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Algeria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internet Freedom

The government monitored certain email and social media sites.

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

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

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

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

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

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

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

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom of Association

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bangladesh

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression including for members of the press and other media, but the government frequently contravened this right. There were significant limitations on freedom of expression both online and offline. Members of media and bloggers self-censored their criticisms of the government due to harassment and fear of reprisal.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for the right to peaceful assembly, but the government limited this right. The law gives the government broad discretion to ban assemblies of more than four persons. The government requires advance permission for gatherings such as protests and demonstrations (see section 1.e.).

According to human rights groups, authorities continued to use provisions to prohibit gatherings by opposition groups and imposed what observers saw as unreasonable requirements for permits. Occasionally police or ruling party activists used force to disperse demonstrations assembled by opposition parties, organizations, and activists.

The March 26-28 demonstrations after Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit were organized by members of Hefazat-e-Islam (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.d., 2.a., and 6). Observers said the demonstrations started out peacefully until members of law enforcement agencies and ruling party leaders and activists arrived. Police filed 154 cases against 3,270 named and many unnamed persons, which allegedly made it easier for them to include anyone in the case. As a result, 1,230 opposition leaders and activists, including members of Hefazat-e-Islam, were arrested and detained. In addition, 53 leaders and activists of the Bangladesh Students, Youth and Labor Rights Council were arrested and taken into custody through court proceedings.

Opposition leaders and activists reported numerous restrictions towards organizations throughout the year. The opposition BNP was regularly denied holding events or intimidated by authorities and ruling party activists at their events. On March 29, 20 persons were injured after police allegedly attacked a program organized in front of the BNP office in Khulna. On May 31, police allegedly obstructed various programs, including a food drive for the poor, organized on the anniversary of the death of BNP’s founder and former president, Ziaur Rahman.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for the right of citizens to form associations, subject to “reasonable restrictions” in the interest of morality or public order, and the government generally respected this right. The government’s NGO Affairs Bureau often withheld or delayed its approval for foreign funding to NGOs working on issues the bureau deemed sensitive, such as human rights, labor rights, indigenous rights, or humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees (see sections 2.d., 5, and 7. a.).

The law places restrictions on the receipt of foreign funds by NGOs or government officials and provides for punishment of NGOs making any derogatory comments regarding the constitution or constitutional institutions (see section 5).

Belgium

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the members of the press and other media, 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 media.

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

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Chile

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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 members of the media.

Violence and Harassment: On July 7, PDI agents allegedly targeted journalists Vicente Rojas Lopez and Felipe Garcia with rubber bullets during a disturbance while Lopez and Garcia were covering the funeral procession of activist Luisa Toledo Sepulveda that passed in front of PDI headquarters in Santiago. No formal investigation was opened.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Costa Rica

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In July the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court partially ruled in favor of a daily newspaper that accused the government in 2020 of denying access to information during the daily coronavirus pandemic press briefings. On June 30, during the presentation of her annual report to the National Assembly, the ombudswoman expressed concerns that the president was declining interview requests to independent media outlets and not holding more press conferences. The minister of communications explained that weekly press briefings were exclusively for answering questions about the coronavirus pandemic.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Media: An appeals judge urged the Attorney General’s Office to investigate a leakage to the press of evidence that judicial authorities obtained through wiretapping for a high-profile corruption scandal. The judge did not censor media outlets for publishing information of public interest but indicated that those responsible for maintaining confidentiality of court files should be held accountable.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Georgia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the members of the press and other media, and citizens generally were free to exercise this right, although the government did not adequately safeguard that freedom. During the year journalists, NGOs, and the international community raised serious concerns regarding the environment for media pluralism. In addition, the Public Defender’s Office noted in its April parliamentary report covering 2020 that the country lacked proper statistics on offenses committed against journalists.

Freedom of Expression: On March 1, the Tbilisi Court of Appeals overturned a 2019 decision that the NGO Transparency International/Georgia’s report on corruption raising concerns over judicial independence was not libelous. Civil society saw the decision as unsubstantiated and an attempt to interfere with the NGO’s freedom of expression. Transparency International/Georgia appealed the case, which was pending at the Supreme Court. NGOs accused the justice minister of attempting to restrict freedom of speech by suspending notary Bachana Shengelia from office in June 2020 for comments he posted on Facebook regarding the controversial 2018 death of his mother, school principal Ia Kerzaia (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Georgia for 2019, section 3). GYLA described the suspension as a restriction on freedom of expression and submitted a case on Shengelia’s behalf to the Constitutional Court in July 2020. The case remained pending.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. NGOs continued to express concern regarding the close relationship between Georgian Public Broadcaster and Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) and the ruling party, GNCC bias against opposition-leaning outlets, the public broadcaster’s editorial bias in favor of the ruling party, decreased media pluralism, criminal prosecutions against owners and directors of opposition-leaning outlets that appeared politically motivated, violence against journalists, impunity for attacks against journalists, the ruling party’s boycott of media critical of the government, and alleged wiretaps specifically targeting journalists.

The GNCC was influenced by the ruling party. Civil society reported on several shortcomings during the year. For example, Transparency International/Georgia reported limited competition and preferential treatment of incumbent and former commissioners and employees in the selection of GNCC members on July 2. The NGO also reported that persons working in communications did not view the GNCC election process as independent from political influence.

On April 14, the GNCC announced a tender for an audit of independent television ratings companies, which media representatives and watchdogs said “exceeds the responsibilities of the body.” Civil society organizations alleged that the audit would open the way for ratings companies owned by ruling-party supporters to begin to set the ratings, affecting what had been independent assessments. Later in the year, the GNCC announced a tender to audit the two rating companies used; Kantar, which was widely seen as being Georgian Dream-supported; and TV MR, which was seen to be more cooperative with outlets critical of the government. Kantar accepted the offer and was found to be within international standards. TV MR, however, did not accept and was not audited. The move to audit both firms was viewed by observers as an example of GNCC overstepping its mandate by initiating audits when it should be the responsibility of the companies to conduct such internal operations.

