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Ireland

Executive Summary

Ireland is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with an executive branch headed by a prime minister, a bicameral parliament, and a directly elected president. The country held free and fair parliamentary elections in 2016 and a presidential election in 2018.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, including in the security services and elsewhere in the government.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

In a report on September 14, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties criticized the police’s approach to public order policing, the use of force, the detention of suspects, and investigation of hate crimes, as well as its dealings with Roma and Travellers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The majority of prisons met international standards, but some failed to meet prisoners’ basic hygiene needs.

Physical Conditions: As of October 10, prisons overall had fewer inmates than the official capacity of the system, although five facilities exceeded capacity. In 2017 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) alleged that women were subject to overcrowding in detention.

At times authorities held detainees awaiting trial and detained immigrants in the same facilities as convicts.

In 2017, the latest year available, nine prisoners were on 22/23-hour restricted regime.

Human rights groups, as well as the Mental Health Commission, continued to criticize understaffing and poor working conditions at the Central Mental Health Hospital in Dundrum, the country’s only secure mental health facility.

Administration: The Office of the Inspector of Prisons, an independent statutory body, has oversight of the complaints system. Prisoners can submit complaints about their treatment to the prison service.

Independent Monitoring: The Office of the Inspector of Prisons conducted multiple inspections and independent reviews of detention facilities and methods. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including the Irish Penal Reform Trust, reported that the inspector of prisons was effective.

The government permitted visits and monitoring by independent human rights observers and maintained an open invitation for visits from UN special rapporteurs.

Improvements: In July the Irish Prison Service reported that 58 prisoners (of a total prison population of 3,967) in two prisons were subject to the practice of “slopping out,” under which prisoners must use chamber pots due to a lack of sanitary facilities.

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, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

An Garda Siochana (or Garda) is the national police force. It maintains internal security under the auspices of the Department of Justice and Equality. The defense forces are responsible for external security under the supervision of the Department of Defense but are also authorized to perform certain domestic security responsibilities in support of the Garda.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Garda and the defense forces. Controversies related to the oversight of police continued during the year. The law allows police officers to make allegations of wrongdoing within the police service to the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) on a confidential basis. By law the Garda ombudsman is responsible for conducting independent investigations, following referrals from the Garda, in circumstances in which police conduct might have resulted in death or serious harm to a person. In 2017 the ombudsman received 24 referrals, seven of which involved fatalities. Sixteen files were referred to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, resulting in 10 directions for prosecution, five directions for no prosecution, and one pending decision.

In 2017 the GSOC received 1,949 complaints from the public. The most common complaints involved investigations, road policing, arrests, customer service, and searches. The largest number of allegations against police related to abuse of authority or neglect of duty.

When the GSOC directly investigates or supervises investigations involving disciplinary breaches, it may recommend disciplinary proceedings to the Garda commissioner. In 2017 the GSOC opened 71 investigations in which it directly investigated the alleged disciplinary offense, while the Garda authorities undertook 154 supervised and 557 unsupervised disciplinary investigations on behalf of the GSOC. In 2017 there were 66 identified breaches of the Discipline Regulations by a Garda member. Garda authorities applied sanctions appropriate to these disciplinary violations.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

An arrest typically requires a warrant issued by a judge, except in situations necessitating immediate action for the protection of the public. The law provides the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of a detention, and authorities respected this right. Authorities must inform detainees promptly of the charges against them and, with few exceptions, may not hold them longer than 24 hours without charge. For crimes involving firearms, explosives, or membership in an unlawful organization, a judge may extend detention for an additional 24 hours upon a police superintendent’s request. The law permits detention without charge for up to seven days in cases involving suspicion of drug trafficking, although police must obtain a judge’s approval to hold such a suspect longer than 48 hours. The law requires authorities to bring a detainee before a district court judge “as soon as possible” to determine bail status pending a hearing. A court may refuse bail to a person charged with a crime carrying a penalty of five years’ imprisonment or longer, or when a judge deems continued detention necessary to prevent the commission of another offense.

The law permits detainees, upon arrest, to have access to attorneys. The court appoints an attorney if a detainee does not have one. The law allows detainees prompt access to family members.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants enjoy the right to the presumption of innocence; to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them; to be granted a fair, timely, and public trial except in certain cases; and to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to an attorney of their choice or one provided at public expense. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and free assistance of an interpreter. They can confront witnesses and present their own testimony and evidence. They have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. There is a right to appeal.

The law provides for a nonjury Special Criminal Court (SCC) when the director of public prosecutions certifies a case, such as terrorist or criminal-gang offenses, to be beyond the capabilities of an ordinary court. A panel of three judges, usually including one High Court judge, one circuit judge, and one district judge, hears such cases. They reach their verdicts by majority vote. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, and the UN Human Rights Council expressed concern the SCC used a lower standard for evidence admissibility and that there was no appeal against a prosecuting authority’s decision to send a case to the SCC. A second SCC with seven judges also tries terrorist and gang-related offenses. In 2017 the SCCs resolved 50 of the 54 new cases they received. Most of the cases involved membership in an illegal organization or possession of firearms or explosives.

In June several provisions from the Criminal Law (Sexual Offenses) Act 2017 related to the cross-examination of witnesses and from the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 extending the use of recorded video evidence to protect victims giving evidence came into force.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

An independent and impartial judicial system hears civil cases and appeals on civil matters, including damage claims resulting from human rights violations. Complainants may bring such claims before all appropriate courts, including the Supreme Court. Individuals may lodge a complaint or application with the European Court of Human Rights for alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by the state if they have exhausted all available legal remedies in the national legal system.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The country associated itself with the 2009 Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues. No immovable property was confiscated from Jews or other targeted groups in the country during World War II, either by the government or Nazi Germany. According to the country’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the country experienced only one case in which allegations concerning provenance were made and therefore did not enact formal implementation mechanisms in this regard. The government’s policy is to monitor these issues as they may evolve in the future and to proceed on a case-by-case basis.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits words or behaviors likely to generate hatred against persons because of their race, nationality, religion, national origins, or sexual orientation. The law prohibits blasphemy, defined as publishing or uttering “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.” The law permits defendants to argue “genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value” as a defense.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The same prohibitions against language likely to generate hatred and blasphemy that affected freedom of expression also applied to the press. The government can prohibit the state-owned radio and television network from broadcasting any material “likely to promote or incite to crime or which would tend to undermine the authority of the state.” Authorities did not invoke these prohibitions during the year.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Consistent with an EU directive, the government requires telecommunication companies to retain information on all telephone and internet contacts (not content) for two years. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 85 percent of the population used the internet during 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee or subsidiary protection status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Asylum seekers whose initial applications are rejected can appeal the decision. Asylum seekers have access to legal advice.

NGOs and the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern over the length and complexity of the application and appeal processes. In 2017 the average length of stay in “direct provision,” a system that includes housing, meals, a weekly cash allowance, and access to health care for asylum seekers, was 23 months.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country generally follows the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, which permits the return of asylum applicants to the EU member state of original entry for adjudication of asylum claims. In 2015 the government agreed to participate in an EU decision to distribute asylum seekers to various countries from Greece and Italy within the EU without regard to the Dublin III provisions.

Employment: In July the EU’s recast Reception Conditions Directive was transposed into domestic law. The directive allows access to the labor market for a broader range of persons seeking international protection than those receiving “direct provision” and removed previous limitations to employment, such as salary restrictions and ineligible sectors for employment.

Access to Basic Services: The country employs a system called “direct provision” that includes housing, meals, a weekly cash allowance, and access to health care for asylum seekers. Children have access to education. As of December 2017, 72 percent of asylum seekers remained in the government-run support system for less than three years, compared with 71 percent in December 2016 and 36 percent in December 2015. NGOs, including the Irish Refugee Council as well as the national ombudsman, and the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern about the effects of the direct provision system, specifically noting that the prolonged accommodation of asylum seekers (an average of five years and more than seven years for 20 percent of residents) had detrimental effects.

Durable Solutions: The government operated a resettlement program to accommodate up to 200 persons referred by UNHCR or identified through selection missions to UNHCR refugee operations. Under the Irish Refugee Protection Program, the government committed to accepting 4,000 refugees, including 2,622 via the EU relocation program, although it only relocated 1,022 of the latter number since 2016. The government provides a post-arrival cultural orientation program and civic and language courses.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (subsidiary protection) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and, according to Eurostat, granted such protection to 50 persons in 2017. In the same year, it also granted humanitarian protection to 70 other persons. Such individuals were entitled to temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, health care, and housing. The government did not make determinations on subsidiary protection status at the same time as determining asylum status. This caused delays, as a separate determination on subsidiary protection could take from several months to more than a year to complete.

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

Recent Elections: OSCE observers reported that the presidential elections on October 26 and the 2016 parliamentary elections were free and fair.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the laws effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

In June the government enacted the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offenses) Act 2018. This act brought the country’s anticorruption legislation into line with the best international standards. It criminalizes direct and indirect corruption in both the public and private sectors and significantly increases the penalties for corruption offenses.

Corruption: There were isolated reports of low-level government corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: Elected and appointed officials, as well as civil servants at the higher grades, are required to furnish a statement, in writing, to the Standards in Public Office Commission of their financial interests and the interests of their spouse, civil partner, and child that could materially influence the person in the performance of official functions. The commission verifies the disclosures. The commission made public the financial disclosures of elected officials. There are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The law obliges public bodies to take account of human rights and equality in the course of their work. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), an independent government organization, monitored adherence of public bodies to legal obligations. The IHREC was active throughout the year, holding consultations, training sessions, briefings, and policy reviews on a number of human rights issues.

There is also a human rights subcommittee of the parliamentary Committee on Justice, Defense, and Equality. It examines how issues, themes, and proposals before parliament take into account human rights concerns.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law. Most persons convicted received prison sentences of five to 12 years. The law criminalizes domestic violence. It authorizes prosecution of a violent family member and provides victims with “safety orders,” which prohibit the offender from engaging in violent actions or threats, and “barring orders” (restraining orders), which prohibit an offender from entering the family home for up to three years. Anyone found guilty of violating a barring or an interim protection order may receive a fine of up to 4,000 euros ($4,600), a prison sentence of 12 months, or both. In May the government signed the Domestic Violence Act 2018 into law. This act removed barriers and offers increased victim protection. The new law includes the extension of protection and safety orders to couples who do not live together, guidelines for granting protective orders, and the introduction of coercive control as a new crime.

Sexual Harassment: The law obliges employers to prevent sexual harassment and prohibits employers from dismissing an employee for making a complaint of sexual harassment. Authorities effectively enforced the law when companies reported sexual harassment. The penalties can include an order requiring equal treatment in the future, as well as compensation for the victim up to a maximum of two years’ pay or 40,000 euros ($46,000), whichever is greater. The law prohibits sexual harassment not only in employment but also in the supply of, and access to, goods and services.

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

Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men. Inequalities in pay and promotions persisted in both the public and private sectors. The government enforced the law effectively. In 2017 CEDAW noted a persistence of “discriminatory stereotypes concerning the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and in society.” It also observed a low level of participation of Traveller, Roma, and migrant women in political and public life.

Children

Birth Registration: A person born after 2004 on the island of Ireland (including Northern Ireland) is automatically a citizen if at least one parent was an Irish citizen, a British citizen, a resident of either Ireland or Northern Ireland entitled to reside in either without time limit, or a legal resident of Ireland or Northern Ireland for three of the four years preceding the child’s birth (excluding time spent as a student or an asylum seeker). Authorities register births immediately.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes physical and psychological abuse and engaging in, or attempting to engage in, a sexual act with a child younger than age 17. The maximum sentence in such cases is five years in prison, which can increase to 10 years if the accused is a person in authority, such as a parent or teacher. The law additionally prohibits any person from engaging in, or attempting to engage in, a sexual act with a juvenile younger than age 15; the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. Tusla, the government’s Child and Family Agency, provided child protection, early intervention, and family support services. The government also provided funding to NGOs that carried out information campaigns against child abuse as well as those who provided support services to victims.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years, including for citizens who marry abroad. The Domestic Violence Act 2018 passed in May repealed provisions that enabled persons younger than 18 to marry and criminalized forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities enforced the law. Conviction of trafficking of children and taking a child from home for sexual exploitation carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. A person convicted of meeting a child for the purpose of sexual exploitation faces a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offenses) Act enacted in February set a maximum fine of 5,000 euros ($5,750). The minimum age for consensual sex is 17.

The law provides for a fine of up to 31,000 euros ($35,700), a prison sentence of up to 14 years, or both for a person convicted of allowing a child to be used for pornography. For producing, distributing, printing, or publishing child pornography, the maximum penalty is 5,000 euros ($5,750), 12 months’ imprisonment, or both.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to the 2016 census, the Jewish community numbered 2,557 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government effectively enforced these provisions and implemented laws and programs to give persons with disabilities access to buildings, information, and communications. In 2017 the government developed a National Disability Inclusion Strategy for 2017-21.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Societal discrimination and violence against immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities remained a problem. The country’s African population and Muslim community in particular experienced racially motivated physical violence, intimidation, graffiti, and verbal slurs. According to the European Network Against Racism, the number of reported racist incidents rose by 33 percent (to 330) in the first six months of 2017.

The law obliges local officials to develop suitable accommodation sites for Travellers and to solicit input from the Travellers. According to IHREC, Travellers were 22 times more likely than other respondents to report discrimination in access to housing. In May the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), an independent agency within the Department of Business, Enterprise, and Innovation, ordered a local authority to pay compensation to a Traveller family for discrimination in a housing claim and directed the council that denied their application to review its policy on social housing assessment regulations.

In 2016 the Council of Europe’s Committee of Social Rights determined that the country’s law and practice violated the human rights of Travellers on the following grounds: inadequate conditions at many Traveller sites, insufficient provision of accommodation for Travellers, inadequate legal safeguards for Travellers threatened with eviction, and evictions carried out without necessary safeguards. The government took no known action to redress these problems.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, goods, services, and education. The law does not include gender identity as an explicit category, but the courts interpreted it as prohibiting discrimination against transgender persons.

Civil liberties and civil society organizations reported the law does not include specific provisions on hate crimes or bias-motivated violence, and does not consider prejudice as an aggravating factor when sentencing criminals. In 2017 CEDAW alleged, “Medically irreversible and unnecessary sex assignment surgery and other treatments are reportedly performed on intersex children.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and the government respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law provides for a mechanism for the registration of employment agreements between employers and trade unions governing wages and employment conditions.

Police and military personnel may form associations (technically not unions) to represent them in matters of pay, working conditions, and general welfare. The law does not require employers to engage in collective bargaining. The law provides for the right to strike, except for police and military personnel, in both the public and private sectors. Labor unions have the right to pursue collective bargaining and in most instances did so freely, with employers’ cooperation in most cases. While workers are constitutionally protected in forming trade unions, employers are not legally obliged to recognize unions or to negotiate with them. The government facilitates freedom of association and trade union activity through the Labor Relations Commission, which promotes the development and improvement of industrial relations policies, procedures, and practices, and the Labor Court, which provides resolution of industrial relations disputes.

There were no reports of violations of the law protecting the right to freedom of association. The country allocated adequate resources to the government to provide oversight of labor relations. The Labor Court is a court of last resort for trade unions and employers and sought to process cases with a minimum of delay. Workers freely exercised their labor rights. Unions conducted their activities without government interference. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination. Labor leaders did not report any threats or violence from employers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally enforced the law.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) monitors compliance with employment rights, inspects workplaces, and has authority to prosecute alleged violations of employment rights.

The law considers forced labor to be human trafficking. The penalty for human trafficking is up to life imprisonment and an unlimited fine. These penalties may be sufficient to deter violations; the government has not convicted a human trafficker in the last five years. NGOs, including the Migrant Rights Center of Ireland (MRCI) and the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI), alleged that employers subjected men and women to forced labor in construction, restaurant work, waste management, commercial fishing, car washes, and agriculture, as well as in private homes as domestic servants. Vietnamese and Chinese men prosecuted and sentenced for cannabis cultivation revealed indicia of forced labor, such as document retention, restriction of movement, and nonpayment of wages. The Romani community and undocumented migrant workers were high-risk groups susceptible to human trafficking.

The law allows undocumented workers to sue exploitative employers for back wages and compensation in cases of forced or compulsory labor. Trade unions and NGOs, including the MRCI and the ICI, contended the government needed to do more to identify and support victims and prosecute employers.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employment of children under the age of 16 in full-time jobs. Employers may hire children who are 14 to 15 years old for light work on school holidays as part of an approved work experience or educational program. Employers may hire children older than 15 on a part-time basis during the school year. The law establishes rest intervals and maximum working hours, prohibits the employment of children 18 and younger for late-night work, and requires employers to keep detailed records of workers who are under 18. The law identifies hazardous occupations and occupational safety and health restrictions for workers under 18, which generally involve working with hazardous materials or chemicals. Employers must verify there is no significant risk to the safety and health of young persons and take into account the increased risk arising from the lack of maturity and experience in identifying risks to their own safety and health. The law stipulates that exposure to physical, biological, and chemical agents or certain processes be avoided and provides a nonexhaustive list of agents, processes, and types of work from which anyone under 18 may require protection. The government effectively enforced applicable laws, and there were no reports of illegal child labor.

The WRC is responsible for enforcement, and it was generally effective, with adequate resources and investigative and enforcement powers. Employers found guilty of an offense are liable to a fine of up to 2,000 euros ($2,300). The law sufficiently deterred violations. Continuing breaches of the act can result in a fine of up to 300 euros ($345) per day. The Health and Safety Authority has responsibility for overseeing hazardous occupations and can impose the same penalties as specified for other workers.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law bans discrimination in a wide range of employment and employment-related areas. It defines discrimination as treating one person in a less favorable way than another person based on color, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, social origin, language, or sex; civil status; family status; sexual orientation; religion; age; disability, including physical, intellectual, learning, cognitive, or emotional disability; HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases and a range of other medical conditions; or race and membership in the Traveller community (also see section 6). The law specifically requires equal pay for equal work or work of equal value.

Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community; divorcees; single parents working in state-owned or state-funded schools; and hospitals operated under religious patronage have the same legal protections against discrimination as workers in the private sector.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws, and the nature of penalties for violations was sufficient to deter violations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum hourly wage increased to 9.25 euros ($10.64) per hour in January 2017. Laws establishing and regulating wage levels cover migrant workers. The law limits overtime work to two hours per day, 12 hours per week, and 240 hours per year. The government effectively enforced these standards. Although there is no statutory entitlement to premium pay for overtime, the employer and employee may arrange it.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards. The Department of Business, Enterprise, and Innovation is responsible for enforcing occupational safety laws, and these laws provided adequate and comprehensive protection. Depending on the seriousness of the violation, courts may impose fines, prison sentences, or both for violating the law. The maximum penalty is three million euros ($3.45 million), imprisonment for up to two years, or both. The law also provides for fines of up to 1,000 euros ($1,150) for certain offenses. There were no complaints from either labor or management during the year regarding shortcomings in enforcement.

All sectors of the formal economy effectively enforced minimum wage, hours of work, and health and safety standards. The WRC secures compliance with employment rights legislation in these areas through inspection and prosecution. The WRC’s Inspection Services have the authority to carry out employment rights compliance inspections under employment legislation.

By law an employer may not penalize through dismissal, other disciplinary action, or less favorable treatment employees who lodge a complaint or exercise their rights under health and safety legislation. Employers have an obligation to protect an employee’s safety, health, and welfare at work as far as is reasonably practicable. According to a report from the Health and Safety Authority, there were 48 workplace fatalities in 2017, an increase of two from 2016, 25 of them the result of farming accidents.

Jordan

Executive Summary

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Abdullah II bin Hussein. The constitution concentrates executive and legislative authority in the king. The multiparty parliament consists of the 65-member House of Notables (Majlis al-Ayan) appointed by the king and a 130-member elected lower house, the Chamber of Deputies (Majlis al-Nuwwab). Elections for the Chamber of Deputies occur approximately every four years and last took place in 2016. International observers deemed the elections organized, inclusive, credible, and technically well run.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included allegations of torture by security officials, including at least one death in custody; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of activists and journalists; infringements on citizens’ privacy rights; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including criminalization of libel, censorship, and internet site blocking; restrictions on freedom of association and assembly; reports of refoulement of Syrian and Palestinian refugees to Syria without adjudication of whether they had a well-founded fear of persecution; allegations of corruption, including in the judiciary; “honor” killings of women; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and conditions amounting to forced labor in some sectors.

Impunity remained widespread, although the government took limited, nontransparent steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses. Information on the outcomes was not publicly available.

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

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

There were some reports of arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life. Local media, government authorities, and human rights organizations alleged that at least one individual died in custody from alleged torture by Public Security Directorate (PSD)-Criminal Investigations Division (CID) personnel during the year.

In August the Government Coordinator for Human Rights (GCHR) stated the police court was considering one new case of alleged torture and abuse by CID personnel leading to death. Authorities arrested Ibrahim Zahran in Zarqa in June and transferred him to CID custody in Amman, where authorities allegedly beat him to death within 24 hours. PSD Commander Major General Fadel Hmoud immediately opened an investigation and assigned a committee to assess forensic reports to determine criminal liability.

