free Europe that Sharmahd was likely captured in Dubai and taken to Iran. Sharmahd was accused of responsibility for a deadly 2008 bombing at a religious center in Shiraz and of plotting other attacks. A man who identified himself as Sharmahd appeared on Iranian television blindfolded and “admitted” to providing explosives to attackers in Shiraz. In April Amnesty International described his detention as “akin to an enforced disappearance” and stated he was being held “without trial and access to an independent lawyer of his choosing and consular assistance.”

In November 2020 al-Arabiya reported that Iranian-Swede Habib Asyud (also known as Habib Chaab), the former leader of a separatist group for the ethnic Arab minority in Khuzestan Province called the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA), was arrested in Turkey and later resurfaced in Iran under unclear circumstances. Neither Turkey nor Sweden officially commented on Asyud’s case. The Iranian government held ASMLA responsible for a terrorist attack in 2018 on a military parade that killed 25 individuals, including civilians.

In 2019 France-based Iranian activist Ruhollah Zam was abducted from Iraq. Iranian intelligence later took credit for the operation. Zam was executed in Iran in December 2020.

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: In July the technology news site ZD Net reported a series of phishing attacks from an Iranian hacker group known as both Charming Kitten and Phosphorus, allegedly affiliated with Iran’s intelligence services. The hackers posed as academics at a United Kingdom university in phishing attacks designed to steal the passwords of experts in Middle Eastern affairs from universities, think tanks, and media. In January 2020 the same group used phishing attacks to target journalists as well as political and human rights activists.

According to international human rights organizations, the Ministry of Intelligence arrested and intimidated BBC employees’ family members in the country, including the elderly. The government froze and seized assets of family members, demoted relatives employed by state-affiliated organizations, and confiscated passports. The government also compelled family members of journalists from other media outlets abroad to defame their relatives on state television. In June the BBC reported their legal representatives had urged the UN Human Rights Council to act on this issue. The same report noted that in a March 2020 internal survey of 102 BBC Persian staff, 71 claimed they had experienced harassment.

Misuse of International Law-enforcement Tools: There were credible reports that the government attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as reprisals against specific individuals located outside the country, such as entering “red notices” for dozens of U.S. officials in 2021, including former U.S. president Donald Trump, through Interpol.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens had limited ability to sue the government and were not able to file lawsuits through the courts against the government for civil or human rights violations.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The constitution allows the government to confiscate property acquired illicitly or in a manner not in conformity with Islamic law. The government appeared to target ethnic and religious minorities in invoking this provision.

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

The constitution states that “reputation, life, property, [and] dwelling[s]” are protected from trespass, except as “provided by law.” The government routinely infringed on this right. Security forces monitored the social activities of citizens; entered homes, offices, and places of worship; monitored telephone conversations and internet communications; and opened mail without court authorization. The government also routinely intimidated activists and government critics by detaining their family members as a form of reprisal.

Two brothers of Navid Afkari, executed in 2020 for the murder of a law enforcement officer during antigovernment protests in 2018 in Shiraz, remained in Adelabad Prison without access to their families or medical care. Vahid Afkari was arrested with his brother Navid and received a 25-year prison sentence for aiding him. In December 2020 according to HRANA, authorities arrested Afkari’s father and another brother, Habib, as they sought to clear a site in Fars Province to install a gravestone memorializing Navid Afkari’s death. Habib Afkari was sentenced to 27 years and three months in prison plus 74 lashes, and Vahid Afkari received a new sentence of 54 years and six months plus 74 lashes, both on vague “national security” charges. HRANA reported authorities tortured the brothers during interrogations and Vahid attempted suicide twice following “severe torture.” On August 23, HRANA reported that the Supreme Court rejected Vahid Afkari’s request for a retrial.

On April 28, according to Iran International, security forces assaulted and arrested Manouchehr Bakhtiari for a third time, on charges related to activism on behalf of his son, Pouya, killed by security forces in the city of Karaj during November 2019 demonstrations. They beat family members present at the time of the arrest, including two children. Authorities threw Bakhtiari in the trunk of their vehicle and took him to an undisclosed location. A revolutionary court subsequently sentenced him to six years in prison, two and one-half years in “internal exile,” and a two-year ban on leaving the country. The government previously detained 10 other members of Pouya Bakhtiari’s family, including his 11-year-old nephew and two of his elderly grandparents, to prevent them from holding a traditional memorial service for Bakhtiari 40 days after his death.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in July 2020 authorities arrested Farangis Mazloom, the mother of imprisoned photojournalist Soheil Arabi, and in October 2020 sentenced her to 18 months in prison on charges of “meeting and plotting against the national security” and antigovernment propaganda, presumably as a result of activism on behalf of her son. An appeals court confirmed the sentence in March. Arabi had been imprisoned since 2013 on blasphemy and other expression-related charges. According to Mazloom, in October 2020 Evin Prison authorities moved her son to solitary confinement. In January IHR published a letter from Arabi in which he claimed authorities broke his arm while transferring him between prisons and forced him to witness 200 executions in the 34 days he spent in “exile” at Rajai Shahr Prison.

No comprehensive data-protection laws exist that provide legal safeguards to protect users’ data from misuse. Online activity was heavily monitored by the state despite Article 37 of the nonbinding Citizens’ Rights Charter, which states that online privacy should be respected.

Because the operation of domestic messaging applications is based inside the country, content shared on these applications is more susceptible to government control and surveillance. Lack of data-protection and privacy laws also means there are no legal instruments providing protections against the misuse of applications data by authorities.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

Killings:

Syria: There continued to be reports the government, primarily through the IRGC, directly supported the Assad regime in Syria and recruited Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani Shia fighters, as well as Syrians, which contributed to prolonging the civil war and the deaths of thousands of Syrian civilians during the year (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Syria). According to IranWire, in August pro-Iranian militias reinforced Syrian regime forces undertaking operations against opposition groups in southwestern Syria with the aim of disrupting ceasefire negotiations in Daraa. Fighting had restarted when Syrian government forces imposed a blockade on the main highways into the city of Daraa, leading to shortages of medical supplies and food, to punish the inhabitants of the area for not supporting the widely contested May presidential election that gave Bashar al-Assad a fourth term. The NGO Syrian Network for Human Rights attributed 88 percent of civilian deaths in Syria since the beginning of the conflict to government forces and Iranian-sponsored militias.

Iraq: The government supported pro-Iran militias operating inside Iraq, including terrorist organization Kata’ib Hizballah, which reportedly was complicit in summary executions, forced disappearances, and other human rights abuses in Iraq (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Iraq).

Yemen: Since 2015 the government has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support to Houthi rebels in Yemen and proliferated weapons that exacerbated and prolonged the conflict there. Houthi rebels used Iranian funding and weapons to launch attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure both within Yemen and in Saudi Arabia (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Yemen and Saudi Arabia).

In February 2020 the Baha’i International Community stated that a Houthi court in Yemen was prosecuting a group of Baha’is under “directives from Iranian authorities.” The court continued to prosecute the case despite the Houthis’ release and deportation of six Baha’i prisoners in July 2020. Baha’is continued to face harassment in Yemen throughout the year because of their religious affiliation (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Yemen).

Child Soldiers: In a 2017 report, HRW asserted that the IRGC had recruited Afghan children as young as age 14 to serve in the Fatemiyoun Brigade, reportedly an Iranian-supported Afghan group fighting alongside government forces in Syria and noted that at least 14 Afghan children had been killed fighting in the Syrian conflict. In a July 2020 interview by IranWire, a Fatemiyoun Brigade member claimed he had joined the brigade in 2018 at age 16, and another brigade member said he had joined at age 15.

Iran has, since 2015, provided funding and weapons to the Houthis, who launched attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure both within the country and in Saudi Arabia. (See the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Saudi Arabia and Yemen.)

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Hackers linked to Iran continued cyberattacks against Syrian opposition groups to disrupt reporting on human rights violations. IRGC authorities constructed a new prison near the Zamla gas field in Raqqa, Syria, where most detainees were held on charges of being affiliated with ISIS or espionage, according to the news website Al-Monitor.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, except when words are deemed “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” According to the law, “anyone who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations shall be sentenced to three months to one year of imprisonment.”

The nonbinding Citizens’ Rights Charter acknowledges the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression. The charter grants citizens the right to seek, receive, publish, and communicate views and information, using any means of communication; however, it has not been implemented.

Freedom of Expression: The law provides for prosecution of persons accused of instigating crimes against the state or national security or “insulting” Islam. The government severely restricted freedom of speech and of the press and used the law to intimidate or prosecute persons who directly criticized the government or raised human rights problems, as well as to compel ordinary citizens to comply with the government’s moral code.

According to NGO reports, in February then president Rouhani signed additional provisions to Articles 499 and 500 of the penal code that could further restrict freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief and disproportionately impact members of religious and ethnic minority groups. According to the NGO Article 19, Article 499 bis prescribes a prison sentence or fine for “anyone who insults Iranian ethnicities, divine religions, or Islamic schools of thought recognized under the Constitution with the intent to cause violence or tensions in the society or with the knowledge that such [consequences] will follow.” Article 500 bis prescribes a prison sentence or fine for anyone who commits “any deviant educational or proselytizing activity that contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam.” Authorities did not permit individuals to criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion. Security forces and the judiciary punished those who violated these restrictions, as well as those who publicly criticized the president, cabinet, and parliament. In July UNSR Rehman expressed “deep concern” regarding authorities’ continued targeting of individuals for exercising their right to freedom of expression, including journalists, media workers, writers, and cultural workers. The government monitored meetings, movements, and communications of its citizens and often charged persons with crimes against national security and for insulting the regime, citing as evidence letters, emails, and other public and private communications. Authorities threatened individuals with arrest or punishment for the expression of ideas or images they viewed as violations of the legal moral code.

Several activists who signed letters calling on the supreme leader to step down in 2019 remained in prison during the year on charges of “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The government’s Press Supervisory Board issues press licenses, which it sometimes revoked in response to articles critical of the government or the regime, or did not renew for individuals facing criminal charges or who were incarcerated for political reasons. During the year the government banned, blocked, closed, or censored publications deemed critical of officials.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (Ershad) severely limited and controlled foreign media organizations’ ability to work in the country. The ministry required foreign correspondents to provide detailed travel plans and topics of proposed stories before granting visas, limited their ability to travel within the country, and forced them to work with a local “minder.”

Under the constitution, private broadcasting is illegal. The government maintained a monopoly over all television and radio broadcasting facilities through Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), a government agency. Radio and television programming, the principal source of news for many citizens, particularly in rural areas with limited internet access, reflected the government’s political and socioreligious ideology. The government jammed satellite broadcasts as signals entered the country, a continuous practice since at least 2003. Satellite dishes remained illegal but ubiquitous. Those who distributed, used, or repaired satellite dishes faced fines. Police, using warrants provided by the judiciary, conducted periodic campaigns to confiscate privately owned satellite dishes throughout the country.

Under the constitution the supreme leader appoints the head of the Audiovisual Policy Agency, a council composed of representatives of the president, judiciary, and parliament. Independent print media companies existed, but the government severely limited their operations.

Violence and Harassment: The government and its agents harassed, detained, abused, and prosecuted publishers, editors, and journalists, including those involved in internet-based media, for their reporting on issues considered sensitive by the government. The government also harassed many journalists’ families (see section 1.e., Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion). According to information provided by Journalism is not a Crime, an organization devoted to documenting freedom of the press in the country, at least 99 journalists or citizen-journalists were imprisoned as of November, a significant increase from 2020.

According to the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists, in late January security forces arrested the editor of the Kurdish-focused news outlet Aigrin Roj Weekly, Mahmoud Mahmoudi, in Sandaj and transferred him to an unknown location. Mahmoudi had signed an open letter in late January protesting the mass arrest of civil, student, and environmental activists in Kurdistan Province. According to the same article, on June 20, the editor in chief of the Tehran-based Nour-e Azadi magazine, Reza Taleshian Jelodarzadeh, posted on his social media accounts that he had been arrested and was being transferred to Greater Tehran Penitentiary to serve a three-year sentence. In 2019 Jelodarzadeh was charged with “disturbing public opinion” and “spreading antiestablishment propaganda” for his posts on social media.

On February 7, RSF reported that freelance journalist Fariborz Kalantari was sentenced to three years in prison and 74 lashes for using his Telegram channel to circulate articles about corruption charges brought against former vice president Eshaq Djahangiri’s brother, Mehdi Djahangiri.

On February 17, authorities arrested photojournalist Noushin Jafari in her Tehran home and took her to Qarchak Prison to begin serving a five-year prison sentence she received in 2019, on charges of “insult(ing) Islam’s sacred values” on her social media account.

RSF also reported that in March photojournalist and women’s rights activist Raha Askarizadeh was summoned to serve a two-year prison sentence and was banned from leaving the country for two years for her social media activity. Arrested in December 2019, she had been released on bail a month later pending trial.

According to Journalism is not a Crime, in September intelligence agents in the city of Paveh in Kermanshah Province detained two local journalists for publishing on local Telegram channels a story of the rape of a seven-year-old girl (see section 6, Child Abuse).

As of year’s end, poet, author, and activist Baktash Abtin had been being placed into a medically induced coma to treat his severe COVID-19 symptoms after months of medical neglect in Evin Prison. Another fellow author and member of the Iranian Writers Association Board, Reza Khandan Mahabadi, was also transferred from Evin Prison to a hospital in December for COVID-19 treatment. The 73-year-old editor of the monthly political magazine Iran-e-Farda, Keyvan Samimi Behbahani, and another author Keyvan Bajan, remained in prison at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law forbids government censorship but also prohibits dissemination of information the government considers “damaging.” The Ministry of Culture reviews all potential publications, including foreign printed materials, prior to their domestic release and may deem books unpublishable, remove text, or require word substitutions for terms deemed inappropriate.

During the year the government censored publications that criticized official actions or contradicted official views or versions of events. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) determined the main topics and types of news to be covered and distributed topics required for reporting directly to various media outlets, according to the IHRDC. “Damaging” information included discussions of women’s rights, the situation of minorities, criticism of government corruption, and references to mistreatment of detainees. Authorities also banned national and international media outlets from covering demonstrations in an attempt to censor information about protests and intimidate citizens from disseminating information about them. As noted above, officials routinely intimidated journalists into practicing self-censorship through arrests and imprisonments. Public officials often filed criminal complaints against newspapers, and the Press Supervisory Board, which regulates media content and publication, referred such complaints to the Press Court for further action, including possible closure, suspension, and fines. According to RSF, judicial offices or Ministry of Intelligence officers summoned at least 42 journalists due to their news coverage in the period preceding the presidential election in June. Government authorities issued a range of prohibitions to journalists, including making “negative or critical comments about the election” and criticizing then candidate Ebrahim Raisi.

On July 13, reformist newspaper Etemad fired three of its political correspondents. While some commentators suggested the terminations were politically motivated, the newspaper did not offer any public explanation for the firings. On September 7, IRIB news presenter Hamid Arun announced via Twitter that he had been notified by his employer of his termination after he tweeted his disappointment at the sacking of a distinguished professor of philosophy, Bijan Abdolkarimi, from Islamic Azad University.

According to Freedom House, during the November 2019 protests and subsequent internet shutdown, journalists and media were issued official guidelines from the Ministries of Intelligence and of Culture and Islamic Guidance on how to cover the protests. The ministries threatened journalists with criminal prosecution if they strayed from official guidance, which instructed that the protests not be made into “headline news” and should instead be portrayed as civil protests while minimizing the extent of violence.

As the outbreak of COVID-19 escalated, the head of the Cyber Police, Commander Vahid Majid, announced the establishment of a working group for “combatting online rumors” relating to the spread of the virus. In April 2020 a military spokesman stated authorities had arrested 3,600 individuals for spreading COVID-19 “rumors” online, with no clear guidance on what authorities considered a “rumor.”

Libel/Slander Laws: The government commonly used libel and slander laws or cited national security to suppress criticism. According to the law, if any publication contains personal insults, libel, false statements, or criticism, the insulted individual has the right to respond in the publication within one month. By law “insult” or “libel” against the government, government representatives, or foreign officials while they are in the country, as well as “the publication of lies” with the intent to alter but not overthrow the government, are considered political crimes and subject to certain trial and detention procedures (see section 1.e.). The government applied the law throughout the year, often citing statements made in various media outlets or on internet platforms that criticized the government in the arrest, prosecution, and sentencing of individuals for crimes against national security.

According to the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists, citing IranWire and Tasnim News Agency, on July 5, Judge Abbas Shaghaghi of Branch 6 of Tehran’s Media Court convicted Mizenaft managing director Hamid Hajipour, Naftema managing director Mehdi Ghadiri, and two others from Etelaterooz whose names were not released, after the three media outlets published stories on alleged corruption by Kamran Mehravar, a director at the Ministry of Oil. Mehravar reportedly filed a lawsuit against the three websites, all of which covered energy news. As of November there was no indication the court had sentenced the journalists; keeping open files is a tactic the government used to intimidate journalists.

National Security: As noted above, authorities routinely cited laws on protecting national security to arrest or punish critics of the government or to deter criticism of government policies or officials.