Statements by political leaders also degraded media plurality. For example, on February 16, Giorgi Volski, the first deputy speaker of parliament, said that “journalists in particular are involved in planning some kind of conspiracy, misinformation, sabotage.” The next day Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of the Georgian Dream party, said that “party televisions began to establish blasphemy in serials, thus accustoming the public to the insulting language.” This sort of rhetoric was used extensively by the ruling party (as it was used when other parties were in power) to call into question any reporting critical of the government. On October 30, the day of municipal runoff elections, Prime Minister Gharibashvili called a Mtavari Arkhi journalist a “provocateur.” Ruling party member of parliament Irakli “Dachi” Beraia referred to Formula TV as a “criminal thug of the [opposition United] National Movement.”

A significant number of journalists reported during the year that they were either prevented from covering public events or did not receive key public information when requested. Although nationwide statistics were not kept, Information Centers Network, a regional consortium of independent media outlets, filed 14 administrative complaints with local authorities for not receiving responses to requests for public information between May 1 and August 30, and twice as many by the end of the year. Civil society representatives observed the problem was not the law, which very clearly provides the public with the right to access information. The problem was the failure of the ruling party, as well as local and regional authorities, to implement the law. This situation further exacerbated an already adversarial relationship between media and the ruling party.

Media outlets, watchdog groups, and NGOs continued to express concern regarding decreased media pluralism and continuing political influence in media. Concerns also persisted regarding government interference with some media outlets. Persistent allegations of political pressure on public broadcasters continued. On August 9, journalist Irakli Absandze was dismissed by the Georgian Public Broadcaster. According to the Media Advocacy Coalition, Absandze’s dismissal was seen to be connected with his critical statements about the ruling party and the public broadcaster’s management. Absandze had criticized the July 5-6 violence against journalists and the ruling party’s ineffective response (see section 2.b.). Absandze subsequently filed a complaint to defend his rights, with Transparency International/Georgia providing legal support; however, no action was taken by the government to examine his case.

Following the July 5-6 violence against journalists (see section 2.b.), two key journalists from Rustavi 2 (a pro-Georgian Dream outlet) resigned, citing lack of editorial independence.

The Public Defender’s Office, some media watchers, NGOs, and opposition parties expressed suspicion that a number of criminal prosecutions against critical media outlets or their owners were politically motivated.

In early September, a few weeks before the municipal elections, the court resumed the government’s case against Mtavari Arkhi’s general director, Nika Gvaramia. The trial remained underway at year’s end. The opposition perceived this prosecution as the ruling party’s retribution for Mtavari Arkhi’s favorable coverage of the UNM. The case involved allegations that in 2015 Gvaramia exchanged advertising for vehicles from Porsche Center Tbilisi. In 2019 Gvaramia was charged with abuse of power, misappropriation of property, and commercial bribery. The public defender stated that holding a company director civilly liable for the company’s decision should apply only in exceptional circumstances and that criminal liability should be even rarer. Gvaramia and a number of media advocacy groups disputed the charges, claiming they were politically motivated. In 2020 Gvaramia claimed that he was physically assaulted and his family surveilled.

The OSCE/ODIHR preliminary assessment of the first round of the October 2 local elections stated, “The deterioration of the media environment as seen by recent cases of intimidation and threats against journalists and the law of swift and thorough investigation of these cases raised concerns about the ability of media to function in a safe and secure environment.” In its preliminary assessment of the second round of the local elections, the mission reported that the regional public broadcaster Adjara TV provided mostly neutral coverage of the campaign. In contrast, while the country’s public broadcaster allotted equal airtime to the ruling party and the largest opposition party, the tone in covering the ruling party “became more positive closer to election day.”

On September 30, two days before the municipal elections, the Ministry of Defense filed a lawsuit with Tbilisi City Court against Davit Kezerashvili, former Saakashvili administration defense minister, who was the majority owner of the government-critical Formula TV. The lawsuit requested more than five million euros ($5.8 million) in compensation for damage Kezerashvili allegedly caused during his tenure at the ministry. The first court session was scheduled for January 27, 2022. Opposition groups described the case as politically motivated.

Avtandil Tsereteli, the father of TV Pirveli’s founder, was also charged in 2019 for his alleged involvement in a money laundering case along with the founder of TBC Bank and his deputy, who were both current leaders of the opposition party Lelo. A verdict was pending.

The law provides that media outlets are obligated to disclose information concerning their owners to the GNCC.

Violence and Harassment: According to Transparency International/Georgia, as of the end of September, 93 cases of violence had been recorded against media representatives since October 2020, along with 55 instances of covert wiretaps of journalists. The NGO Reporters Without Borders described the illegal surveillance of journalists (see section 1.f.) as “very disturbing” and called on authorities for an investigation. Journalists of Radio Tavisupleba (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) and Formula, among others, confirmed that the wiretapping files reflected their respective conversations.

During the year there were also reports of harassment by security services. In March the opposition channel Pirveli released purported secret recordings of Bera Ivanishvili, son of the ruling party’s benefactor (former prime minister and then party head, Bidzina Ivanishvili), allegedly asking Irakli Garibashvili (then minister of internal affairs, later defense minister, and during the year, prime minister) to punish his social media critics (he was 15 years old at the time). Some of the recordings discussed alleged calls made by security service personnel to intimidate social media users.

After the release, the Prosecutor General’s Office received a court order to “raid” TV Pirveli’s office to find the source of the “illegal” recordings. Civil society and the international community denounced the secret recordings and intimidation of journalists for the purposes of revealing their sources. Four months later government forensics officials claimed the recordings were pieced together and not authentic.