Authorities suspended and detained five CID officers in the course of the investigation. The PSD’s investigation into the incident confirmed the individual’s cause and manner of death was consistent with beating. The quasi-governmental watchdog National Center for Human Rights (NCHR) commended the prompt investigation but described it as “not enough.” The NCHR reiterated its demand to refer such cases to independent civil courts instead of police courts, which fall under the Ministry of Interior and are less independent. In addition to the arrest and prosecution of the officers, the PSD director issued new policy directives regarding the treatment of those in custody including independent reviews of their medical condition and further reviews of detention facilities. The PSD took steps to create a centralized and monitored detention facility to provide compliance with detention policies.

Four additional police court cases continued: the pending trial of eight officers charged with torture after the death of 18-year-old Raed Amar at Jiza police station in May 2017; the trial concerning the 2015 death while in custody of Abdullah al-Zo’ubi (the trial convicted three officers of “torture,” but they appealed the decision); the trial for the 2015 death while in custody of Omar al-Nasir (continuing, with all participants free on bail); and the not guilty verdict concerning the death while in custody of Sultan al-Khatatbeh in 2013, currently under appeal.

b. Disappearance

Human rights lawyers identified at least one case of alleged disappearance during the year, when a robbery suspect was held for 10 days in February in an Irbid police station before authorities brought charges against him. After being turned away from several police stations when trying to locate his son, the robbery suspect’s father filed an official complaint with the PSD and sought support from a local human rights organization.

According to the PSD, historically disappearances have resulted from poor record keeping, which they addressed in July by instituting a logbook with time of intake, charges, time of family notification, name of the arresting official, and the signature of the detainee.

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

The constitution bans torture, including psychological harm, by public officials and provides penalties up to three years’ imprisonment for its use, with a penalty of up to 15 years if serious injury occurs. While the law prohibits such practices, international and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report incidents of torture and widespread mistreatment in police and security detention centers. Human rights lawyers found the penal code ambiguous and supported amendments to define “torture” better and strengthen sentencing guidelines. According to government officials, all reported allegations of abuse in custody were thoroughly investigated. Legal aid NGOs disagreed, sharing three cases where they claimed defendants made statements to public prosecutors that they had been tortured, and that the disclosures had been stricken from the record.

Local and international NGOs reported that the Antinarcotics Department routinely subjected detainees to severe physical abuse. Allegations were also made against the CID, which led to criminal charges. While there was no documentation of complaints of mistreatment by the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) during the year, local NGOs said it still occurred, but citizens did not report abuse due to fear of potential reprisals.

Through August 30, the PSD Human Rights and Transparency Office received 192 allegations of harm (a lesser charge than torture that does not require a demonstration of intent) against officers. Most alleged abuse occurred in pretrial detention. For instance, when authorities referred the robbery suspect identified under section 1.b. “Disappearance” to the State Security Court (SCC) after 10 days in detention, the medical examination noted bruising and signs of abuse.

In August 2017 parliament increased the mandatory minimum sentence for torture from six months to one year. The maximum punishment remained three years imprisonment with hard labor with an increased penalty of up to 15 years if serious injury occurred. No convictions have been made under the new penalty, despite an increase in complaints from citizens concerning allegations of mistreatment by law enforcement from last year, according to the NCHR report released on September 10.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s 16 prisons varied: old facilities were poor, while new prisons met international standards. Authorities held migrants without legal work or residency permits, or charged with other crimes, in the same facilities as citizens. (For information on asylum seekers and refugees, see section 2.d.).

Physical Conditions: During the year, authorities gave prosecutors oversight over the condition of detainees. From January to July, the PSD Human Rights and Transparency Office made 136 visits to detention centers. Significant problems in older prison facilities included inadequate sanitary facilities, poor sanitation and ventilation, extreme temperatures, lack of drinking water, limited access to sunlight, and medical care only in emergencies. In its shadow report for this year’s UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review, including conditions in detention centers, the NCHR identified problems including overcrowding, limited health care, inadequate legal assistance for inmates, and limited social care for the inmates and their families. Detainees reported abuse and mistreatment by guards.

According to the PSD’s Human Rights and Transparency Office, the PSD received 11 cases of allegations of torture and mistreatment in prisons and rehabilitation centers. Authorities convicted seven officers in the death of Ibrahim Zahran, although the officers appealed the verdict. Authorities released all on bail and placed them on administrative leave.

Officials reported overcrowding at most prisons, especially the prisons in and around Amman. The government Coordinator for Human Rights stated that 4,400 detainees above capacity remained in custody as of August.

International and domestic NGOs reported that Islamist prisoners faced harsher prison conditions than other inmates.

According to the PSD, authorities identified some facilities to hold only pretrial detainees. The GID held some persons detained on national security charges in a separate detention facility. During the year, the NCHR made an unspecified number of announced visits to the GID facility, and the GID began allowing the NCHR unsupervised meetings with prisoners. Detainees complained of solitary confinement, isolation, and prolonged pretrial detentions of up to six months. According to human rights activists, the GID held detainees in solitary confinement. Local and international NGOs received reports of mistreatment, abuse, and torture in GID detention facilities.

Although basic medical care was available in all correctional facilities, medical staff complained that correctional facilities throughout the country lacked adequate medical facilities, supplies, and staff. Staff complained that they voiced concerns about deficiencies of care, which authorities did not address. Most facilities were unable to conduct blood tests and had limited X-ray capabilities, forcing doctors to rely largely on self-reporting by patients for certain conditions. If an inmate’s condition was too severe for treatment at the prison’s clinic, doctors recommended transfer to a local hospital.

Conditions in the women’s prisons were generally better than conditions in most of the men’s prisons.

Police stations have no designated holding areas for juveniles. According to the GCHR, authorities held juveniles in special facilities supervised by the Ministry of Social Development. No action was taken to improve mobility in detention centers for persons with disabilities.

Administration: Karamah, a team of government officials and NGOs, and the NCHR monitored prison conditions. In some cases, authorities severely restricted the access of prisoners and detainees to visitors. Authorities allegedly sometimes banned family visits. Authorities sometimes did not inform the families regarding the whereabouts of detainees, or waited between 24 hours and 10 days to alert families, although the PSD attempted to address this problem with a new system of record keeping.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some local and international human rights observers and lawyers to visit prisons and conduct private interviews. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had wide access to visit prisoners and detainees in all prisons, including facilities operated by the GID, according to standard ICRC modalities. Authorities approved some requests by local human rights observers to conduct monitoring visits independently of Karamah and the NCHR but denied others. Local NGOs reported that access depended on relationships with detention center authorities and whether requests came through the GCHR or the NCHR. The prime minister-appointed government coordinator for human rights organized monitoring visits for several local and international NGO representatives to the Jweideh Prison and Suwaqah Prison.

Improvements: The PSD decided to close rural detention centers that did not meet national and international standards permanently and instead focus on expanding central facilities that met standards. Authorities significantly expanded Jweideh prison this year to address overcrowding. Authorities took steps to use alternatives to prison sentences for nonviolent offenders. In August a community sanctions program was inaugurated that will require community service in lieu of jail time for misdemeanors and felonies that would currently warrant a jail sentence of one year or less. In September, the East Amman First Instance judge sentenced an offender to community service of between 40 and 200 hours and a year under surveillance instead of a prison sentence.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court; however, the government did not always observe these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Civilian authorities maintained control over security forces. The PSD controls general police functions. The PSD, the GID, the gendarmerie, the Civil Defense Directorate, and the military share responsibility for maintaining internal security. The PSD, the Civil Defense Directorate, and the gendarmerie report to the minister of interior with direct access to the king when necessary, and the GID reports directly to the king.

According to local and international NGOs, the government rarely investigated allegations of abuse or corruption, and, when it did, there were few convictions and little to no public information or transparency about the investigation or sentencing. Local and international NGOs and activists alleged widespread impunity; however, the PSD disagreed with this characterization. During the year, the PSD director implemented new policies to increase transparency in investigations of allegations of police abuse and pledged to hold officers and their supervisors accountable for their actions. Citizens may file complaints of police abuse or corruption with the PSD’s Human Rights and Transparency Office or with a police prosecutor stationed with each unit and at each prison. Citizens may file complaints of abuse and corruption by the gendarmerie directly with the PSD’s Human Rights and Transparency Office. A GID liaison officer receives complaints against the directorate and refers them to GID personnel for investigation. Citizens may also file complaints against the PSD, gendarmerie, and the GID with the NCHR, several human rights NGOs, or the civilian prosecutor general.

The PSD’s Special Branch Unit is tasked with investigating allegations of police abuse and corruption. According to the law, the PSD and the GID try their personnel internally with their own courts, judges, and prosecutors. Although court hearings are typically public, authorities rarely published reports about the proceedings. The government seconded civilian prosecutors to these courts in response to human rights recommendations. According to human rights organizations and lawyers, trials proceeded slowly and rarely yielded substantive punishments for human rights violations; authorities did not make such punishments public. Human rights activists cited fear of official retribution as a reason for the overall lack of official complaints of human rights violations.

The PSD includes a mandatory module on human rights in required annual training for all personnel including cadets. There is also a mandatory module on human rights in the required training for all new officers in each unit. On May 1, a new human rights training center opened to provide collaborative training to all branches of the PSD. In January, the gendarmerie established a human rights office to train and support forces conducting raids and crowd control more effectively.

During the year, there were few reported instances of security forces using excessive force with impunity and failing to protect demonstrators from violence. In May and June, during sustained protests that forced the former prime minister’s resignation, NGOs agreed that the PSD and gendarmerie forces exercised appropriate restraint while maintaining public order and allowing freedom of expression.

In January, the PSD director ordered immediate investigation of a video reportedly showing police officers mistreating a citizen while arresting him in Karak. The officers were detained at the PSD detention center but subsequently released and placed on administrative leave, pending the results of the investigation, which continued.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law provides the right to appear promptly before a judge or other judicial officer for a judicial determination of the legality of the detention. The law allows authorities to detain suspects for up to 24 hours without a warrant in all cases. It requires that police notify authorities within 24 hours of an arrest and that authorities file formal charges within 15 days of an arrest. Authorities can extend the period to file formal charges to as long as six months for a felony and two months for a misdemeanor. According to local NGOs, prosecutors routinely requested extensions, which judges granted. The SSC authorizes judicial police to arrest and keep persons in custody for seven days prior to notification while conducting criminal investigations. This authority includes arrests for alleged misdemeanors. NGOs alleged that authorities transferred suspects to the SSC to extend the legal time from 24 hours to seven days for investigation prior to notification or transferred suspects from police station to police station to extend the period for investigation. During the summer, authorities implemented a logistical system and standardized record keeping practices designed to reduce the pretrial detention period by holding arresting officials accountable for enforcing the law.

The penal code allows bail, and authorities used it in some cases. In many cases, the accused remained in detention without bail during the proceedings. In July 2017, parliament amended the code of criminal procedure, limiting detention to “exceptional” cases, and strengthening bail and other alternative control measures. In July, the Ministry of Justice proposed a funding application to the Ministry of Finance to purchase electronic bracelets to reduce the number of pretrial detainees in custody. A new PSD regulation instituted during the year contains criteria exempting persons from pretrial detention if they have no existing criminal record and the crime is not a felony.

Most detainees reported not having timely access to a lawyer. Courts appointed lawyers to represent indigent defendants charged with felonies carrying possible life (often interpreted by the judiciary as 20 years) sentences or the death penalty, although legal aid services remained minimal. At times authorities held suspects incommunicado for up to one week or placed them under house arrest. A number of human rights activists alleged that authorities held arrestees incommunicado to hide evidence of physical abuse by security forces. Courts did not offer adequate translation services for defendants who could not speak Arabic.

Arbitrary Arrest: In cases purportedly involving state security, security forces at times arrested and detained individuals without informing them of the charges against them and either did not allow defendants to meet with their lawyers or did not permit meetings until shortly before trial. In August, PSD’s Human Rights and Transparency Office reported authorities held 1,690 persons since January in administrative detention for varying amounts of time. Governors held almost 35,000 persons in administrative detention under the Crimes Prevention Law, an increase of almost 5,000 persons from 2016.

The law allows the 12 provincial governors to detain individuals administratively as they deem necessary for investigation purposes or to protect that individual. Authorities held some individuals in prison or under house arrest without due process and often despite a finding of not guilty in legal proceedings. The governors may prolong detentions, especially those with a criminal history in the interest of “public security” under the Crime Prevention Law. Governors used this provision widely. Several international and national NGOs, along with the NCHR, alleged governors routinely abused the law, imprisoning individuals when there was not enough evidence to convict them, and prolonging the detention of prisoners whose sentences had been completed.

In August, the Ministry of Social Development opened a shelter for women at risk of violence and “honor” crimes. While previously authorities held these women in the same administrative detention facilities as criminals, the PSD now transferred them directly to the shelter. The shelter has space for 40 women, which is higher than the number held in protective detention in 2017. NGOs reported decreased numbers of women at risk of becoming victims of “honor” crimes. As of October, authorities had transferred 10 women to the shelter, with 16 awaiting transfer from Juwaidah Prison.

During the year local NGOs said that officials detained migrant laborers in arbitrary arrests; those whose employers did not administratively secure their release were held for working without authorization, being absent from their authorized workplace, or lacking proper residency permits. One domestic worker claimed that security forces stopped her on the street to ask for her documentation and took her to a detention facility when she was not able to furnish it immediately, without giving her the opportunity to contact her employer to explain her absence or obtain the needed documents.

Pretrial Detention: The law criminalizes detaining any person for more than 24 hours without a prosecutor’s authorization. Rights activists said authorities routinely ignored this limit, and according to human rights organizations, impunity was very common for violations. As of March 44 percent of all detainees were pretrial detainees, according to the University of London’s World Prison Brief, a 7 percent increase from 2017.

The common practice of judges granting extensions to prosecutors prior to filing formal charges unnecessarily lengthened pretrial detention, which lasted anywhere from three days to several years. While judicial reforms implemented this year, such as specialization of judges and prosecutors, were designed to address this problem, the Ministry of Justice lacked the capacity to provide legally mandatory legal aid and translation services and struggled to coordinate witness attendance and transportation of defendants to and from the court. Automation of several legal procedures in recent years reduced the average period of pretrial detention, according to local legal aid organizations, but increased the number of persons in administrative detention using the discretion granted to governors.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law does not have an explicit provision that entitles victims of arbitrary or unlawful detention to restitution. The Criminal Procedures Law does not provide for routine judicial review of administrative detentions ordered by the 12 governors. Detainees can bring civil lawsuits for restitution for arbitrary or unlawful detention or bring criminal lawsuits for illegal incarceration, but this option rarely occurred. Detainees must hire a lawyer with at least five years’ experience, must pay their own fees, and must present a copy of the order of detention. There were no cases of restitution during the year.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but legal experts and human rights lawyers’ allegations of nepotism and the influence of security services and special interests raised concerns about the judiciary’s independence. Additionally, judicial inefficiency and a large case backlog delayed the provision of justice. In August 2017, parliament passed a bill that provided further provisions for an independent judiciary and better qualitative performance of courts, which was implemented this year. This bill also included the specialization of prosecutors and judges, moving away from generalized prosecutors and judges who handle a full range of criminal cases, toward a system in which cases are referred to individuals with legal and subject matter expertise on the specific charges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally sought to enforce this right. The law presumes that defendants are innocent. However, officials sometimes did not respect the right of defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them or to a fair and public trial without undue delay. According to the law, all civilian court trials and SSC trials are open to the public unless the court determines that the trial should be closed to protect the public interest. Authorities occasionally tried defendants in their absence. The country allows defendants to be tried in their absence, but it requires a retrial upon their return. The SSC has more restrictions than the other courts on conducting trials when the defendant is not present. Defendants are entitled to legal counsel, provided at public expense for the indigent in cases involving the death penalty or life imprisonment, but only at the trial stage. Most criminal defendants lacked legal representation prior to and at trial. Frequently, defendants before the SSC met with their attorneys only one or two days before their trial began. Authorities did not accord defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Authorities did not uniformly provide foreign residents, especially foreign workers who often did not speak Arabic, with free translation and defense. The government at times prevented civil society organizations from providing legal aid to clients, despite lacking the capacity to address new cases or the current backlog.

Defendants may present witnesses and evidence and may cross-examine witnesses presented against them. Defendants do not have the right to refuse to testify. Although the constitution prohibits the use of confessions extracted by torture, human rights activists noted that courts routinely accepted confessions allegedly extracted under torture or mistreatment. Defendants can appeal verdicts; appeals are automatic for cases involving the death penalty or a sentence of more than 10 years’ imprisonment. When defendants at trial recant their confessions obtained during the criminal investigation, those confessions are not used against the defendant; the trial then relies solely on the evidence collected and presented at trial.

In the SSC, defendants have the right to appeal their sentences to the Court of Cassation, which has the authority to review issues of both fact and law.

The government allowed international observers to visit the SSC and the Military and Police Courts to observe court proceedings throughout the year. For example, on July 1, officers of a foreign embassy observed a terrorism case being tried at the State Security Court.

Civil, criminal, and commercial courts accord equal weight to the testimony of men and women. In sharia courts, which have jurisdiction over Muslim marriage, divorce, and inheritance cases, the testimony of one man equals that of two women.

The Juvenile Law places the age of criminal responsibility at 12 years. The law stipulates that juveniles charged with committing a crime along with an adult be tried in a juvenile court. There is one case pending at the SSC of a juvenile charged with terrorism-related offenses for involvement in the 2016 terrorist cell in Irbid. Juveniles tried at the SSC were held in juvenile detention centers. The law stipulates alternative penalties for juvenile offenders, including vocational training and community service.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

During the year, there were a few instances of the government detaining and imprisoning activists for political reasons including criticizing the government, criticizing the government’s foreign policy, publishing criticism of government officials and official bodies, criticizing foreign countries, and chanting slogans against the king. Citizens and NGOs alleged the government continued to detain other individuals for political reasons and that governors continued to use administrative detention for what appeared to be political reasons.

The GID detained Ayman Ajawi, the president of the Polytechnic College Student Union, for two weeks after he led protests in late February calling for basic services and campus infrastructure improvements. Ajawi’s father and lawyer told media that the GID prevented them from seeing him in detention. Members of parliament pressed the minister of higher education to intervene on Ajawi’s behalf, and more than 50 students from universities protested in front of the Ministry of Higher Education to demand his immediate release. In March, authorities released Ajawi on bail.

In March, the Jordan Bar Association accused the State Security Court of prosecuting political activists under the guise of upholding national security. In protest, they suspended their members from representing clients before the State Security Court. When they realized that clients would then have to appear in court without representation, they lifted the suspension.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may bring civil lawsuits related to human rights violations through domestic courts.

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

The law prohibits such actions, but individuals widely believed that security officers monitored telephone conversations and internet communication, read private correspondence, and engaged in surveillance without court orders. While no examples were given to justify these beliefs, they widely believed the government employed an informer system within political movements and human rights organizations.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides that “The State shall guarantee freedom of opinion; and every Jordanian shall freely express his opinion by speech, writing, photography, and the other means of expression, provided that he does not go beyond the limits of the law.” Authorities applied regulations to limit freedom of speech and press in practice. Authorities applied articles of the Counterterrorism Law, the Cybercrimes Law, the Press and Publications Law, and the penal code to arrest local journalists.

Freedom of Expression: The law permits punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment for insulting the king, slandering the government or foreign leaders, offending religious beliefs, or stirring sectarian strife and sedition. During the year, the government restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government by arresting a number of activists for political expression. Authorities used laws against slander of public officials, blackmail, and libel to restrict public discussion, as well as employed official gag orders issued by the public prosecutor.

In January 2017, authorities arrested retired major general Mohammed Otoum and seven other activists protesting against expected price increases and alleged government corruption on social media. The SSC prosecutor charged them with undermining the regime and engaging in acts to incite public opinion in breach of the law. Otoum and the other activists were acquitted during the year.

During economic protests in the spring, authorities arrested two prominent activists from Karak and Dhiban and charged them with treason for speaking against the king at a rally. Authorities released one on bail a month later. The second was released after 15 days. Authorities referred both cases to the SSC, and they remained pending.

The August 2017 case against local journalist Mohammad Qaddah for slander, incitement, and defamation for reportedly posting a video on Facebook, which authorities described as “insulting” and “derogatory” to women in the country, continued.

The Media Commission licenses all public-opinion polls and survey research centers in accordance with the Press and Publication law.

Press and Media Freedom: All publications must obtain licenses from the government to operate. Multiple daily newspapers operated; observers considered several as independent of the government, including one regarded as close to the Islamic Action Front (the Muslim Brotherhood’s legally registered political party). Observers also judged several dailies to be close to the government. The independent print and broadcast media largely operated with limited restriction, and media observers reported government pressure, including the threat of large fines and prison sentences, to refrain from criticizing the royal family, discussing the GID, covering on-going security operations, using language deemed offensive to Islam, or slandering government officials. The government influenced news reporting and commentary through political pressure on editors and control over important editorial positions in government-affiliated media. For example, journalists of government-affiliated and independent media reported that security officials used bribes, threats, and political pressure to force editors to place articles favorable to the government in online and print newspapers.