On June 17, authorities arrested poet and civil society activist Aram Fathi in a crackdown against dissidents initiated in connection with the presidential election. Fathi was charged with “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the regime with the intention of disrupting the elections.” According to family members, intelligence officers tortured Fathi with an electric shock device and punched and kicked him to extract a confession during his 11-day detention in Marivan. On July 28, he was released on bail, and as of September 9, he was waiting to appear before the revolutionary court in Marivan, according to Journalism is Not a Crime.

Internet Freedom

The Ministries of Culture and of Information and Communications Technology are the main regulatory bodies for content and internet systems, and they maintain monopoly control over internet traffic flowing into, in and out of the country. The Office of the Supreme Leader includes the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, charged with regulating content and systems. The government collected personally identifiable information in connection with citizens’ peaceful expression of political, religious, or ideological opinion or beliefs.

The law makes it illegal to use virtual private networks and distribute circumvention tools, and former minister of information and communications technology Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi was quoted in the press stating that using circumvention tools was illegal.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance must approve all internet service providers (ISPs). The government also requires all owners of websites and blogs in the country to register with the agencies that compose the Commission to Determine the Instances of Criminal Content (also referred to as the Committee in Charge of Determining Unauthorized Websites or Committee in Charge of Determining Offensive Content), the governmental organization that determines censoring criteria. These agencies include the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, Ministry of Intelligence, and Tehran Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology regulations prohibit households and cybercafes from having high-speed internet access.

The government restricted and disrupted access to the global internet, including fully blocking access in Khuzestan for almost two weeks during protests that initially broke out over water shortages in July, and for almost one week during nationwide protests in November 2019. Social media users reported internet outages across the country throughout the water shortage protests in July, which the independent internet watchdog NetBlocks corroborated and described as “consistent with a regional internet shutdown intended to control protests.”

Authorities blocked access to independent news sites and several social media and communication platforms deemed critical of the state and continued to monitor private online communications and censor online content. Individuals and groups practiced self-censorship online.

According to Freedom House, authorities employed a centralized filtering system that can effectively block a website within a few hours across the entire network. Private ISPs were forced either to use the bandwidth provided by the government or route traffic containing site-visit requests through government-issued filtering boxes developed by software companies within the country.

The government continued to implement the National Information Network (NIN, also known as SHOMA). As described by Freedom House, NIN enabled the government to reduce foreign internet connection speeds during politically sensitive periods, disconnect the national network from global internet content, and disrupt circumvention tools. According to Freedom House, several domestically hosted websites such as national online banking services, domestic messaging applications, and hospital networks remained online using the NIN infrastructure while global traffic was disconnected during the November 2019 protests.

Authorities restricted access to tens of thousands of websites, particularly those of international news and information services, the political opposition, ethnic and religious minority groups, and human rights organizations. They continued to block online messaging tools, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, although the government operated Twitter accounts under the names of Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Raisi, Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian, and other government-associated officials and entities, including after shutting down most of the country’s internet access during both the November 2019 protests and the July water shortage demonstrations. According to Freedom House, websites were blocked if they contradicted state doctrine regarding Islam, as well as government narratives on domestic or international politics. News stories that covered friction among political institutions were also frequently censored.

Government organizations, including the Basij Cyber Council, Cyber Police, and Cyber Army, which observers presumed to be controlled by the IRGC, monitored, identified, and countered alleged cyberthreats to national security. These organizations especially targeted citizens’ activities on officially banned social networking websites such as Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, and they reportedly harassed persons who criticized the government or raised sensitive social problems online.

The popular messaging application Telegram remained blocked during the year, although it continued to be accessed using circumvention tools.

In October a cyberattack against the Oil Ministry computer system blocked motorists’ ability to use their specialized smart cards to purchase subsidized fuel at 4,300 gas stations for several days. No group claimed responsibility for the attack; however, multiple officials blamed anti-Iranian forces from “abroad” for carrying it out.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government significantly restricted academic freedom and the independence of higher education institutions. Authorities systematically targeted university campuses to suppress social and political activism by banning independent student organizations, imprisoning student activists, removing faculty, preventing students from enrolling or continuing their education because of their political or religious affiliation or activism, and restricting social sciences and humanities curricula.

Authorities barred Baha’i students from higher education and harassed those who studied through the unrecognized online university of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education. According to the Baha’i International Community, on March 17, authorities expelled two Baha’i students midsemester from the University of Applied Science and Technology in Shiraz. The university president reportedly showed the students a letter from the Ministry of Education that requested the expulsion of nine Baha’i students from the Universities of Applied Science and Technology across the country. Three other students were expelled from universities midsemester under similar circumstances.

The government maintained control over cinema, music, theater, and art exhibits and censored those productions deemed to transgress Islamic values. The government censored or banned films deemed to promote secularism and those containing what it deemed as non-Islamic ideas concerning women’s rights, unethical behavior, drug abuse, violence, or alcoholism.

According to the IHRDC, the nine-member film review council of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, consisting of clerics, former directors, former parliamentarians, and academics, must approve the content of every film before production and again before screening. Films may be barred arbitrarily from screening even if all the appropriate permits were received in advance.

In December 2020 film authorities sentenced director Reza Mihandoust to six years in prison for “membership in a group seeking to overthrow the government” and levied against him an additional six-month prison term for “spreading antigovernment propaganda.” According to a relative of Mihandoust, these charges were linked to a documentary he directed in 2009 about women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad, as well as his participation in the nationwide protests in November 2019. Despite being on temporary release, Mihandoust was reportedly unable to find work due to the national security charges he faces.

Officials continued to discourage teaching music in schools. Authorities considered heavy metal and foreign music religiously offensive, and police continued to repress underground concerts and arrest musicians and music distributors. The Ministry of Culture must officially approve song lyrics, music, and album covers to ensure they comply with the country’s moral values, although many underground musicians released albums without seeking such permission.

In September musician Mehdi Rajabian told BBC News he was prepared to face prison for releasing a new album he recorded “undercover in his basement” that included songs inspired by his abuse in Evin Prison, as well including female singers, despite the ban on them. Rajabian was previously arrested on “immorality” charges at least three times for his work but remained free as of December.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government severely restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government’s failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedoms of assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution permits assemblies and marches of unarmed persons, “provided they do not violate the principles of Islam.” To prevent activities it considered antiregime, the government restricted this right and closely monitored gatherings such as public entertainment and lectures, student and women’s meetings and protests, meetings and worship services of minority religious groups, labor protests, online gatherings and networking, funeral processions, and Friday prayer gatherings.

According to activists, the government arbitrarily applied rules governing permits to assemble, since proregime groups rarely experienced difficulties, while groups viewed as critical of the regime experienced harassment regardless of whether authorities issued a permit.

According to HRANA, security forces detained 361 persons, and at least six individuals died and many were wounded during the two-week-long protests in Khuzestan and other parts of the country in mid-July over water shortages (see section 1.a.). Authorities responded with lethal force and used targeted internet shutdowns in areas of protests to prevent the flow of information. Similarly, after tolerating weeks of peaceful water protests initiated by farmers suffering from droughts and water shortages in Isfahan, security forces suppressed demonstrations on November 25 and 26 by firing tear gas and birdshot rounds, shutting down the internet and, according to a police commander in Isfahan, Hasan Karami, arresting 67 protesters. According to HRANA, as of November 29, authorities had arrested at least 214 individuals in Isfahan, including 13 minors. IHR reported that several of the detainees were injured by pellet guns and beatings and transferred to Isfahan Central Prison (also called Dastgerd Prison).

An Iranian military court began a hearing on November 21 to investigate the downing of Ukrainian International Airlines flight 752, which killed 176 persons in 2020, with reportedly 10 military personnel of various ranks and family members of the deceased present. The government undertook no credible investigations into the excessive use of force in January 2020 against protesters in several cities who had gathered to express discontent with the handling of the investigation into the plane’s downing nor into security officials’ harassment of victims’ families, as reported by Human Rights Watch in May. The government did not investigate the killing of at least 304 protesters by security forces in November 2019 (see section 1.a.).

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the establishment of political parties, professional and political associations, and Islamic and recognized religious minority organizations, as long as such groups do not violate the principles of freedom, sovereignty, national unity, or Islamic criteria, or question Islam as the basis of the country’s system of government. The government limited the freedom of association through threats, intimidation, the imposition of arbitrary requirements on organizations, and the arrests of group leaders and members (see section 7.a., Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining). The government continued to broaden arbitrarily the areas of civil society work it deemed unacceptable, to include conservation and environmental efforts (see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest).

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions, particularly concerning migrants and women.

In-country Movement: Judicial sentences sometimes included internal exile after release from prison, which prevented individuals from traveling to certain provinces. Women often required the supervision of a male guardian or chaperone to travel and faced official and societal harassment for traveling alone.

Foreign Travel: The government required exit permits for foreign travel for all citizens. Citizens who were educated at government expense or received scholarships had either to repay the scholarship or receive a temporary permit to exit the country. The government restricted the foreign travel of some religious leaders, members of religious minorities, and scientists in sensitive fields.

Numerous journalists, academics, opposition politicians, human and women’s rights activists, and artists remained subject to foreign travel bans and had their passports confiscated during the year. Married women were not allowed to travel outside the country without prior permission from their husbands.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. According to UNHCR, the government recognized 780,000 Afghans in the country under a system known as Amayesh, through which authorities provide refugees with cards identifying them as de facto refugees. The cards enable refugees to access basic services, facilitate the issuance of work permits, and serve as a safeguard against arrest and deportation. Amayesh cardholders must obtain permission for any travel outside their province of registration. In late July 2020 the Amayesh reregistration exercise started and expanded the eligibility criteria for Amayesh card renewal to include those who missed the four previous rounds. Undocumented spouses and family members of Amayesh cardholders were reportedly also able to enroll. NGO sources reported Amayesh cards, which are valid only for one year, were increasingly difficult to renew and prohibitively expensive for refugees to maintain, due to increased annual renewal fees. In addition to registered refugees, the government hosted approximately 586,000 Afghans who hold Afghan passports and Iranian visas and an estimated 2.6 million undocumented Afghans. The country also recognized 20,000 Iraqi refugees under a similar system known as Hoviat.

After the Taliban took control of the Afghan government in August, official border crossings between Afghanistan and Iran were closed on August 16 to persons without valid passports and Iranian visas, and the government does not allow the entry of undocumented persons. UNHCR issued a nonreturn advisory for Afghanistan on August 16 and continued to call on countries to keep their borders open to Afghans seeking international protection. Most Afghans fleeing to Iran entered irregularly through unofficial border crossings and with the help of smugglers. UNHCR reported an increase in the number of Afghans in need of international protection, and 27,816 newly arrived Afghans approached UNHCR offices in Iran in during the year. UNHCR believed the total number of new arrivals to be much higher. According to preliminary estimates by the government, up to 500,000 Afghans arrived during the year.

In August UNHCR expressed concern regarding an incident in which 200 Afghan refugees fled across the border from Nimruz Province into Iran over a single weekend. On August 9, semiofficial news agency Fars reported Iran’s refusal to hand over Afghan refugees to the Taliban following the group’s capture of the “Milak” border terminal in the Sistan and Baluchistan Province. According to Fars, Iran’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian and UN Special Envoy Jean Arnault met that same day, and Arnault reportedly praised Iran’s “constructive role” towards Afghanistan. At the end of a three-day visit to Iran in December, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi urged the international community to scale up its support to the government and people of Iran, who were receiving Afghans fleeing a deteriorating situation in their country.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status to qualified applicants. While the government reportedly has a system for providing protection to refugees, UNHCR did not have information regarding how the country made asylum determinations. According to HRW the government blocked many Afghans from registering to obtain refugee status.

Afghans not registered under the Amayesh system who had migrated during past decades of conflict in their home country continued to be denied access to an asylum system or access to registering with UNHCR as refugees. NGOs reported many of these displaced asylum seekers believed they were pressured to leave the country but could not return to Afghanistan because of the security situation in their home provinces.

Refoulement: According to activist groups and NGOs, authorities routinely arrested Afghans without Amayesh cards and sometimes threatened them with deportation. From the beginning of the year to November 28, according to the International Organization for Migration, 1,150,842 undocumented Afghans returned to Afghanistan, with some claiming they were pressured to leave or left due to abuse by police or state authorities. As of December the government continued to return Afghans who were apprehended while trying to enter Iran, despite advocacy by UNHCR to provide asylum to those fleeing conflict. In December UNHCR estimated the government deported 65 percent of all newly arriving Afghan asylum seekers.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: HRW and other groups reported the government continued its mistreatment of many Afghans, including through physical abuse by security forces, deportations, forced recruitment to fight in Syria, detention in unsanitary and inhuman conditions, forced payment for transportation to and accommodation in deportation camps, forced labor, forced separation from families, restricted movement within the country, and restricted access to education or jobs.

In May 2020 Iranian border guards reportedly forced a group of 57 Afghan migrant workers they had detained entering the country into a fast-flowing river near Zulfiqar at gunpoint. According to a Reuters report sourced to Afghan lawmakers investigating the incident, at least 45 of the men drowned. There was no information regarding the status of a joint investigation into the incident by the Iranian and Afghan governments.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees faced certain restrictions on in-country movement and faced restrictions from entering certain provinces, according to UNHCR. They could apply for laissez-passer documents allowing them to move among those provinces where Afghans were permitted to travel.

Employment: Only refugees with government-issued work permits were able to work.

Access to Basic Services: Amayesh cardholders had access to education and health care, including vaccinations, prenatal care, maternal and child health care, and family planning from the Ministry of Health. All registered refugees may enroll in a basic health insurance package similar to the package afforded to citizens, which covered hospitalization and paraclinical services (medicine, doctor’s visits, radiology, etc.). During the year UNHCR covered the insurance premium for 120,000 of the most vulnerable refugees, including refugees who suffered from special diseases and their families. The remaining refugee population may enroll in health insurance by paying the premium themselves during four enrollment windows throughout the year.

The government claimed to grant Afghan children access to schools. During the 2020-21 academic year, more than 470,000 Afghan children were enrolled in primary and secondary schools, including 138,000 undocumented Afghan children. According to media reports, however, Afghans continued to have difficulty gaining access to education.

Most provinces’ residency limitations on refugees effectively denied them access to public services, such as public housing, in the restricted areas of those provinces.

g. Stateless Persons

There were no accurate numbers on how many stateless persons resided in the country. Persons without birth registration, identity documents, or refugee identification were at a heightened risk of statelessness. They were subjected to inconsistent government policies and relied on charities, principally domestic, to obtain medical care and schooling. Authorities did not issue formal government support or travel documents to stateless persons.

In November 2020 the government began implementing a law passed in 2019 granting Iranian citizenship to the children of Iranian women married to foreign men (see section 6, Children). Previously, female citizens married to foreign men were not able to transmit citizenship to their children, unlike male citizens, whose children and spouses receive citizenship automatically. As a result of this disparity, between 400,000 and one million children of the more than 150,000 Iranian women married to foreign men lacked Iranian nationality, according to media reports. Under the new law, the children of Iranian women and foreign men qualify for citizenship, although it is not automatic; the mother must apply for them. Children who turn 18 may apply for nationality themselves, even if their mother is deceased. Foreign men married to Iranian women may receive legal residency.

Human rights activists noted concern that the amended law requires the Ministry of Intelligence and the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization to certify that no “security problem” exists before approving citizenship for these specific applications, and this vaguely defined security provision could be used arbitrarily to disqualify applicants if they or their parents are seen as critical of the government.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose the president, as well as members of the Assembly of Experts and parliament, provided all have been vetted and approved by the Guardian Council. Elections are based on universal suffrage. Candidate vetting conducted by unelected bodies, however, abridged this right in all instances. Reported government constraints on freedom of expression and media; peaceful assembly; association; and the ability freely to seek, receive, and impart information and campaign also limited citizens’ right to choose freely their representatives in elections.

The Assembly of Experts, which is composed of 86 popularly elected clerics who serve eight-year terms, elects the supreme leader, who acts as the de facto head of state and may be removed only by a vote of the assembly. The Guardian Council vets and qualifies candidates for all Assembly of Experts, presidential, and parliamentary elections, based on criteria that include candidates’ allegiance to the state and adherence to Shia Islam. The council consists of six clerics appointed by the supreme leader and six jurists nominated by the head of the judiciary (who is appointed by the supreme leader) and approved by parliament.

Observers noted that the supreme leader’s public commentary on state policy exerted significant influence over the actions of elected officials.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential elections held on June 18 fell short of international standards for free and fair elections, primarily because of the Guardian Council’s controlling role in the political process, including determining which individuals could run for office and, in certain instances, arbitrarily removing winning candidates. Overwhelmingly positive media coverage of a single candidate and the reformist political leaders’ unwillingness to coalesce behind a challenger also contributed to the election outcome. The election turnout of 48.8 percent was the lowest in the history of the Islamic Republic, breaking the 1993 election record low of 50.66 percent. Former judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, widely asserted to be the supreme leader’s choice for his eventual successor, won the election and took office on August 3. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Guardian Council disqualified 7,296 candidates in the period preceding the election. The council barred all reformist candidates from running, as well as the conservative former parliament speaker Ali Larijani, who was widely considered the strongest challenger to hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Domestic and foreign media reports and social media users noted mostly unspecified or ambiguous violations on election day. One incident acknowledged by officials occurred when some electronic voting machines in Tehran went offline for brief periods of time, but those officials stated backup analog vote counting procedures prevented significant voting disruptions.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for the formation of political parties, but the Interior Ministry granted licenses only to parties deemed to adhere to the “governance of the jurist” system of government embodied in the constitution. Registered political organizations that adhered to the system generally operated without restriction, but most were small, focused around an individual, and without nationwide membership. Members of political parties and persons with any political affiliation that the regime deemed unacceptable faced harassment and sometimes violence and imprisonment. The government maintained bans on several opposition organizations and political parties.  Security officials continued to harass, intimidate, and arrest members of the political opposition and some reformists (see section 1.e.).