During the year there were a significant number of attacks on journalists by far-right groups and politically motivated actors. Civil society observers believed that the government did not adequately investigate and prosecute such violence. In addition to assaults of July 5-6 (see section 2.b., Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association), there were numerous attacks on members of the media, notably on February 25 when Formula TV host Vakho Sanaia was physically attacked for being a journalist. On August 25, the three attackers were found guilty after having served six months of pretrial confinement, sentenced to 150 hours of community service, and fined. The perceived leniency of the sentence generated outrage by media rights defenders and vindication in more far-right circles on social media, where there were comments posted that Sanaia “had it coming.” Formula TV experienced another attack in April, when two employees (identified by station markers on their cars) were targeted, with one employee suffering a beating and both the cars involved badly damaged. No suspects were prosecuted. Other examples included Emma Gogokhia, a Mtavari Arkhi journalist, who reportedly was threatened with death by the mayor of Mestia on March 6.

On May 17, the television company GPB Channel 1 reported that protesters in Dmanisi physically assaulted a GPB camera crew, a journalist, a cameraman, and a photojournalist who were covering events. Representatives of other media outlets also were injured and their work disrupted.

The Coalition for Media Advocacy identified 20 cases of interference with the professional activities of journalists from outlets that were critical of the government during the October 30 municipal runoff elections in Tbilisi and the regions. The majority of the cases reportedly involved interference by ruling-party supporters. The coalition issued a statement that asserted that “law enforcement officials have failed to ensure media representatives’ physical safety and effective elimination of obstructive circumstances.”

On February 18, Russian citizen Magomed Gutsiev was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison by the Tbilisi City Court for a plot to kill Giorgi Gabunia, a Mtavari Arkhi journalist who in 2019 insulted Russian President Putin on a live program. Gutsiev appealed the conviction on March 17. On October 21, the Tbilisi Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the trial court.

On July 11, Lekso Lashkarava, a cameraman of TV Pirveli, was found dead in his home. During the July 5 attacks (see section 2.b.), he had been severely beaten. The statements by law enforcement agencies soon after his death appeared aimed at discrediting the journalist instead of determining the cause of death.

Following Lashkarava’s death, more than 70 media organizations issued a joint statement on July 11 that “cases of violation of the rights of media representatives” in the country had “reached a critical level.” The statement criticized authorities for failing to ensure the safety of journalists, insufficiently investigating violence against journalists, including the July 5 violence in which 53 members of the media were injured (see section 2.b.), and statements by ruling party officials that the statement said further encouraged such violence. On September 30, Transparency International/Georgia stated in part that physical security for journalists in the country had become “extremely dangerous” and that critical media representatives faced particular risk that was exacerbated by “aggressive rhetoric” from government officials and inadequate investigations of violent incidents.

Some watchdog groups such as Transparency International/Georgia expressed concern that law enforcement bodies summoned journalists for questioning and asked them to identify their sources. The law allows journalists to maintain the anonymity of their sources and not to be compelled to testify as a witness.

Nongovernmental Impact: Media observers, NGO representatives, and opposition politicians alleged Georgian Dream party chair and former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili continued to exert a powerful influence over the government and judiciary, including in government actions against the owner of TV Pirveli and the general director of Mtavari Arkhi, whose court cases remained open as of November.

On April 6, far-right group Georgian March had a number of Facebook pages removed for what Facebook called “inauthentic behavior.” After the July 5 violence against journalists and others (see section 2.b.), the Facebook page for the far-right media outlet Alt-Info was taken down in connection with the July 5 events. According the Mythdetectors.ge, “Programs of Alt-Info are being shared by the Facebook page Alter-platform.” On December 7, Alt-Info’s leaders registered the political party Conservative Movement of Georgia with the National Agency of Public Registry. As of year’s end, more than 30 individuals were in pretrial detention on charges of abusing journalists, although none were identified as organizers.

While there was a relatively greater diversity of media in Abkhazia than in South Ossetia, media in both Russian-occupied regions remained restricted by Russian and de facto authorities.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but concerns remained regarding unauthorized surveillance. Insufficient information was available regarding general internet freedom in Russian-occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

On November 12, opposition-leaning Formula TV published a story alleging leaked documents from the State Security Service showing it was evaluating school principals for their loyalty to the ruling Georgian Dream party. The report alleged that principals who otherwise had received good evaluations were removed or demoted solely based on a negative evaluation by the State Security Service.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; government respect for these rights was uneven.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law generally provide for freedom of assembly. Human rights organizations expressed concern, however, regarding provisions in the law, including the requirement that political parties and other organizations give five days’ notice to local authorities to assemble in a public area, thereby precluding spontaneous demonstrations. The Public Defender’s Office and NGOs reported that police sometimes restricted, ineffectively managed, or failed to protect freedom of assembly.

To combat the COVID-19 pandemic, on June 23, parliament extended for the third time amendments to the law giving the government power to restrict movement and gatherings and to implement other measures without a state of emergency to prevent the spread of COVID-19 until January 1, 2022.

While a number of protests took place during the year, there were reports that police at times restricted or failed to protect individuals’ right to freedom of assembly. For example, on July 5, police failed to take appropriate action to protect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly for individuals who had planned to participate in a Pride event. Approximately 3,000 far-right demonstrators violently rioted through Tbilisi, destroying an opposition protest site at parliament, attacking NGO offices, and assaulting more than 50 journalists and others following statements from Prime Minister Garibashvili that called the planned Tbilisi Pride event, March for Dignity, inappropriate and described it as a plot by “Saakashvili and the radical opposition” aimed at sparking tension and destabilization in the country. The prime minister alleged that 95 percent of the population opposed the event as a justification for blaming Tbilisi Pride for the violence.

The Georgian Democracy Initiative reported that far-right counterdemonstrators were organized by Guram Palavandishvili, a member of the pro-Russian and nationalist group Georgian Idea and the head of the Society for the Protection of Children’s Rights; Levan Vasadze, a businessman and the founder of the Unity, Essence, Hope political party; and Konstantin Morgoshia’s online outlet Alt-Info. Protesters included a number of Georgian Orthodox priests, some of whom posted videos on social media that appeared to call for and endorse the violence.