The law grants the head of the Media Commission authority to close any unlicensed theater, satellite channel, or radio channel. During the year, the Media Commission granted broadcasting licenses to companies owned by citizens and foreigners. Those with licenses may not legally broadcast anything that would harm public order, social security, national security, or the country’s relations with a foreign country; incite hatred, terrorism, or violent sedition; or mislead or deceive the public. There is a fine for broadcasting without a license. The cabinet, however, must justify the reasons for rejecting a license and allow the applicant to appeal the decision to the judiciary.

In February, the Media Commission proposed broadcast licensing changes that would reduce fees for community radio stations, which typically struggled to pay standard annual costs; many rural areas of the country had no local radio reception. Annual radio broadcasting fees were approximately 25,000 JD ($35,236) for Greater Amman, 15,000 JD ($21,142) for Zarqa and Irbid, and 10,000 JD ($14,094) for other areas. The commission stated that fee exemptions for community radio stations would enhance decentralization and community development efforts outside the capital.

The Al-Jazeera Jordan office remained closed following the government’s decision in 2017 to close it and withdraw its license in connection with the Qatar/Gulf dispute.

In December 2017 authorities detained Ro’ya TV correspondent Ziad Nseirat after he interviewed protestors criticizing transport and infrastructure degradation in the Bani Kinana area of Irbid. Police seized his phone and prevented him from making calls. Nseirat faced charges under the Cybercrimes Law and was released on bail two days later. Charges remained pending.

The government has a majority of seats on the board for the leading semiofficial daily newspaper, al-Rai, and a share of board seats for ad-Dustour daily newspaper. According to press freedom advocates, the GID’s Media Department must approve editors in chief of progovernment newspapers.

Media observers noted that, when covering controversial subjects, the government-owned Jordan Television, Jordan News Agency, and Radio Jordan reported only the government’s position.

By law, any book can be published and distributed freely. However, if the Media Commission deems that passages violate public norms and values, are religiously offensive, or are “insulting” to the king, it can request a court order to prohibit the distribution of the book. The Media Commission banned distribution of 47 books from October 2017 through August 2018 for insulting religion, having pornographic images, and promoting homosexuality. It approved the importation of over 300,000 books.

Violence and Harassment: The government subjected journalists to harassment and intimidation.

In its annual report, The Status of Media Freedoms in Jordan in 2017, the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) documented numerous violations of freedoms against journalists and media organizations.

Authorities arrested or temporarily detained some journalists, and government officials or private individuals threatened some journalists.

Al-Rai journalist Hussein al-Sharaa was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment (the highest sentence for such offense) following a complaint filed against him by the PSD for a post he wrote on Facebook, which the PSD considered offensive. The Jordan Press Association appealed the verdict for issuing it without the presence of the defendant’s lawyer. The appeals court released al-Sharaa on bail until the judicial procedures are completed.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly censored the media. The CDFJ report noted increased incidents of authorities restricting journalists’ coverage and recorded self-censorship among journalists in 2017 as the highest since 2014. Journalists claimed that the government used informants in newsrooms, exercised influence over reporting, and GID officials censored reporting. Editors reportedly received telephone calls from security officials instructing them how to cover events or to refrain from covering certain topics or events, especially criticism of political reform. Bribery of journalists took place and undermined independent reporting. Occasionally, government officials provided texts for journalists to publish under their bylines. An opinion poll conducted among 1,232 media figures found 94.1 percent of journalists self-censored. Journalists cited the declining financial conditions of media outlets, the threat of detention and imprisonment for defamation for a variety of offenses, and court-ordered compensation of as much as 150,000 Jordanian dinars (JD) ($210,000). At times editors in chief censored articles to prevent lawsuits. The government’s use of “soft containment” of journalists, including withholding financial support, scholarships for relatives, and special invitations, led to significant control of media content.

During the year, the Media Commission did not circulate any official gag orders restricting discussion in all forms of media, including social media. For grand felony cases or cases of domestic violence, the public prosecutor may issue a gag order to protect the victims or witnesses involved. For example, the West Amman public prosecutor issued a gag order concerning a tribal dispute, when a group of men attacked a person on May 7, resulting in riots in the city of Madaba.

The Media Commission continued to ban the distribution of selected books for religious and moral reasons.

Libel/Slander Laws: Government prosecutors relied on privately initiated libel, slander, and defamation lawsuits to suppress criticism of public figures and policies. Dozens of journalists, as well as members of parliament, faced libel and slander accusations filed by private citizens.

In January, authorities arrested a journalist and social media activist for defamation after publishing allegations the minister of finance at the time evaded paying taxes. They were released on bail two days later.

National Security: The government used laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies and officials.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content; there were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law requires the licensing and registration of online news websites, holds editors responsible for readers’ comments on their websites, requires that website owners provide the government with the personal data of its users, and mandates that editors in chief be members of the Jordan Press Association. The law gives authorities explicit power to block and censor websites.

Authorities continued to block the website of an online lifestyle magazine with an LGBTI target audience on the grounds that it was an unlicensed publication.

According to the Media Commission, there is no registration fee for a website. News websites must employ editors in chief with at least four years’ membership in the Jordan Press Association. The owner and editor in chief can be fined between 3,000 JD ($4,200) and 5,000 JD ($7,000), in addition to criminal penalties, for website content that “includes humiliation, defamation, or disparagement of individuals in a manner that violates their personal freedoms or spreads false rumors about them.”

According to journalists, security forces reportedly demanded websites remove some posted articles. The government threatened websites and journalists that criticized the government, while it actively supported those that reported favorably on the government. The government monitored electronic correspondence and internet chat sites. Individuals believed they were unable to express their views fully or freely via the internet, including by personal email.

In November 2017, according to lawyers, an Amman civil court denied bail for the 10th time to two individuals allegedly detained for social media posts accusing a royal court official of corruption. A number of activists and journalists protested at the royal court demanding the detainees’ release. As of November 16, there was no further information on release of the detainees.

According to the World Bank, internet penetration was 87.8 percent during the year, up 12.8 percent from last year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government placed some limits on academic freedom. Some members of the academic community claimed there was a continuing intelligence presence in academic institutions, including monitoring academic conferences and lectures. The government monitored political meetings, speech on university campuses, and sermons in mosques and churches. Academics reported the GID must clear all university professors before their appointment. Academics also reported university administration must approve all research papers, forums, reading materials, movies, or seminars, and administrators clear potentially controversial material through the GID. Authorities edited commercial foreign films for objectionable content before screening in commercial theaters.

In March, the GID detained the president of the Polytechnic College Student Union, Ayman Ajawi, after he led protests in late February calling for basic services and campus infrastructure improvements. Authorities released him on bail two weeks later. Another 33 students at the Polytechnic College awaited disciplinary action for protesting his detention.

In April, the Polytechnic College referred 13 students to the judiciary for allegedly inciting hatred and provoking riots on campus. The case remained with the prosecutor.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but the government limited this right. Security forces provided security at demonstrations granted permits by government or local authorities.

The law requires a 48-hour notification to the governor for any meeting or event hosted by any local or international group. While not required by law, several local and international NGOs reported that hotels, allegedly at the request of security officials, required them to present letters of approval from the governor prior to holding training, private meetings, or public conferences. There were 42 reported cases of governor denials without explanation this year. Without letters of approval from the government, hotels cancelled the events. In some cases, NGOs relocated the events to private offices. In one case the Amman governor’s office informed a human rights organization it would not be allowed to proceed with hosting antitorture training at a hotel. The organization claimed that it was eventually permitted to host the training after threatening legal action against the governor.

Protests regarding economic policies, corruption, and government ineffectiveness occurred across several governorates throughout the spring and summer. A few hundred local tribal activists organized daily sit-ins lasting up to 70 days in the main town squares of Salt and Karak from February to May. Protestors generally spoke favorably about the government response.

In late May, labor unions joined the protest movement, leading to larger demonstrations across the country. According to government officials, protests were generally peaceful with 42 injuries to security personnel and 60 arrests for vandalism or assault. The Justice Center for Legal Aid, a civil society organization, operated a detention hotline during the protests where citizens could report violations of the government’s pledge not to detain protestors for more than six hours. They reported one incident when a governor allegedly detained a group of 10 protestors for a prolonged period.

The government tabled the proposed tax reform law in response to the protests, leading to the resignation of then Prime Minister Hani Al-Mulki and his government. Police subsequently allegedly dispersed peaceful anticorruption protests under the new government headed by Prime Minister Razzaz.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government limited this freedom. The law authorizes the Ministry of Social Development and Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Supply to approve or reject applications to register organizations and to prohibit organizations from receiving foreign funding for any reason. It prohibits the use of associations for the benefit of any political organization. The law also gives the ministry significant control over the internal management of associations, including the ability to dissolve associations, approve boards of directors, send government representatives to any board meeting, prevent associations from merging their operations, and appoint an auditor to examine an association’s finances for any reason. The law requires associations to inform the Ministry of Social Development of board meetings, submit all board decisions for approval, disclose members’ names, and obtain security clearances for board members from the Interior Ministry. The law includes penalties, including fines up to 10,000 JD ($14,000), for violations of the regulations.

In 2015, the Ministry of Social Development introduced an application form for the approval process for associations that receive foreign funding. Associations criticized the procedure, which incorporated additional ministries into the decision process and removed the deadline for review of funding requests. NGOs stated the registration process and foreign funding procedures were neither clear, transparent, nor consistently applied. Groups attempting to register experienced months of delays, and those for whom authorities denied their applications complained that they received inadequate explanations.

During the year, the Ministry of Social Development introduced an automated system for associations to apply for foreign funding and track their applications. As of August 30, the ministry received 5,735 applications for foreign funding and approved 190 of them. NGO’s reported that unexplained, months-long delays in the decision process continued.

The law authorizes the Ministry of Social Development to intervene in NGO activities. Warned NGOs are given a two-month probationary period to address violations.

In June Amman’s first instance court sentenced the chief executive officer of the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) to one year in prison for inaccuracies in the CDFJ’s budget and operating under an incorrect legal status. The court also fined CDFJ 200 JD ($282) for irregularities in its budget and organizational documents. In October, a Court of Appeal acquitted the CDFJ’s chief executive officer of these charges. The Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Supply alleged in 2017 that CDFJ violated foreign funding restrictions and ordered it to halt receipt of any foreign funding.

Citizens widely suspected that the government infiltrated civil society organizations, political parties, and human rights organizations and their internal meetings.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although there were some restrictions.

The United Nations reported that 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 internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: The government placed some restrictions on the free internal movement of registered Syrian refugees and asylum seekers. The country’s land border with Syria has been closed to new refugee arrivals since June 2016. During the June southwest offensive in Syria, the government maintained a closed border policy, preventing new asylum seekers from entering the country. Some of these newly displaced persons, however, received emergency humanitarian assistance from inside the Free Trade Zone between Jordan and Syria. There was no legal framework for refugees residing in the Jordanian refugee camps to leave permanently to settle in host communities for family reunification; long-term medical treatment was unavailable in the camps.

The government registered and facilitated access to civil documentation for Syrian refugees. The Urban Verification Exercise for refugees has steadily expanded, and the government increased access to birth and marriage certificates by simplifying and reducing the costs. While on several occasions, the government allowed the regularization of certain refugees who left the camps to settle in host communities, there was generally no option for camp residents to move permanently into rural and urban areas and only limited options to move in and out of camps.

Conversely, reports of forced relocations to Azraq camp, including many to Azraq’s restricted Village 5 (V5), increased as an alternative to deportation, for offenses by Syrian refugees that encompassed “irregular status” (for example, no updated registration, working without a work permit); criminal activities; and potential security risks, without the latter being clearly defined. As of June, Azraq camp hosted over 36,000 individuals, including over 9,000 adults and children, in the fenced-off area V5. Residents of V5 had access to basic humanitarian assistance inside the village but access to the broader camp facilities, including the camp hospital, required a security escort. The screening process allowing V5 residents to relocate to the larger camp was irregular and very slow. Reportedly, since entering Jordan from Syria, two thirds of the residents have remained in V5 for more than two years. It remained unclear whether individuals in Azraq V5 will be permitted to move to less restrictive, unfenced areas in the camp or to host communities.

Authorities required all residents of King Abdullah Park refugee camp, to obtain a leave permit, which was not systematically granted, to visit their relatives in Jordan or for other purposes. Authorities made some exceptions for the sick and elderly to allow twice-monthly visits. Palestinian Refugees from Syria (PRS) accounted for 354 of the 509 refugees in the camp as of June, including “PRS Families” (families including at least one family member, which subjected them to specific treatment and limitation related to PRS).

Foreign Travel: Activists alleged authorities imposed travel bans against citizens.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: There were few reports of the government forcibly returning Syrian refugees and PRS, including women, children, war-injured persons, and persons with disabilities, to Syria. International organizations continued to report that the government forcibly returned to Syria some refugees residing in the country’s host communities and camps for alleged security concerns and relocated others to various locations including Azraq camp V5. Some relocated individuals were held pending security vetting to ensure they did not pose a security risk. There was no established time period for security vetting.

Some reasons for returns and relocations were allegations of communicating with and sending money to relatives who are in ISIS-controlled territories in Syria and other activities that could create security concerns.

From October 2017 through July 2018, the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) was aware of three cases of refoulement of 15 PRS. The vulnerability of PRS to deportation increased their risk of other abuses. For those who entered the country irregularly (for example, without required documentation, or using Syrian identity documents), refoulement was a constant risk, and access to basic civil services–including renewal of identity documents, the registration of marriages, deaths, and births–was highly complex. UNRWA reported that such activities could result in forced return to Syria, as well as detention and denaturalization. These vulnerabilities put refugees at additional risk of abuse by third parties such as employers and landlords.

Access to Asylum: The country’s laws do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government lacked a formal system of protecting refugees. A 1998 memorandum of understanding between the government and UNHCR, renewed in 2014, contains the definition of a refugee, confirms adherence to the principle of nonrefoulement, and allows recognized refugees a maximum stay of one year, during which period UNHCR must find them a durable solution. The time limit is renewable, and the government generally did not force refugees to return to their country of origin. As of 2014, authorities required all Syrians in the country to register with the Ministry of Interior and obtain a ministry-issued identification card.

The government declared it would not accept additional Syrian refugees after a 2016 suicide attack along the northeast border with Syria, declaring the surrounding area a “closed military zone.” The government restricted humanitarian access to the area. International organizations reported that between 45,000 and 50,000 internally displaced Syrians remained at the northeast desert Jordan-Syria border throughout the year. The government’s 2013 announcement that it would not allow entry of PRS remained in effect.

Employment: In 2016, the government announced it would allow Syrian refugees access to the formal labor market and committed to providing 200,000 job opportunities for Syrians in the coming years. The Ministry of Labor issued more than 120,000 work permits to Syrians. More than 36,000 Syrian refugees received new or renewed work permits in 2018. The government took several steps to expand and facilitate the issuance of work permits, including waiving fees. The government also revised work permit practices to allow Syrian workers in the agricultural and construction sectors to switch employers under the supervision of agricultural cooperatives and a trade union, rather than requiring new work permits for each job transfer.

There continued to be delays in implementing procedures at Ministry of Labor offices in governorates outside Amman. There remained uncertainty among the refugee population and employers regarding how to apply for the work permits. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees continued to work in the informal economy. A government-commissioned study on migrant workers, published in 2016, estimated that 26 percent of Syrian refugees were economically active in the labor market. Very few non-Syrian refugees had access to the formal labor market, and, due to the difficulties and expenses involved in seeking work authorization, many worked in the unofficial labor market.

The United Nations reported that in general Syrian refugees working informally were no longer deported or sent to the refugee camps when caught working without authorization. During the year, the Ministries of Interior and Labor, in coordination with the United Nations, permitted refugees living in the camps to apply for work permits. The agreement allows camp-based refugees to use their work permits as a 30-day leave pass to work outside the camp. Camp-based refugees receiving work permits must report to the camp at least one day per month.

Some longstanding Palestinian refugees with Jordanian citizenship were integrated into the workforce. Almost 160,000 Palestinian refugees originally from Gaza, however, were not eligible for Jordanian citizenship, and authorities restricted their access to public services and employment. Additionally, according to UNRWA, authorities did not allow PRS to work, and a significant percentage remained without Jordanian documents.

Access to Basic Services: The government allowed Syrian and other UNHCR-registered refugees to access public health and education facilities. From 2014 until March, authorities charged Syrian refugees for health care at the same rates as uninsured Jordanians, who pay a nominal fee for most basic health services. Iraqi and other refugees must pay the foreigner’s rate for health care. As of March authorities required Syrian refugees to pay 80 percent of the foreign resident rate for all medical costs.

The government continued to provide free primary and secondary education to Syrian refugee children and to permit all school-age Syrian refugees access to education. As of the end of the academic year 2017-18, authorities had not fully completed this objective, and an estimated 73,000 Syrians were still without formal or informal education. There were reports that some Syrian refugee children may not enroll in school if they do not have Ministry of Interior cards. Non-Syrian refugees must pay to attend government schools. Public schools, particularly in the north of the country, were overcrowded and operated on a double-shift schedule to accommodate Syrian students. The government increased the number of double-shift schools in an action designed to allow an additional 50,000 Syrian refugee students to obtain formal education as well as 126,000 refugee students enrolled in 2016-17.

For those not eligible to access formal education because they have been out of school for three or more years, the Ministry of Education developed a catch-up program that reached over 4,000 students between the ages of nine and 12 since 2016 and enrolled them at catch-up centers across the country in 2017-18. Children 13 years old and above, who were not eligible to enroll in formal education, could also participate in nonformal education drop-out programs implemented by NGO partners, in close coordination with the Ministry of Education.

Some Syrian children continued to face barriers to attending public schools, including lack of transportation, long distances to schools, bullying by fellow students and teachers, or child labor.

Palestinian refugees from Gaza who entered the country following the 1967 war were not entitled to services, including access to public assistance and higher education. Earlier refugees from Gaza, who came to Jordan between June 1946 and May 1948, were eligible to receive UNRWA services.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government tolerated the prolonged stay of many Iraqis and other refugees beyond the expiration of the visit permits under which they had entered the country.

STATELESS PERSONS

Only fathers can transmit citizenship. Women do not have the legal right to transmit citizenship to their children. Children of female citizens married to noncitizens receive the nationality of the father and rely on a special identification card to enroll in school, access services, and obtain a driver’s license. Since 2016, the Ministry of Education has formally allowed all children, regardless of nationality or status, to enroll in formal education, although in practice lacking proper paperwork did sometimes lead to delays or issues enrolling children in school. In guidelines announced by the government in 2014, if children of Jordanian mothers and noncitizen fathers apply and meet certain criteria, they may gain access to certain services enjoyed by citizens, including subsidized health care; the ability to own property, invest, and obtain a Jordanian driver’s license; and have employment priority over other foreigners. This ruling affects tens of thousands of families, including hundreds of thousands of children, in which the father lacked Jordanian citizenship. An estimated 55,000 of these fathers were Palestinians. To access these services, children must obtain a special identification card through the Civil Status Bureau. Under the 2014 law, applicants must prove the maternal relationship, that the Jordanian mother has been resident in the country for five years, and that the children currently reside in the country. In 2016, the Civil Status Bureau began issuing identification cards to replace the initial certificates. In September, the cabinet removed the five-year residency requirement for Jordanian mothers. By law, the cabinet may approve citizenship for children of Jordanian mothers and foreign fathers under certain conditions, but this mechanism was not widely known, and approval rarely occurred.

Women may not petition for citizenship for noncitizen husbands, who may apply for citizenship only after fulfilling a requirement that they maintain continuous Jordanian residency for 15 years. Once a husband has obtained citizenship, he may apply to transmit citizenship to his children. Such an application could take years, and the government can deny the application.

Syrian refugees were sometimes unable to obtain birth certificates for children born in the country if they could not present an official marriage certificate or other nationality documents, which were sometimes lost or destroyed when they fled, or confiscated by government authorities when the refugees entered the country. A large number of Syrian marriages reportedly took place in Jordan without registration. The government opened a legal process for such cases to adjust and obtain registration documents. Refugee households headed by women faced difficulty in certifying nationality of offspring in absence of the father, which increased the risk of statelessness among this population. Civil registry departments and sharia courts in the Za’atri and Azraq camps helped refugees register births.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their executive branch of government. The king appoints and dismisses the prime minister, cabinet, and upper house of parliament; can dissolve parliament; and directs major public policy initiatives. Citizens have the ability to choose the lower house of parliament in generally credible periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot. Citizens also elect 97 of the 100 mayors, most members of governorate councils, and all members of municipal and local councils. While the voting process is well run, official obstacles to political party activity and campaigning limited participation. International organizations continued to have concerns about the gerrymandering of electoral districts. The cabinet, based on the prime minister’s recommendations, appoints the mayors of Amman, Wadi Musa (Petra), and Aqaba, a special economic zone. Elections for the lower house of parliament took place in 2016. Elections for mayors, governorate councils, and municipal councils took place in August 2017.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government held parliamentary elections in 2016. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) administered the polls. The commission is an autonomous legal entity. It supervises and administers all phases of parliamentary elections, regional and municipal elections, as well as other elections called by the Council of Ministers. Local and foreign monitors noted the election was technically well administered. Politicians and activists reported most government interference occurred prior to the election, in the form of channeling support to preferred candidates and pressuring others not to run.