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: Women faced significant legal, religious, and cultural barriers to political participation. According to the Guardian Council’s interpretation, the constitution bars women, as well as persons of foreign origin, from serving as supreme leader or president; as members of the Assembly of Experts, Guardian Council, or Expediency Council; and as certain types of judges.

In an October 2020 press conference, former guardian council spokesperson Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei claimed there was no prohibition on women running for president in the 2021 election. Nonetheless, the Guardian Council disqualified all 40 women who registered as candidates for the 2021 presidential election.

All cabinet-level ministers were men. A limited number of women held senior government positions, including that of vice president for women and family affairs. Women made up approximately 6 percent of parliament.

In December 2020 Fars News, an agency managed by the IRGC, reported that Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced former vice president for women and family affairs Shahindokht Molaverdi to 30 months in prison. Fars stated the sentence included two years on charges of divulging “classified information and documents with the intent of disrupting national security” and six months for “propaganda against the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Observers noted Molaverdi had over the years defended the right of women to attend sporting events in stadiums, criticized the marriage of girls younger than age 15, and been involved in other high-profile issues. Fars reported Branch 2 of Tehran’s Criminal Court also sentenced Molaverdi for encouraging “corruption, prostitution, and sexual deviance.” Similar charges were brought in the past against individuals flouting mandatory hijab laws or encouraging others to do so. Molaverdi responded that she would appeal the verdicts; there was no update of her case by year’s end.

In early September President Raisi appointed Ansieh Khazali as the vice president for women and family affairs. Unlike Molaverdi, Khazali was against UNESCO’s 2030 initiative that includes eliminating gender discrimination from education and said she supported child marriage.

Practitioners of a religion other than Shia Islam are barred from serving as supreme leader or president, as well as from being a member in the Assembly of Experts, Guardian Council, or Expediency Council. There are two seats reserved in parliament for Armenian Christians, one for Assyrian and Chaldean Christians together, one for Jews, and one for Zoroastrians. There were no non-Muslims in the cabinet or on the Supreme Court. The law allows constitutionally recognized religious minorities to run in local elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government implemented the law arbitrarily, sometimes pursuing apparently legitimate corruption cases against officials, while at other times bringing politically motivated charges against regime critics or political opponents. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Many expected bribes for providing routine services or received bonuses outside their regular work, and individuals routinely bribed officials to obtain permits for otherwise illegal construction.

Endowed religious charitable foundations (bonyads) accounted for one-quarter to one-third of the country’s economy, according to some experts. Government insiders, including members of the military and clergy, ran these tax-exempt organizations, which are defined under law as charities. Members of the political opposition and international corruption watchdog organizations frequently accused bonyads of corruption. Bonyads received benefits from the government, but no government agency is required to approve their budgets publicly.

Numerous companies and subsidiaries affiliated with the IRGC engaged in trade and business activities, sometimes illicitly, including in the telecommunications, mining, and construction sectors. Other IRGC entities reportedly engaged in smuggling pharmaceutical products, narcotics, and raw materials.

The domestic and international press reported that individuals with strong government connections had access to foreign currency at preferential exchange rates, allowing them to exploit a gap between the country’s black market and official exchange rates.

Corruption: In January a court sentenced Mahdi Jahangiri, the brother of Eshaq Jahangiri, who served as a vice president during the Rouhani administration, to two years in prison on corruption charges. Jahangiri was arrested in 2017 for financial crimes, including “professional currency smuggling.”

See section 2.a., Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media; and Violence and Harassment for examples of journalists persecuted for reporting on corruption.

In June 2020 media reported Romanian authorities arrested Iranian judge Gholamreza Mansouri at Iran’s request after Mansouri and several other judges in Iran were accused of accepting more than 21 billion tomans ($500,000) in bribes. Several days prior, RSF filed an official complaint with German federal judicial authorities highlighting Mansouri’s role in suppressing and jailing dozens of Iranian journalists and urging his arrest, in the belief that Mansouri was present in Germany. In June 2020 Mansouri was found dead after an apparent fall from the sixth story of the hotel where he was staying while awaiting extradition to Iran under Romanian supervision. There were no reports of further investigation into his death during the year.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

The government restricted the operations of, and did not cooperate with, local or international NGOs investigating alleged violations of human rights. The government restricted the work of domestic activists and often responded to their inquiries and reports with harassment, arrests, online hacking, and monitoring of individual activists and organization workplaces.

By law NGOs must register with the Ministry of Interior and apply for permission to receive foreign grants. Independent human rights groups and other NGOs faced harassment because of their activism, as well as the threat of closure by government officials, following prolonged and often arbitrary delays in obtaining official registration.

During the year the government prevented some human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, and scholars from traveling abroad. Human rights activists reported intimidating telephone calls, threats of blackmail, online hacking attempts, and property damage from unidentified law enforcement and government officials. The government summoned activists repeatedly for questioning and confiscated personal belongings such as mobile phones, laptops, and passports. Government officials sometimes harassed and arrested family members of human rights activists. Courts routinely suspended sentences of convicted human rights activists, leaving open the option for authorities to arrest or imprison individuals arbitrarily at any time on the previous charges.

In his July report, UNSR Rehman stated he remained concerned regarding the continued intimidation and imprisonment of human rights defenders and lawyers. He noted forcible prison transfers and lack of medical care appeared to be used as reprisals against activists for starting peaceful protests inside prisons or undertaking hunger strikes (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

According to NGOs, including HRW and Amnesty International, the government’s human rights record and its level of cooperation with international rights institutions remained poor. The government continued to deny requests from international human rights NGOs to establish offices in or conduct regular investigative visits to the country. The most recent visit of an international human rights NGO was by Amnesty International in 2004 as part of the EU’s human rights dialogue with the country.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: During the year the government continued to deny repeated requests by the UNSR on the situation of human rights in Iran to visit the country.

On November 17, for the ninth consecutive year, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution expressing serious concern regarding the country’s continuing human rights violations, including death sentences imposed following unfair trials and reports of forced confessions obtained through torture, while underlining the disproportionate application of the death penalty to individuals belonging to minority groups, such as the Kurds and Baluch, who were particularly targeted for alleged involvement in political activities. The resolution repeated its call for the country to cooperate with UN special mechanisms, citing the government’s failure to approve repeated requests from UN thematic special procedures mandate holders to visit the country. The most recent visit by a UN human rights agency to the country was the 2005 survey of the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing. Miloon Kothari. The resolution also drew attention to the government’s continued failure to allow UNSR Rehman into the country to investigate human rights abuses despite repeated requests, in view of the absence of independent or transparent investigations into the regime’s killings of at least 304 protesters in November 2019. It further highlighted the government’s long-standing efforts to target Iranians, dual nationals, and foreign citizens outside its borders via harassment, killing, and abduction to Iran, where some faced trial and execution.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The High Council for Human Rights is part of the judicial branch of the government and lacks independence. As of October 8, the Raisi administration had not named a successor to former council head Ali Bagheri-Kani. The council continued to defend the imprisonment of high-profile human rights defenders and political opposition leaders, and it assured families they should not be concerned for the “security, well-being, comfort, and vitality” of their loved ones in prison, according to IRNA. In 2020 Bagheri-Kani continued to call for an end to the position of the UNSR for Iran and asserted that the country’s criteria for human rights was different because of the “religious lifestyle” of its citizens. There was no information available on whether the council challenged any laws or court rulings during the year.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and subject to strict penalties, including death, but it remained a problem. The law considers sex within marriage consensual by definition and, therefore, does not address spousal rape, including in cases of forced marriage. Most rape victims likely did not report the crime because they feared official retaliation or punishment for having been raped, including charges of indecency, immoral behavior, or adultery, which carries the death penalty. Rape victims also feared societal reprisal or ostracism. There were reports that approximately 80 percent of rape cases went unreported.

For a conviction of rape, the law requires four Muslim men or a combination of three men and two women or two men and four women, to have witnessed a rape. A woman or man found making a false accusation of rape is subject to 80 lashes.

The law does not prohibit domestic violence. Authorities considered spousal and intrafamilial abuse a private matter and seldom discussed it publicly.

An April 2020 IRNA article noted a “dramatic increase” in domestic violence-related telephone calls to public social welfare hotlines. The State Welfare Organization sent a public text message the same day highlighting the existence of the hotlines. Calls to the hotlines reportedly doubled after the text message was sent, according to a government official. In a call with an expatriate media outlet, women’s rights activist Shahla Entesari also reported higher rates of domestic violence during pandemic-related lockdowns in the country.

In previous years assailants conducted “acid attacks” in which they threw acid capable of severe disfiguration at women perceived to have violated various “morality” laws or practices. Although the Guardian Council reportedly approved a law increasing sentences for the perpetrators of these attacks, the government instead continued to prosecute individual activists seeking stronger government accountability for the attacks. In October 2020 a court sentenced Aliyeh Motalebzadeh to two years in prison for “conspiracy against state security” for advocating for women who were victims of acid attacks. Motalebzadeh was a member of the “One Million Signatures” campaign to change discriminatory laws against women. Also in October 2020 authorities arrested Negar Masoudi for holding a photograph exhibition featuring victims of acid attacks and for advocating to restrict the sale of acid.

According to Iran International, on August 8, a man in the city of Orumiyeh allegedly used his motor vehicle to run over two women, seriously injuring one of the women, after accusing them of “bad hijab,” interpreted by some as not appropriately following the Islamic dress code.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law criminalizes FGM/C and states, “The cutting or removing of the two sides of female genitalia leads to diya equal to half the full amount of diya for the woman’s life.”

Little recent data were available on the practice inside the country, although older data and media reports suggested it was most prevalent in Hormozgan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah, and West Azerbaijan Provinces and was inflicted on girls ages five through eight, primarily in Shafi’i Sunni communities.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were reports of killings motivated by “honor” or other harmful traditional practices during the year. There are no official statistics kept in the country concerning honor killings, but according to academic articles and university thesis estimates cited by the daily newspaper Ebtekar, every year between 375 and 450 such killings occur, in which mostly women are killed by their male relatives – including their husbands, fathers, and brothers – in the name of preserving the family’s “honor.”

The law reduces punitive measures for fathers and other family members who are convicted of murder or physically harming children in domestic violence or “honor killings.” If a man is found guilty of murdering his daughter, the punishment is between three and 10 years in prison rather than the normal death sentence or payment of diyeh for homicide cases, because fathers (but not mothers) are considered legal guardians and are exempt from capital punishment for murdering their children.

In June 2020 Reza Ashrafi reportedly beheaded his 14-year-old daughter, Romina Ashrafi, with a farming sickle because she had “run off” with her 29-year-old Sunni Muslim boyfriend. In June 2020, in response to a national outcry over Ashrafi’s killing, the Guardian Council approved a law making it a crime to abuse emotionally or physically or abandon a child, but it left unchanged the maximum sentence of 10 years for a father convicted of murdering his daughter. Observers noted the Guardian Council had rejected three previous iterations of the bill. In August 2020 a court reportedly convicted and sentenced Ashrafi’s father to nine years in prison, sparking further outrage at the leniency of the sentence. Ashrafi’s mother said she planned to appeal the sentence to seek a stricter penalty, but there were no reported updates to the case.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits physical contact between unrelated men and women. There were no reliable data on the extent of sexual harassment, but women’s and human rights observers reported that sexual harassment was the norm in many workplaces. In April multiple women, including model and actress Boshra Dastournezhad, came forward on social media sites such as Clubhouse and Instagram to accuse singer and songwriter Mohsen Namjoo of sexual harassment and sexual assault. They circulated a petition calling on media outlets to ban his presence until the allegations were investigated. According to IranWire, on April 18, Namjoo apparently apologized for the sexual harassment accusations but denied other sexual assault allegations via his YouTube channel. The incident fueled online debate regarding victims’ accounts of sexual harassment and assault.

According to IranWire, on October 12, Tehran police chief Hossein Rahimi announced that bookstore owner Keyvan Emamverdi confessed to raping 300 women after 30 women filed legal complaints against him. Police stated he would be charged with “corruption on earth,” a capital offense. On November 15, Emamverdi’s trial began before a revolutionary court in Tehran, where he reportedly denied all charges.

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

It is illegal for a single woman to access contraception, although most single women had access to contraception, particularly in urban areas. Government health care previously included full free access to contraception and family planning for married couples. In 2012 on the supreme leader’s orders, the government ended the Family and Population Planning Program. On November 16, President Raisi signed into law the “rejuvenation of the population and support of the family” bill, which directs authorities to prioritize population growth. These policies include measures such as outlawing voluntary sterilization and banning the free distribution of contraceptives by the public health-care system. The law also stipulates that content on family planning in university textbooks should be replaced with materials on an “Islamic-Iranian lifestyle,” with a framework drawn up in cooperation with religious seminaries and the Islamic Propaganda Organization. In January according to a report by Iran International, the Ministry of Health banned health centers in nomadic tribal areas from providing contraceptives to women. On November 16, UN human rights experts “urge[d] the Government to immediately repeal [the law] and to take measures to end the criminalization of abortion and to ensure that all women can access all necessary health services, including sexual and reproductive care, in a manner that is safe, affordable, and consistent with their human rights.”

The government did not provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was not available as part of clinical management of rape.

According to human rights organizations, an increase in child marriage – due in part to a government “marriage loan” program providing financial relief to poor families who want to marry off their girls – was likely adversely affecting the quality of health care for such girls and increasing maternal mortality rates. The practice of female genital mutilation, which primarily occurs on girls ages five through eight in Shafi’i Sunni communities, was associated reportedly with increased obstetric problems and may increase maternal mortality rates.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal protection for women under the law in conformity with its interpretation of Islam. The government did not enforce the law, and provisions in the law, particularly sections dealing with family and property law, discriminate against women. Judicial harassment, intimidation, detention, and smear campaigns significantly hindered the ability of civil society organizations to fight for and protect women’s rights.

In June 2020 the president issued a decree enacting into law an amendment to the country’s civil code that allows Iranian women married to foreign men to transmit citizenship to their children (see section 2.g, Stateless Persons and section 6, Children). The government does not recognize marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, irrespective of their citizenship. The law states that a virgin woman or girl wishing to wed needs the consent of her father or grandfather or the court’s permission.

The law permits a man to have as many as four wives and an unlimited number of temporary wives (sigheh), based on a Shia custom under which couples may enter a limited-time civil and religious contract that outlines the union’s conditions. The law does not grant women equal rights to multiple husbands.

A woman has the right to divorce if her husband signs a contract granting that right; cannot provide for his family; has violated the terms of their marriage contract; or is a drug addict, insane, or impotent. A husband is not required to cite a reason for divorcing his wife. The law recognizes a divorced woman’s right to part of shared property and to alimony. These laws were not always enforced.

The law provides divorced women preference in custody for children up to age seven, but fathers maintain legal guardianship rights over the child and must agree on many legal aspects of the child’s life (such as issuing travel documents, enrolling in school, or filing a police report). After the child reaches age seven, the father is granted custody unless he is proven unfit to care for the child.

Women sometimes received disproportionate punishment for crimes such as adultery, including death sentences. Islamic law retains provisions that equate a woman’s testimony in a court of law to one-half that of a man’s and value a woman’s life as one-half that of a man’s life. By law the diyeh paid in the death of a woman is one-half the amount paid in the death of a man, except for car accident insurance payments. According to a CHRI report, in 2019 the government declared equality between men and women in the payment of blood money. Per the Supreme Court ruling, the amount paid for the intentional or unintentional physical harm to a woman remains one-half the blood money paid for harm to a man, but the remaining difference would be paid from a publicly funded trust.

Women have access to primary and advanced education. Quotas and other restrictions nonetheless limited women’s admissions to certain fields and degree programs.

The Statistical Center of Iran reported that the overall unemployment rate in the second quarter of the year was 8.8 percent. Unemployment of women in the country was twice as high as it was of men. Overall female participation in the job market was 18.9 percent, according to the Global Gender Gap 2021 report. Women reportedly earned significantly less than men for the same work.

Women continued to face discrimination in home and property ownership, as well as in access to financing. In cases of inheritance, male heirs receive twice the inheritance of their female counterparts. The government enforced gender segregation in many public spaces. Women must ride in a reserved section on public buses and enter some public buildings, universities, and airports through separate entrances.

The law provides that a woman who appears in public without appropriate attire, such as a cloth scarf over the head (hijab) and a long jacket (manteau), or a large full-length cloth covering (chador), may be sentenced to flogging and fined. Absent a clear legal definition of “appropriate attire” or of the related punishment, women (and men) were subjected to the opinions of various disciplinary and security force members, police, and judges.