Reports and videos showed that police failed to arrest far-right actors as they assaulted police, journalists, and others seen to be associated with the pride march or Western values. The group attempted to storm parliament but was unable to do so and tore down the EU flag flying in front of parliament. One Polish tourist was stabbed, allegedly for appearing to be associated with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community. LGBTQI+ activists described feeling hunted as the locations where they sought refuge were discovered by far-right groups. Activists expressed concern that they were found due to government assistance. Throughout the day the Ministry of Internal Affairs failed to deploy riot control measures. Weeks in advance, ministry officials pressured organizers to cancel the March for Dignity, stating they could not protect the right to assembly because they expected between 20,000 and 50,000 counterdemonstrators.

The violence by far-right groups, comments by the government, and the inaction of security forces was widely condemned by NGOs, the Public Defender’s Office (the ombudsperson), and the international community.

On July 6, a spontaneous protest against the July 5 violence occurred outside of parliament. Far-right groups mobilized approximately 500 counterprotesters, seemingly led by Guram Palavandishvili, who threw rocks, bottles, and fireworks at peaceful protesters and police. Once again police did not deploy sufficient riot control equipment and personnel. As the peaceful protesters were dispersing, far-right groups broke past police and chased peaceful protesters and again took down the EU flag and burned it.

A total of 31 individuals were charged in six separate criminal indictments as of year’s end. The majority of those indicted, 27, were charged with participation in acts of group violence, prevention of journalistic duties, and unlawful entry and threats of violence. Three individuals were charged with raiding the Tbilisi Pride office, including participating in the use of violence and threats of violence as well as for violating private and public property as a group, while one person was charged with battering a civilian. The cases were in various stages of trial with two defendants pleading not guilty and one defendant pleading partially guilty, claiming he hit someone because he was provoked. All three defendants were released from pretrial detention. Authorities did not, however, make any formal arrests of individuals responsible for organizing the violence.

There were reports police continued to employ the administrative offenses code to restrict freedom of assembly. On April 13, police arrested six persons under the code during a protest against the planned Namakhvani Power Plant. This followed an April 12 statement by 13 Georgian civil society organizations that expressed solidarity with protesters against the project and stated “guaranteed rights to assembly and manifestation (were) gravely violated by the state.” Transparency International and the Open Society Foundation issued similar statements critical of government efforts to restrict the freedom of assembly of the Namakhvani protestors.

During the year the Tbilisi City Court continued to try three cases connected with the June 2019 events. The cases involved charges against one Internal Affairs Ministry Special Tasks Department officer for intentionally targeting nonviolent protesters and two criminal police officers for abuse of power; one officer was accused of beating a protester while arresting him, the other of beating a protester under arrest. The three defendants were charged with exceeding authority by using violence or weapons, a crime punishable by five to eight years’ imprisonment and deprivation of the right to hold public office for up to three years. All three defendants were released under the amnesty law passed on September 7.

Freedom of Association

There were reports that some government representatives and supporters of the ruling party pressured political opposition figures and supporters (see sections 1.d. and 1.e.).

Germany

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. While the government generally respected these rights, it imposed limits on groups it deemed extremist. The government arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned several individuals for speech that incited racial hatred, endorsed Nazism, or denied the Holocaust (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism). An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression: On April 1, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier signed into law the Act on Combating Right-Wing Extremism and Hate Crimes. The act requires social networks not only to assess and potentially restrict illegal content, but also to report online hate crimes, including anti-Semitic hate speech, to the Federal Criminal Police. Online threats will now be treated the same as in-person threats, and threats of violence other than murder, such as of rape or vandalism, both online and in person, will also be treated the same as murder threats under the law.

On July 6, a federal law took effect that enables authorities to restrict the tattoos, clothing, jewelry, hair, or beard styles of civil servants if this is necessary to ensure the functionality of the public administration or fulfill the obligation for respectful and trustworthy conduct. The law specifies that if these are of a religious nature, they can only be restricted if they are “objectively suited to adversely affect trust in a civil servant’s neutral performance of their official duties.” Religious organizations expressed concern, however, that the law could serve as justification to restrict the wearing of religious head and face coverings or other religious symbols and attire by civil servants.

Some states did not permit full-face coverings in public schools.

In August 2020 the Federal Labor Court rejected an appeal by the federal state of Berlin against a regional labor court’s 2018 judgment that a general ban on teachers wearing religious symbols in schools was discriminatory. Berlin appealed the case to the Federal Constitutional Court in June.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred.

Violence and Harassment: In June, 3,000 persons demonstrated in Duesseldorf against the new law on public assembly proposed by the NRW state government. Police allegedly assaulted a media representative and surrounded and detained 38 minors during the 10-hour event. During his testimony before the state parliament on the incident, NRW interior minister Herbert Reul regretted police action against the journalist and said it had been a mistake. NRW minister president Armin Laschet later met with the journalist and stated freedom of the press would always be guaranteed. Authorities filed 39 charges were against protesters, including nine counts of bodily harm and six of disturbing the peace.

On September 10, Munich police arrested photojournalist Michael Trammer of the newspaper taz for criminal trespass while he was covering a demonstration by environmentalists against an auto show. Trammer was arrested when police stormed the building and detained him in the process of arresting demonstrators even though he claimed he clearly identified himself as a member of the press. Police released Trammer later that day but ordered him not to enter the auto show’s facilities and declared he could be detained again if authorities suspected he might violate the law. Trammer’s newspaper contacted police, and they dropped the two orders, although Trammer still faced the trespass charge.

On April 3, regional broadcaster SWR was forced to abort a live report from a demonstration by the group Querdenker 711 in Stuttgart when demonstrators threw “hard objects” at the camera team. Police could not identify the perpetrators. The German Union of Journalists criticized police for not protecting the journalists. Journalists were also attacked at a March 23 Querdenker 711 demonstration in Kassel.