The election exhibited important technical competence in administration, but observers cited allegations of vote buying, ballot box tampering in one region, and other abuses. International and domestic observers of the election process expressed reservations about inadequacies in the electoral legal framework and stressed the need to allocate seats to districts proportionally based on population size.

Several Islamist parties participated in the 2016 parliamentary election, ending a six-year boycott. The Islamic Action Front won 15 seats, including 10 for party members.

The August 2017 governorate and municipal elections marked the first time the IEC administered subnational elections, since the Ministry of Interior conducted them until a 2014 constitutional amendment granted the IEC more authority. In addition to the election of mayors and local councils, the poll resulted in the election of new governorate-level councils. Many monitors praised the elections as technically well run, but a nongovernment elections monitoring body, Rased, registered more than 500 illegal incidents.

The elections took place under a decentralization law passed by parliament and ratified by the king in 2015. The law established an additional council to participate in the budgeting process at the governorate level; it is 85 percent elected and 15 percent appointed. The new council will work with the existing executive council, which is fully appointed. The appointed council is composed of technical experts from the central government.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Political Parties Law places supervisory authority of political parties in the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs. Political parties must have 150 founding members, all of whom must be citizens habitually resident in the country and not be members of non-Jordanian political organizations, judges, or affiliated with the security services. There is no quota for women when founding a new political party. Parties may not be formed on the basis of religion, sect, race, gender, or origin (meaning that they may not make membership dependent on any of these factors). The law stipulates citizens may not be prosecuted for their political party affiliation. Most politicians believed that the GID would harass them if they attempted to form or join a political party with a policy platform. A 2016 bylaw stipulates 50,000 JD ($70,000) annual financial support from the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs to registered political parties older than one year with more than 500 members from at least seven governorates, at least 10 percent of whom are women. The Committee on Political Party Affairs oversees the activities of political parties. The secretary general of the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs chairs the committee, which includes a representative from the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Culture, the National Center for Human Rights, and civil society. The law grants the committee the authority to approve or reject applications to establish or dissolve parties. It allows party founders to appeal a rejection to the judiciary within 60 days of the decision. According to the law, approved parties can only be dissolved subject to the party’s own bylaws; or by a judicial decision for affiliation with a foreign entity, accepting funding from a foreign entity, violating provisions of the law, or violating provisions of the constitution. The law prohibits membership in unlicensed political parties. There were approximately 50 registered political parties, but they were weak, generally had vague platforms, and were personality centered. The strongest and most organized political party was the Islamic Action Front.

At least one new political party successfully registered in late 2017. The party, however, postponed the official launch event in December 2017, when the Greater Amman Municipality initially blocked the rally due to “security concerns.” The launch event occurred in early 2018.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The electoral law limits parliamentary representation of certain minorities to designated quota seats. Human rights activists cited cultural bias against women as an impediment to women participating in political life on the same scale as men. There are quotas for women in the lower house of parliament, governorate councils, municipal councils, and local councils. Women elected competitively or appointed through quota systems tended to be small minorities in national and local legislative bodies and executive branch leadership positions.

The 29-member cabinet included seven female ministers: the minister of information and communications, the minister of public sector development, the minister of tourism and antiquities, the minister of planning and international cooperation, the minister of energy and mineral resources, the minister of culture, and the minister of social development. Of the 376 governate seats, 53 were held by women. At the municipal council level, women won 28 indirectly elected seats and 57 by quota, of 1,783 total municipal council seats. At the local council (neighborhood) level, women won 231 seats in free competition and 324 through the quota system of 1,179 seats. No women won mayorships.

Citizens of Palestinian origin were underrepresented at all levels of government and the military. The law reserves nine seats in the lower house of parliament for Christians and three seats for the Circassian and Chechen ethnic minorities combined, constituting an overrepresentation of these minorities. The law stipulates that Muslims must hold all parliamentary seats not specifically reserved for Christians or on the national list. Seven Christians were in the upper house of parliament, with one, subsequently, leaving in June when appointed deputy prime minister. There are no reserved seats for the relatively small Druze population, but its members may hold office under their government classification as Muslims. Christians served as cabinet ministers and ambassadors. There were four Christian ministers in the cabinet. There was one Druze cabinet member.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, although the government did not implement the law effectively. Some officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. During the year, there were some investigations into allegations of corruption but very few convictions. The use of family, business, and other personal connections to advance personal economic interests was widespread. There were allegations of lack of transparency in government procurement, government appointments, and dispute settlement. Corruption was a major theme of the protests that resulted in the government’s resignation in the summer.

In response to these protests, newly appointed Prime Minister Razzaz stated in June that combating corruption and increasing transparency were priorities for the government; he and his ministers consulted with civil society on how to achieve this objective. On November 25, the government withdrew the proposed amendments to the long-tabled right to information law that intended to make it easier for citizens to obtain access to government information, but was seen as ineffective.

Corruption: The Jordan Integrity and Anticorruption Commission (JIACC) is the main body responsible for combating corruption, although the Anti-Money Laundering Unit is responsible for combating money laundering. Despite increased investigations, some local observers questioned the JIACC’s effectiveness due to its limited jurisdiction, insufficient staff, legal obstacles, and the small number of investigations involving senior officials or large government projects. There were credible allegations that the commission failed to investigate cases involving high-level government officials.

The Ombudsman Bureau receives and investigates public complaints about corruption and misconduct by public officials.

The government has taken steps to address corruption and prosecute tax evasion.

A high profile anticorruption case involving illegal production and smuggling of tobacco was ongoing. In August, the State Security Court’s Public Prosecution issued an Interpol Red Notice against the prime suspect in the case, businessman Awni Motee, who fled the country before being arrested. The Public Prosecution coordinated with the Anti-Money Laundering Unit to freeze the suspect’s assets, conduct financial analysis, and investigate the charges. While the king noted the case as evidence of the government’s commitment to combating corruption, observers complained that referral of the case to the SSC would make it difficult to prosecute if the suspect was abroad.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires certain government officials, their spouses, and dependent children to declare their assets privately within three months of their assuming a government position. Officials rarely publicly declared their assets. Prime Minister Razzaz privately declared his assets in accordance with the law, but he did not publicly disclose them. Authorities blocked efforts by transparency activists to identify officials publicly who did not declare their assets. In the event of a complaint, the chief justice may review the disclosures. Under the law failure to disclose assets could result in a prison sentence of one week to three years or a fine of five to 200 JD (seven to $280). No officials were punished for failing to submit a disclosure.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country with some restrictions. The law gives the government the ability to control NGOs’ internal affairs, including acceptance of foreign funding. NGOs generally were able to investigate and report publicly on human rights abuses, although government officials were not always cooperative or responsive. In at least one case, security services subjected a human rights NGO to intimidation. A legal aid organization reported that lawyers were harassed for following up on cases.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NCHR, a quasi-independent institution established by law, received both government and international funding. The prime minister nominates its board of trustees, and the king ratifies their appointment by royal decree. The government appoints NCHR’s commissioner general. The NCHR compiles an annual report assessing compliance with human rights that sometimes criticizes government practices. The NCHR submits the report to the upper and lower houses of parliament, and to the council of ministers. NCHR recommendations are not legally binding. In June parliament amended the law that established the NCHR to expand its authority to monitor and follow up with victims’ and confirm receipt of promised compensation. Other amendments renewed the mechanism of appointing and terminating service of board of trustees members, increased funding to implement awareness projects, and established branches and networks across the country.

In 2017 the prime minister established a permanent governmental committee headed by the GCHR to review NCHR recommendations and to measure progress towards international human rights standards. In May the GCHR office made public the government submission to the third UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in November. The report detailed the country’s efforts to implement UPR recommendations and declared a national commitment to enhance human rights. Ministries’ working groups continued to meet and implement their responsibilities under the national human rights action plan, a 10-year comprehensive program launched in 2016, designed to reform laws in accordance with international standards and best practices, including integrating accessibility for persons with disabilities. Developments were regularly published on their websites. Ministries stated commitment to the plan, but expressed frustration with the limited resources available to implement it.

To implement the action plan, the GCHR maintained a team of liaison officers from government, NGOs, security agencies, and other formal institutions to improve collaboration and communication. The GCHR published an official statement inviting civil society to take part in the drafting of the government’s report to the UPR as a commitment to the government’s partnership with civil society.

The GCHR office convened 28 activities during the year in relation to the national human rights plan. Subjects included trafficking in persons, UN resolution 2250, recommendations for the Antinarcotics Department, legislative priorities ahead of the UPR, youth and technology, and workshops on modern slavery. In February the GCHR was appointed as the deputy president of the Higher Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (HCD) Board of Trustees. In October the GCHR was elevated to cabinet level reiterating government commitment to improving the status of human rights in Jordan.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law stipulates a sentence of at least 10 years of imprisonment with hard labor for the rape of a girl or woman 15 years old or older. Spousal rape is not illegal. Parliament passed a revised domestic violence law in 2017 that clarified procedures for reporting and case management and specified that these complaints must receive expedited processing. The law made prosecution mandatory for felony offenses. Nonfelony offenses are first subjected to mediation by the Family Protection Department (FPD) of the PSD. The law now provides options for alternative sentencing in domestic violence cases with consent of the victim. NGOs noted that the law also now clarifies procedures for handling domestic violence, but the definition of domestic violence remains unclear.

In 2017 parliament abolished an article of the penal code that exonerated rapists who married their victims and amended another article prohibiting the “fit of fury” excuse for “honor crimes.” Parliament also amended the law to eliminate mitigated sentencing for honor crimes cases when the family would ordinarily drop charges. NGOs reported the number of women under protective detention decreased.

The government did not effectively enforce the law against rape, and violence against women was widespread. In January the Court of Cassation ruled that they would not allow reprosecution of a man who raped a woman in 2016 and married her to avoid criminal charges, despite the elimination of the exonerating clause in 2017.

Women may file complaints of rape or physical abuse with certain NGOs or directly with judicial authorities. As of August the FPD treated and investigated over 5,100 cases of domestic violence, including almost 1,300 cases of rape or sexual assault against women. The FPD actively investigated cases, but gave preference to mediation, with almost 2,500 of the cases referred to the social service office. Some NGOs and lawyers reported pressure against taking physical abuse cases to court. Spousal abuse is technically grounds for divorce, but husbands sometimes claimed religious authority to strike their wives. Observers noted while judges generally supported a woman’s claim of abuse in court, due to societal and familial pressure, as well as fears of violence such as honor killings, of which eight were reported in 2017, few women sought legal remedies.

The FPD continued to operate a domestic violence hotline and received inquiries and complaints via the internet and email. According to the Ministry of Social Development, the government maintained a second shelter for female victims of domestic violence in Irbid.

In November 2017 the Judicial Council assigned 107 judges, including 14 women, to specialize in handling domestic violence cases. In application of the 2017 domestic violence protection law, specialized judges were now expediting and classifying these cases; misdemeanor cases take roughly three months to resolve.

On July 30, the Ministry of Social Development officially opened Dar Aminah, a shelter for women at risk of violence and honor crimes. According to the minister and partnering NGO, 26 women, who were placed under “protective detention” in detention centers, would move to the shelter. As of October authorities had transferred 10 women to the shelter; 16 awaited transfer from Jweidah Prison.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: During 2017 of the 42 women killed in the country through August, local media identified eight as “honor crimes.” Civil society organizations stated, however, many such crimes went unreported.

There were no reported instances of forced marriage as an alternative to a potential honor killing during the year, although NGOs noted that many cases of forced marriage occurred shortly after an accusation of rape due to family and societal pressure before any formal trial began. Observers noted that if a woman marries her rapist, according to customary belief, her family members do not need to kill her to “preserve the family’s honor,” a belief that persisted despite the 2017 amendment to the legal code.

As of August governors had begun referring potential victims of honor crimes to the Ministry of Social Development shelter Dar Aminah instead of involuntary protective custody in the Women’s Correctional and Rehabilitation Centers in the Jweideh and the Umm al-Lulu detention facilities.

Sexual Harassment: The law strictly prohibits sexual harassment and does not distinguish between sexual assault and sexual harassment. Both carry a minimum prison sentence of four years of hard labor. Parliament amended laws to set penalties for indecent touching and verbal harassment, but did not define or substantively strengthen protections against sexual harassment. The government did not enforce this law. Sexual harassment of women and girls in public was widely reported. In September the organizers of an outdoor festival were arrested and the venue, Seven Hills, was closed after allegations of sexual harassment spread on social media. The ensuing investigation led to criminal charges for the unauthorized sale of alcohol. NGOs reported refugees from Syria and foreign migrant workers, including garment workers and domestic workers, were especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, including sexual harassment and sexual assault, in the workplace.

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

Discrimination: The law does not provide for the same legal status, rights, and inheritance provisions for women as for men. Women experienced discrimination in a number of areas, including divorce, child custody, citizenship, the workplace, and, in certain circumstances, the value of their testimony in a sharia court.

No specialized government office or designated official handles discrimination claims. The Jordanian National Commission for Women, a government-supported NGO, operated a hotline to receive discrimination complaints.

Under sharia, as applied in the country, daughters inherit half the amount that sons receive. A sole female heir receives only half of her parents’ estate, with the balance going to uncles, whereas a sole male heir inherits all of his parents’ property. Women may seek divorce without the consent of their husbands in limited circumstances such as abandonment, spousal abuse, or in return for waiving financial rights. The law allows retention of financial rights under specific circumstances, such as spousal abuse. Special courts for each Christian denomination adjudicate marriage and divorce, but for inheritance, sharia rules apply by default.

The law allows fathers to prevent their children under the age of 18 from leaving the country through a court order that is not available to mothers. Authorities did not stop fathers from exiting the country with their children when the mother objected. Divorced mothers may put injunctions on their former spouses to prevent them from leaving the country with their children.

The government provided men with more generous social security benefits than women. Civil servants now follow the social security law, which contains provisions for family members to inherit the pension payments of deceased male and female civil servants. Laws and regulations governing health insurance for civil servants under the Civil Service Bureau now permit women to extend their health insurance coverage to dependents or spouses, even if they are not Jordanians. Men must be citizens to extend full insurance benefits to spouses and dependents.

Parliament’s 2017 amendments of the penal code granted mothers permission to give consent for surgeries on their minor children without consent of their father.

Children

Birth Registration: Only fathers can transmit citizenship. The government did not issue birth certificates to all children born in the country during the year. The government deemed some children – including children of unmarried women, orphans, or certain interfaith marriages involving a Muslim woman and converts from Islam to another religion – illegitimate and denied them standard registration. Instead, the government issued these children unique national identification numbers, making it difficult for them to attend school, access health services, or receive other documentation. Authorities removed children born out of wedlock from their mothers and placed them in orphanages, regardless of the mother’s desire for custody.

Education: Education is compulsory from ages six through 16 and free until age 18. No legislation exists to enforce the law or to punish guardians for violating it. Children without legal residency face obstacles to enrolling in public school. Some children of female citizens and noncitizen fathers must apply for residency permits every year, and authorities did not assure permission (see section 2.d., Stateless Persons). See section 2.d. for information on access to education for Syrian refugees.

Children with disabilities experienced extreme difficulty in accessing constitutionally protected early and primary education.

Child Abuse: No specific law provides protection for children, but other laws specify punishment for child abuse. For example, conviction for rape of a child younger than age 15 potentially carries the death penalty. There were no convictions for rape of a child under the age of 15 during the year. Local organizations working with abused children pointed to gaps in the legal system that regularly resulted in lenient sentencing, particularly for family members. In child abuse cases, judges routinely showed leniency in accordance with the wishes of the family. In some cases, authorities failed to intervene when confronted with reports of abuse, resulting in escalating violence and ultimately death.

In January the public prosecutor detained a woman for abuse related to the death of her three-year-old daughter. Forensic reports on her daughter concluded widespread traces of torture and abuse and burns on 25 percent of her body. The case remained pending with the woman being held in Jweideh detention center.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. With the consent of both a judge and a guardian, a child as young as 15 years old may be married. Judges have the authority to decide if marriage of girls between 15 and 18 years old would be “in their best interest” and to adjudicate the marriage contract.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law stipulates a penalty for the commercial exploitation of children of six months’ to three years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits the distribution of pornography involving persons under the age of 18. The law does not specifically prohibit the possession of child pornography without an intention to sell or distribute. The law penalizes those who use the internet to post or distribute child pornography. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18, although sexual relations between minors whose marriages the courts approved are legal.

Displaced Children: Given the large refugee population, there were significant numbers of displaced children (see section 2.d.).

Institutionalized Children: NGOs reported physical and sexual abuses occurred in government institutions. Authorities automatically referred cases involving violence against persons with disabilities or institutionalized persons to the FPD. The community monitoring committee highlighted the pervasive use of physical discipline; physical and verbal abuse; unacceptable living conditions; and a lack of educational, rehabilitative, or psychosocial services for wards and inmates.

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 Parent Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

Aside from foreigners, there was no resident Jewish community in the country. Anti-Semitism was present in media. Editorial cartoons, articles, and opinion pieces sometimes negatively depicted Jews without government response. The national school curriculum, including materials on tolerance education, did not mention the Holocaust, but it was taught in some private school curriculums.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law generally provides equal rights to persons with disabilities, but authorities did not uphold such legal protections. Disabilities covered under the law include physical, sensory, psychological, and mental disabilities. The Higher Council for Affairs of Persons with Disabilities, a government body, worked with ministries, the private sector, and NGOs to formulate and implement strategies to assist persons with disabilities. During the year, the GCHR became the deputy president of the Higher Council for Disabilities to attempt better to integrate rights for persons with disabilities. Citizens and NGOs universally reported that persons with disabilities faced problems in obtaining employment and accessing education, health care, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other services, particularly in rural areas.

In June 2017 parliament amended the law on the rights of persons with disabilities, strengthening protections for workers with disabilities and criminalizing neglect of persons with disabilities. The law requires private companies to hire workers with disabilities, forbids employers from firing employees solely because of their disability, and directs employers to make their workplaces accessible to persons with disabilities.

Activists noted the law lacked implementing regulations and funding, and authorities rarely enforced it. Authorities exempted from the quota employers who stated the nature of the work was not suitable for persons with disabilities. As part of the law, the government announced in 2017 a 10-year plan for full accessibility and inclusivity by 2027. In June 2018 the Ministry of Social Development announced its intention to transfer 500 persons with intellectual disabilities out from institutions into family or community environments. According to the Higher Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as of November 1,874 persons with disabilities remained institutionalized.

The electoral law directs the government to verify that voting facilities are accessible to persons with disabilities and allows such persons to bring a personal assistant to the polling station.

The law tasks the Special Buildings Code Department with enforcing accessibility provisions and oversees retrofitting of existing buildings to comply with building codes. The vast majority of private and public office buildings continued to have limited or no access for persons with disabilities. Municipal infrastructure such as public transport, streets, sidewalks, and intersections was not accessible.

The PSD national 9-1-1 emergency call center provided emergency services for citizens with hearing and speech impediments by using sign language over a video call. These PSD interpreters were also available for citizens to use when discussing issues with government offices where a representative who can communicate via sign language was not present.

An NCHR report from September noted that school classrooms were not fully accessible, and there were no qualified teachers for children with disabilities. Families of children with disabilities reported that teachers and principals often refused to include children with disabilities in mainstream classrooms.

Human rights activists and media reported on cases of physical and sexual abuse of children and adults with disabilities in institutions, rehabilitation centers, and other care settings. The government operated some of these institutions.

There was no information regarding abuses against those with disabilities and whether or not authorities took official action against those committing such abuses.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Four groups of Palestinians resided in the country, not including PRS, covered in section 2.d., many of whom faced some discrimination. Those who migrated to the country and the Jordan-controlled West Bank after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war received full citizenship, as did those who migrated to the country after the 1967 war and held no residency entitlement in the West Bank. Those still holding residency in the West Bank after 1967 were no longer eligible to claim full citizenship, but they could obtain temporary travel documents without national identification numbers, provided they did not also carry a Palestinian Authority travel document. These individuals had access to some government services; they paid 80 percent of the rate of uninsured foreigners at hospitals and noncitizen rates at educational institutions and training centers. Refugees who fled Gaza after 1967 were not entitled to citizenship, and authorities issued them temporary travel documents without national numbers. These persons had no access to government services and were almost completely dependent on UNRWA services. Those who were able to enter the country, despite many being turned away at the border, had access to UNRWA services.

Palestinians were underrepresented in parliament and senior positions in the government and the military, as well as in admissions to public universities. They had limited access to university scholarships. They were well represented in the private sector.