Authorities continued to arrest women for violating dress requirements, and courts applied harsh sentences. In February an appeals court upheld sentences of 16 to 23 years for Yasaman Aryani, her mother Monireh Arabshahi, and Mojgan Keshavarz for “spreading propaganda against the system” and “inciting corruption and prostitution.” They were arrested after posting a video for International Women’s Day in 2019 during which they walked without headscarves through a Tehran metro train, handing flowers to female passengers. As of September 19, all three women remained in prison.

In May 2020 the lawyer for imprisoned activist Saba Kord Afshari said on Twitter that judicial authorities had reinstated a seven and one-half-year prison sentence for “corruption and prostitution” against his client without explanation. An appeals court had previously dropped that charge against Kord Afshari, who was also found guilty of “gathering and conspiring” and “spreading propaganda” related to videos she posted to social media in which she walked without a hijab and stated her opposition to compulsory dress requirements. Kord Afshari’s cumulative sentence reverted to 15 years with the reinstated portion of the sentence. In February 2020 Kord Afshari’s mother, Raheleh Ahmadi, began serving a two-year sentence for “national security” crimes related to advocacy on behalf of her daughter. Human rights groups reported both mother and daughter were denied requested medical treatment and furlough during the year. Kord Afshari was “exiled” to Ward 6 of Qarchak Prison in Varamin in late January, where reportedly authorities beat her and held her alongside violent criminals. She ended her hunger strike in May. Ahmadi reportedly suffered spinal cord damage in Evin Prison upon hearing of her daughter’s transfer. As of September 19, both women remained in prison.

In a February 2020 letter to Iranian authorities, the world soccer governing body International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) insisted women be allowed to attend all soccer matches in larger numbers than the government previously permitted. In October authorities reversed their earlier announcement that 10,000 vaccinated spectators – including women – could watch Iran play in a FIFA qualifying match and allowed no spectators into the stadium.

As noted by the former UNSR and other organizations, female athletes were traditionally barred from participating in international tournaments, either by the country’s sport agencies or by their husbands. There were, however, cases throughout the year of female athletes being permitted to travel internationally to compete.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution grants equal rights to all ethnic minorities, allowing minority languages to be used in media. The law grants the right of citizens to learn, use, and teach their own languages and dialects. Nonetheless, the government discriminated against minorities.

Human rights organizations observed that the government’s application of the death penalty disproportionately affected ethnic minorities (see section 1.a.). Authorities reportedly subjected members of minority ethnicities and religious groups in pretrial detention repeatedly to more severe physical punishment, including torture, than other prisoners, regardless of the type of crime of which they were accused. These ethnic minority groups reported political and socioeconomic discrimination, particularly in their access to economic aid, business licenses, university admissions, job opportunities, permission to publish books, and housing and land rights. In a July report, UNSR Rehman again expressed concern regarding the reported high number of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience from the Azeri, Kurdish, and Ahwazi Arab communities.

Another widespread complaint among ethnic minority groups, particularly among Ahwazis, Azeris, and Lors, was that the government diverted and mismanaged natural resources, primarily water, often for the benefit of IRGC-affiliated contractors. According to reports from international media and human rights groups, these practices devastated the local environment on which farmers and others depended for their livelihoods and well-being, resulting in forced migration and further marginalization of these communities.

The law, which requires religious screening and allegiance to the concept of “governance by the jurist,” not found in Sunni Islam, impaired the ability of Sunni Muslims (many of whom are also Baluch, Ahwazi, or Kurdish) to integrate into civic life and to work in certain fields.

The estimated eight million ethnic Kurds in the country frequently campaigned for greater regional autonomy. The government continued to use the law to arrest and prosecute Kurds for exercising their rights to freedoms of expression and association. The government reportedly banned Kurdish-language newspapers, journals, and books and punished publishers, journalists, and writers for opposing and criticizing government policies. The UNSR noted in his July report that in the early part of the year many Kurdish individuals were arrested and detained in unknown locations.

According to the same UNSR report, authorities continued to target Kurdish-language teacher Zara Mohammadi, who supported learning in mother tongue languages, when an appeals court confirmed a five-year prison sentence on February 13 related to national security charges. Authorities detained without furlough Kurdish political prisoner Zeinab Jalalian, who was arrested in 2008 for allegedly being a part of a banned armed Kurdish political group, and reportedly denied her access to adequate health care.

Authorities suppressed legitimate activities of Kurdish NGOs by denying them registration permits or bringing security charges against persons working with such organizations. Authorities did not prohibit the use of the Kurdish language in general.

International human rights observers, including the IHRDC, stated that the country’s estimated two million Ahwazi Arabs, representing 110 tribes, faced continued oppression and discrimination. Ahwazi rights activists reported the government continued to confiscate Ahwazi property to use for government development projects, refusing to recognize property titles issued during the prerevolutionary era.

Ethnic Azeris, who number more than 18 million, or approximately 24 percent of the population, were more integrated into government and society than other ethnic minority groups, to include Supreme Leader Khamenei. Azeris reported the government discriminated against them by harassing Azeri activists or organizers and changing Azeri geographic names.

In July the UNSR reported that authorities continued to target Azeri civil society actors, including Abbas Lisani and Alireza Farshi, for their advocacy of minority rights. According to a February report by CHRI, Farshi, who was convicted and imprisoned on national security charges for peaceful activities on International Mother Language Day in 2014, was transferred from Evin Prison to Greater Tehran Penitentiary after being subjected to physical violence by authorities that resulted in injuries. He was also reportedly facing new charges related to his advocacy. Between January and June 14, Lisani and seven other Azeri political prisoners refused liquids in protest over Farshi’s mistreatment. Authorities reportedly agreed to address their concerns, which included access to medical leave and a cessation of the transfer of prisoners convicted of violent crimes into their ward, but authorities did not fulfill these promises.

Local and international human rights groups alleged discrimination during the year against the Baluchi ethnic minority, estimated at between 1.5 and two million persons. Areas with large Baluchi populations were severely underdeveloped and had limited access to education, employment, health care, and housing. Baluchi activists reported that more than 70 percent of the population lived below the poverty line.

According to activist reports, the law limited Sunni Baluchis’ employment opportunities and political participation. Activists reported that throughout the year, the government sent hundreds of Shia missionaries to areas with large Sunni Baluch populations to try to convert the local population. According to Baluchi rights activists, Baluchi journalists and human rights activists faced arbitrary arrest, physical abuse, and unfair trials.

According to widespread media reports and the UNSR’s July report, on February 22, IRGC officials killed 10 fuel couriers in Sistan va Balochistan Province, leading to protests. Authorities used excessive force including live ammunition to suppress these protests, causing two additional deaths (see section 1.a., Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings). UNSR Rehman previously noted in July 2020 that “in the border areas of Kurdistan, Ilam, West Azerbaijan and Kermanshah Provinces, Kurdish couriers (kolbars) continue to face excessive and lethal force by border officials. In 2019 there were 84 reported deaths and 192 injuries of kolbars, continuing a trend that has seen more than 1,000 kolbars killed or injured due to the actions of border officials since 2014. It is with concern that cases of violence against kolbars are often either dismissed by the courts or closed without conviction or compensation for the victims and their families.”

The UNSR’s report noted that excessive force was routinely used in antinarcotic operations in Sistan va Balochistan Province. In May for example, antinarcotic police in Iranshahr reportedly fatally shot a five-year-old child in the head.

Children

Birth Registration: The law provides Iranian mothers the right to apply for citizenship for children born to fathers with foreign citizenship (see section 2.g, Stateless Persons and section 6, Women). Although the law is retroactive, mothers do not receive equal treatment; they must file an application for their children, whereas children born to Iranian fathers automatically have citizenship. The law also includes a stipulation of obtaining a security clearance from the security agencies prior to receiving approval. Birth within the country’s borders does not confer citizenship, except when a child is born to unknown parents. The law requires that all births be registered within 15 days.

Education: Although primary schooling until age 11 is free and compulsory for all, media and other sources reported lower enrollment in rural areas, especially for girls. According to HRW the child protection law passed in June 2020 following the killing of Romina Ashrafi (see section 6, Other Harmful Traditional Practices) sets out financial penalties for parents or guardians who fail to provide for their child’s access to education through secondary level. Secondary education is free. Children without state-issued identification cards are denied the right to education. In a 2019 report, UNSR Rehman expressed concern regarding access to education for minority children, including references to high primary school dropout rates for ethnic minority girls living in border provinces.

The government consistently barred use of minority languages in school for instruction.

Child Abuse: There was little information available on how the government dealt with child abuse. The law states, “Any form of abuse of children and juveniles that causes physical, psychological, or moral harm and threatens their physical or mental health is prohibited,” and such crimes carry a maximum sentence of three months in confinement. In June 2020 the Guardian Council approved legislation to support a child’s safety and well-being, including penalties against physical harm and for preventing access to education. The law defines a set of punishments, which include imprisonment and “blood money,” for negligence by anyone, including parents, that results in death, disability, bodily harm, and sexual harassment. The law requires the State Welfare Organization to investigate the situation of children in “extreme danger” of abuse, exploitation, or being out of school, among other concerns. The state also has the authority to remove children from a household and put them under state supervision until the prosecutor takes on the case. The law also applies to all citizens younger than age 18, despite the earlier age of maturity.

Reports of child abuse reportedly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The head of the State Welfare Organization in Mashhad noted an eightfold increase in child abuse cases reported in Mashhad in 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. According to IranWire, in October the head of Paveh city’s intelligence office ordered officers to detain and interrogate harshly two journalists for reporting on the rape of a seven-year-old girl by a 43-year-old man on September 20. The same intelligence office banned a psychiatrist from treating the child and left her with no medical care. Authorities threatened to arrest the journalists if they continued investigating the case.

According to IranWire, the Students’ Basij Force stepped up efforts in 2020 to recruit young persons into the organization. Although “most of these activities are of an educational and ideological nature,” there were reports that during recent domestic unrest, some younger Basij forces armed with light military equipment were seen on the streets of some cities. There continued to be reports of IRGC officials recruiting Afghan child soldiers, including to support Assad regime forces in Syria and the Taliban in Afghanistan (see section 1.g., Child Soldiers). In a 2018 interview by IranWire, a Fatemiyoun Brigade commander confirmed Afghan minors as young as 14 served in his unit in Syria.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for girls is 13, but girls as young as age nine may be married with permission from a court and their fathers. According to HRW, the child protection law does not criminalize child marriage.

According to the UNSR’s January report, between March 2018 and March 2019 the National Organization for Civil Registration registered 13,054 marriages of girls younger than 13. In 2019 a deputy minister warned that banks offering “marriage loans” without age restrictions increased child marriage. He stated that from March to August 2019, 4,460 girls younger than 15 had received such loans. Between March and June 2020, 7,323 marriages involving girls ages 10 to 14 were registered. The report also noted that a survey found that 37.5 percent of those subjected to child marriage were illiterate and a significant number reported domestic abuse.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age requirements for consensual sex are the same as those for marriage, as sex outside of marriage is illegal. There are no specific laws regarding child sexual exploitation, with such crimes either falling under the category of child abuse or sexual crimes of adultery. The law does not directly address sexual molestation or provide a punishment for it.

According to CHRI, the ambiguity between the legal definitions of child abuse and sexual molestation could lead to child sexual molestation cases being prosecuted under adultery law. While no separate provision exists for the rape of a child, the crime of rape, regardless of the victim’s age, is potentially punishable by death.

Displaced Children: There were reports of thousands of Afghan refugee children in the country, many of whom were born in Iran but could not obtain identity documents. These children were often unable to attend schools or access basic government services and were vulnerable to labor exploitation and trafficking.

UNHCR stated school enrollment among refugees was generally higher outside the 20 settlements, where more resources were available and where 96 percent of the refugees resided.

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/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The law recognizes Jews as a religious minority and provides for their representation in parliament. According to the Tehran Jewish Committee, the population includes approximately 9,000 Jews. Members of the Iranian Jewish community were reportedly subjected to government restrictions and discrimination. Government officials, including the supreme leader, routinely engaged in egregious anti-Semitic rhetoric and Holocaust denial and distortion. On May 7, so-called Jerusalem Day, Supreme Leader Khamenei issued numerous anti-Semitic tweets calling those who live in Israel “racists,” questioning the Holocaust, and calling again for a referendum of original inhabitants to determine the future status of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.

Cartoons in state-run media outlets repeatedly depicted foreign officials as puppets of Jewish control. In September 2020 a government-controlled arts organization, the Hozeh Honari, announced it would hold a third “Holocaust Cartoon Festival,” the previous two having been held in 2006 and 2016. The contest results were released on January 1.

According to media reports, officials and media propagated conspiracy theories blaming Jews and Israel for the spread of COVID-19. According to NGO reports, school textbooks contained content that incites hatred against Jews as part of the state curricula for history, religion, and social studies.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Organ Harvesting

It is legal for persons to sell their kidney. The government matches buyers and sellers and sets a fixed price, but a black market for organs also existed.

Persons with Disabilities

According to HRW the 2018 Law for the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities increases pensions and extends insurance coverage to disability-related health-care services, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination. According to CHRI, as of 2019 the government did not allocate a budget to enforce the law. The law prohibits persons with vision, hearing, or speech disabilities from running for seats in parliament. While the law provides for government-funded vocational education for persons with disabilities, domestic news reports noted vocational centers were located only in urban areas and were largely unable to meet the needs of the entire population.

In 2019 HRW and CHRI reported persons with disabilities remained cut off from society, a major obstacle being a mandatory government medical test that may exclude children with disabilities from the public school system. Based on government figures, during the 2018-19 school year, 150,000 children of school age with disabilities were enrolled in school, and more were in “special schools” that segregated them from other students. Estimates put the total number of school-age children with disabilities at 1.5 million. They continued to face stigma and discrimination from government social workers, health-care workers, and others. Subsequently, many persons with disabilities remained unable to participate in society on an equal basis.

The law provides for public accessibility to government-funded buildings, and new structures appeared to comply with these standards. There were efforts to increase access for persons with disabilities to historic sites. Government buildings that predated existing accessibility standards remained largely inaccessible, and general building accessibility, including access to toilets for persons with disabilities, remained a problem. Individuals with disabilities had limited access to informational, educational, and community activities. CHRI reported in 2018 that refugees with disabilities, particularly children, were often excluded or denied the ability to obtain the limited state services provided by the government.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Despite government programs to treat and provide financial and other assistance to persons with HIV or AIDS, international news sources and organizations reported that individuals known to be infected with HIV or AIDS faced widespread societal discrimination.  Individuals with HIV or AIDS, for example, continued to be denied employment as teachers.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, which is punishable by death, flogging, or a lesser punishment.  The law does not distinguish between consensual and nonconsensual same-sex intercourse, and NGOs reported this lack of clarity led to both the victim and the perpetrator being held criminally liable under the law in cases of assault.  The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

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

While few details were available for specific cases, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activists expressed concern that the government executed LGBTQI+ individuals under the pretext of more severe, and possibly specious, criminal charges such as rape. Security forces harassed, arrested, and detained individuals they suspected of being LGBTQI+. In some cases security forces raided houses and monitored internet sites for information on LGBTQI+ persons. Those accused of “sodomy” often faced summary trials, and evidentiary standards were not always met. The Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network (6Rang) noted that individuals arrested under such conditions were traditionally subjected to forced anal or sodomy examinations – which the United Nations and World Health Organization stated may constitute torture – and other degrading treatment and sexual insults. Punishment for same-sex sexual activity between men was more severe than between women.

According to Amnesty International, on May 4, 20-year-old Alireza Fazeli Monfared, who identified as a nonbinary gay man, was abducted by male relatives in his hometown of Ahwaz in Khuzestan Province. The next day these men reportedly told Monfared’s mother they had killed him and dumped his body under a tree. Authorities confirmed his throat was slit and announced an investigation; however, according to Amnesty International in September, none of the suspected perpetrators had been arrested.

According to an August factsheet by CHRI, a 2020 survey by 6Rang of more than 200 individuals living in the country and identifying as LGBTQI+ found that 46 percent reported being victims of sexual violence at their school or university, 49 percent reported being victims of sexual violence by their peers, and more than 52 percent reported being victims of sexual violence in public spaces. Anonymous respondents reported being beaten, detained, and flogged by security authorities.

The government censored all materials related to LGBTQI+ status or conduct. Authorities particularly blocked websites or content within sites that discussed LGBTQI+ issues, including the censorship of Wikipedia pages defining LGBTQI+ and other related topics. There were active, unregistered LGBTQI+ NGOs and activists in the country.

In 2019 a revolutionary court sentenced Rezvaneh Mohammadi, a gender-equality activist, to five years in prison. According to CHRI, authorities arrested Mohammadi in 2018 and held her in solitary confinement for several weeks at Evin Prison, where they pressured her, including via threat of rape, to confess to receiving money to overthrow the government. Mohammadi was reportedly freed on bail.

Hate-crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms do not exist to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes.

The law requires all male citizens older than age 18 to serve in the military but exempts gay men and transgender women, who are classified as having mental disorders. Military identity cards list the subsection of the law dictating the exemption. According to 6Rang, this practice identified gay or transgender individuals and put them at risk of physical abuse and discrimination.