On April 26, a camera team in the government district of Berlin was harassed by five persons, disrupting a live broadcast on COVID-19 immunization policies. Police arrested four suspects on charges of attempted coercion. A federal government spokesperson condemned the attack and said journalists must be able to practice their profession without fear or interference.

Nongovernmental Impact: On July 7, four individuals assaulted Turkish journalist Erk Acacer, a columnist for the Turkish daily BirGun, outside his residence in Berlin. Acacer told Deutsche Welle television he believed the attack was related to a Turkish businessman, whom Acacer alleged was involved in prostitution, drugs, and corruption. Acacer said he received new threats in late July; police were investigating the incidents.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, with one exception, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The exception is that the law permits the government to take down websites that belong to banned organizations or include speech that incites racial hatred, endorses Nazism, or denies the Holocaust. Authorities worked directly with internet service providers and online media companies to monitor and remove such content. Authorities monitored websites, social media accounts, messenger services, and streaming platforms associated with right-wing extremists. According to the state-level project Prosecute Rather Than Delete in NRW, 241 cases of inciting hate on the internet were reported to NRW authorities in 2020.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events supporting extreme right-wing neo-Nazism.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

While the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, the government restricted these freedoms in some instances.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Groups seeking to hold open-air public rallies and marches must notify authorities 48 hours before announcing them publicly. State and local officials may ban or disperse open-air rallies or marches when public safety concerns arise or when the applicant is from a prohibited organization, mainly right-wing extremist groups. Authorities allowed nonprohibited right-wing extremist or neo-Nazi groups to hold public rallies or marches when they did so in accordance with the law.

To limit the COVID-19 outbreak, state governments required demonstrators to observe social distancing rules to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Police in Berlin and other cities broke up several demonstrations throughout the year when they deemed protesters violated these rules.

It is illegal to block officially registered demonstrations. Many anti-Nazi activists refused to accept such restrictions and attempted to block neo-Nazi demonstrations or to hold counterdemonstrations, sometimes resulting in clashes between police and anti-Nazi demonstrators. For example, on August 7, police and counterdemonstrators clashed in Weimar during a right-wing demonstration. Police arrested several counterdemonstrators.

Police detained known or suspected activists when they believed such individuals intended to participate in illegal or unauthorized demonstrations. The length of detention varied from state to state.

Media reports and videos showed what protesters said was excessive use of force by police at demonstrations August 1 and 29 in Berlin. As of September the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation was investigating one police officer for using excessive force against a protester at the August 29 demonstration (see also section 2.a., Violence and Harassment – June 3 demonstration in Duesseldorf).

Freedom of Association

The government restricted freedom of association in some instances. The law permits authorities to prohibit organizations whose activities the Constitutional Court or federal or state governments determine to be opposed to the constitutional democratic order or otherwise illegal. While only the Federal Constitutional Court may prohibit political parties on these grounds, both federal and state governments may prohibit or restrict other organizations, including groups that authorities classify as extremist or criminal in nature. Organizations have the right to appeal such prohibitions or restrictions.

The federal and state OPCs monitored several hundred organizations. Monitoring consisted of collecting information from public sources, written materials, and firsthand accounts, but it also included intrusive methods, such as the use of undercover agents who were subject to legal oversight. The federal and state OPCs published lists of monitored organizations, including left- and right-wing political parties. The OPC at the federal as well as the state level also monitored the Islamic Center Hamburg, which the Hamburg OPC stated was a major Iranian regime asset in Europe. Although the law stipulates surveillance must not interfere with an organization’s legitimate activities, representatives of some monitored groups, such as Scientologists, complained that the publication of the organizations’ names contributed to prejudice against them.

The FOPC monitored approximately 20,000 so-called Reichsbuerger (citizens of the empire) and Selbstverwalter (sovereign citizens). These individuals denied the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany and rejected government authority. The FOPC considered the groups to represent a potential threat due to their affinity for weapons and their contempt for national authorities. From 2016 through the end of 2020, 880 members of these groups had their firearms licenses revoked, while 530 members were still known holders of firearms licenses. In 2020 members of Reichsbuerger and Selbstverwalter groups committed 599 extremist politically motivated crimes; authorities categorized 125 of them as violent.  The Ministry of the Interior banned one Reichsbuerger group in 2020 and conducted raids against others during the year.

Kyrgyzstan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. Self-censorship was prevalent, and pressure reportedly existed from editors and political figures to bias reporting. Media organizations reported that online harassment and hate speech directed towards independent media outlets significantly increased over the past year.

Freedom of Expression: Multiple civil society groups noted an increase in the application of provisions of law on the “incitement of interethnic, racial, religious, and interregional hatred,” “public calls for violent seizure of power,” and “attempted mass riots.” Observers stated in some cases authorities broadly interpreted these provisions to sanction speech, which tended to affect ethnic minorities and human rights defenders. Civil society organizations called the process to confirm such violations of law as arbitrary, politicized, and unprofessional.

On August 6, the State Committee for National Security summoned the editor-in-chief of Asia News, Aslanbek Sartbaev, for questioning in connection to charges of inciting interregional hatred. Human rights activists claimed that charges stemmed from Sartbaev’s social media posts criticizing the government. On August 7, the government initiated pretrial court proceedings against Sartbaev.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Some journalists reported intimidation related to coverage of sensitive topics, such as interethnic relations, “religious extremism,” or the rise of nationalism.

Security services and oligarchs attempted to prevent independent media from operating freely in the country. The government continued its tight controls over news content on state television.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported harassment by police and pressure by local and national authorities to avoid reporting on sensitive issues, including ethnic conflicts, corruption, and political figures. Media members also reported that nonstate actors, particularly politically connected and wealthy individuals, harassed them for reporting on those individuals’ alleged corruption and other kinds of wrongdoing. Journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship to avoid reprisals for their reporting.