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

Authorities can arrest LGBTI individuals for allegedly violating public order or public decency, which are crimes under the penal code. While consensual same-sex sexual conduct among adults is not illegal, societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was prevalent, and LGBTI persons were targets of violence and abuse, including rape, with little or no legal recourse against perpetrators. Transgender individuals were especially vulnerable to acts of violence and sexual assault. LGBTI persons reported discrimination in housing, employment, education, and access to public services. The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI individuals. Some LGBTI individuals reported reluctance to engage the legal system due to fear their sexual orientation or gender identity would either provoke hostile reactions from police, disadvantage them in court, or be used to shame them or their families publicly. LGBTI community leaders reported that most LGBTI individuals were closeted and feared disclosure of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics. The Media Commission banned books containing LGBTI content.

During the year, there were reports of individuals who left the country due to fear that their families would kill them because of their gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV/AIDS was a largely taboo subject. Lack of public awareness remained a problem, because many citizens believed the disease exclusively affected foreigners and members of the LGBTI community. Society stigmatized HIV/AIDS-positive individuals, and they largely concealed their medical status. The government continued its efforts to inform the public about the disease and eliminate negative attitudes about persons with HIV/AIDS, but it also continued to test all foreigners annually for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, syphilis, malaria, and tuberculosis. The government deported migrant workers who tested HIV-positive.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutes, provides for the right to form and join free trade unions and conduct legal strikes, but with significant restrictions. There is no right to collective bargaining, although the labor code provides for collective agreements. The law identifies specific groups of public- and private-sector workers who may organize and defines 17 industries and professions in which trade unions may be established. The establishment of new unions requires approval from the Ministry of Labor and at least 50 founding members. The law requires that these 17 trade unions belong to the government-linked General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions, the country’s sole trade union federation. The law authorizes additional professions on a case-by-case basis to form professional associations. The law allows foreign workers to join unions, but it does not permit them to form unions or hold union office. Authorities did not permit civil servants to form or join unions, and they cannot engage in collective bargaining. The constitution prohibits antiunion discrimination, and the law protects workers from employer retaliation due to union affiliation or activities. The law does not explicitly provide a worker fired due to antiunion views with the right to reinstatement.

Regulations refer conflicts during negotiations first to informal mediation between the concerned party and the employer. The parties to a conflict proceed in the following sequence until the conflict is resolved: a Ministry of Labor-appointed mediator for 21 days; then the minister of labor; then to a mediation council composed of an employer representative, a labor representative, and a chair appointed by the minister of labor; and finally to a labor court with a panel of ministry-appointed judges for 21 days. There are limits on the right to strike, including a requirement to provide a minimum of 14 days’ notice to the employer. The law prohibits strikes if a labor dispute is under mediation or arbitration. The labor code prevents management from arbitrarily dismissing workers engaged in labor activism or arbitration, but NGOs reported enforcement was inconsistent due to the limited capacity of the 170 labor inspectors.

The government did not fully respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Many worker organizations were not independent of the government, and government influence on union policies and activities continued.

The government subsidized and audited salaries and activities of the General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions and monitored union elections. The government denied recognition to independent unions organized outside the structure of the government-approved federation. The government did not meet with these unions, and the lack of legal recognition hampered their ability to collect dues, obtain meeting space, and otherwise address members’ workplace concerns. Labor organizations also reported trouble getting government recognition for trade unions in new sectors beyond the 17 established in law.

There were no reports of threats of violence against union heads, although labor activists alleged that the security services pressured union leaders to refrain from activism that challenged government interests. Strikes generally occurred without advance notice or registration.

Labor organizations reported that some management representatives used threats to intimidate striking workers.

Some foreign workers, whose residency permits are tied to work contracts, were vulnerable to retaliation by employers for participating in strikes and sit-ins. Participation in a legally unrecognized strike counted as an unexcused absence under the law. The law allows employers to consider employment contracts void if a worker is absent more than 10 consecutive days, as long as the employer provides written notice. Labor rights organizations reported instances of refusing to renew foreign workers’ contracts due to attempts to organize in the workplace.

Observers noted that the labor code did not explicitly protect nonunionized workers from retaliation. This was particularly the case for foreign workers in all sectors as well as citizens working in the public sector on short-term contracts (day laborers).

Labor NGOs working to promote the rights of workers generally focused on promoting the rights of migrant workers. Labor NGOs did not face additional or different government restrictions than those discussed in section 2.b.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor except in a state of emergency, such as war or natural disaster. The government made substantial efforts to enforce the law through inspections and other means. Labor activists noted that law enforcement and judicial officials did not consistently identify victims or open criminal investigations.

The government inspected garment factories, a major employer of foreign labor, and investigated allegations of forced labor. Forced labor or conditions indicative of forced labor occurred, particularly among migrant workers in the domestic work and agricultural sectors. In October labor inspectors closed at least three dormitories in the Mafraq Qualified Industrial Zone for conditions that inspectors described as “deplorable.” Activists highlighted the vulnerability of agricultural workers due to minimal government oversight. Activists also identified domestic workers, most of whom were foreign workers, as particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to inadequate government oversight, social norms that excused forced labor, and workers’ isolation within individual homes. NGOs reported the Joint Antitrafficking Unit preferred to settle potential cases of domestic servitude through mediation, rather than referring them for criminal prosecution. High turnover at the unit also reportedly made prosecution more difficult. The government issued domestic helper by-laws in 2015 which regulate the hiring contract terms, the employer responsibilities/rights, and the responsibilities of the recruitment office. Recruitment offices were inspected and found to be violating a rule that prohibits the use of pregnancy tests in hiring practices. The government ordered the end of the practice and took steps to ensure compliance, including distributing materials to recruiting offices on the rights of children born to foreign workers. The government continued to monitor the situation.

Government bylaws require recruitment agencies for migrant domestic workers to provide health insurance, workplace accident insurance, and insurance that reimburses the recruitment fees to employers when a worker leaves before fulfilling the contract. If the employer fails to pay the worker’s salary or to return the worker’s passport, then the employer would not be entitled to the insurance payment. The bylaws authorize the Ministry of Labor publicly to classify recruitment agencies based on compliance and to close and withdraw the license of poorly ranked agencies. As of July the ministry issued warnings to 65 recruitment agencies and transferred 74 cases of domestic helper complaints to the Joint Antitrafficking Unit. A closure recommendation is an internal procedure in which inspectors send their recommendation to close certain recruitment offices with many labor violations to the minister of labor. Based on that recommendation, the minister may issue a closure decision.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law forbids employment of children younger than 16 years old, except as apprentices in nonhazardous positions. The law bans those between the ages of 16 and 18 from working in hazardous occupations, limits working hours for such children to six hours per day, mandates one-hour breaks for every four consecutive working hours, and prohibits work after 8 p.m., on national or religious holidays and on weekends.

There were instances of child labor, and many local and international organizations reported it was on the rise, particularly among Syrian refugees. In 2017 approximately 1.9 percent of the estimated four million children of all nationalities between the ages of five and 14 residing in the country were employed.

The Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Unit was responsible for coordinating government action regarding child labor in collaboration with the National Committee on Child Labor and, with the ministry’s labor inspectors, was responsible for enforcing all aspects of the labor code, including child labor. Authorities referred violators to the magistrate’s penalty court which handles labor cases; according to the Ministry of Justice, child labor cases are never referred to criminal courts. The law provides that employers who hired a child younger than age 16 pay a fine of as much as 500 JD ($700), which doubles for repeat offenses.

Labor inspectors reportedly monitored cases of legally working children between 16 and 18, to issue advice and guidance, providing safe work conditions, and cooperate with employers to permit working children to attend school concurrently. In accordance with the labor code, the Ministry employed a zero-tolerance policy for labor of children below the age of 16 and hazardous work for children under 18 years old.

The government’s capacity to implement and enforce child labor laws was not sufficient to deter violations. The government had limited capacity to monitor children working in the informal work sector, such as children working in family businesses and the agricultural sector.

The Ministries of Labor, Education, and Social Development collaborated with NGOs seeking to withdraw children from the worst forms of labor.

Syrian refugee children worked in the informal sector without legal work permits. They sold goods in the streets, worked in the agricultural sector, and begged in urban areas.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws do not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, language, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, national origin, and sexual orientation (see section 6).

Union officials reported that sectors employing predominantly women, such as secretarial work, offered wages below the official minimum wage. Many women also reported traditional social pressures discouraged them from pursuing professional careers, especially after marriage. According to a Department of Statistics’ survey on unemployment, economic participation by women was 15.2 percent, and unemployment among women holding a bachelor’s degree was 77.1 percent compared to the overall unemployment rate of 18.7 percent.

Some persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment and access to the workplace despite the Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which requires 4 percent of a workplace of more than 50 employees to employ persons with disabilities. Some migrant workers faced discrimination in wages, housing, and working conditions irrespective of the labor law (see section 7.e.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage, which was raised to 220 JD ($310) per month from 190 JD ($268).

The law sets a workweek of 48 hours and requires overtime pay for hours worked in excess of that level. Because there was no limit on mutually agreed overtime, the Ministry of Labor reportedly permitted employees in some industries, such as the garment sector, to work as many as 70 to 75 hours per week, although observers reported many foreign workers requested overtime work.

Employees are entitled to one day off per week. The law provides for 14 days of paid sick leave and 14 days of paid annual leave per year, which increases to 21 days after five years of service with the same firm. Workers also received additional national and religious holidays designated by the government. The law permits compulsory overtime under certain circumstances such as conducting an annual inventory, closing accounts, preparing to sell goods at discounted prices, avoiding loss of goods that would otherwise be exposed to damage, and receiving special deliveries. In such cases actual working hours may not exceed 10 hours per day, the employee must be paid overtime, and the period may not last more than 30 days. There is no cap on the amount of mutually agreed overtime.

Employers are required to abide by all occupational health and safety standards set by the government. The law requires employers to protect workers from hazards caused by the nature of the job or its tools, provide any necessary protective equipment, train workers on hazards and prevention measures, provide first aid as necessitated by the job, and protect employees from explosions or fires by storing flammable materials appropriately.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement of labor laws and acceptable conditions of work. Ministry inspectors enforced the labor code but were unable to assure full compliance in every case due to lack of capacity and resources. Labor inspectors did not regularly investigate reports of labor or other abuses of domestic workers in private homes, and inspectors could not enter a private residence without the owner’s permission except with a court order. Employees may lodge complaints regarding violations of the labor code directly with the Ministry of Labor or through organizations such as their union or the NCHR. The Ministry opened an investigation for each complaint.

Labor standards apply to the informal sector, but the Ministry of Labor lacked the capacity to detect and monitor workplace violations. Authorities struggled to apply consistently all the protections of the labor code to domestic and agricultural workers, due to the migratory nature of workers in these sectors, cultural barriers preventing direct entry into the workplace, and insufficient number of labor inspectors. Labor organizations stated that many freelancing agricultural and domestic workers, cooks, and gardeners, mostly foreign workers, were not enrolled for social benefits from the Social Security Corporation because only salaried employees were automatically enrolled, and optional enrollment was limited to citizens.

The government took action to prevent violations and improve working conditions. As of July, however, the authorities had not closed a workplace for recruiting foreign workers without work permits. The Ministry of Labor placed a special focus on enforcing compliance in the Qualifying Industrial Zones, where most migrant garment workers were employed. The ratio of labor inspectors to workers or places of employment was significantly higher in these zones than for the general population. The government required garment export manufacturers to participate in the Better Work Jordan program, a global program implemented by the International Labor Organization and the International Finance Corporation to improve labor standards. During the year, all 77 foreign exporting factories required by the government to join Better Work Jordan were active members of the program.

Wage, overtime, safety, and other standards often were not upheld in several sectors, including construction, mechanic shops, day labor, and the garment industry. Some foreign workers faced hazardous and exploitative working conditions in a variety of sectors. Authorities did not effectively protect all employees who attempted to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health and safety. Labor organizations reported that female citizen workers were more likely to encounter labor violations, including wages below the minimum wage and harassment in the workplace.

In the garment sector, foreign workers were more susceptible than citizens to dangerous or unfair conditions. In October labor inspectors traveled to the Industrial Zone in Mafraq to close several dormitories run by textile and garment companies, describing the conditions as “deplorable.” Better Work Jordan stated compliance regarding coercion improved. Indebtedness of migrant garment workers to third parties and involuntary or excessive overtime persisted.

Employers subjected some workers in the agricultural sector, the vast majority of whom were Egyptians, to exploitative conditions. According to a domestic NGO, agricultural workers usually received less than the minimum wage. Some employers in the agricultural sector also reportedly confiscated passports. Egyptian migrant workers were also vulnerable to exploitation in the construction industry; employers usually paid them less than the minimum wage, and they lacked basic training and equipment necessary to uphold occupational health and safety standards.

Domestic workers often faced unacceptable working conditions. While domestic workers could file complaints in person with the Ministry of Labor’s Domestic Workers Directorate or the PSD, many domestic workers complained there was no follow-up on their cases. During the year the Antitrafficking Unit at the PSD began operating its hotline 24 hours per day, seven days a week, with operators available in all languages spoken by migrant workers in the country, including Tagalog, Bengali, and Tamil.

In 2015 the prosecutor general charged a Jordanian woman in Irbid with premeditated murder after she allegedly beat an Indonesian domestic worker in her employ to death. The forensic report showed that the worker died due to brain hemorrhage. The court acquitted the Jordanian woman during the year.

Advocates for migrant domestic workers reported that domestic workers who sought government assistance or made allegations against their employers frequently faced counterclaims of criminal behavior from their employers. Employers could file criminal complaints or flight notifications against domestic workers with police stations. Authorities used a general amnesty waiving immigration overstay fines for workers deported for criminal allegations or unrenewed work permits. The previous process had resulted in an entry ban of three consecutive years.

During the year dozens of domestic workers from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka sought shelter at their countries’ embassies in Amman. Most of the domestic workers reportedly fled conditions indicative of forced labor or abuse, including unpaid wages and, to a lesser extent, sexual or physical abuse. By law, employers are responsible for renewing foreign employees’ residency and work permits but often failed to do so for domestic employees. As a result authorities considered most of the domestic workers sheltered by embassies illegal residents, and many were stranded because they were unable to pay accumulating daily overstay fees to depart the country. The government continued its cooperation with foreign embassies to waive overstay fees for migrant domestic workers who wished to repatriate after a two-year stay in the country, a policy that greatly reduced the number of domestic workers stranded at their embassies’ shelters.

As a result of poor working conditions experienced by some of its citizens, Indonesia continued to prohibit its citizens from traveling to Jordan (among 20 other countries in the region) as domestic workers; the policy has been in effect since 2016. Some human rights organizations argued that these bans heightened the vulnerability of foreign domestic workers who engaged unscrupulous recruitment agencies to migrate illegally to the country.

Kazakhstan

Executive Summary

The Republic of Kazakhstan’s government system and constitution concentrate power in the presidency. The presidential administration controls the government, the legislature, and judiciary as well as regional and local governments. Changes or amendments to the constitution require presidential consent. The 2015 presidential election, in which President Nazarbayev received 98 percent of the vote, was marked by irregularities and lacked genuine political competition. The president’s Nur Otan Party won 82 percent of the vote in the 2016 election for the Mazhilis (lower house of parliament). The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) observation mission judged the country continued to require considerable progress to meet its OSCE commitments for democratic elections. In June 2017 the country selected 16 of 47 senators and members of the parliament’s upper house in an indirect election tightly controlled by local governors working in concurrence with the presidential administration.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included torture; political prisoners; censorship; site blocking; criminalization of libel; restrictions on religion; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; corruption; and restrictions on independent trade unions.

The government selectively prosecuted officials who committed abuses, especially in high-profile corruption cases; corruption remained widespread, and impunity existed for those in positions of authority as well as for those connected to government or law enforcement officials.

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

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

There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings or beatings that led to deaths.

On April 30, the body of a 38-year-old resident of Karaganda who was allegedly shot and killed by Temirtau police officer Nurseit Kaldybayev was found in the city outskirts. Investigators proved that Kaldybayev had seized the victim’s car and intended to sell it to make money for his upcoming wedding party. On May 3, Kaldybayev was arrested and charged with premeditated murder. In August the Karaganda specialized criminal court found him guilty of murder and sentenced him to 19 years in jail.

On August 2, the Shakhtinsk Court convicted local prison director Baurbek Shotayev, prison officer Vitaly Zaretsky, and six prisoners–so-called voluntary assistants who receive special privileges in exchange for carrying out orders of prison staff–in the fatal torture of prisoner Valery Chupin. According to investigators, Chupin insulted a teacher at the prison school, and the prison director ordered that the voluntary assistants should discipline him. After brutal beatings and other abuse, Chupin was taken to a local hospital for emergency surgery, but he died. The judge sentenced Shotayev and Zaretsky to seven years of imprisonment each. The six prisoners convicted of carrying out the abuse received extended prison terms ranging from 10 to 17 years.

There were no official reports of military hazing resulting in death; however, there were instances of several deaths that the official investigations subsequently presented as suicides. Family members stated that the soldiers died because of hazing.

On July 15, 21-year-old conscript Bakytbek Myrzambekov died at the Ustyurt frontier station on the Kazakhstani-Turkmen border. According to the official report, on July 9, the soldier complained of food poisoning, was placed in the health unit two days later and died soon after of coronary artery disease. Family members did not believe the official explanation, denied he had heart problems, and asserted that he had died as a result of hazing, citing multiple bruises, including in the pelvic area.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The law prohibits torture; nevertheless, police and prison officials allegedly tortured and abused detainees. Human rights activists asserted the domestic legal definition of torture was noncompliant with the definition of torture in the UN Convention against Torture.

The National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) against Torture came into force in 2014 when the prime minister signed rules permitting the monitoring of institutions. The NPM is part of the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman and thus is not independent of the government. The Human Rights Ombudsman reported receiving 135 complaints alleging torture, violence, and other cruel and degrading treatment and punishment in 2017. In its April report covering activities in 2017, the NPM reported that despite some progress, problems with human rights abuses in prisons and temporary detention centers remained serious. Concerns included poor health and sanitary conditions; high risk of torture during search, investigation, and transit to other facilities; lack of feedback from prosecutors on investigation of torture complaints; lack of communication with families; discrimination against prisoners in vulnerable groups, including prisoners with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) prisoners, prisoners with HIV/AIDS, and other persons from vulnerable groups; and a lack of secure channels for submission of complaints. The report disclosed the problem of so-called voluntary assistants who are used to control other prisoners. Some observers commented that NPM staff lacked sufficient knowledge and training to recognize instances of torture.

In its official report, the prosecutor general indicated 103 cases of torture in the first seven months of the year, of which 16 cases were investigated and forwarded to courts.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were generally harsh and sometimes life-threatening, and facilities did not meet international health standards. Health problems among prisoners went untreated in many cases, or prison conditions exacerbated them. Prisons faced serious shortage of medical staff.

Physical Conditions: According to Prison Reform International (PRI), although men and women were held separately and pretrial detainees were held separately from convicted prisoners, during transitions from temporary detention centers, pretrial detention, and prisons, youth often were held with adults.

Abuse occurred in police cells, pretrial detention facilities, and prisons. Observers cited the lack of professional training programs for administrators as the primary cause of mistreatment.

To address infrastructural problems in prisons, authorities closed the eight prisons with the worst conditions. The NPM reported continuing infrastructure problems in prisons, such as unsatisfactory sanitary and hygiene conditions, including poor plumbing and sewerage systems and unsanitary bedding. It also reported shortages of medical staff and insufficient medicine, as well as problems of mobility for prisoners with disabilities. In many places the NPM noted restricted connectivity with the outside world and limited access to information regarding prisoners’ rights. PRI reported that there is widespread concern concerning food and nutrition quality in prisons. Prisoners and former prisoners have complained about their provisions and reported that they were served food past its shelf life.

The government did not publish statistics on the number of deaths, suicides, or attempted suicides in pretrial detention centers or prisons during the year.

Administration: Authorities typically did not conduct proper investigations into allegations of mistreatment. Human rights observers noted that in many cases authorities did not investigate prisoners’ allegations of torture or did not hold prison administrators or staff accountable. The law does not allow unapproved religious services, rites, ceremonies, meetings, or missionary activity in prisons. By law a prisoner in need of “religious rituals” or his relatives may ask to invite a representative of a registered religious organization to carry out religious rites, ceremonies, or meetings, provided they do not obstruct prison activity or violate the rights and legal interests of other individuals. PRI reported that some prisons prohibited Muslim prisoners from fasting during Ramadan.

Independent Monitoring: There were no independent international monitors of prisons. Public Monitoring Commissions (PMCs), quasi-independent bodies that respond to allegations of and attempt to deter torture and mistreatment in prisons, carry out monitoring. In the first 10 months of the year, the PMCs conducted 340 monitoring visits to prisons facilities. Human rights advocates noted that some prisons created administrative barriers to prevent the PMCs from successfully carrying out their mandate, including creating bureaucratic delays, forcing the PMCs to wait for hours to gain access to the facilities, or allowing the PMCs to visit for only a short time.

Authorities began investigating the chair of the Public Monitoring Commission in Pavlodar, Elena Semyonova, on charges of dissemination of false information after she raised the issue of the torture and mistreatment of prisoners to EU parliamentarians in early July. The investigation was ongoing.