While LGBTQI+ status and conduct are criminalized, many clerics believed that LGBTQI+ persons were trapped in a body of the wrong sex, and NGOs reported that authorities pressured LGBTQI+ persons to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Reports indicated these procedures disregarded psychological and physical health and that many persons recommended for surgery did not identify as transgender but were forced to comply to avoid punishment for their LGBTQI+ identity. According to a July 2020 report by 6Rang, the number of private and semigovernmental psychological and psychiatric clinics allegedly engaging in “corrective treatment” or reparative therapies of LGBTQI+ persons continued to grow. The NGO 6Rang reported the increased use at such clinics of electric shock therapy to the hands and genitals of LGBTQI+ persons, prescription of psychoactive medication, hypnosis, and coercive masturbation to pictures of persons of the opposite sex. According to 6Rang, one such institution was called the Anonymous Sex Addicts Association of Iran, with branches in 18 provinces.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for freedom of association but does not provide for the right of workers to form and join trade unions. The law states that workers may establish an Islamic labor council or a guild at any workplace, but the rights and responsibilities of these organizations fell significantly short of international standards for trade unions. In workplaces where workers established an Islamic labor council, authorities did not permit any other form of worker representation. The law requires prior authorization for organizing and concluding collective agreements. Strikes are prohibited in all sectors, although private-sector workers may conduct “peaceful” campaigns within the workplace. The law does not apply to establishments with fewer than 10 employees.

Authorities did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and the government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. The government severely restricted freedom of association and interfered in worker attempts to organize. Labor activism is considered a national security offense for which conviction carries severe punishments up to and including the death penalty. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination and does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Penalties were not imposed for violations involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

Antiunion discrimination occurred, and the government harassed trade union leaders, labor rights activists, and journalists during crackdowns on widespread protests. According to NGO and media reports, as in previous years, several trade unionists, including members of teachers unions, were imprisoned or remained unjustly detained for their peaceful activism. Independent trade unionists were subjected to arbitrary arrests, tortured, and if convicted subjected to harsh sentences, including the death penalty.

In February authorities reportedly summoned to prison Ali Nejati, a labor rights activist and former employee of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company, to serve a five-year sentence. Nejati had previously been pardoned, but the judiciary reportedly informed his lawyer his pardon had been a “mistake.”

According to media and NGO reports, on May 1, International Labor Day, police violently attacked and arrested at least 30 activists who had gathered for peaceful demonstrations demanding workers’ rights in Tehran and elsewhere. All detainees were later released on bail. The government barred teachers from commemorating International Labor Day and Teachers’ Day. Several prominent teachers and union activists remained in prison without facing trial or, if convicted, awaited sentencing, including Mahmoud Beheshti Langroudi (see below in this subsection).

According to Radio Zamaneh, in June 2020 Jafar Azimzadeh, the general secretary of the board of the Free Union of Iranian Workers and a prominent labor activist, was sentenced to 13 months in prison for “propaganda against the regime.” Azimzadeh was previously arrested in 2015 and sentenced to six years in prison by Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran for organizing a petition that collected 40,000 signatures seeking to raise the national minimum wage. In September 2020 Azimzadeh was transferred to Rajai Shahr Prison after ending a 21-day hunger strike to protest being denied medical treatment after contracting COVID-19. On April 10, Azimzadeh was released from prison.

In his July report, UNSR Rehman drew attention to the prolonged solitary confinement of labor rights activist and British-Iranian dual-national Mehran Raoof as “especially disturbing.” According to Amnesty International, in October 2020 IRGC intelligence agents arrested Raoof, along with several other labor rights activists throughout the country. In June Raoof reportedly appeared in court on vague charges of involvement in banned political groups. He subsequently was being held in solitary confinement in Ward 2A of Evin Prison and was denied legal counsel and calls to his immediate family members, who lived abroad.

The Interior Ministry; the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare; and the Islamic Information Organization determined labor council constitutions, operational rules, and election procedures. Administrative and judicial procedures were lengthy. The Workers’ House remained the only officially authorized national labor organization, and its leadership oversaw, granted permits to, and coordinated activities with Islamic labor councils in industrial, agricultural, and service organizations with more than 35 employees.

According to CHRI, the labor councils, which consisted of representatives of workers and a representative of management, were essentially management-run unions that undermined worker efforts to maintain independent unions. The councils, nevertheless, sometimes could block layoffs and dismissals. There was no representative worker organization for noncitizen workers.

According to international media reports, security forces continued to respond to workers’ attempts to organize or conduct strikes with arbitrary arrests and violence. As economic conditions deteriorated, strikes and worker protests continued across the country throughout the year, often prompting a heavy police response. Security forces routinely monitored major worksites. According to CHRI, workers were routinely fired and risked arrest for striking, and labor leaders were charged with national security crimes for trying to organize workers.

In 2018 security forces violently suppressed protests at the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company factory. In 2019 the protests there restarted in response to the announcement of a joint indictment issued against five journalists and two labor rights activists. Sepideh Gholian, Amir Hossein Mohammadifard, Sanaz Allahyari, Ali Amirgholi, Asal Mohammadi, Esmail Bakhshi, and Ali Nejati were charged with “assembly and collusion against national security,” “forming groups with the intention to disturb national security,” and “contacts with antistate organizations.” They each received a prison sentence of five years. Except for Gholian, all, including syndicate member Mohammad Khanifar, were reportedly pardoned during the year. Gholian was rearrested a week after being released on bail in June 2020 and was transferred to Evin Prison. On October 10, Gholian was rearrested and returned to Evin Prison in retribution for posting on social media while on furlough from Bushehr Prison about the sexual abuse and torture she witnessed against incarcerated women and children (see section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment).

According to Radio Zamaneh, workers at Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company began striking in June 2020 to reverse the privatization of the company and to demand the arrest of CEO Omid Asadbeigi, who was accused of currency theft and the embezzlement of their wages. In September 2020 the Supreme Auditing Court ruled that Haft Tappeh’s sale must be annulled “due to violations in transferring the ownership of the company, failure to achieve goals set by the sale, and the buyers’ bad faith in honoring their commitments,” thereby removing Asadbeigi as owner. The Haft Tappeh Workers Syndicate then issued a statement declaring a temporary halt to the protest. In May, according to Radio Zamaneh, a Tehran court ruled in favor of the dismissal of Asadbeigi and Mehrdad Rostami, the two owners of the factory. A few days after the ruling, due to pressure from the government, the previous owners halted production at the factory. The Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Workers’ Union announced on April 23 that the factory workers’ lawyer Farzaneh Zilabi had been summoned to court in Shush city, Khuzestan Province, where his license was then suspended. According to labor activists, the company’s executives had not paid workers’ salaries since March, and authorities reduced the company’s water rights by half. The workers’ union reported that on June 3, police opened fire to disperse workers gathered outside the factory to protest the situation.

On April 4, security forces detained labor activist and retired worker Ismail Gerami in his Tehran home in a reported effort to prevent a rally of retirees. According to Radio Zamaneh, in May retirees – including retirees of social security, Laleh Hotel, Shiraz Telecommunication, the steel industry, Iran Air, and the health-care sector – took to the streets in multiple cities for several weeks to demand an increase in their retirement pay. The Revolutionary Court of Tehran sentenced Gerami to five years in prison, 74 lashes, and a fine.

The government continued to arrest and harass teachers’ rights activists from the Teachers Association of Iran and related unions. In response to an announcement by the head of the Plan and Budget Organization, Masoud Mirkazemi, that the new government had abandoned the plan to raise teachers’ salaries, on September 5, large groups of teachers gathered outside of parliament to protest, according to CHRI.  Reportedly they chanted, “The poverty line is 12 million tomans ($2,800); our salary is three million tomans ($710).” On September 14, another protest was held around the country.

According to a CHRI report, Mahmoud Beheshti-Langroudi, the former spokesman for the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association (ITTA) who had been jailed since 2017, continued serving a 14-year combined sentence for charges associated with his peaceful defense of labor rights. Esmail Abdi, a mathematics teacher and former ITTA secretary general, continued serving his six-year prison sentence for labor rights activism. He was arrested in 2015 and convicted in 2016 for “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security.” In March 2020 Abdi was furloughed due to the COVID-19 pandemic but a month later was returned to Evin Prison to serve a suspended 10-year sentence he received in 2010 for “gathering information with the intention to disrupt national security” and “propaganda against the state.” He contracted COVID-19 after being returned to Evin. As reportedly occurred with other activists and political prisoners throughout the year, on March 16, authorities suddenly “exiled” or transferred Abdi from Evin Prison to Rajai Shahr Prison as reprisal for a 13-day hunger strike in protest of restrictions of prisoner rights. In his July report, UNSR Rehman expressed concern regarding Abdi’s detention.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law and made no significant effort to address forced labor during the year. It was unclear whether the law prescribes penalties that were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes such as kidnapping. Conditions indicative of forced labor sometimes occurred in the construction, domestic labor, and agricultural sectors, primarily among adult Afghan men and boys younger than age 18. Family members and others forced children to work.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits employment of children younger than age 15 and places restrictions on employment of children younger than 18, such as prohibiting hard labor or night work. The law does not apply to domestic labor and permits children to work in agriculture and some small businesses from age 12. The government did not adequately monitor or enforce laws pertaining to child labor, and child labor remained a serious problem. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other analogous, serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The United Nations in 2016 cited a 2003 law that exempts workshops with fewer than 10 employees from labor regulations as increasing the risks of economic exploitation of children. The UN report also noted serious concerns with the large number of children employed under hazardous conditions, such as in garbage collection, brick kilns, and industrial workshops, without protective clothing and for very low pay. A 2020 law that protects children and adolescents includes penalties for certain acts that harm a child’s safety and well-being, including physical harm and preventing access to education. The law reportedly allows officials to relocate children in situations that seriously threaten their safety. The law imposes financial penalties for parents or guardians who fail to provide for their child’s access to education through secondary level (see section 6, Children).

According to Borna News Agency, on February 1, a 14-year-old from Mahshahr named Mohammad hanged himself after COVID-19 left him unemployed. He reportedly had been forced to drop out of school in 2020 due to poverty and was selling purified water for a living.

There were reportedly significant numbers of children, especially of Afghan descent, who worked as street vendors in major urban areas. According to official estimates, there were 60,000 homeless children, although many children’s rights organizations estimated up to 200,000 homeless children. The Committee on the Rights of the Child reported that street children in particular were subjected to various forms of economic exploitation, including sexual abuse and exploitation by the public and police officers. Child labor also was used in the production of carpets and bricks. Children worked as beggars, and there were reports criminals forced some children into begging rings. According to the Iranian Students’ News Agency, Reza Ghadimi, the managing director of the Tehran Social Services Organization, stated in 2018 that, according to a survey of 400 child laborers, 90 percent were “molested.”

Also, see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution bars discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, and social status “in conformity with Islamic criteria,” but the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. According to the constitution, “everyone has the right to choose any occupation he wishes, if it is not contrary to Islam and the public interests and does not infringe on the rights of others.” Discrimination with respect to employment and occupation occurred in several categories, including gender, ethnicity, and disability. It was unclear whether penalties for violations were commensurate with other laws on civil rights, such as election interference.

Despite this constitutional provision, the government made systematic efforts to limit women’s access to the workplace, and their participation in the job market remained as low as 16 percent. Women reportedly earned 41 percent less than men for the same work. Unemployment for women in the country was twice as high as it was for men. Hiring practices often discriminated against women, and the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare guidelines stated that men should be given preferential hiring status. An Interior Ministry directive requires all officials only hire secretaries of their own gender. The law restricts women from working in jobs deemed hazardous or arduous. Women remained banned from working in coffee houses and from performing music alongside men, with very limited exceptions made for traditional music. Women in many fields were restricted from working after 9 p.m.

Kurds, Ahwazis, Azeris, Baha’is, and Baluchis reported political and socioeconomic discrimination regarding their access to economic aid, business licenses, and job opportunities.

CHRI reported that, according to the director of the State Welfare Organization, 60 percent of persons with disabilities remained unemployed.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law does not provide for a national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy. In 2018 the Supreme Labor Council, the government body charged with proposing labor regulations, agreed to raise the minimum monthly wage by 19.8 percent. There were reported complaints that the minimum wage increase was too low in light of the plunging value of the Iranian rial against the United States dollar, which is used to price day-to-day goods. The minimum wage is commonly below the poverty line in rural areas. In April 2020 media reported that following failed meetings, workers, employers, and the government agreed to increase the minimum wage from the previous year by 21 percent. According to CHRI, the Free Union of Iranian Workers issued a statement denouncing the Supreme Labor Council’s method of averaging the inflation rate for a basket of essential goods and services “that is less than half the actual rate of inflation and as a result lowers what workers will earn down to a level below the poverty line.”

The law establishes a maximum six-day, 44-hour workweek with a weekly rest day, at least 12 days of paid annual leave, and several paid public holidays. Any hours worked above that total entitle a worker to overtime. The law mandates a payment above the hourly wage to employees for any accrued overtime and provides that overtime work is not compulsory. The law does not cover workers in workplaces with fewer than 10 workers, nor does it apply to noncitizens.

Employers sometimes subjected migrant workers, most often Afghans, to abusive working conditions, including below-minimum-wage salaries, nonpayment of wages, compulsory overtime, and summary deportation. The government did not effectively enforce the laws related to wages, hours, and occupational safety and health. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

According to media reports, many workers continued to be employed on temporary contracts, under which they lacked protections available to full-time, noncontract workers and could be dismissed at will. In June 2020 a group of nurses protested after their temporary contracts were not renewed. While the Health Ministry had complained of a shortage of up to 100,000 nurses, health-care centers and hospitals increasingly took advantage of labor laws that allowed them to hire nurses with 89-day contracts, which were not renewed. The problem was compounded by the pandemic, as many private and state hospitals lost business from revenue-generating procedures, which were placed on hold. Health-care workers continued to protest during the year in several cities after hospitals failed to pay government-approved wages. None had received overtime pay or COVID-19 health benefits. Large numbers of workers employed in small workplaces or in the informal economy similarly lacked basic protections.

Low wages, nonpayment of wages, and lack of job security due to contracting practices continued to contribute to strikes and protests, which occurred throughout the year. In early June authorities arrested nine workers of District 2 Municipality for protesting. According to the FTUIW, Boroujerd police raided a gathering of Saman Time workers in April and arrested several protesting workers.

According to HRANA, Javanmir Moradi, a labor activist and member of the Electricians’ Union in Kermanshah, was arrested and tried in 2020 and sentenced to one year in prison. During the year the appeals court commuted his sentence to a fine. According to Radio Zamaneh, Branch 2 of Shahria’s Revolutionary Court sentenced Haidar Ghorbani, a construction worker and member of the FTUIW, to 11 years in prison on national security charges and “propaganda against the regime.” In addition to directly suppressing and detaining protesting workers, employers threatened to fire workers inside production units. Managers at the General Directorate of Ports and Maritime Affairs in Khuzestan Province asked workers to pledge not to participate in protests. They also prevented two workers’ representatives from entering the workplace. In the Arvand Free Zone Organization, service workers in the Abadan and Khorramshahr industrial towns who protested wage arrears and went on strike were threatened with dismissal. Gharib Havizavi and Hossein Rezaei, labor representatives for the Ahwaz National Steel Industrial Group, were fired on March 30. Since late March workers in oil refining, petrochemicals, and drilling industries continued to strike in at least 25 rallies across the country over working conditions, employment contracts that disadvantaged workers, and unpaid wages.

Occupational Safety and Health: Little information was available regarding labor inspection and related law enforcement activity. While the law provides for occupational health and safety standards, the government did not effectively enforce these standards. Penalties for violations of the law were not commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. The law states inspections may be done day or night, without prior notice. Family businesses require written permission of the local prosecutor. The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations rests with the technical protection and occupational health committee of workplaces designated by the Ministry of Labor.

Labor organizations reported that hazardous work environments resulted in the deaths of thousands of workers annually. In February 2020, according to a report issued by a state media outlet, the head of the Public Relations and International Affairs Office of the Iranian Forensic Medicine Organization, Hamed Naeiji, announced that in 2019 the number of work-related deaths and injuries increased by 8.5 percent compared with the same period of the previous year. Naeiji stated the three main reasons for work-related deaths were falls, being struck by hard objects, and electrocution. In 2018 the Iranian Labor News Agency quoted the head of the Construction Workers Association as estimating there were 1,200 deaths and 1,500 spinal cord injuries annually among construction workers, while local media routinely reported on workers’ deaths from explosions, gas poisoning, electrocution, or similar accidents.

Informal Sector: The law does not provide for occupational health and safety standards for workers in the informal economy. Large numbers of workers were employed in small workplaces or in the informal economy. Workers lacked basic protections in construction, domestic labor, and agricultural sectors, primarily among adult Afghan men and boys younger than age 18.