On March 11, authorities summoned TV reporter Kanat Kanimetov to the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) headquarters and interrogated him about his connection with a criminal case involving a former presidential candidate, on which he had previously reported. Although he was not charged with any crimes, Kanimetov reported police questioned his family and their neighbors and threatened to search his childhood home.

On May 12, Kanimetov was interrogated by the police for a Facebook post in which he called President Japarov a “convict” and GKNB Chairman Kamchybek Tashiev “crazy.” Kanimetov was charged with “petty hooliganism” for the post, but the case was terminated in August after Kanimetov filed a procedural complaint with the court against the police investor who interrogated him.

In March investigative journalist Ali Toktakunov, who had previously authored a report on a multimillion-dollar corruption scheme involving former deputy customs head Raimbek Matraimov, reported on Facebook that he was being followed by unknown persons in a vehicle.

On October 11, an investigative journalist working for Toktakunov’s MediaHub reported she was followed, questioned about Toktakunov, and threatened by a man who introduced himself as an officer with the GKNB.

In August investigative journalist Ulukbek Karybek uulu was abducted by three unidentified individuals in Issyk-Kul oblast, subjected to psychological pressure, and threatened with a knife after he expressed outrage at an attempt by representatives of Cabinet of Ministers head Ulukbek Maripov’s advance team to coach audience members before a public meeting with Maripov.

In February a large rally was held in Osh in support of Matraimov, demanding he be released from detention, and that the local branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Azattyk, be closed. Members of Matraimov’s family, supporters, and several politicians attended the rally. Police aided a film crew from the independent outlet Kloop as they were leaving the rally following a provocation against the journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship to avoid reprisals for their reporting. Journalists and NGO leaders alleged some news outlets instructed their reporters not to report critically on certain politicians or government officials. The sources also reported some news outlets received requests from government offices to report in a particular way or to ignore specific news stories.

NGO leaders and media sources reported state-owned broadcasters remained under pressure to transmit stories promoting government policies and initiatives and develop narratives critical of NGOs, opposition figures, and civil society activists.

Libel/Slander Laws: While slander and libel are not criminal offenses, civil lawsuits can result in defendants paying compensation for moral harm, which the law does not limit in size. Observers stated courts arbitrarily ruled on the amount of compensation and that failure to pay compensation could serve as a basis for criminal prosecution.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for this right, although it limited peaceful assembly in some instances. Organizers and participants are responsible for notifying authorities of planned assemblies, but the constitution prohibits authorities from banning or restricting peaceful assemblies, even in the absence of prior notification. Local authorities, however, have the right to demand an end to a public action and, in the event of noncompliance, are empowered to take measures, including arrests, to end assemblies.

On April 15, in response to the bride kidnapping and murder of Aizada Kanatbekova (see section 6, Women), members of civil society demonstrated in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, calling for an end to violence against women and the resignation of Minister of Internal Affairs Ulan Niyazbekov. After an argument between Ministry of Internal Affairs leadership and the protesters, counter protesters arrived, decrying the protesters as agents of the West and LGBTQI+ activists. The counter protesters shouted anti-NGO slogans and eventually attacked the protesters, threatening several of them, including high-profile human rights activist and opposition politician Rita Karasartova. The police did little to intervene and did not arrest any of the assailants.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the government reportedly used public health concerns as a pretext for preventing peaceful protests. The Pervomaisky District Court of Bishkek placed a blanket prohibition on all marches and rallies through April 22, citing health concerns.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association, although the government increased harassment of NGOs, which are required to have at least three members and all other organizations at least 10 members. The law prohibits foreign-funded political parties and NGOs, including their representative offices and branches, from pursuing political goals. A law signed in June requires all NGOs to submit annual reports on financial and programmatic activities, the requirements of which several civil society organizations described as onerous and restrictive. Civil society contacts have also relayed concerns that the law may be used to selectively target organizations that the administration may view as a threat, such as organizations that focus on citizen advocacy, transparency and anticorruption efforts, and the rule of law.

As in previous years, NGOs reported harassment from government security agencies, including unannounced visits to NGO offices, publication of personnel details, and threats. Additionally, ultranationalist groups repeatedly threatened NGOs.

The government continued to maintain bans on 21 “religiously oriented” groups it considered to be extremist, including al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, the Kurdish People’s Congress, the Organization for the Liberation of Eastern Turkistan, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Union of Islamic Jihad, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Unification (Mun San Men) Church, Takfir Jihadist, Jaysh al-Mahdi, Jund al-Khilafah, Ansarullah At-Takfir Val Hidjra, Akromiya, ISIS, Djabhat An Nusra, Katibat al-Imam al-Buhari, Jannat Oshiqlari, Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, and Yakyn Incar. Authorities also continued the ban on all materials or activities connected to A. A. Tihomirov, also known as Said Buryatsky.

Numerous human rights activists reported continued arrests and prosecution of persons accused of possessing and distributing Hizb ut-Tahrir literature (see section 1.d.). Most arrests of alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members occurred in the southern part of the country and involved ethnic Uzbeks.

Maldives

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, except on religious matters, and the government generally respected this right. Civil society sources continued to report, however, that the government failed to act against online death threats and attacks against those perceived to be critical of Islam, leading to journalists and NGOs practicing self-censorship on matters related to Islam.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Criticism of the government and debates on societal problems were commonplace, but media did not question Islamic values or the government’s policies on religion. The Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Community Empowerment regulations prohibit publishing literary material without first seeking authorization from the National Bureau of Classification. The regulations define publication of literary material as “any writing, photograph, or drawing that has been made publicly accessible electronically or by way of printing, including publicizing or circulating on the internet.”

The constitution prohibits utterances contrary to tenets of Islam or the government’s religious policies.