According to media reports, Aron Atabek, a poet who has been in prison for 12 years, complained to Semyonova regarding the conditions in his prison. He mentioned his cold, damp cell, his worn clothes, and the information vacuum he was held in without access to letters or television.

Improvements: The 2015 criminal code introduced alternative sentences, including fines and public service, but human rights activists noted they were not implemented effectively.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the practice occurred. The government did not provide statistics on the number of individuals unlawfully detained during the year. The prosecutor general reported that during the first six months of the year prosecutors released 423 individuals who were unlawfully held in police cells and offices.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs supervises the national police force, which has primary responsibility for internal security, including investigation and prevention of crimes and administrative offenses, and maintenance of public order and security. The Agency of Civil Service Affairs and Anticorruption has administrative and criminal investigative powers. The Committee for National Security (KNB) plays a role in border security, internal and national security, antiterrorism efforts, and the investigation and interdiction of illegal or unregistered groups, such as extremist groups, military groups, political parties, religious groups, and trade unions. In July 2017 the president signed legislative amendments on a reform of the law enforcement agencies, including one giving power to the KNB to investigate corruption by officers of the secret services, anticorruption bureau, and military. The KNB, Syrbar (the foreign intelligence service), and the Agency of Civil Service Affairs and Anticorruption all report directly to the president. Many government ministries maintained blogs where citizens could register complaints.

Although the government took some steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, impunity existed, especially where corruption was involved or personal relationships with government officials were established.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

A person apprehended as a suspect in a crime is taken to a police office for interrogation. Prior to interrogation, the accused should have the opportunity to meet with an attorney. Upon arrest the investigator may do an immediate body search if there is a reason to believe the detainee has a gun or may try to discard or destroy evidence. Within three hours of arrest, the investigator is required to write a statement declaring the reason for the arrest, the place and time of the arrest, the results of the body search, and the time of writing the statement, which is then signed by the investigator and the detained suspect. The investigator should also submit a written report to the prosecutor’s office within 12 hours of the signature of the statement.

The arrest must be approved by the court. It is a three-step procedure: (1) the investigator collects all evidence to justify the arrest and takes all materials of the case to the prosecutor; (2) the prosecutor studies the evidence and takes it to court within 12 hours; and (3) the court proceeding is held with the participation of the criminal suspect, the suspect’s lawyer, and the prosecutor. If within 48 hours of the arrest the administration of the detention facility has not received a court decision approving the arrest, the administration should immediately release him/her and notify the officer who handles the case and the prosecutor. The duration of preliminary detention may be extended to 72 hours in a variety of cases, including grave or terrorist crimes, crimes committed by criminal groups, drug trafficking, sexual crimes against a minor, and others. The court may choose other forms of restraint: house arrest, restriction of movement, or a written requirement not to leave the city and place of residence. According to human rights activists, these procedures were frequently ignored.

The Prosecutor General reported that the December 2017 amendments to the criminal procedure code reduced the number of causes for arrest and the length of time for preliminary detention from 72 to 48 hours, and cut the number of arrested suspects by 1,500. Authorities held in custody 83 percent of detained individuals for not more than 48 hours.

Although the judiciary has the authority to deny or grant arrest warrants, judges authorized prosecutor warrant requests in the vast majority of cases.

Persons detained, arrested, or accused of committing a crime have the right to the assistance of a defense lawyer from the moment of detention, arrest, or accusation. The 2015 criminal procedure code obliges police to inform detainees concerning their rights, including the right to an attorney. Human rights observers stated that prisoners were constrained in their ability to communicate with their attorneys, that penitentiary staff secretly recorded conversations, and that staff often remained present during the meetings between defendants and attorneys.

Human rights defenders reported that authorities dissuaded detainees from seeing an attorney, gathered evidence through preliminary questioning before a detainee’s attorney arrived, and in some cases used defense attorneys to gather evidence. The law states that the government must provide an attorney for an indigent suspect or defendant when the suspect is a minor, has physical or mental disabilities, or faces serious criminal charges, but public defenders often lacked the necessary experience and training to assist defendants. Defendants are barred from freely choosing their defense counsel if the cases against them involve state secrets. The law allows only lawyers who have special clearance to work on such cases.

Arbitrary Arrest: Prosecutors reported six incidents of arbitrary arrest and detention in the first six months of the year.

The government frequently arrested and detained political opponents and critics, sometimes for minor infractions, such as unsanctioned assembly, that led to fines or up to 10 days’ administrative arrest.

Pretrial Detention: The law allows police to hold a detainee for 48 hours before bringing charges. Human rights observers stated that authorities often used this phase of detention to torture, beat, and abuse inmates to extract confessions.

Once charged, detainees may be held in pretrial detention for up to two months. Depending on the complexity and severity of the alleged offense, authorities may extend the term for up to 18 months while the investigation takes place. The pretrial detention term may not be longer than the potential sentence for the offense. Upon the completion of the investigation, the investigator puts together an official indictment. The materials of the case are shared with the defendant and then sent to the prosecutor, who has five days to check the materials and forward them to the court.

The 2015 criminal code introduced the concept of conditional release on bail, although use of bail procedures is limited. Prolonged pretrial detentions remain commonplace. The bail system is designed for persons who commit a criminal offense for the first time or for a crime of minor or moderate severity not associated with causing death or grievous bodily harm to the victim, provided that the penalties for conviction of committing such a crime contain a fine as an alternative penalty. Bail is not available to suspects of grave crimes, crimes that led to death or were committed by a criminal group, terrorist or extremist crimes, or if there is a justified reason to believe that the suspect would hinder investigation of the case or would escape, or if the suspect violated the terms of bail in the past.

The law grants prisoners prompt access to family members, although authorities occasionally sent prisoners to facilities located far from their homes and relatives, thus preventing access for those unable to travel.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The code of criminal procedure spells out a detainee’s right to submit a complaint, challenge the justification for detention, or to seek a pretrial probation as an alternative to arrest. Detainees have 15 days to submit complaints to the administration of the pretrial detention facility or to local court. An investigative judge has three to 10 days to overturn or uphold the challenged decision.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law does not provide for an independent judiciary. The executive branch sharply limited judicial independence. Prosecutors enjoyed a quasi-judicial role and have the authority to suspend court decisions.

Corruption was evident at every stage of the judicial process. Although judges were among the most highly paid government employees, lawyers and human rights monitors stated that judges, prosecutors, and other officials solicited bribes in exchange for favorable rulings in many criminal and civil cases.

Corruption in the judicial system was widespread. Bribes and irregular payments were regularly exchanged in order to obtain favorable court decisions. In many cases the courts were controlled by the interests of the ruling elite, according to Freedom House’s Nations in Transit report for 2018. According to the same report, the process is not public and open as “all participants in criminal processes sign a pledge of secrecy of investigation.” Recruitment of judges was plagued by corruption, and becoming a judge often required bribing various officials, according to the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index report for the year.

Business entities were reluctant to approach courts because foreign businesses have a historically poor record when challenging government regulations and contractual disputes within the local judicial system. Judicial outcomes were perceived as subject to political influence and interference due to a lack of independence. A dedicated investment dispute panel was established in 2016, yet investor concerns regarding the panel’s independence and strong bias in favor of government officials remained. Companies expressed reluctance to seek foreign arbitration because anecdotal evidence suggested the government looks unfavorably on cases involving foreign judicial entities.

Judges were punished for violations of judicial ethics. According to official statistics, during the first nine months of the year authorities convicted two judges for corruption crimes. On June 13, the court in Shymkent convicted Makhta-Aral District Court judge Abay Niazbekov for taking a bribe and sentenced him to 4.5 years of imprisonment and a life ban on working in government offices and state-owned enterprises. On January 30, authorities caught Niazbekov accepting a bribe of 500,000 tenge ($1,360) in his office.

Military courts have jurisdiction over civilian criminal defendants in cases allegedly connected to military personnel. Military courts use the same criminal code as civilian courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

All defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and by law are protected from self-incrimination. Trials are public except in instances that could compromise state secrets or when necessary to protect the private life or personal family concerns of a citizen.

Jury trials are held by a panel of 10 jurors and one judge and have jurisdiction over crimes punishable by death or life imprisonment, as well as grave crimes such as trafficking and engagement of minors in criminal activity. Activists criticized juries for a bias towards the prosecution as a result of the pressure that judges applied on jurors, experts, and witnesses.

Observers noted the juror selection process was inconsistent. Judges exerted pressure on jurors and could easily dissolve a panel of jurors for perceived disobedience of their orders. The law has no mechanism for holding judges liable for such actions.

Indigent defendants in criminal cases have the right to counsel and a government-provided attorney. By law a defendant must be represented by an attorney when the defendant is a minor, has mental or physical disabilities, does not speak the language of the court, or faces 10 or more years of imprisonment. Defense attorneys, however, reportedly participated in only one half of criminal cases, in part because the government failed to pay them properly or on time. The law also provides defendants the rights to be present at their trials, to be heard in court, to confront witnesses against them, and to call witnesses for the defense. They have the right to appeal a decision to a higher court. According to observers, prosecutors dominated trials, and defense attorneys played a minor role.

Domestic and international human rights organizations reported numerous problems in the judicial system, including lack of access to court proceedings, lack of access to government-held evidence, frequent procedural violations, denial of defense counsel motions, and failure of judges to investigate allegations that authorities extracted confessions through torture or duress.

Lack of due process remained a problem, particularly in a handful of politically motivated trials involving opposition activists and in cases in which there were allegations of improper political or financial influence.

Human rights and international observers noted investigative and prosecutorial practices that emphasized a confession of guilt regarding over collection of other evidence in building a criminal case against a defendant. Courts generally ignored allegations by defendants that officials obtained confessions by torture or duress.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The Open Dialog Foundation maintained a list of approximately 24 individuals it considered detained or imprisoned based on politically motivated charges, including land code activist Maks Bokayev and individuals connected to the opposition group Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, led by fugitive banker Mukhtar Ablyazov, and other individuals connected to Ablyazov. Convicted labor union leader Larisa Kharkova remained under restricted movement, unable to leave her home city without permission of authorities. Human rights organizations have access to prisoners through the framework of the National Preventative Mechanism against Torture.

Land code activist Maks Bokayev was sentenced in 2016 to five years in prison for organizing peaceful land reform protests. Although the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that his imprisonment was arbitrary, he remained in jail.

On October 22, a court in Almaty found businessman Iskander Yerimbetov guilty of fraud for illegally fixing prices in his aviation logistics company and sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment. Human rights observers criticized numerous violations in the investigation and court proceedings, including allegations of physical mistreatment, and condemned the case as politically motivated. On December 11, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined his deprivation of liberty to be arbitrary. The Working Group was concerned by the lack of a warrant at the time of arrest, procedural violations during his detention and trial, and Yerimbetov’s well-being while in detention.

On August 17, authorities released Vadim Kuramshin, a human rights defender designated by civil society organizations as an individual imprisoned on politically motivated charges, on parole after six years in prison.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. Economic and administrative court judges handle civil cases under a court structure that largely mirrors the criminal court structure. Although the law and constitution provide for judicial resolution of civil disputes, observers viewed civil courts as corrupt and unreliable.

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

The constitution and law prohibit violations of privacy, but the government at times infringed on these rights.

The law provides prosecutors with extensive authority to limit citizens’ constitutional rights. The KNB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and other agencies, with the concurrence of the Prosecutor General’s Office, may infringe on the secrecy of private communications and financial records, as well as on the inviolability of the home. Human rights activists reported incidents of alleged surveillance, including KNB officers visiting activists and their families’ homes for “unofficial” conversations regarding suspect activities, wiretapping and recording of telephone conversations, and videos of private meetings posted on social media.

Courts may hear an appeal of a prosecutor’s decision but may not issue an immediate injunction to cease an infringement. The law allows wiretapping in medium, urgent, and grave cases.

Government opponents, human rights defenders, and their family members continued to report the government occasionally monitored their movements.

In July 2017 the prime minister transferred the State Technical Service for centralized management of telecommunication networks and for monitoring of information systems from the Ministry of Information and Communication to the KNB.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, the government limited freedom of expression and exerted influence on media through a variety of means, including laws, harassment, licensing regulations, internet restrictions, and criminal and administrative charges. Journalists and media outlets exercised self-censorship to avoid pressure by the government. The law provides for additional measures and restrictions during “social emergencies,” defined as “an emergency on a certain territory caused by contradictions and conflicts in social relations that may cause or have caused loss of life, personal injury, significant property damage, or violation of conditions of the population.” In these situations, the government may censor media sources by requiring them to provide their print, audio, and video information to authorities 24 hours before issuance or broadcasting for approval. Political parties and public associations may be suspended or closed should they obstruct the efforts of security forces. Regulations also allow the government to restrict or ban copying equipment, broadcasting equipment, and audio and video recording devices and to seize temporarily sound-enhancing equipment.

On May 28, a court suspended the license of independent online newspaper Ratel.kz and banned its chief editor, Marat Asipov, from the publishing world. On March 30, Almaty police opened a criminal investigation against the newspaper, which had reported on the alleged corruption of a former minister. Local and international human rights observers criticized the shutdown of Ratel.kz as an infringement on media freedom.

Freedom of Expression: The government limited individual ability to criticize the country’s leadership, and regional leaders attempted to limit criticism of their actions in local media. The law prohibits insulting the president or the president’s family, and penalizes “intentionally spreading false information” with fines of up to 12.96 million tenge ($40,000) and imprisonment for up to 10 years.

On March 15, police in Shymkent launched a criminal investigation against popular blogger Ardak Ashim, known for her critical posts concerning social issues. Police charged her with incitement of social discord. On March 27, the court held a meeting in the absence of Ashim, her lawyer, or any of her representatives and issued a ruling that she should be placed in a mental hospital for coercive treatment. Local and international human rights defenders demanded immediate release of the blogger, condemned her repression, and named her a prisoner of conscience and victim of punitive psychiatry. On May 5, she was released.

Press and Media Freedom: Many privately owned newspapers and television stations received government subsidies. The lack of transparency in media ownership and the dependence of many outlets on government contracts for media coverage are significant problems. On January 25, the Legal Media Center nongovernmental organization (NGO) lost a lawsuit against the Ministry of Information and Communication challenging the ministry’s refusal to publicize information regarding media outlets that receive government subsidies. The court supported the ministry, determining that such information should be protected as a commercial secret.

Companies allegedly controlled by members of the president’s family or associates owned many of the broadcast media outlets that the government did not control outright. According to media observers, the government wholly or partly owned most of the nationwide television broadcasters. Regional governments owned several frequencies, and the Ministry of Information and Communication distributed those frequencies to independent broadcasters via a tender system.

All media are required to register with the Ministry of Information and Communication, although websites are exempt from this requirement. The law limits the simultaneous broadcast of foreign-produced programming to 20 percent of a locally based station’s weekly broadcast time. This provision burdened smaller, less-developed regional television stations that lacked resources to create programs, although the government did not sanction any media outlet under this provision. Foreign media broadcasting does not have to meet this requirement.

Under amendments to the media law, which entered into force in January, all foreign television and radio channels had to register as legal entities or register a branch office in the country by July 9. The Ministry of Information and Communication cancelled 88 registration certificates because they did not meet registration requirements.

Violence and Harassment: Independent journalists and those working in opposition media or covering stories related to corruption reported harassment and intimidation by government officials and private actors. On June 19, the chief editor and several journalists of independent newspaper Uralskaya Nedelya were summoned by police for interrogation concerning a comment on the newspaper’s YouTube page. An unidentified commenter called on readers to join a protest rally planned for June 23 by the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement. The office of the newspaper and the chief editor’s house were searched. At the end of the interrogation, police warned the journalists against participation in the illegal rally.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law enables the government to restrict media content through amendments that prohibit undermining state security or advocating class, social, race, national, or religious discord. Owners, editors, distributors, and journalists may be held civilly and criminally responsible for content unless it came from an official source. The government used this provision to restrict media freedom.

The law allows the prosecutor general to suspend access to the internet and other means of communication without a court order. The prosecutor general may suspend communication services in cases where communication networks are used “for criminal purposes to harm the interests of an individual, society, or the state, or to disseminate information violating the Election Law…or containing calls for extremist or terrorist activities, riots, or participation in large-scale (public) activities carried out in violation of the established order.”

By law internet resources, including social media, are classified as forms of mass media and governed by the same rules and regulations. Authorities continued to charge bloggers and social media users with inciting social discord through their online posts.

On September 20, Ablovas Jumayev received a three-year prison sentence on conviction of charges of inciting social discord because he posted messages critical of the government to a 10,000-member Telegram messenger group and allegedly distributed antigovernment leaflets. Jumayev denied the leafleting charges, stating that the leaflets were planted in his car. On Telegram, he had criticized the president’s appointment of a regional police chief. The trial of his wife Aigul Akberdi on similar charges was ongoing.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides enhanced penalties for libel and slander against senior government officials. Private parties may initiate criminal libel suits without independent action by the government, and an individual filing such a suit may also file a civil suit based on the same allegations. Officials used the law’s libel and defamation provisions to restrict media outlets from publishing unflattering information. Both the criminal and civil codes contain articles establishing broad liability for libel and slander, with no statute of limitation or maximum amount of compensation. The requirement that owners, editors, distributors, publishing houses, and journalists prove the veracity of published information, regardless of its source, encouraged self-censorship at each level.

The law includes penalties for conviction of defamatory remarks made in mass media or “information-communication networks,” including heavy fines and prison terms. Journalists and human rights activists feared these provisions would strengthen the government’s ability to restrict investigative journalism.

National Security: The law criminalizes the release of information regarding the health, finances, or private life of the president, as well as economic information, such as data on mineral reserves or government debts to foreign creditors. To avoid possible legal problems, media outlets often practiced self-censorship regarding the president and his family.

The law prohibits “influencing public and individual consciousness to the detriment of national security through deliberate distortion and spreading of unreliable information.” Legal experts noted the term “unreliable information” is overly broad. The law also requires owners of communication networks and service providers to obey the orders of authorities in case of terrorist attacks or to suppress mass riots.

The law prohibits publication of any statement that promotes or glorifies “extremism” or “incites social discord,” terms that international legal experts noted the government did not clearly define. The government subjected to intimidation media outlets that criticized the president; such intimidation included law enforcement actions and civil suits. Although these actions continued to have a chilling effect on media outlets, some criticism of government policies continued. Incidents of local government pressure on media continued.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government exercised comprehensive control over online content. Observers reported the government blocked or slowed access to opposition websites. Many observers believed the government added progovernment postings and opinions in internet chat rooms. The government regulated the country’s internet providers, including majority state-owned Kazakhtelecom. Nevertheless, websites carried a wide variety of views, including viewpoints critical of the government. Official statistics reported that 73 percent of the population had internet access in 2018.

In January, amendments to the media law entered into force. The amended law prohibits citizens from leaving anonymous comments on media outlet websites, which must register all online commenters and make the registration information available to law enforcement agencies on request. As a result most online media outlets chose to shut down public comment platforms.

The Ministry of Defense and Aerospace Industry controlled the registration of “.kz” internet domains. Authorities may suspend or revoke registration for locating servers outside the country. Observers criticized the registration process as unduly restrictive and vulnerable to abuse.

The government implemented regulations on internet access that mandated surveillance cameras in all internet cafes, required visitors to present identification to use the internet, demanded internet cafes keep a log of visited websites, and authorized law enforcement officials to access the names and internet histories of users.

In several cases the government denied it was behind the blocking of websites. Bloggers reported anecdotally their sites were periodically blocked, as did the publishers of independent news sites.

On March 13, a court in Astana banned the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement led by fugitive banker Mukhtar Ablyazov. The same day Minister of Information and Communication Dauren Abayev announced that access to Ablyazov’s social media posts would be restricted. Internet users reported that access to Facebook, Instagram and YouTube were occasionally blocked in the evening at a time coinciding with Ablyazov’s livestream broadcasts. The government denied responsibility and stated that technical difficulties were to blame.

In July the Ministry of Defense and Aerospace Industry reported that it notified the Center of Network Information of violation of the law by 288 websites that hosted harmful software. There were 124 websites blocked for failure to rectify registration data.

Government surveillance was also prevalent. According to Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2018 report, where the country is listed as “not free,” “the government centralizes internet infrastructure in a way that facilitates control of content and surveillance.” Authorities, both national and local, monitored internet traffic and online communications. The report stated that “activists using social media were occasionally intercepted or punished, sometimes preemptively, by authorities who had prior knowledge of their planned activities.”

Freedom on the Net reported during the year that the country maintained a system of operative investigative measures that allowed the government to use surveillance methods called Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). While Kazakhtelecom maintained that it used its DPI system for traffic management, there were reports that Check Point Software Technologies installed the system on its backbone infrastructure in 2010. The report added that a regulator adopted an internet monitoring technology, the Automated System of Monitoring the National Information Space.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government generally did not restrict academic freedom, although general restrictions, such as the prohibition on infringing on the dignity and honor of the president and his family, also applied to academics. Many academics practiced self-censorship. In January a group of scientists cosigned a letter appealing to the president to resolve corruption in the distribution of grants for scientific work. The scientists criticized the National Science Grants Council for unfair distribution of grants. In response the Science Committee of the Ministry of Education and society filed a complaint with police, which opened a case against a scholar of the Almaty Astrophysics Institute for allegedly fabricating signatures in the letter to the president. No further action was reported.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for limited freedom of assembly, but there were significant restrictions on this right. The law defines unsanctioned gatherings, public meetings, demonstrations, marches, picketing, and strikes that upset social and political stability as national security threats.