Israel, West Bank and Gaza

Read A Section: Israel

West Bank and Gaza

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Israel is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Although it has no constitution, its parliament, the unicameral 120-member Knesset, has enacted a series of “Basic Laws” that enumerate fundamental rights. Certain fundamental laws, orders, and regulations legally depend on the existence of a “state of emergency,” which has been in effect since 1948. In 2018 the Knesset passed the “Nation-State Law,” which recognized the right to national self-determination as “unique to the Jewish people.” Under the Basic Laws, the Knesset has the power to dissolve itself and mandate elections. On March 23, the country held legislative elections after the coalition government failed to pass a budget in December 2020. It was the fourth election in two years. On June 2, Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Naftali Bennett (Yamina) announced the formation of a rotational coalition government, which the Knesset approved June 13. The elections were considered free and fair.

Under the authority of the prime minister, the Israeli Security Agency is charged with combatting terrorism and espionage in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The national police, including the border police and the immigration police, are under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security. The Israel Defense Forces are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Defense. Israeli Security Agency forces operating in the West Bank fall under the Israel Defense Forces for operations and operational debriefing. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security services. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings; arbitrary detention, often extraterritorial detention of Palestinians from the occupied territories in Israel; restrictions on Palestinians residing in Jerusalem including arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, and home; substantial interference with the freedom of association; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; harassment of nongovernmental organizations; significant restrictions on freedom of movement within the country; violence against asylum seekers and irregular migrants; violence or threats of violence against national, racial, or ethnic minority groups; and labor rights abuses against foreign workers and Palestinians from the West Bank.

The Israeli military and civilian justice systems have on occasion found members of the security forces to have committed abuses. The government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, engaged in corruption, or both within Israel.

This section of the report covers Israel within the 1949 Armistice Agreement lines as well as Golan Heights and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war and where it later extended its domestic law, jurisdiction, and administration. The United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019. Language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Ministry of Justice’s Department for Investigations of Police Officers (DIPO) is responsible for investigating alleged unlawful actions involving police, while the Ministry of Justice’s State Attorney’s Office is responsible for investigating alleged unlawful actions involving the prosecution service. The Military Police Criminal Investigation Division is responsible for investigating alleged unlawful actions involving the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in conjunction with the Military Advocate General’s Corps.

According to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, during the Israeli military campaign from May 10 to 21, Palestinian militants in Gaza launched 4,360 rockets and mortars at Israeli cities and towns targeting civilians. During the operation, 12 Israelis, two of them children, were killed by rocket fire, and one IDF soldier was killed by an antitank missile.

According to the government, 15 Israelis were killed in terror attacks during the year, including two soldiers; in addition, three foreign nationals (two Thai citizens and one Indian) were killed from mortar and rockets from Gaza. According to the Shin Bet, 195 Israelis were injured in attacks from Gaza, in the West Bank, and in Jerusalem. There was a total of 4,575 terror attacks, including rockets and mortars, of which 2,805 were registered in May, according to the Shin Bet.

In April the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Yesh Din released a report on the Military Advocate General’s Corps (MAG’s) Fact Finding Assessment (FFA) Mechanism that was implemented to investigate incidents, including injuries and fatalities, during the “March of Return” protests which started in March 2018 and continued through late 2019. Yesh Din found that of 231 incidents forwarded to the FFA, 59 percent, covering 140 fatalities, remained under FFA review. Most of these fatalities were still undergoing the FFA Mechanism’s “quick” assessment three years later, according to Yesh Din. The FFA examines the details of a case and provides all relevant information to the MAG, who determines whether a criminal investigation is warranted. Yesh Din stated it was skeptical of the Israeli military’s ability to conduct thorough and effective investigations of these incidents so long after they occurred.

A November 30 report by the B’Tselem information center for human rights concluded that the Israeli government had not seriously investigated killings of Palestinians or held IDF members accountable, despite announcing in 2018 that it would open investigations of its use of lethal force, in part to deflect international criticism and investigation at the International Criminal Court.

A study published by a group of academic researchers in September concluded citizens with mental disabilities were at greater risk of being subjected to violence when interacting with police. The study examined media publications in the years 2019-20 and found that four of the five cases that ended in civilian deaths due to a confrontation with police officers involved victims with mental disabilities. All four of these individuals belonged to a minority group.

On January 8, DIPO closed the case against the police officer who shot and killed Shirel Habura, a mentally ill man, in the central Israeli city of Rosh Ha’ayin in April 2020. Investigators found the officer had not committed a crime but had acted in self-defense because his life was in concrete danger when Habura attacked him with a knife.

On May 23, DIPO announced it was closing the criminal case against the police officer who on March 29, killed a mentally ill Haifa resident named Munir Anabtawi. DIPO determined that the officer acted in self-defense after finding himself in a life-threatening situation when the victim wielded a knife while chasing him.

On May 19, 17-year-old Muhammad Mahamid Kiwan died after police reportedly shot him on May 12 at the Mei Ami junction on Route 65. His family claimed police used unnecessary force in shooting Kiwan. Media outlets reported a police statement confirming two officers fired at a car that ran into them near the city of Umm al-Fahm on the day Kiwan was fatally wounded. Police did not clarify who fired the shots that killed Kiwan, or whether Kiwan was in the car that struck the police officers. DIPO concluded an investigation, and the case was pending a final ruling by authorities.

In June 2020, police in Jerusalem’s Old City fatally shot Iyad Halak, a Palestinian resident with autism, after he allegedly failed to follow police orders to stop. Police stated they believed Halak was carrying a “suspicious object.” On June 17, DIPO filed an indictment with the Jerusalem District Court against the border police officer who shot and killed Halak. DIPO charged him with reckless homicide, an offense punishable by up to 12 years’ imprisonment. According to media reports, the officer accused of shooting Halak was not charged with first-degree murder because the officer believed he was pursuing a terrorist, following an alert of a potential terrorist in the area.

In 2020 the NGOs the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) and the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) submitted a request to the Supreme Court demanding the reversal of a decision by the then state attorney to close the investigation into the 2017 police killing of Yaqoub Abu al-Qian in Umm al-Hiran and the criminal indictment of the officers responsible for the death of Abu al-Qian. On October 21, the court denied the petition stating that the then state attorney’s decision and the preliminary examination conducted by DIPO was sufficient to substantiate the decision not to press charges against the officers involved, and that it seemed unlikely that launching an investigation would lead to indictments.

In 2019 the Supreme Court granted a petition filed by the family of citizen Kheir al-Din Hamdan, ordering the attorney general and DIPO to indict police officer Yizhak Begin, who shot and killed Hamdan in 2014, after DIPO closed its investigation into the killing in 2015. On April 27, the Supreme Court president ordered an expanded panel of justices to review whether an indictment could be ordered against police officers who were questioned without a warning during the DIPO investigation. The review continued at year’s end.

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

Israeli law does not include a specific prohibition on torture, although Israel signed the UN Convention against Torture in 1986 and signed it in 1991. Israeli domestic law prohibits the application of physical force, assault, or pressure by a public official. The state’s attorney has argued that Israeli law exempts from prosecution Israeli Security Agency (ISA) interrogators who use what are termed “exceptional methods” in cases that are determined by the Ministry of Justice after the fact to have involved an imminent threat. The government determined in 2018 that the rules, procedures, and methods of interrogation were confidential for security reasons.

Authorities continued to state the ISA held detainees in isolation only in extreme cases and when there was no alternative, and that the ISA did not use isolation as a means of augmenting interrogation, forcing a confession, or punishment. An independent Office of the Inspector for Complaints against ISA Interrogators in the Ministry of Justice handled complaints of misconduct and abuse in interrogations. The decision to open an investigation against an ISA employee is at the discretion of the attorney general. In criminal cases investigated by police involving crimes with a maximum imprisonment for conviction of 10 years or more, regulations require recording the interrogations; however, an extended temporary law exempts the ISA from the audio and video recording requirement for interrogations of suspects related to “security offenses.” In nonsecurity-related cases, ISA interrogation rooms are equipped with closed-circuit cameras, and only supervisors appointed by the Ministry of Justice have access to real-time audiovisual feeds. Supervisors are required to report to the comptroller any irregularities they observe during interrogations. The NGO Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) criticized this mechanism as insufficient to prevent and identify abuses, arguing that the absence of a recording of an interrogation impedes later accountability and judicial review.

According to PCATI, the government acknowledged that it used “exceptional measures” during interrogation in some cases, that if confirmed might constitute torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but the Ministry of Justice refused to provide information regarding the number of such “necessity” interrogations or which “exceptional measures” were used. According to PCATI, these matters included beatings, forcing an individual to hold a stress position for long periods, incommunicado detention, sexual harassment, threats of rape and physical harm, painful pressure from shackles or restraints applied to the forearms, religion-based humiliation, sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme heat and cold, and threats against families of detainees.

PCATI also argued that torture is not enumerated as a specific offense under the criminal code, despite the government’s commitments to the relevant UN treaty bodies that it would introduce such a law criminalizing torture. PCATI reported a continuous upward trend in the number of cases of ISA using “special means,” with 60 cases of alleged physical torture during interrogations, based on data compiled by PCATI through interviews and examination of Palestinians incarcerated or formerly held in detention for suspected security offenses, some of which were filed during the year and some in previous years. PCATI stated the government’s system for investigating allegations of mistreatment of detainees showed persistent and systemic shortcomings. According to PCATI, the average time it takes authorities to address complaints increased from 44 months in 2020 to 56 months during the year. The Ministry of Justice stated that its internal reviews led to the opening of two investigations since 2018. PCATI claimed that more than 1,300 complaints of ISA torture were submitted to the Ministry of Justice since 2001 but resulted in only one criminal investigation and no indictments.

On January 24, the attorney general announced “no sufficient evidence was found to justify an indictment” of security officials in the case of Samer al-Arbid, a Palestinian suspect in the 2019 killing of Rina Shnerb near the settlement of Dolev in the West Bank. PCATI alleged the ISA used “exceptional measures” in interrogating al-Arbid, who was admitted to a hospital unconscious and with serious injuries following an interrogation.

The government stated that requests from prisoners for independent medical examination at the prisoner’s expense are reviewed by an Israel Prison Service (IPS) medical team. According to PCATI and Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), IPS medics and doctors ignored bruises and injuries resulting from violent arrests and interrogations. In its 2016 review of the country’s compliance with the UN Convention against Torture, the UN Committee against Torture recommended (among 50 other recommendations) that the government provide for independent medical examinations for all detainees.

On June 12, Haaretz released footage taken from Ketziot prison in 2019 showing IPS officers gathering approximately 55 Palestinian prisoners in restraints, throwing them to the floor, beating them with batons, and kicking them while they were bent over with their hands cuffed. According to a report documenting the incident, the prisoners were ordered not to move or speak for hours. The IPS responded that prisoners at Ketziot prison were planning a terror attack and that a prisoner had tried to kill two prison officers and was subsequently indicted for attempted murder.

On April 7, the State Attorney’s Office decided to close the investigation into the alleged severe sexual assault by the Shin Bet and IDF of a young Palestinian woman in 2015 for lack of evidence. The victim alleged officers carried out a nonconsensual and intrusive vaginal and anal search. According to an April 22 Haaretz report, all individuals involved in the incident were promoted except for the female soldier who carried out the search (along with a female military doctor). PCATI claimed the search was carried out in violation of the Criminal Procedure Law, which regulates the exceptional circumstances in which an invasive search may be conducted. The law requires the consent of the suspect, a court order, and an appropriate place to conduct the search. According to PCATI, because the suspect objected to the search, the incident constituted a serious sexual assault. PCATI called on authorities to reconsider the decision not to prosecute the officials involved and urged their immediate dismissal from public service.

On June 7, the Adalah (“Justice” in Arabic) human rights and legal center filed a complaint with the attorney general and DIPO demanding a criminal investigation against Nazareth police station officers for allegedly attacking and beating detainees including minors, bystanders, and lawyers in the city’s police station. Adalah asserted that the testimonies from detainees, attorneys, and paramedics revealed systemic police brutality and physical, verbal, and psychological abuse of Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel. These testimonies indicated what Adalah described as a “torture room” inside the Nazareth police station after police officers led detainees to a room forcing them to sit on the floor handcuffed, to lower their heads towards the floor, and began to beat them.

In 2020 a district court convicted Amiram Ben Uliel on three murder charges, two attempted murder charges, arson, and conspiracy to commit a crime motivated by racism, for his role in an arson attack in Duma in 2015 that killed a Palestinian couple and their infant. On September 14, the court sentenced Ben Uliel to three life sentences plus 20 years and ordered him to pay a monetary fine. Ben Uliel appealed the conviction to the Supreme Court, which was pending at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The law provides that prisoners and detainees have the right to conditions that do not harm their health or dignity.

Physical Conditions: Local human rights organizations reported Palestinian security prisoners (those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence) often faced more restrictive conditions than prisoners characterized as criminals. Restrictive conditions included increased incidences of administrative detention, restricted family visits, ineligibility for temporary furloughs, and solitary confinement. The IPS held the former leader of the banned Northern Islamic Movement, Sheikh Raed Salah, in solitary confinement during half of his 28-month prison sentence, according to Salah’s statement upon his release on December 13.

The NGO Ma’avarim – Israeli Trans Community, noted that in January a 26-year-old trans woman was held in Abu Kabir detention center in solitary confinement due to her status as transgender.

On November 22, the Association for Civil Rights (ACRI) and PCATI petitioned the High Court, demanding police immediately install cameras in all police entry checkpoint posts at the Damascus Gate following publicly released social media footage of alleged severe police violence against Palestinian detainees.

The Public Defender’s Office publishes a detailed annual report reviewing the conditions of detention and imprisonment in the country, based on official visits made by representatives of the Public Defender’s Office to the various detention centers and facilities under the responsibility of the IPS, Israel Police, and the courts. In its 2021 report, the Public Defender’s Office continued to warn of severe overcrowding in Israeli detention facilities, violating the inmates’ rights, including their right to “respect, privacy, and health.”

The Public Defender’s Office annual report detailed the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on conditions of imprisonment, including limitations on lawyers’ and family visits, conjugal visits and inmate vacations, rehabilitation, work performed both inside and outside of prisons, as well as on the physical presence of detainees and inmates in their legal hearings. The in-person participation of detainees and inmates in their legal hearings was restricted and limited to secure video conference alternatives, which caused “severe damage” to their basic legal rights, according to the Public Defender’s Office.

The Public Defender’s Office found deficiencies in eight detention facilities regarding the holding of adult inmates in isolation or separation, with some of the facilities’ holding wings in poor condition. The Public Defender’s Office assessed that despite efforts to expand rehabilitation programs offered to prisoners in 2019-20, many inmates in detention facilities still did not enjoy access to such programs. The report also detailed shortcomings in providing medical care, appropriate living conditions, hygiene and sanitation, and food quality and quantity. The Public Defender’s Office further found the prison system did not always honor the right for attorney-client meetings, issued excessive punishment for discipline problems, failed to treat prisoners appropriately, and violated prisoners’ privacy.

In 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that the state must provide living space no smaller than 48 square feet (including toilet and shower) per prisoner and mandated a timeline by which the state must comply with the requirements in two phases a year and a half from the day of the ruling. Despite several time extensions provided by the court, the state had yet to comply with the mandate and notified the Supreme Court that for the time being, only approximately 40 percent of detention facilities provide the required minimum living space. In 2018 the Knesset passed a temporary law, which has since been extended, granting early release of prisoners (excluding Palestinian security prisoners) to facilitate the implementation of the verdict. According to the Public Defender’s Office, to comply with the Supreme Court’s mandate, the state must investigate possible alternative approaches to arrests and imprisonments for minor infractions. On February 14, the High Court postponed the implementation date of the section of the ruling requiring 48 square feet per prisoner, extending the original deadline of June 2017 to December 31. On June 29, the court ruled that the deadline applied to Shin Bet security facilities as well.

As of December, the government had not applied a 2015 law authorizing force-feeding under specific conditions of prisoners on hunger strikes. The Israel Medical Association declared the law unethical and urged doctors to refuse to implement it. Regulations stipulate that medical treatment must be provided in reasonable quality and time, based on medical considerations, and within the resources and funding available for the IPS. Regulations also allow the IPS to deny medical treatment if there are budgetary concerns, according to the PHRI.

A report published by the PHRI in 2019 pointed to significant failures in the IPS medical system. The report assessed that the separate health-care system for prisoners was unable to provide services equivalent to those provided to the general population through enrollment in government-sponsored health maintenance organizations (HMOs). According to the PHRI’s findings, the services did not meet the accepted HMO standards, and in half of the incidents examined, there was a risk posed to the health of the inmates due to substandard treatment or denial of treatment. PHRI recommendations included applying national HMO standards to medical care provided in IPS facilities, establishing a professional and efficient supervision mechanism to govern medical services provided by IPS, and increasing the opportunities for outside medical practitioners to provide care in prisons.

Data received by PHRI from the IPS following a Freedom of Information request highlighted that between August 2020 and March, of the 2,758 prisoners who were considered in risk groups for Hepatitis C, only 654 were tested. The IPS reported that in 2020, only 54 prisoners who tested positive for Hepatitis C received treatment, compared with 53 in 2019, demonstrating insufficient medical testing and treatment of those needing it, PHRI argued.

On July 8, a prisoner filed a lawsuit against the IPS for denying him access to appropriate medical services for two days after he was subjected to electric shocks in his cell. The prisoner claimed a warden teased him for being overweight while the prison medic only gave him a pain killer.

Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment, except as noted above. The government granted visitation permits to family members of prisoners from the West Bank only on a limited basis and restricted those entering from Gaza more severely.