Violence and Harassment: In August the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) published a threat perception survey of journalists in which 54 percent of journalists reported receiving multiple death threats or threats of violence. The MJA reported receiving multiple complaints of police brutality against journalists covering a May protest regarding workplace harassment, including obstruction, use of obscene language, and beatings. The MPS launched an internal investigation into the matter and suspended officers who were actively involved in the operation. It had yet to announce findings or any further action against the officers as of September.

The MJA reported an increase in anonymous social media accounts believed to be linked to government officials or extremist groups that harassed journalists. Due to their suspicions of direct or indirect official involvement and fear of retribution by perpetrators, journalists rarely filed complaints of online harassment with authorities.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Parliament Privileges Act allows authorities to force journalists to reveal their sources, but authorities did not routinely utilize this provision. NGO and journalist sources stated media practiced self-censorship on matters related to Islam due to fears of harassment from being labeled “anti-Islamic.” In May the MJA expressed concern regarding the implications of a decision by the parliament’s National Security Committee to investigate online anonymous sources of information.

There were no known restrictions on domestic publications, nor were there prohibitions on the import of foreign publications or materials, except for those containing pornography or material otherwise deemed objectionable to Islamic values, such as Bibles and idols for worship. The restriction applies only to items for public distribution; tourists destined for resort islands were not prohibited from carrying Bibles and other religious items for their personal use.

Internet Freedom

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

The Communications Authority of Maldives (CAM) is the regulatory body mandated to enforce internet content restrictions on sites hosted within the country and to block domestic access to any websites. CAM maintained an unpublished blacklist of all offending websites. Although CAM did not proactively monitor internet content, it accepted requests from ministries and other government agencies to block websites that allegedly violated domestic laws on anti-Islamism, pornography, child abuse, sexual and domestic violence, and other prohibitions.

NGOs reported the government’s failure to act against online death threats and attacks against those perceived to be critical of Islam continued.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The law prohibits public statements contrary to the government’s policy on religion or the government’s interpretation of Islam. In response to the law, there were credible reports that academics practiced self-censorship. The government censored course content and curricula. Sunni Islam was the only religion taught in schools.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; however, the government limited these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for “freedom of peaceful assembly without prior permission of the State.” The law on peaceful assembly restricts protests outside designated areas in the capital city. Protesters must obtain prior written permission from the MPS and from the Ministry of Home Affairs to hold protests. Local civil society organizations continued to condemn the restrictions as unconstitutional. These provisions were seldom enforced by the government during the past three years.

Between April and September, the MPS cited legal provisions on peaceful assembly and COVID-19 pandemic mitigation measures that limited gatherings to no more than 10 persons, to disperse several protests organized by the political opposition.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government imposed some limits on this freedom. The government allowed only clubs and other private associations that did not contravene Islamic or civil law to register.

NGOs continued to report that, although sporadically enforced, a regulation that requires human rights and other NGOs to seek government approval before applying for domestic assistance above 25,000 rufiyaa ($1,630) or for any foreign assistance threatened their freedom of operation. The regulation also requires organizations to submit their membership registries to the government and authorizes the registrar of associations to enter organizations to obtain documents without a search warrant and to dissolve organizations.

The Political Parties Act restricts registration of political parties and eligibility for state funds to parties with 10,000 or more members. The act requires all political parties to submit fingerprints with each membership application. Civil society organizations continued to express concerns that the law and subsequent amendments restricted the constitutional right to form and participate in political parties.

Morocco

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution and law generally provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, although criticism of Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara is criminalized. Such criticism can result in prosecution under the penal code, with punishments ranging from fines to prison time. The press code, which provides for freedom of expression, applies only to journalists accredited by the department of communication, under the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports, and only for speech or publications in the line of work; private speech by accredited journalists remains punishable under the penal code.

According to the Freedom House 2021 Freedom in the World report, the press enjoyed a significant degree of freedom when reporting on economic and social policies, but authorities used an array of financial and legal mechanisms to punish critical journalists. NGOs reported that despite press codes intended to prevent the unlawful imprisonment of individuals exercising their freedom of expression, authorities utilized penal codes to punish commentators, activists, and journalists criticizing the government.

Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes criticism of Islam, of the legitimacy of the monarchy, of state institutions, of officials such as those in the military, and of the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. The government sometimes prosecuted persons who expressed criticism on these topics. Amnesty International and HRW highlighted dozens of cases in which freedom of expression was restricted. During the year there were instances where individuals publicly critical of the monarch, local authorities, and Islam were harassed by government authorities. According to the government, 359 individuals were specifically charged for criminal speech, including defamation, slander, and insult (see Libel/Slander Laws and National Security).

In response to the COVID pandemic, parliament passed a law in 2020 declaring a health emergency and setting a penalty of a three-month prison sentence for anyone disobeying “orders and decisions taken by public authorities” and for anyone “obstructing” through “writings, publications or photos” those decisions.

In December 2020 national security institutions in charge of internal security such as external security (DGED) and the DGSN filed an official complaint with the Prosecutor General of the Rabat Court of First Instance against six Moroccans residing abroad for “insults and defamation of public officials and security bodies and denunciation of fictional crimes, ultimately undermining national security.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media, as well as partisan media, were active and expressed a variety of views within the restrictions of the law. The press code limits punishments for accredited journalists to fines.

According to an October 1 report submitted by UN secretary-general pursuant to the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) mandate, OHCHR remained concerned by reports of undue restrictions imposed by the government on the rights to freedom of expression and excessive surveillance of human rights defenders and journalists in Western Sahara. The report added that OHCHR continued to receive reports of harassment and arbitrary arrests of journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders covering human rights violations.

On April 8, prosecutors in Mohammedia arrested and charged two editors of online outlet Mohammedia Press for publishing “false information” in relation to a video the editors posted that the government claimed contributed to the spread of anti-COVID-19 vaccine information. Five other persons were arrested for sharing the same information via their Facebook accounts. A court later acquitted the editors and ordered their release.

On July 8, YouTube commentator Mustapha Semlali, was sentenced to two years in prison for “undermining the monarchy” after he allegedly defamed Prince Moulay Rachid, the king’s brother.