The law includes penalties for organizing or participating in illegal gatherings and for providing organizational support in the form of property, means of communication, equipment, and transportation, if the enumerated actions cause significant damage to the rights and legal interests of citizens, entities, or legally protected interests of the society or the government.

By law organizations must apply to local authorities at least 10 days in advance for a permit to hold a demonstration or public meeting. Opposition figures and human rights monitors complained that complicated and vague procedures and the 10-day notification period made it difficult for groups to organize public meetings and demonstrations and noted local authorities turned down many applications for demonstrations or only allowed them to take place outside the city center.

Activists in Almaty applied to hold a public gathering on August 4 to demand police reform following the death of Olympic medalist Denis Ten. The mayor’s office refused the request, stating that the only place designated for public events in Almaty had already been reserved for another event. The Astana mayor’s office similarly declined a demonstration request. The Almaty activists subsequently submitted 31 petitions requesting a gathering to be held any day in the next month; the mayor’s office denied them all.

On May 10, several dozen individuals staged a protest initiated by fugitive banker and leader of the banned opposition group Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) Mukhtar Ablyazov to demand the release of political prisoners and an end to torture. The protest had not received government approval. Police dispersed the protestors and detained several, among them random passers-by and minors, according to activists. Some of those detained were punished by court fines or short administrative detentions. The government did not release any official data on the number of detained or punished protestors.

On June 23, the DCK called another unapproved rally. Police preemptively arrested a number of individuals thought to be involved in the protests. Human rights advocacy organizations reported that those detained included passersby, senior citizens, pregnant women, and children. In several cities reporters who came to cover the event were briefly detained. All detainees were taken to police stations and held there for several hours without food or water. Human rights observers criticized police for unjustified detention and numerous procedural violations in holding the detainees in custody. There were no official reports on the number of those detained. Human rights advocates stated that more than a hundred individuals were detained in Almaty, 30 in Astana, and at least a dozen in Shymkent. In some cities protestors dispersed without police involvement.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for limited freedom of association, but there were significant restrictions on this right. Any public organization set up by citizens, including religious groups, must be registered with the Ministry of Justice, as well as with the local departments of justice in every region in which the organization conducts activities. The law requires public or religious associations to define their specific activities, and any association that acts outside the scope of its charter may be warned, fined, suspended, or ultimately banned. Participation in unregistered public organizations may result in administrative or criminal penalties, such as fines, imprisonment, the closure of an organization, or suspension of its activities.

NGOs reported some difficulty in registering public associations. According to government information, these difficulties were due to discrepancies in the submitted documents.

Membership organizations other than religious groups, which are covered under separate legislation, must have at least 10 members to register at the local level and must have branches in more than one-half the country’s regions for national registration. The government considered political parties and labor unions to be membership organizations but required political parties to have 40,000 signatures for registration. If authorities challenge the application by alleging irregular signatures, the registration process may continue only if the total number of eligible signatures exceeds the minimum number required. The law prohibits parties established on an ethnic, gender, or religious basis. The law also prohibits members of the armed forces, employees of law enforcement and other national security organizations, and judges from participating in trade unions or political parties.

According to Maina Kiai, the UN special rapporteur who visited Kazakhstan in 2015, the law regulating the establishment of political parties is problematic as it imposes onerous obligations prior to registration, including high initial membership requirements that prevent small parties from forming and extensive documentation that requires time and significant expense to collect. He also expressed concern regarding the broad discretion granted to officials in charge of registering proposed parties, noting that the process lacked transparency and the law allows for perpetual extensions of time for the government to review a party’s application.

Under the 2015 NGO financing law, all “nongovernment organizations, subsidiaries, and representative offices of foreign and international noncommercial organizations” are required to provide information on “their activities, including information regarding the founders, assets, sources of their funds and what they are spent on….” An “authorized body” may initiate a “verification” of the information submitted based on information received in mass media reports, complaints from individuals and entities, or other subjective sources. Untimely or inaccurate information contained in the report, discovered during verification, is an administrative offense and may carry fines up to 53,025 tenge ($159) or suspension for three months if the violation is not rectified or is repeated within one year. In extreme cases criminal penalties are possible, which may lead to a large fine, suspension, or closure of the organization.

The law prohibits illegal interference by members of public associations in the activities of the government, with a fine of up to 636,300 tenge ($1,910) or imprisonment for up to 75 days. If committed by the leader of the organization, the fine may be up to 1.06 million tenge ($3,180) or imprisonment for no more than 90 days. The law does not clearly define “illegal interference.”

By law a public association, along with its leaders and members, may face fines for performing activities outside its charter. The law is not clear regarding the delineation between actions an NGO member may take in his or her private capacity versus as part of an organization.

The law establishes broad reporting requirements concerning the receipt and expenditure of foreign funds or assets; it also requires labeling all publications produced with support from foreign funds. The law also sets out administrative and criminal penalties for noncompliance with these requirements and potential restrictions on the conduct of meetings, protests, and similar activities organized with foreign funds.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Despite some regulatory restrictions, the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Human rights activists noted numerous violations of labor migrants’ rights, particularly those of unregulated migrants. The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) noted a growing number of migrants who were banned re-entry to Russia and chose to stay in Kazakhstan. The government does not have a mechanism for integration of migrants, with the exception of ethnic Kazakh repatriates (oralman). Labor migrants from neighboring Central Asian countries are often low-skilled and seek manual labor. They were exposed to dangerous work and often faced abusive practices. The migrants are in vulnerable positions because of their unregulated legal status; the laborers do not know their rights, national labor and migration legislation, local culture, or the language.

Among major violations of these migrants’ rights, activists mentioned the lack of employment contracts, poor working conditions, long working hours, low salaries, nonpayment or delayed payment of salaries, and lack of adequate housing. Migrant workers faced the risk of falling victim to human trafficking and forced labor, and the International Labor Organization indicated migrants had very limited or no access to the justice system, social support, or basic health services. In its 2018 report the International Federation for Human Rights stated violations of labor migrants’ rights additionally included corruption of police forces’ migration officers and in other government offices. The report noted increased discrimination against migrants in society, exacerbated by their lack of information, education, and language difficulties.

In-country Movement: The government required foreigners who remained in the country for more than five days to register with migration police. Foreigners entering the country had to register at certain border posts or airports where they entered. Some foreigners experienced problems traveling in regions outside their registration area. The government’s Concept on Improving Migration Policyreport covers internal migration, repatriation of ethnic Kazakh returnees (oralman), and external labor migration. In 2017 the government amended the rules for migrants entering the country so that migrants from Eurasian Economic Union countries may stay up to 90 days. There is a registration exemption for families of legal migrant workers for a 30-day period after the worker starts employment. The government has broad authority to deport those who violate the regulations.

Since 2011 the government has not reported the number of foreigners deported for gross violation of visitor rules. Individuals facing deportation may request asylum if they fear persecution in their home country. The government required persons who were suspects in criminal investigations to sign statements they would not leave their city of residence.

Authorities required foreigners to obtain prior permission to travel to certain border areas adjoining China and cities in close proximity to military installations. The government continued to declare particular areas closed to foreigners due to their proximity to military bases and the space launch center at Baikonur.

Foreign Travel: The government did not require exit visas for temporary travel of citizens, yet there were certain instances in which the government could deny exit from the country, including in the case of travelers subject to pending criminal or civil proceedings or having unfulfilled prison sentences, unpaid taxes, fines, alimony or utility bills, or compulsory military duty. Travelers who present false documentation during the exit process could be denied the right to exit, and authorities controlled travel by active-duty military personnel. The law requires persons who had access to state secrets to obtain permission from their employing government agency for temporary exit from the country.

Exile: The law does not prohibit forced exile if authorized by an appropriate government agency or through a court ruling.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees from 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. There are approximately 600 recognized refugees in the country, and the government recognized six persons as refugees during the first nine months of the year. Both the number of refugee applications and the approval rate by the government declined considerably during the year compared with prior years.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR legally may appeal to the government and intervene on behalf of individuals facing deportation. The law and several implementing regulations and bylaws regulate the granting of asylum and refugee status.

The Refugee Status Determination outlines procedures and access to government services, including the right to be legally registered and issued official documents. The Department of Migration Police in the Ministry of Internal Affairs conducts status determination procedures. Any individual seeking asylum in the country has access to the asylum procedure. According to UNHCR, the refugee system suffers from two major issues. First, access to the territory of Kazakhstan is limited. A person who crosses the border illegally may be prosecuted in criminal court, and may be viewed as a person with criminal potential. Second, access to asylum procedures falls short of the international standard. Authorities remain reluctant to accept asylum applications at the border from persons who lack valid identity documents, citing security concerns.

A legislative framework does not exist to manage the movement of asylum seekers between the country’s borders and authorities in other areas. There are no reception facilities for asylum seekers. The government does not provide accommodation, allowances, or any social benefits to asylum seekers. The law does not provide for differentiated procedures for persons with specific needs, such as separated children and persons with disabilities. Asylum seekers and refugees with specific needs are not entitled to financial or medical assistance. There are no guidelines for handling sensitive cases, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) cases.

Employment: Refugees faced difficulties in gaining employment and social assistance from the government. By law refugees have the right to work, with the exception of engaging in individual entrepreneurship. Refugees faced difficulties in accessing the labor market due to local employers’ lack of awareness of refugee rights.

Access to Basic Services: All refugees recognized by the government receive a refugee certificate that allows them to stay in the country legally. The majority of refugees have been residing in the country for many years. Their status as “temporarily residing aliens” hinders their access to the full range of rights stipulated in the 1951 convention and the law. Refugee status lasts for one year and is subject to annual renewal. This year, it became possible for refugees to apply for permanent residency provided that they have a valid passport. Some refugees have already received permanent residency this year, and they are to be eligible to become Kazakhstani citizens after five years. The law also lacks provisions on treatment of asylum seekers and refugees with specific needs. Refugees have access to education and health care on the same basis as citizens, but have no access to social benefits or allowances.

UNHCR reported cordial relations with the government in assisting refugees and asylum seekers. The government usually allowed UNHCR access to detained foreigners to provide for proper treatment and fair determination of status.

The government was generally tolerant in its treatment of local refugee populations.

Consistent with the Minsk Convention on Migration within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the government did not recognize Chechens as refugees. Chechens are eligible for temporary legal resident status for up to 180 days, as are any other CIS citizens. This temporary registration is renewable, but local migration officials may exercise discretion over the renewal process.

The government has an agreement with China not to tolerate the presence of ethnic separatists from one country on the territory of the other. UNHCR reported three Uighurs received refugee status during the first nine months of the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

The constitution and law provide avenues to deal with those considered stateless, and the government generally took seriously its obligation to ease the burden of statelessness within the country. As of September approximately 6,900 persons were officially registered by the government as stateless. The majority of individuals residing in the country with undetermined nationality, with de facto statelessness, or at heightened risk of statelessness are primarily those who have no identity documents, have invalid identity documents from a neighboring CIS country, or are holders of Soviet-era passports. These individuals typically resided in remote areas without obtaining official documentation.

In July 2017 the president signed a law that allows the government to deprive Kazakhstani citizenship to individuals convicted of a range of grave terrorism and extremism-related crimes, including for “harming the interest of the state.” According to UNHCR, no one has yet been deprived of citizenship under this law.

According to UNHCR the law provides a range of rights to persons recognized by the government as stateless. The legal status of officially registered stateless persons is documented and considered as having permanent residency, which is granted for 10 years in the form of a stateless person certificate. According to the law, after five years of residence in the country, stateless persons are eligible to apply for citizenship. Children born in the country to officially recognized stateless persons who have a permanent place of residence are recognized as nationals. A legal procedure exists for ethnic Kazakhs; those with immediate relatives in the country; and citizens of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and Kyrgyzstan, with which the country has agreements. The law gives the government six months to consider an application for citizenship. Some applicants complained that, due to the lengthy bureaucratic process, obtaining citizenship often took years. In summary the law does not provide a simplified naturalization procedure for stateless persons. Existing legislation prevents children of parents without identity documents from obtaining birth certificates, which hindered their access to education, free health care, and freedom of movement.

Persons rejected or whose status of stateless persons has been revoked may appeal the decision, but such appeals involved a lengthy process.

Officially recognized stateless persons have access to free medical assistance on the level provided to other foreigners, but it is limited to emergency medical care and to treatment of 21 contagious diseases on a list approved by the Ministry of Health Care and Social Development. Officially recognized stateless persons have a right to employment, with the exception of government positions. They may face challenges when concluding labor contracts, since potential employers may not understand or be aware of this legal right.

UNHCR reported that stateless persons without identity documents may not legally work, which led to the growth of illegal labor migration, corruption, and abuse of authority among employers. Children accompanying stateless parents were also considered stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government severely limited exercise of this right.

Although the 2017 constitutional amendments increased legislative and executive branch authority in some spheres, the constitution continues to concentrate power in the presidency itself. The president appoints and dismisses most high-level government officials, including the prime minister, cabinet, prosecutor general, the KNB chief, Supreme Court and lower-level judges, and regional governors. The Mazhilis must confirm the president’s choice of prime minister, and the Senate must confirm the president’s choices of prosecutor general, the KNB chief, Supreme Court judges, and National Bank head. Parliament has never failed to confirm a presidential nomination. Modifying or amending the constitution effectively requires the president’s consent. Constitutional amendments exempt the president from the two-term presidential term limit and protect him from prosecution.

The law on the first president–the “Leader of the Nation” law–established President Nazarbayev as chair of the Kazakhstan People’s Assembly and of the Security Council for life, granted him lifetime membership on the Constitutional Council, allows him “to address the people of Kazakhstan at any time,” and stipulates that all “initiatives on the country’s development” must be coordinated through him.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: An early presidential election in 2015 gave President Nazarbayev 97.5 percent of the vote. According to the New York Times newspaper, his two opponents, who both supported the Nazarbayev government, were seen as playing a perfunctory role as opposition candidates. The OSCE stated that the election process in most cases was managed effectively, although the OSCE/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) election observation mission stated voters were not given a choice of political alternatives and noted that both “opposition” candidates had openly praised Nazarbayev’s achievements. Some voters reportedly had been pressured to vote for the incumbent.

In June 2017 16 of the 47 members of the Senate were selected by members of maslikhats–local representative bodies–acting as electors to represent each oblast (administrative region) and the cities of Astana and Almaty. Four incumbent senators were re-elected, and the majority of the newly elected senators were affiliated with the ruling Nur Otan Party.

As a result of early Mazhilis elections in 2016, the ruling Nur Otan Party won 84 seats, Ak Zhol won seven seats, and the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan won seven seats. The ODIHR reported widespread ballot stuffing and inflated vote totals. The ODIHR criticized the election for falling short of the country’s democratic commitments. The legal framework imposed substantial restrictions on fundamental civil and political rights. On election day serious procedural errors and irregularities were noted during voting, counting, and tabulation.

In June the government amended the election law, reducing the independence of local representative bodies (maslikhats). Previously, citizens could nominate and vote for candidates running in elections for the maslikhats. Under the amended law, citizens vote for parties and parties choose who sits on the maslikhats.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties must register members’ personal information, including date and place of birth, address, and place of employment. This requirement discouraged many citizens from joining political parties.

There were six political parties registered, including Ak Zhol, Birlik, and the People’s Patriotic Party “Auyl” (merged from the Party of Patriots of Kazakhstan and the Kazakhstan Social Democratic Party). The parties generally did not oppose President Nazarbayev’s policies.

To register, a political party must hold a founding congress with a minimum attendance of 1,000 delegates, including representatives from two-thirds of the oblasts and the cities of Astana, Turkistan, and Almaty. Parties must obtain at least 600 signatures from each oblast and the cities of Astana, Turkistan, and Almaty, registration from the Central Election Commission (CEC), and registration from each oblast-level election commission.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Traditional attitudes sometimes hindered women from holding high office or playing active roles in political life, although there were no legal restrictions on the participation of women or minorities in politics.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Corruption was widespread in the executive branch, law enforcement agencies, local government administrations, the education system, and the judiciary, according to human rights NGOs. On July 12, the president signed into law a set of amendments to the criminal legislation mitigating punishment for a variety of acts of corruption by officials, including decriminalizing official inaction, hindrance to business activities, and falsification of documents; significantly reducing the amounts of fines for taking bribes; and reinstituting a statute of limitation for corruption crimes.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Agency on Civil Service Affairs and Combatting Corruption, the KNB, and the Disciplinary State Service Commission are responsible for combating corruption. The KNB investigates corruption crimes committed by officers of the special agencies, anticorruption bureau, and military. According to official statistics, 1,024 corruption-related offenses were registered during the first seven months of the year. The most frequent crimes were bribery (52 percent), embezzlement (21 percent), and abuse of power (17 percent). The government charged 663 officials with corruption, and 1,370 cases were submitted to courts.

On July 12, a court in Astana sentenced the former chairman of the Geology and Subsoil Committee of the Ministry of Investment and Development, Bazarbay Nurabayev, to seven-and-a-half years of imprisonment, confiscation of property, and a lifetime ban on government service. According to the court, Nurabayev systematically schemed to take bribes from businessmen in exchange for subsoil contracts in various regions of the country. He was caught accepting a bribe of $20,000 in March 2017.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires government officials, applicants for government positions, and those released from government service to declare their income and assets in the country and abroad to tax authorities annually. The same requirement applies to their spouses, dependents, and adult children. Similar regulations exist for members of parliament and judges. Tax declarations are not available to the public. The law imposes administrative penalties for noncompliance with the requirements.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated with some freedom to investigate and publish their findings on human rights cases, although some restrictions on human rights NGO activities remained. International and local human rights groups reported the government monitored NGO activities on sensitive issues and practiced harassment, including police visits to and surveillance of NGO offices, personnel, and family members. Government officials often were uncooperative or nonresponsive to their views.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs-led Consultative Advisory Body (CAB) for dialogue on democracy, human rights, rule of law, and legislative work continued to operate during the year. The CAB includes government ministries and prominent international and domestic NGOs, as well as international organization observers. The NGO community generally was positive regarding the work of the CAB, saying the platform enabled greater communication with the government regarding issues of concern. The government and NGOs, however, did not agree on recommendations on issues the government considered sensitive, and some human rights concerns were barred from discussion. NGOs reported that government bodies accepted some recommendations, although, according to the NGOs, the accepted recommendations were technical rather than substantive.

The Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, Kadyr Kassiyet, the Legal Media Center, and PRI were among the most visibly active human rights NGOs. Some NGOs faced occasional difficulties in acquiring office space and technical facilities. Government leaders participated–and regularly included NGOs–in roundtables and other public events on democracy and human rights.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government invited UN special rapporteurs to visit the country and meet with NGOs dealing with human rights. The government generally did not prevent other international NGOs and multilateral institutions dealing with human rights from visiting the country and meeting with local human rights groups and government officials. National security laws prohibit foreigners, international organizations, NGOs, and other nonprofit organizations from engaging in political activities. The government prohibited international organizations from funding unregistered entities.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Presidential Commission on Human Rights is a consultative and advisory body that includes top officials and members of the public appointed by the president. The commission reviews and investigates complaints, issues recommendations, monitors fulfillment of international human rights conventions, and publishes reports on some human rights issues in close cooperation with several international organizations, such as UNHCR, the OSCE, the IOM, and UNICEF. The commission does not have legal authority to remedy human rights violations or implement its recommendations in the reports.

A recent constitutional change stipulated that the Human Rights Ombudsman be selected by the Senate; however, the existing ombudsman was appointed by the president. He also serves as the chair of the Coordinating Council of the National Preventive Mechanism against Torture.

The ombudsman did not have the authority to investigate complaints concerning decisions of the president, heads of government agencies, parliament, cabinet, Constitutional Council, Prosecutor General’s Office, CEC, or courts, although he may investigate complaints against individuals. The ombudsman’s office has the authority to appeal to the president, cabinet, or parliament to resolve citizens’ complaints; cooperate with international human rights organizations and NGOs; meet with government officials concerning human rights abuses; visit certain facilities, such as military units and prisons; and publicize in media the results of investigations. The ombudsman’s office also published an annual human rights report. During the year the ombudsman’s office occasionally briefed media and issued reports on complaints it had investigated.

Domestic human rights observers indicated that the ombudsman’s office and the Human Rights Commission were unable to stop human rights abuses or punish perpetrators. The commission and ombudsman avoided addressing underlying structural problems that led to human rights abuses, although they advanced human rights by publicizing statistics and individual cases and aided citizens with less controversial social problems and issues involving lower-level elements of the bureaucracy.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape. The punishment for conviction of rape, including spousal rape, ranges from three to 15 years’ imprisonment. There were reports of police and judicial reluctance to act on reports of rape, particularly in spousal rape cases.