Independent Monitoring: Despite COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in the country, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) maintained its visits to detention facilities (including interrogation centers) with adapted visiting procedures to monitor conditions of detention, detainee treatment, and detainee access to family contacts. The ICRC also monitored humanitarian consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and related measures on Palestinian detainees and their families and continued engaging relevant authorities in this regard. The ICRC’s family visit program – through which families of Palestinian detainees may visit their relatives in Israeli custody – remained suspended for families from Gaza due to COVID-19 pandemic movement restrictions on both sides of the Gaza border.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Israeli civil law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements, although NGOs identified cases where the requirements were not followed, and Israeli authorities also did not always apply the same laws to all residents of Jerusalem, regardless of their Israeli citizenship status.

NGOs and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem alleged that Israeli security forces disproportionally devoted enforcement actions to Palestinian neighborhoods, particularly Issawiya and Sheikh Jarrah, with higher numbers of temporary checkpoints and raids than in West Jerusalem. For example, on August 10, the IDF detained Sheikh Jarrah resident and activist Murad Ateah and subsequently extended his detention multiple times without charge before charging him with organizing activities that disturbed the peace in the neighborhood. His first hearing was scheduled for September 30 and his detention was subsequently extended 12 times to January 12, 2022.

Israeli press also reported on “serious violent behavior” by Israeli police towards Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. Among complaints reportedly filed with the Police Internal Investigations Department, the report quoted a 16-year-old boy’s allegations that he was stripped and beaten in a public washroom; alleged that a 60-year-old Palestinian woman was handcuffed and dragged across the floor; cited a female journalist’s complaint she was subjected to sexist comments during an interrogation; reported that a youth was attacked in Jerusalem’s city center; and stated that another child was dragged out of bed in the middle of the night, falsely identified as someone else, and his family members were beaten. Jerusalem police force described the report as “distorted and one-sided” but did not dispute any of the details reported. Palestinians also criticized police for devoting fewer resources per capita to regular crime and community policing in Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem. According to NGOs, police did not maintain a permanent presence in areas of Jerusalem outside the barrier, dividing the majority of the West Bank from Israel and some communities in Jerusalem, and only entered to conduct raids. Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza detained on security grounds fell under military jurisdiction, even if detained inside Israel (see West Bank and Gaza section).

The government may detain without trial and for an indefinite period irregular migrants who were “implicated in criminal proceedings.” According to the NGO Hotline for Refugees and Migrants (HRM), this policy enabled indefinite detention either without a trial or following the completion of time served.

During the 11-day Israeli military operation against terrorist organizations in Gaza and contemporaneous civil unrest within Israel from May 6 to 21, civil rights groups claimed police blocked main highways and limited the movement of Bedouin residents following demonstrations in Rahat, Laqiya, and Shaqib al-Salam.

On May 24, police launched an operation deploying thousands of police and border police forces to arrest suspected rioters, criminals, and others instigating unrest in several predominantly mixed Jewish-Arab cities, as defined by the government, in Israel during the month of May. According to police, the goal of the operation was to prosecute those involved in the unrest by filing charges of possession and trade in weapons, arson, property offenses, membership in crime organizations, and economic offenses. In addition, police stated the operation would restore deterrence, increase governance, and maintain the personal security of Israeli citizens. The High Follow-up Committee (HFUC), an organization of Arab/Palestinian citizen leaders, asserted the goal of the operation was to intimidate Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel. The HFUC cautioned that the operation could rekindle strife within Israel’s mixed communities after a relative calm following the mutual cessation of hostilities following the May escalation in violence.

On June 3, police announced the end of the operation after it had resulted in 2,142 arrests and 184 indictments against 285 defendants. According to police, 322 officers were injured during the operation. Haaretz reported that Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel constituted 91 percent of the arrests for suspicion of involvement in riots across the country from the day before commencement of the country’s May military campaign until June 3.

On May 11, Arab/Palestinian Israeli citizen students from Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva organized a protest government practices in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem and violence against Arab/Palestinian citizens. Shortly before the protest concluded, far-right counterdemonstrators confronted the Arab/Palestinian Israeli citizen students, leading police to intervene and arrest several of the students. Police did not arrest counterdemonstrators, according to media reports and civil rights groups. After the demonstration concluded, a special police unit joined by the university’s security forces reportedly violently attacked and arrested eight additional Arab/Palestinian citizen students near the dormitories, five of whom were later released and three of whom were charged with assaulting police officers, disruption, and causing disorder and violence.

On February 22, the Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF) and the NGO Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF) reported that police arbitrarily arrested 15 Arab Bedouin citizens who were protesting government efforts to plough approximately 690 acres of land in the villages of al-Garrah, al-Ruays, and Sawah, which resulted in accidental damage to a pipe that provided clean drinking water for residents. The HRDF and NCF alleged police conduct was “unacceptable.”

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police must have a warrant based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official to arrest a suspect. Excluding those in administrative detention, authorities generally informed defendants promptly of charges against them. The law allows authorities to detain suspects without charge for 24 hours prior to appearing before a judge, with limited exceptions allowing for up to 48 hours. Authorities generally respected these rights for persons arrested in the country; the judge then has the authority to extend the detention for a period of up to 15 days at a time to a total of 30 days. There is a functioning bail system, and detainees may appeal decisions denying bail. Authorities allow detainees to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, including one provided by the government for the indigent, and to contact family members promptly.

According to a May 2020 State Comptrollers Report, police data on the number of criminal arrests were incomplete. For example, in the years 2016-18, the data did not include records of approximately 123,000 arrests. Police do not document in an orderly manner all the actions they must take to ensure detainees exercise their right to consult a lawyer, including data on the time of submission of a request for the appointment of a defense attorney, according to the state comptroller. The Court Administration and the Public Defender have claimed during the past decade that police underutilized their authority to release detainees on parole and instead detained them unnecessarily until they were brought to court. In addition, according to the comptroller’s report, large sums of money deposited as bail bonds accumulated and nearly half the funds, totaling approximately 148 million Israel new shekels ($47 million), were not returned to those entitled to them as of 2019.

Authorities detained most Palestinian prisoners within Israel. Authorities prosecuted under Israeli military law Palestinians held in Israel who were not citizens, a practice the government has applied since 1967. Israel does not prosecute Israeli citizens who commit similar crimes in the West Bank under Israeli law. The government has asserted in domestic court proceedings that this practice is consistent with international obligations related to military occupation. Some human rights groups, including Military Court Watch, claimed that the country’s detention of the majority of convicted Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza in prisons inside Israel was a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. According to the circumstances of each case, such as the severity of the alleged offense, status as a minor, risk of escape, or other factors, authorities either granted or denied bail to Palestinians detained for security violations.

Authorities may prosecute persons detained on security grounds criminally or hold them as administrative detainees or illegal combatants, according to one of three legal regimes.

First, under a temporary law on criminal procedures, repeatedly renewed since 2006, the IPS may hold persons suspected of a security offense for 48 hours and, with limited exceptions, detain a suspect for up to 96 hours prior to bringing them before a judge. In security-related cases, authorities may hold a person for up to 35 days without an indictment (versus 30 days for nonsecurity cases). The law allows the court to extend detentions on security grounds for an initial period of up to 20 days for interrogation without an indictment (versus 15 days for nonsecurity cases). Authorities may deny security detainees access to an attorney for up to 21 days under civilian procedures.

Second, the Emergency Powers Law allows the Ministry of Defense to detain persons administratively without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely.

Third, the Illegal Combatant Law permits authorities to hold detainees for 14 days before review by a district court judge, deny them access to counsel for up to 21 days with the attorney general’s approval, and allow indefinite detention, subject to semiannual district court reviews and appeals to the Supreme Court.

The government stated it used solitary confinement only when a detainee threatened himself or others and authorities had exhausted other options or, in some cases during interrogation, to prevent disclosure of information. In such cases, authorities maintained the detainee had the right to meet with International Committee of the Red Cross representatives, IPS personnel, and medical personnel, if necessary. According to the government, the IPS did not hold Palestinian detainees in separate detention punitively or to induce confessions. NGOs, including Military Court Watch, HaMoked, and B’Tselem, accused authorities of using isolation to punish or silence politically prominent Palestinian detainees.

Palestinian sources reported the IPS placed in isolation, without a full medical evaluation, Palestinian detainees with mental disabilities or who were a threat to themselves or others. According to the PHRI, isolation of Palestinian prisoners with mental disabilities was common.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were allegations that authorities arbitrarily arrested Israeli citizens and Palestinians who participated in protests.

On January 14, during a protest in Nazareth against the visit of then prime minister Netanyahu, police arrested 19 Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel. According to Adalah, officers hindered evacuation of two wounded protesters who required urgent medical attention, including a young man who underwent surgery to treat a head wound and another who suffered a severe leg wound. Joint List Knesset members who participated in the demonstration protested police actions to forcefully remove them, which they claim violated their parliamentary immunity. According to the Human Rights Defenders Fund, police forces employed disproportionate crowd dispersal measures, including water cannons.

Pretrial Detention: Administrative detention continued to result in lengthy pretrial detention for security detainees (see above). According to the government, as of December 13, the country held 501 detainees under administrative detention, including two Arab/Palestinian citizens, nine Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, and 490 Palestinians from the West Bank.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Exceptions to the right for a public trial include national security concerns, protection of the interest of a minor or an individual requiring special protection, and protection of the identity of an accuser or defendant in a sex-offense case. The law permits publishing the identity of a survivor of a sex offense, provided the survivor gives written consent for publication.

Defendants enjoy the rights to a presumption of innocence, to be informed in detail of the charges against them within 30 days of arrest, to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and to be present at their trial. Defendants may consult with an attorney or, if indigent, have one provided at public expense. They have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants who cannot understand or speak the language used in court have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charges are filed through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. They may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and may appeal to the Supreme Court.

The state comptroller examined and found in a May 18 report that the appointment of a state attorney during the preliminary stages of an investigation blurs the delineation between the responsibilities of investigative units and the prosecution. The report noted the powers of state attorneys are not anchored in legislation and guidelines and there is no uniformity in the way state attorneys are assigned. According to the state comptroller, a basic rule of criminal procedure is to maintain a separation between the investigating body and the prosecuting body and to maintain the independence of the prosecutor’s legal discretion.

The prosecution is under a general obligation following an indictment to provide all evidence to the defense. The government may on security grounds withhold from defense lawyers evidence it has gathered that is not for use in its case against the accused. The Supreme Court may scrutinize the decision to withhold such evidence in civilian courts, while the Court of Appeals has jurisdiction for military courts. The rules of evidence in espionage cases tried in criminal court do not differ from the normal rules of evidence, and no use of secret evidence is permissible, although trials and hearings may be held behind closed doors under gag order restrictions.

In August 2020 the Knesset passed a law, extended on August 11 to the end of the year, that permitted virtual hearings with prisoners and detainees during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. While authorities usually allowed visits from lawyers and stated that every inmate who requested to meet with an attorney was able to do so, this was not always the case. Inmates protested the lack of attorney access with hunger strikes, and their families demonstrated in front of the house of the minister of public security. NGOs monitoring prison conditions reported that adult and juvenile Palestinian detainees were denied access to a lawyer during their initial arrests.

The government tried Palestinian residents of the West Bank accused of security offenses in Israeli military courts.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Some human rights organizations claimed that Palestinian security prisoners held in Israel should be considered political prisoners. The government described security prisoners as those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence.

Israeli legal scholars argued that Israel holds Palestinian prisoners in Israeli facilities in violation of international law. The practice of holding Palestinian prisoners in Israel has been challenged twice in the Supreme Court, and in both cases the court ruled that the practice was permitted based on the country’s emergency defense regulations.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

An independent and impartial judiciary adjudicates lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Administrative remedies exist, and court orders usually were enforced. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem may file suit against the government of Israel under the same rules that govern access to judicial and administrative remedies by Israeli citizens. By law nonresident Palestinians may file suit in civil courts to obtain compensation in some cases, even when a criminal suit is unsuccessful and the actions against them are considered legal.

Property Seizure and Restitution

In May significant protests broke out against several eviction proceedings in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Jewish landowners and their descendants, land trusts representing the families, or Jewish organizations that had purchased their titles have advanced claims under Israeli law to reclaim property they had abandoned in East Jerusalem during fighting prior to 1949, but Palestinian landowners who abandoned property in Israel in the same period have no reciprocal right under Israeli law to stake their legal claim to the property (see section 1.e.). In some cases, private Jewish organizations acquired legal ownership of reclaimed Jewish property in East Jerusalem, including in the Old City, and through protracted judicial action sought to evict Palestinian families living there, particularly in the neighborhoods of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah. The eviction cases brought by a pro-settler organization, Nahalat Shimon, before the Supreme Court against four families in Sheikh Jarrah was one of the reasons Hamas claimed as pretext for the May 10-21 military conflict. According to the government, all land ownership cases are assessed individually by an administrative committee and are subject to judicial review.

According to Ir Amim and B’Tselem, ethnic discrimination was a factor in resolving disputes regarding land titles acquired before 1948. The law facilitates the resolution of claims by Jewish owners to land owned in East Jerusalem prior to 1948 but does not provide an equal opportunity for Palestinian claimants to land they owned in West Jerusalem or elsewhere in the British Mandate. Additionally, some Jewish and Palestinian landowners in Jerusalem were offered compensation by Israel for property lost prior to 1948. Civil society reports noted that many Palestinian landowners were deemed ineligible for compensation because they were not residents of Jerusalem as of 1973. Other Palestinian landowners refused to accept compensation because they deemed it to be inadequate or in principle due to their rejection of Israeli administration. Jordanian authorities between 1948 and 1967 housed Palestinians in some property that Jewish owners reclaimed after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. Legal disputes continue regarding many of these properties involving Palestinian residents, who have limited protection as tenants under Israeli law. Landlords may request permission to evict tenants, demolish their homes, or both if they receive permission to rezone the property.

The Israeli government and settler organizations in Jerusalem continued to make efforts to increase property ownership in the municipality by Jewish Israelis. Some civil society organizations and representatives of the Palestinian Authority stated these efforts sought to emphasize Jewish history in Palestinian neighborhoods through increased numbers of Jewish residents. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and NGOs such as Bimkom and Ir Amim alleged that the goal of Jerusalem municipal and Israeli national policies was to decrease the total number of Palestinians residing in Jerusalem and claimed that Israeli authorities aimed to designate approximately 30 percent of East Jerusalem for Israeli neighborhoods/settlements.

Palestinians were able in some cases to rent or purchase Israeli-owned property – including private property on government-owned land – but faced significant barriers to both. NGOs stated that after accounting for Israeli neighborhoods/settlements, government property, and declared national parks, only 13 percent of all land in East Jerusalem was available for home construction by Palestinians. In addition, NGOs asserted that there was a continued policy intended to limit construction to prevent the creation or maintenance of contiguous neighborhoods between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israeli official policy remained aimed at maintaining an ethnic balance between Jews and non-Jews in Jerusalem, according to civil society reports. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the Jerusalem Municipality did not have any such policy. Israeli law no longer prevents non-Jews from purchasing housing units, although cultural, religious, and economic barriers to integrated neighborhoods remained, according to civil society representatives.

In 2016 the state comptroller recommended the government quickly act to settle land claims, plan resettlement of Bedouin citizens in cooperation with the Bedouin community, develop infrastructure in recognized Bedouin communities, and formulate an enforcement policy regarding illegal construction. A 2017 law increased the government’s authority to demolish unpermitted structures. Construction remained illegal in towns that did not have an authorized plan for development. Arab/Palestinian members of the Knesset and human rights organizations condemned the law for increasing enforcement and demolitions without addressing the systemic housing shortages in Arab communities that led to unpermitted construction. According to human rights organizations, approximately 50,000 Arab families lived in unpermitted houses.

Some NGOs criticized the lack of Arab/Palestinian representation on regional planning and zoning approval committees and stated that planning for Arab/Palestinian areas was much slower than for Jewish municipalities, leading Arab/Palestinian citizens to build or expand their homes without legal authorization, thus risking a government-issued demolition order. Authorities issued approximately 1,770 administrative and judicial demolition orders during the year, overwhelmingly against Arab/Palestinian-owned structures. In cases of demolitions with no agreement from the residents to relocate, the government levied monetary fines against residents to cover the costs of demolitions.

A development plan for the Bedouin village of al-Fura’a was not completed as of the end of the year, despite government recognition of the village in 2006. As a result the village lacked basic electricity and water infrastructure, and NGOs reported frequent house demolitions. The government stated that a team from the Ministry of Agriculture Authority for the Development and Settlement of Bedouin in the Negev began working on the matter in the second half of 2018 after completing a survey of 180 Bedouin residential clusters.

The government stated it used a “carrot and stick” approach to attempt to compel Bedouin Israeli citizens to move from 35 unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev inhabited by approximately 90,000 persons into government-recognized villages. Tactics included demolishing unpermitted structures and offering incentives to move to Bedouin towns. According to a state comptroller report and information from NGOs, Bedouins often refused to participate because they asserted they either owned the land or that the government had given them prior permission to settle in their existing locations. Bedouins also feared losing their traditional livelihoods and way of life as well as moving onto land claimed by a rival Bedouin clan. The seven Bedouin townships in the Negev were all crowded, especially in comparison with the Jewish towns and cities in the area, and had low-quality infrastructure and inadequate access to services for health, education, welfare, public transportation, mail, and garbage disposal, according to the state comptroller. According to the NGO Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF), Bedouins accounted for 34 percent of the population of the Negev, but only 12.5 percent of the residential-zoned land was designated for the Bedouin population.