Legislation identifies various types of domestic violence, such as physical, psychological, sexual, and economic, and outlines the responsibilities of local and national governments and NGOs in providing support to domestic violence victims. The law also outlines mechanisms for the issuance of restraining orders and provides for the 24-hour administrative detention of abusers. The law sets the maximum sentence for spousal assault and battery at 10 years in prison, the same as for any assault. The law also permits prohibiting offenders from living with the victim if the perpetrator has somewhere else to live, allows victims of domestic violence to receive appropriate care regardless of the place of residence, and replaces financial penalties with administrative arrest if paying fines was hurting victims as well as perpetrators.

NGOs estimated that on average 12 women each day were subjected to domestic violence and more than 400 women died annually as a result of violence sustained from their spouses. Due in part to social stigma, research conducted by the Ministry of National Economy indicated that a majority of victims of partner abuse never told anyone of their abuse. Police intervened in family disputes only when they believed the abuse was life-threatening. Police often encouraged the two parties to reconcile.

On January 22, the Karatau District Court in Shymkent sentenced Khairulla Narmetov to 3.5 years in jail for injuring his wife Umida. In November 2017 he had attacked her with a knife and injured her severely. After a difficult six-hour surgery, doctors managed to save her life. During the court trial, Umida forgave her husband “for the sake of the children,” she said.

The government opened domestic violence shelters in each region. According to the NGO Union of Crisis Centers, there were 28 crisis centers, which provided reliable services to victims of domestic violence. Of these crisis centers, approximately a dozen have shelters.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Although prohibited by law, the practice of kidnapping women and girls for forced marriage continued in some remote areas. The law prescribes a prison sentence of eight to 10 years for conviction of kidnapping. A person who voluntarily releases an abductee is absolved of criminal responsibility; because of this law, a typical bride kidnapper is not necessarily held criminally responsible. Law enforcement agencies often advised abductees to sort out their situation themselves. According to civil society organizations, making a complaint to police could be a very bureaucratic process and often subjected families and victims to humiliation.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a problem. No law protects women from sexual harassment, and only force or taking advantage of a victim’s physical helplessness carries criminal liability in terms of sexual assault. In no instance was the law used to protect the victim, nor were there reports of any prosecutions.

According to studies conducted by NGOs, half of all working women (53 percent) were subject to sexual advances from male supervisors and 14 percent received advances from colleagues. None of those women reached out to police with complaints due to shame or fear of job loss.

In March a group of NGOs and media activists set up Korgau123, an organization to support victims of harassment, and launched a hotline.

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

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for equal rights and freedoms for men and women. The law prohibits discrimination based on gender. Significant salary gaps between men and women remained a serious problem. According to observers, women in rural areas faced greater discrimination than women in urban areas and suffered from a greater incidence of domestic violence, limited education and employment opportunities, limited access to information, and discrimination in their land and other property rights.

Children

In 2016 the president issued a decree to establish the Office of the Commissioner for Child Rights (Children’s Ombudsman) to improve the national system of child rights protection.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. The government registers all births upon receipt of the proper paperwork, which may come from the parents, other interested persons, or the medical facility where the birth occurred. Children born to undocumented mothers were denied birth certificates.

Child Abuse: School violence was a problem, and experts estimated two of three schoolchildren suffered or witnessed violence. Violence and abuse were particularly serious in boarding schools and orphanages. An estimated 17,000 to 18,000 children suffered from either psychological or physical abuse by their parents. According to UNICEF, 75 percent of the public supported the use of violent methods of disciplining children, and children faced violence at home, schools, children’s group homes, and on the street. Humanium, an international child rights NGO, reported that mistreatment was becoming rarer, but still occurred regularly in boarding schools, foster homes, and prisons and detention centers. Children who were victims of such violence did not have easy access to adequate complaint mechanisms.

There were reports of selling newborn babies.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but it may be reduced to 16 in the case of pregnancy or mutual agreement. According to the United Nations Population Fund about 3,000 early and forced marriages occurred annually. Many couples first married in mosques and then registered officially when the bride reached the legal age. The government did not take any action to address the issue.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law does not specify the minimum age for consensual sex, but it provides for eight to 15 years in prison for individuals convicted of forcing boys or girls younger than age 18 to have sexual intercourse. The Children’s Ombudsman noted that the number of sexual violence incidents reported increased 38 percent compared with the previous year.

The law criminalizes the production and distribution of child pornography and provides administrative penalties to cover the sale of pornographic materials to minors. The country retains administrative penalties for child pornography. Perpetrators convicted of sexual offenses against minors receive a lifetime ban on working with children.

Displaced Children: Human rights observers noted that the number of street children, mainly in large cities, was high. According to the Children’s Ombudsman, the number of street children was increasing. The Children’s Rights Protection Committee reports that 1,422 street children, 233 orphans, 21 delinquent children and 12 children from problematic families were referred to Centers for Delinquent Children in the first quarter of the year. Of the total, 1,371 were returned to their families. The remaining children were sent to orphanages (97), foster families (33), or correctional boarding schools (22).

Institutionalized Children: Incidents of child abuse in state-run institutions, such as orphanages, boarding schools, and detention facilities for delinquent children, were “not rare,” according to government sources. NGOs stated one-half the children in orphanages or closed institutions suffered from abuse by teachers or other children. According to the Children’s Rights Protection Committee, the number of orphans who lived in orphanages decreased from approximately 7,000 in 2016 to 6,223 in 2017. The rest of the 27,274 orphan children were in foster or other home care.

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

Anti-Semitism

Leaders of the Jewish community estimated that the country’s Jewish population was approximately 10,000. They reported no incidents of anti-Semitism by the government or in society.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, and access to health care, and in the provision of other government services, but significant discrimination existed. The government took steps to remedy some barriers to persons with disabilities, including providing access to information. NGOs stated implementation of the law on disability was lacking.

The law requires companies to set aside 3 percent of their jobs for persons with disabilities, and the government enacted high-level enforcement measures to enhance economic opportunities as part of the president’s strategy 2050; nevertheless, there were reports persons with disabilities faced difficulty integrating into society and finding employment. The government identified the two biggest barriers facing persons with disabilities as poor infrastructure and lack of access to education, while persons with disabilities expressed difficulty accessing public transportation.

Human rights observers noted multiple types of discrimination against persons with disabilities: some airlines refused to sell tickets to persons with disabilities seeking to travel alone and insisted that they should be escorted by assistants; doctors discouraged women who use wheelchairs from having children; and treatment of prisoners with disabilities in detention facilities remained a serious problem.

The government did not legally restrict the right of persons with disabilities to vote and arranged home voting for individuals who could not travel to accessible polling places.

There are no regulations regarding the rights of patients in mental hospitals. Human rights observers believed this led to widespread abuse of patients’ rights. NGOs reported that patients often experienced poor conditions and a complete lack of privacy. Citizens with mental disabilities may be committed to state-run institutions without their consent or judicial review, and the government committed young persons under the age of 18 with the permission of their families. According to an NPM report, most of the hospitals required extensive maintenance. Other problems observed included shortage of personnel, unsatisfactory sanitary conditions, poor food supply, overcrowding, and lack of light and air.

Members of the NPM may visit mental hospitals to monitor conditions and signs of possible torture of patients, but any institutions holding children, including orphanages, were not on the list of institutions NPM members may visit.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Kazakh is the official state language, although Russian has equal status as the language of interethnic communication. The law requires presidential candidates to be fluent in Kazakh. The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on language, but all prospective civil servants are required to pass a Kazakh language exam.

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

According to the constitution, no one shall be subject to any discrimination for reasons of origin; occupational, social, or property status; sex; race; nationality; language; religion or belief; place of residence; or any other circumstances. The country does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity.

Although gender reassignment documentation exists, the law requires a transgender person to fulfill psychiatric and physical requirements before being able to receive identity documents that align with the person’s outward gender. Many individuals lived with nonconforming documents for years and reported problems with securing employment, housing, and health care.

There were no prosecutions of anti-LGBTI violence. Although there were no government statistics on discrimination or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity, there were reports of such actions. According to an NGO survey within the LGBTI community, 48 percent of respondents experienced violence or hate because of their sexual orientation, and 56 percent responded they knew someone who suffered from violence. The most frequent forms of abuse were verbal insults, harassment, interference in private life, and physical assaults.

NGOs reported members of the LGBTI community seldom turned to law enforcement agencies to report violence against them because they feared hostility, ridicule, and violence. They were reluctant to use mechanisms such as the national commissioner for human rights to seek remedies for harms inflicted because they did not trust these mechanisms to safeguard their identities, especially with regard to employment.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS, but stigma resulted in societal discrimination that continued to affect access to information, services, treatment, and care. The National Center for AIDS provides free diagnosis and treatment to all citizens.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for workers’ right to unionize, but limits workers’ freedom of association. The trade union law amended in July 2017, restricts workers’ freedom of association by requiring existing independent labor unions to affiliate with larger, progovernment unions at the industry, sector, or regional level and by erecting significant barriers to the creation of independent unions.

In January 2017 a southern regional court cancelled the registration of the Confederation of the Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (CITUK), ordering its liquidation and removal from the national register. The Federation of Trade Unions of the Republic of Kazakhstan (FTUK) is the successor to state-sponsored Soviet-era labor organizations and the largest national trade union association, with approximately 90 percent of union members on its rolls. The government exercised considerable influence on organized labor and favored state-affiliated unions over independent ones. Critics charged that the FTUK was too close to the government to advocate for workers effectively, was biased in favor of large employers and oligarchs, and that the law helped the FTUK in its unfair competition against independent labor unions.

In May the former chair of the Oil Construction Company (OCC) Trade Union, Amin Yeleussinov, who was sentenced to two years in prison in January 2017, was released on parole. Nurbek Kushakbaev, vice-chairperson of CITUK who was sentenced to two and a half years in April 2017, was also released on parole in May. Civil society organizations called for their convictions–as well as that of former chairman of CITUK, Larisa Kharkova–to be vacated. On June 6, the Appeals Court of the Mangystau Region revoked a April 11 ruling of the region’s economic court to close down the OCC Trade Union as illegal and returned the case for further review.

On September 25, police opened a criminal investigation into Yerlan Baltabay, the leader of an independent union of petrochemical workers in Shymkent, following a complaint by a member of his union about financial violations. Police searched Baltabay’s office and interrogated Baltabay without disclosing the nature of the charges against him. On October 18, authorities searched Baltabay’s house and seized documents relating to the union. Human rights observers noted the parallels to the investigation and ultimate conviction of Larisa Kharkova in 2017, and alleged that Baltabay has been targeted for his independent labor union activism.

The law provides for the right of workers to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, and a court may order reinstatement of a worker fired for union activity. Penalties for violations of these provisions included fines and imprisonment of up to 75 days, but these penalties did not deter violations. According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, 33.4 percent of working enterprises have collective agreements.

The law provides for the right to strike in principle but imposes onerous restrictions that make strikes unlikely. For example, the right to strike may be granted only after the dispute is brought to a reconciliatory commission for consideration. In addition by law there are a variety of circumstances in which strikes are illegal. A blanket legal restriction bars certain occupations from striking. Military and other security service members, emergency medical, fire, and rescue crews, as well as those who operate “dangerous” production facilities are forbidden to strike. By law such strikes are illegal.

Workers employed in the railway, transport and communications, civil aviation, health-care, and public utilities sectors may strike, but only if they maintain minimum services, do not interrupt nonstop production processes (such as metallurgy), and leave key equipment unaffected. Numerous legal limitations restrict workers’ right to strike in other industries as well. Generally, workers may not strike unless a labor dispute cannot be resolved through compulsory arbitration procedures. Decisions to strike must be taken in a meeting where at least one-half of an enterprise’s workers are present. A written notice announcing a strike must be submitted to the employer at least five days in advance.

Employers may fire striking workers after a court declares a strike illegal. The law also enables the government to target labor organizers whose strikes are deemed illegal, including by imposing criminal charges and up to three years in prison for conviction of participation in strikes declared illegal by the court.

The labor code limits worker rights to make claims on their employers. For example, its Article 12 requires employers to negotiate any labor-related act with official employee representatives. If there are multiple official representatives, they have five days in which to form a unified body to discuss the proposed act. If the group cannot come to consensus, the employer may accept the act without the consent of the employees. Article 52 lists 25 reasons an employer may fire a worker.

Disagreements between unions and their employers may be presented to a tripartite commission composed of representatives of the government, labor unions, and employer associations. State-affiliated and independent labor unions participate in tripartite commissions. The tripartite commission is responsible for developing and signing annual agreements governing most aspects of labor relations.

Foreign workers have the right to join unions, but the law prohibits the operation of foreign unions and the financing of unions by foreign entities, such as foreign citizens, governments, and international organizations. Irregular migrants and self-employed individuals resided in the country were not per se exempt from the law. Approximately two million of the nine million economically active citizens were self-employed in the second quarter of the year.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except when it is a consequence of a court sentencing or a condition of a state of emergency or martial law.

The penal code provides for punishment of convicted traffickers and those who facilitate forced exploitation and trafficking, including labor recruiters who hire workers through deliberately fraudulent or deceptive offers with the intent to subject them to forced labor or employers or labor agents who confiscate passports or travel documents to keep workers in a state of involuntary servitude. Conviction of trafficking in persons for the purpose of labor and sexual exploitation is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Conviction of kidnapping and illegal deprivation of freedom with the purpose of labor or sexual exploitation is punishable by up to 10 years in prison with confiscation of assets; such penalties were sufficient.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is responsible for conducting checks of employers to reveal labor law violations, including exploitation of foreign workers. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for identifying victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation and initiating criminal proceedings. The government effectively enforced the law in most cases. Police conducted interagency operations to find victims of forced labor. In 2017 police investigated 101 criminal cases on human trafficking, and courts convicted 29 traffickers, including 20 for sexual exploitation, eight for labor exploitation, and one for another violation.

Migrant workers were considered most at risk for forced or compulsory labor. According to a 2016 IOM report, there were an estimated 950,000 migrants in the country, with the majority of migrant workers coming from Uzbekistan, but there were also lesser numbers from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Migrant workers found employment primarily in agriculture and construction. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is responsible for handling issues related to migrant labor. In 2017 the government adopted a new Concept of Migration policy for 2017-2021 and an accompanying implementation plan. Together, these changes addressed both internal and external modern challenges, such as the excess of low-skilled labor due to increased inflow of labor migrants from other Central Asian countries and the deficiency of high-skilled labor in some sectors of the economy due to a low-level of education.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The general minimum age for employment is 16. With parental permission, however, children ages 14 through 16 may perform light work that does not interfere with their health or education. The law prohibits minors from engaging in hazardous work and restricts the length of the workday for employees younger than 18.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is responsible for enforcement of child labor laws and for administrative offenses punishable by fines. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for investigating criminal offenses and training criminal police in investigating the worst forms of child labor.

The law provides for non-criminal punishments for violations of the law, including written warnings, suspensions, terminations, the withdrawal of licenses for specific types of activities, administrative penalties or fines, and administrative arrest (only by court decision and only up to 15 days for violation of legislation in relation to minors). Such violations include employment of minors without an employment agreement, which is punishable by fine with suspension of the employer’s license. Untimely or incorrect payment of salaries, non-provision of vacation or time off, excessive work hours, and discrimination in the workplace were also punishable by fines.

Prohibitions against the worst forms of child labor include criminal punishment under the penal code. Conviction of violation of minimum age employment in hazardous work is punishable up to five years in prison with or without a three-year ban on specific types of employment and activities. Conviction of engaging minors in pornographic shows or production of materials containing pornographic images of minors is punishable up to 10 years in prison; conviction of coercion of minors into prostitution is punishable up to 12 years in prison; conviction of kidnapping or illegal deprivation of freedom of a minor for the purpose of exploitation and trafficking in minors is punishable up to 15 years in prison, with a lifetime ban on activities and work with children. Such penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

NGOs reported child labor in domestic servitude, markets, construction sites, and activities such as car washes, cultivation of vegetables, and begging. For example, in 2017 seven children were found working in gas stations. Local NGOs indicated that child labor on family farms still exists in the seasonal production of cotton, and at least one child was found working in a cotton field in 2017. Media reported in 2017 a 16-year old boy died in a cotton field due to injuries suffered while loading cotton bales.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Law and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on gender, age, disability, race, ethnicity, language, place of residence, religion, political opinion, affiliation with tribe or class, public associations, or property, social, or official status. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases. The government effectively enforced the law and regulations. Discrimination is an administrative offense punishable by a fine up to 481,000 tenge ($1,332). Some cases like illegal termination of labor contracts due to pregnancy, disability, or minority are considered a criminal offense and are punishable if convicted by fine, detention for up to 50 days’, or deprivation of the right to hold certain posts or engage in certain work-related activities.

Discrimination, however, occurred with respect to employment and occupation for persons with disabilities, orphans, and former convicts. Disability NGOs reported that despite government efforts, obtaining employment was difficult for persons with disabilities. The law does not require equal pay for equal work for women and men. NGOs reported no government body assumed responsibility for implementing antidiscrimination legislation and asserted the law’s definition of gender discrimination does not comply with international standards. More women than men were self-employed or underemployed relative to their education level.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

During the year the national monthly minimum wage was comparable to the monthly subsistence income level. As of August 1.3 million citizens of a nine-million person workforce were not registered as either employed or unemployed, meaning that they likely work in the informal economy. These workers are concentrated in the retail trade, transport services, agriculture, real estate, beauty and hair dressing salons, and laundry and dry cleaning businesses. Small entrepreneurs and their employees for the most part work without health, social, or pension benefits.

The law stipulates the normal workweek should not exceed 40 hours and limits heavy manual labor or hazardous work to no more than 36 hours per week. The law limits overtime to two hours per day, or one hour per day for heavy manual labor, and requires overtime to be paid at least at a 50-percent premium. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and overtime for work in hazardous conditions. The law provides that labor agreements may stipulate the length of working time, holidays, and paid annual leave for each worker.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards. The law requires employers to suspend work that could endanger the life or health of workers and to warn workers about any harmful or dangerous work conditions or the possibility of any occupational disease. The law specifically grants workers the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without suffering adverse employment action.

Overtime pay for holiday and after-hours work is equal to 1.5 times regular salary. The decision on pay is made by the employer or in compliance with a collective agreement, and the amount of pay is based on so-called industry-specific wage multipliers, stipulated by the industrial agreements.

On July 18, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of China National Petroleum Corporation-AktobeMunayGas, owned by China National Petroleum Corporation, which in February 2017 reduced the environmental allowance for 403 workers who reside in the ecologically challenging Aral Sea area from 50 percent to 20 percent. The company, supported by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, argued that only workers who both reside and work in the Aral Sea area are entitled to a 50 percent allowance. Those who resided in the Aral Sea area, but worked elsewhere, may claim only the 20 percent allowance.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection enforces the minimum wage, work-hour restrictions, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards. Under the entrepreneur code, labor inspectors have the right to conduct announced and unannounced inspections of workplaces to detect violations. Both types of inspections take place only after written notification. Inspections based on risk assessment reports are announced in writing not less than 30 days prior the beginning of the inspection. There has been a presidential moratorium on announced inspections since 2014. Unplanned inspections are announced not less than one day prior the beginning of the inspection. The resources of labor inspectors are limited. Ministry inspectors conducted random inspections of employers. As of March inspectors conducted 1,364 inspections, detected 2,104 violations of labor law, and levied 365 fines for a total amount of 64.3 million tenge (close to $178,000). In 2017 the ministry had 258 labor inspectors.

The Human Rights Commission reported that the number of inspectors was insufficient. Moreover, the 2015 labor code introduced so-called employer’s declarations. Under this system, labor inspectors may extend a certificate of trust to enterprises that complied with labor legislation requirements. Certified enterprises are exempt from labor inspections for the three-year period. In the opinion of labor rights activists, such a practice may worsen labor conditions and conceal problems. By law any enterprise or company may form a production council to address labor safety issues from representatives of an employer and employees. These councils are eligible to conduct their own inspections of the employees’ work conditions. As of January there were 12,855 production councils operating in the country. Formal training was provided to 10,952 of 17,914 volunteer labor inspectors.

There were reports some employers ignored regulations concerning occupational health and safety. Occupational safety and health conditions in the construction, industrial, and agricultural sectors often were substandard. Workers in factories sometimes lacked quality protective clothing and sometimes worked in conditions of poor visibility and ventilation. As of September the government reported 975 workplace injuries, of which 133 resulted in death. The government attributed many labor-related deaths to antiquated equipment, insufficient detection and prevention of occupational diseases in workers engaged in harmful labor, and disregard for safety regulations. The most dangerous jobs were in mining, construction, and oil and gas, according to an expert analysis of occupations with the highest fatalities. The minister of labor and social protection reported that in 2017, 370,000 workers labored in hazardous conditions.

Some companies tried to avoid payments to injured workers. Critics reported that employers, the FTUK, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection were more concerned with bureaucracy and filling out reports on work-related accidents, than with taking measures to reduce their number. A minimal noncompliance with labor safety requirements may result in a company’s refusal to compensate workers for industrial injuries. In 30 percent of cases, workers themselves were blamed for violating occupational health and safety regulations.

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