As of 2019, approximately 31 percent of the 191,965 acres of Arab Bedouin land in the south of the country that was previously under disputed ownership was no longer in dispute as a result of either settlement agreements or following legal proceedings, according to the government. In addition, the government stated that an additional 25,240 acres of disputed land were registered as state lands while the process to determine ownership remained open.

The NCF reported there were 2,568 demolitions of Bedouin citizen structures in 2020, citing information gained through freedom of information requests to the government. The NCF asserted the demolition policy violated Bedouin citizens access to adequate housing, despite the instruction of the attorney general to reduce demolition warrants and police presence after civil society organizations sent a request to halt demolitions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The NCF noted that house demolitions negatively impacted thousands of children from the Arab Bedouin communities, harmed their mental health, and hindered socio-emotional growth, especially considering the COVID-19 global pandemic. Other civil society contacts stated the demolitions ignored traditional Bedouin seminomadic lifestyles predating the modern state of Israel.

In addition to the Negev, authorities ordered demolition of private property elsewhere, including in Arab towns and villages and in East Jerusalem, stating some structures were built without permits. B’Tselem reported that authorities demolished 121 housing units in East Jerusalem, and owners had demolished 81 units to avoid additional government-imposed fines as of year’s end. This represented a decrease of 28 percent and an increase of 92 percent, respectively, with the number of owner-initiated demolitions the highest since B’Tselem began compiling data in 2008. The number of home demolitions in 2020 was nearly 75 percent higher than the annual average prior to the enactment of the Kaminitz Law and almost 40 percent higher than in 2019, which was the first year the law was fully applied, according to NGOs tracking the matter. Legal experts pointed to the Kaminitz Law, which reduced administrative processing times for demolitions, blocked courts from intervening in many cases, and increased administrative fines for those failing to demolish their own buildings, as a key factor in the increased number of demolitions in East Jerusalem. There were credible claims that municipal authorities in Jerusalem often placed insurmountable obstacles against Palestinian residents who applied for construction permits, including failure to incorporate community needs into zoning decisions, the requirement that they document land ownership despite the absence of a uniform post-1967 land registration process, the imposition of high application fees, and requirements to connect housing to municipal infrastructure that was often unavailable.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected those prohibitions for Israeli citizens.

The 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry, which was renewed annually until July because the Knesset did not extend it, prohibited Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, and Lebanese, including those who are Palestinian spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, from obtaining resident status unless the Ministry of the Interior made a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds. The government extended the law annually due to government reports that Palestinian family reunification allowed entry to a disproportionate number of persons who were later involved in acts of terrorism. HaMoked asserted that statistics from government documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests contradicted the terrorism allegations and that the denial of residency to Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza for the purposes of family reunification led to cases of family separation. In 2020 the Population and Immigration Authority received 1,354 family unification requests. As of year’s end, the Population and Immigration Authority had received 1,680 family unification requests.

HaMoked reported that, of the more than 2,000 requests filed in the previous two years, most were for West Bank Palestinians married to Israelis or East Jerusalemites. On September 14, HaMoked, ACRI, and PHRI filed a petition demanding the Ministry of Interior respect the law and process the requests. On October 6, the head of the Population and Immigration Authority, Tomer Moskowitz, stated that the Ministry of Interior was continuing to implement the prior law as if it had not expired. The government’s response on November 11 supported Shaked’s continued handling of Palestinians’ requests in accordance with the now-expired regulations, claiming that Shaked could continue to implement “interim procedures and regulations” until an amendment was passed. On November 15, the court rejected the request for an injunction by the petitioners prohibiting the handling of requests based on the expired law. As a result, on November 17, the petitioners appealed to the Supreme Court. The petitions were pending at the year’s end. Israeli authorities confirmed at the end of the year that in accordance with the government’s decision from 2008 regarding the extension of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order), the minister of the interior was instructed not to approve any requests for family reunification received from Gaza. This decision was made due to Israeli security authorities’ assessment of the security threats emanating from Gaza which put the security of Israel and its citizens at risk, according to Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials.

According to press reports, as of 2020 there were approximately 13,000 Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza living in Israel, including Jerusalem, on temporary stay permits because of the Citizenship and Entry law, with no legal provision that they would be able to continue living with their families. There were also cases of Palestinian spouses living in East Jerusalem without legal status. Authorities did not permit Palestinians who were abroad during the 1967 war or whose residency permits the government subsequently withdrew to reside permanently in Jerusalem. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations called on the government to repeal the law and resume processing family unification applications. The law allows for the entry of spouses of Israelis on a “staying permit” if the male spouse is age 35 or older and the female spouse is age 25 or older, for children up to age 14, and for a special permit for children ages 14-18, but they may not receive residency and have no path to citizenship. According to the government, as of July the Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA) had received 774 family unification requests for the calendar year, compared with 1,354 requests received in 2020.

The government continued to renew an emergency regulation allowing Shin Bet to track mobile phones to identify individuals in close contact with confirmed COVID-19 patients for quarantining purposes. Beginning on March 14, following a Supreme Court ruling, Shin Bet tracking was limited only to cases where a patient did not cooperate with an epidemiological investigation. On March 30, a Knesset Committee did not vote to approve the extension of the emergency regulations. In July the law allowing Shin Bet’s tracking expired. On November 28, the government approved by emergency regulation the use of Shin Bet tracking for those carrying the Omicron variant. Despite the Supreme Court’s rejection of a petition against the tracking on December 2, the government did not renew the regulation after its expiration on December 2.

On June 7, ACRI sent a letter to the attorney general arguing there are constitutional defects in Shin Bet’s compilation of data from all mobile phone users in Israel, which was exposed in 2020. According to ACRI, the database and its use violated the right to privacy, minimized individual freedoms, including freedom of expression, by creating a chilling effect, and the database risked being abused by Shin Bet, the prime minister, or by other forces in case of leaks. ACRI demanded the creation of legal protections to provide for external supervision to balance the country’s security needs and individual rights.

On July 20, ACRI submitted a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the cancelation of government resolutions which allowed the government to expand the Shin Bet’s role without amending the Shin Bet law. The petition stated that since 2004, the government added four roles to Shin Bet’s functions and authorities, the last of which was the tracking of mobile phones in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The petition was pending at the year’s end. On March 4, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel filed a freedom of information petition with the Jerusalem District Court for information regarding the police request to internet providers to provide data on police suspects and individuals visiting specific websites or internet protocol addresses to a police-controlled system. The petition was pending at the year’s end.

The law allows police access to telecommunications data, including incoming calls, location data, and online activity, when investigating crimes, based on a court order or without one in urgent cases. According to police information obtained by Privacy Israel through a freedom of information request, police filed 40,677 requests for access to such data, 16,644 of the requests were without a court order. The courts granted police access in 40,502 cases. The number of requests has risen steadily in previous years, increasing 64 percent since 2016. Approximately 20 percent of the offenses investigated were minor offenses, such as bicycle theft or traffic offenses.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

Killings: During the 11-day conflict from May 10 to 21, Palestinian militants in Gaza launched 4,400 rockets and mortar shells toward Israel. According to the IDF, 680 of these rockets misfired and landed in Gaza, causing Palestinian casualties. The IDF launched 1,500 airstrikes against targets in Gaza during the conflict. According to the Israeli government, NGOs, and media outlets, Gaza-based militants fired rockets from civilian locations toward civilian targets in Israel, including large salvos towards dense population centers. Israeli airstrikes destroyed 1,800 homes, including five residential towers. According to UNOCHA, during the May escalation, 261 Palestinians were killed, including 67 children. At least 241 of the fatalities were by Israeli forces, and the rest due to rockets falling short of their intended targets and other circumstances. An estimated 130 Palestinian fatalities were civilians and 77 were members of armed groups, while the status of the remaining 54 has not been determined. More than 2,200 Palestinians were injured, including 685 children and 480 women, some of whom may suffer a long-term disability requiring rehabilitation. In Israel, 13 individuals, including two children, were killed, and 710 others were injured. Palestinian rocket fire killed 20 Palestinians, including seven minors. A member of the Israeli security forces was killed by an antitank missile fired by a Palestinian organization. At the height of the fighting, 113,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) sought shelter and protection at UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools or with hosting families. According to the UN’s Shelter Cluster, which is responsible for tracking and assisting with provision of housing and shelter, there remain approximately 8,250 IDPs, primarily those whose houses were destroyed or severely damaged.

Human rights groups condemned Hamas’s and Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s targeting of civilians as well as Israel’s targeting of civilian infrastructure. The Israeli government stated that Hamas and others were using this civilian infrastructure for cover, including offices within the buildings and tunnel infrastructure beneath them. A Hamas tunnel was found, for example, under an UNRWA school in Gaza, and Hamas temporarily turned away bomb disposal experts brought in by the UN Mine Action Service and UNRWA to ensure the school was safe to open, delaying the work being undertaken to remove two deeply buried bombs that had struck the school during the airstrikes. The IDF also destroyed a building that contained the headquarters for several international media organizations, such as the Associated Press (AP) and al-Jazeera. The IDF stated that its intelligence showed that Hamas used the building for its operations. AP and others including journalists and civil society organizations, continued to call for an investigation, and the government has not made public the intelligence that led to the strike. Prior to and following the May conflict, Gaza-based militants routinely launched rockets, released incendiary balloons, and organized protests at the Gaza fence, drawing airstrikes from the IDF. These exchanges resulted in the deaths of three Palestinians and one Israeli border police officer since the end of the May conflict.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internet Freedom

The government monitored electronic communications for security purposes and censored online content suspected as illegal according to domestic law. The law authorizes district court judges to restrict access to internet sites to prevent the commission of crimes. The Cyber Unit of the State Attorney’s Office further requested that content intermediary companies remove or restrict access to, on a voluntary basis, content and accounts suspected of violating domestic law.

The number of requests for content removal submitted to the Cyber Unit by law enforcement and security services decreased from 19,606 in 2019 to 4,830 in 2020; 92 percent of the cases resulted in a Cyber Unit request to content providers for voluntary removal or limitation. Most of the requests, according to the Cyber Unit, involved publications of terror organizations, praising terror acts, and incitement to violence and terror. The Cyber Unit reported a significant increase in content removal submissions from security agencies during the period of civil unrest and Israel’s May miliary campaign. Between May 10 and May 19, the unit reported 1,340 such submissions, 1,010 of which contained content that violated the law. On April 12, the Supreme Court rejected a petition by ACRI and Adalah against the voluntary track program, which argued the program violates freedom of expression and the right to due process. The Supreme Court verdict deemed the voluntary track lawful but recommended adoption of a new law to standardize it as well as to establish a review mechanism for its decisions.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were few government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

The law prohibits institutions that receive government funding from engaging in commemoration of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” referring to the displacement of Palestinians during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Activities forbidden by the law include rejection of the existence of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” or commemorating “Israel’s Independence Day or the day on which the State was established as a day of mourning.”

On May 13, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage’s Director General announced he intends to halt government financial support for the Bezalel Academy public college after dozens of professors there expressed support for Arab/Palestinian citizen students’ protesting government policies in Sheikh Jarrah and Damascus Gate. On September 30, in response to an ACRI letter, the attorney general stated the ministry did not intend to withhold funding to Bezalel Academy and on October 12, his office had sent guidelines to the ministry, which included the need to ensure the independence of higher education institutions.

Authorities continued to provide an edited version of the Palestinian Authority (PA) curriculum that deleted certain information on Palestinian history and culture for schools in neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Authorities sought to tie funding for schools to the use of the Israeli curriculum (see the West Bank and Gaza Report for concerns regarding incitement and anti-Semitism in PA textbooks). Some Palestinians expressed concern with what they perceived as Israeli efforts to impose Israeli views on these students. Others welcomed the Israeli curriculum, and the additional resources associated with it, as better preparing students in Jerusalem to work in the Israeli workforce, compared to lower-paying employment in PA-controlled areas in the West Bank or in manual labor and low-wage sectors in Israel.

The government maintained prohibitions on some prominent Jerusalem-based Palestinian institutions, such as the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and the Orient House, which had been the de facto Palestinian Liberation Organization office. The government renewed a closure order for these and other institutions under a 1994 law which requires the PA to obtain Israeli permission to open a representative office or hold a meeting in areas Israel recognizes as under its sovereignty. The government likewise continued to shut down Palestinian institutions and cultural events in Jerusalem that the government stated had PA participation or support, incited violence against Israel, or had anti-Israel or other objectionable content. Israeli authorities stated they would also detain and ban PA-affiliated officials in Jerusalem from conducting PA-related activities. According to Haaretz, the Ministry of Public Security approved dozens of such orders during the year. PA officials publicly pointed to the 1993 letter sent by then Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres to his Norwegian counterpart, Johan Holst, as proof of an agreement to allow Palestinian institutions and activities in East Jerusalem.

On January 19, Israeli police summoned for questioning the Fatah secretary in Jerusalem, Shadi Mtour. Police subsequently released Mtour after renewing an order banning any contact between him and 21 PA and Fatah officials, including Fatah deputy head Mahmoud al-Aloul, Jerusalem governor Adnan Gheith, and the head of the Jerusalem unit at the PA Presidency, Mu’tasem Tayem.

Throughout the year, Israeli authorities issued or extended various orders and charges against Gheith. On March 29, authorities banned Gheith from entering the West Bank or going to his office in al-Ram, a village northeast of Jerusalem. On August 2, Israeli authorities extended an order banning Gheith from holding contacts with President Abbas and other PA officials. Gheith was already denied movement outside his place of residence in Silwan neighborhood in Jerusalem.

On November 22-23, Palestinian press reported that Israeli forces raided Gheith’s home, assaulted him, his sons, and cousins present at the house, threw sound bombs, and damaged household belongings before interrogating him regarding posts on social media his wife had shared. Israeli authorities charged Gheith with violating the ban on communicating with Palestinian officials and threatening the security of Israel. Authorities released Gheith on bail after several hours, after renewing his house arrest for four more months and other movement and communications bans. On December 26, press outlets reported that Israeli forces again raided Gheith’s home during a larger arrest campaign in the Silwan neighborhood.

On March 8, Israeli authorities banned a women’s activity and an exhibit on the occasion of International Women’s Day organized at the Mount of Olives Club in al-Tur neighborhood, saying the event was funded by the PA. Local sources stated Israeli security forces including Shin Bet officers raided the club and seized the identification cards of the participants. They also detained the director of the club, Ikhlas al-Sayyad, and the fashion designer Manal Abu Sbitan for questioning. Israeli security forces also confiscated Palestinian traditional clothing and embroidery and other contents of the exhibition.

On March 29, Israeli authorities issued an order to the PA governor of Jerusalem, Adnan Gheith, banning him from entering the West Bank or going to his office in al-Ram, a village northeast of Jerusalem. This was the fifth time Israeli authorities restricted the movement of Gheith in the West Bank. Gheith has been arrested 28 times since assuming his position in 2018. On April 17, the INP banned an election press conference in East Jerusalem and detained three Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) candidates, two from Fatah (Nasser Qous and Ashraf al A’war), and one Palestinian Democratic Union candidate (Ratibah al-Natsheh). The press conference was scheduled to take place at the St. George hotel in East Jerusalem. Local media outlets stated the conference was intended to affirm the right of Palestinians in Jerusalem to cast their votes in the upcoming elections and to explain how they should do so. The three PLC candidates were released later that day and were warned not to hold any activity related to elections in Jerusalem City. On April 18, Israeli authorities banned the Fatah Jerusalemite district committee member Ahed Risheq from entering Haram al-Sharif /Temple Mount for one week while notifying him that the ban order would be extended for six months, according to press reports.

On June 20, the IDF banned Shadi Mtour, the Fatah secretary in Jerusalem, from entering the West Bank for six months after rejecting an appeal submitted by Mtour’s lawyer. The order, issued by IDF central commander Tamir Yadai, indicated that Mtour participated in PA and Fatah-affiliated activities in Jerusalem and described this as a threat to the security of the region. The ban order was valid until December 17.

According to press reports, on September 1, Israeli forces arrested the principal of a secondary school in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi al-Joz, alleging that the principal had met personnel from the PA’s Ministry of Education and that PA Ministry of Education officials used one of the school’s classrooms as an office. According to Haaretz, the Ministry of Public Security approved dozens of such orders during the year. PA officials publicly point to a 1993 letter sent by then Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres to his Norwegian counterpart Johan Holst as proof of an agreement to allow Palestinian institutions and activities in East Jerusalem.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There were reports that Israeli authorities used excessive force against protesters in East Jerusalem. Between April and June, hundreds of Palestinian and Jewish Israeli protesters from across Israel and East Jerusalem came to Sheikh Jarrah to show their support for families at risk of eviction and to protest the dispossession of Palestinians from their homes, according to HRDF. Police and media characterized the protest as violent. HRDF reported that Israeli police used aggressive and disproportionate force to disperse the demonstrations, injuring hundreds of protesters. Secur