Journalists continued to denounce the cumbersome administrative procedures and the long wait times to receive accreditation under the press code. Some members of the press claimed that journalists from outlets close to the government and palace received their credentials sooner than journalists from independent outlets. They claimed journalists waiting for their credentials had to operate without a press card in an ambiguous legal status, as the protections of the press code are only available to accredited journalists.

The government also enforced strict procedures governing journalists’ meetings with NGO representatives and political activists. Foreign journalists needed, but did not always receive, approval from the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports before meeting with political activists.

The trial for seven members of the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism, including Hicham Mansouri, Maati Monjib, and Hisham Almiraat, was repeatedly postponed through the year since 2015. According to the Ministry of Justice, Mansouri, Monjib, and Almiraat were suspected of accepting foreign funds intended for acts threatening the internal security and territorial integrity of the country. The seven individuals were charged with posing a threat to the internal security of the country, fraud, managing an association exercising unauthorized acts, and accepting unauthorized foreign funds. On January 27, a court sentenced Monjib to one year in prison and a fine for charges of fraud and endangering national security in a separate case dating back to 2015 after authorities arrested him in December 2020. On March 23, authorities released Monjib after he carried out a hunger strike. He has an appeal hearing date on February 24. On October 13, Monjib attempted to leave the country for medical treatment but was denied boarding. The prosecutor of the Rabat Court of First Instance stated that the terms of Monjib’s provisional release do not allow him to leave the country.

Violence and Harassment:Authorities subjected some journalists to harassment and intimidation, including attempts to discredit them through harmful rumors about their personal lives. Journalists reported that selective prosecutions served as a mechanism for intimidation.

According to media reports, authorities rejected one international journalist’s accreditation request during the year because he lacked a valid permit for journalism.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Self-censorship and government restrictions on sensitive topics remained serious hurdles to the development of a free, independent, and investigative press. Publications and broadcast media require government accreditation, and the government may deny and revoke accreditation as well as suspend or confiscate publications that breach public order or criticize Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the government’s positions on territorial integrity. While the government rarely censored the domestic press, it exerted pressure through written and verbal warnings and by pursuing legal cases that resulted in heavy fines and suspended publication. Such cases encouraged editors and journalists to self-censor and host opposition news sites on servers outside the country to avoid being shut down by the authorities. According to Freedom House, personal attacks and derogatory comments received by activists and opinion makers online, often in response to their criticism of government policies, also contributed to self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: The press code includes provisions that permit the government to impose financial penalties on accredited journalists and publishers who violate restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults. A court may impose a prison sentence if an accredited journalist is unable or unwilling to pay the fine.

Individuals not registered as journalists may be charged with defamation, libel, and slander under the criminal code, as may accredited journalists for their private actions.

After reports from several NGOs in July accusing the government of using Pegasus spyware developed by the Israeli company NSO Group to monitor dissidents, human rights activists, and other high-profile individuals, the government reportedly sued several NGOs and media outlets for “defamation” and “spreading false information.” The government filed lawsuits against Amnesty International and the French media organization Forbidden Stories for defamation, and decision was pending at year’s end.

National Security: The antiterrorism law provides for the arrest of individuals, including journalists, and filtering websites deemed to “disrupt public order by intimidation, terror, or violence.” The law assigns legal liability to the author and anyone who in any way helps the author to disseminate information deemed as a justification for acts of terrorism, which would include site owners and internet service providers. While the law was designed to combat terrorism, authorities retain the discretion to define terms such as “national security” and “public order,” under the penal code for which the government can seek fines of up to 200,000 Moroccan dirhams ($21,000) for publishing content online seen as disruptive to public order, with the maximum fine of 500,000 Moroccan dirhams ($52,000) if the content offends the military. Online speech offenses related to the monarchy, Islam, and Western Sahara, as well as threats to national security can carry prison sentences of two to six years.

Internet Freedom

The government did not disrupt access to the internet, but it did apply laws governing and restricting public speech and the press on the internet. The press code stipulates that online journalism is equivalent to print journalism. Laws on combatting terrorism permit the government to filter websites. The government repeatedly reminded online journalists to obey the law. The government also prosecuted individuals for expressing certain ideological views online, particularly related to protests in the northern Rif region.

According to Freedom House, numerous accounts were created on Twitter and Facebook with the apparent purpose of harassing, intimidating, and threatening activists who criticize authorities. Activists believed these progovernment commentators were also equipped with direct or indirect access to surveillance tools, since they often obtained private information about other users. According to various NGOs, the government frequently hacked Sahrawi citizen journalists’ and bloggers’ social media accounts.

Many contributors working for online news outlets and many online news outlets themselves were unaccredited and therefore not covered under the press code for their publications. They remained subject to provisions of the antiterrorism law and the penal code that permit the government to jail and impose financial penalties on anyone who violates restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The law permits the government to criminalize presentations or debate questioning the legitimacy of Islam, the legitimacy of the monarchy, state institutions, and the status of Western Sahara. The law restricts cultural events and academic activities, although the government generally provided more latitude to political and religious activism confined to university campuses. The Ministry of Interior approves appointments of university rectors.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for the right of peaceful assembly. The government generally allowed authorized and unauthorized peaceful demonstrations to occur. Under the law groups of more than three persons require authorization from the Ministry of Interior to protest publicly. Several NGOs complained that the government used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. Security forces intervened on occasion to disband both authorized and unauthorized protests when officials deemed the demonstration a threat to public security. Amnesty International and Transparency International reported continued arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, particularly of individuals supporting independence for Western Sahara.

Several proindependence organizations and some human rights NGOs in Western Sahara stated that in recent years the submission of applications for permits to hold demonstrations declined because police rarely granted them. In most cases the organizers proceeded with planned demonstrations in the absence of authorization, and there was no discernible difference in security forces’ reaction to authorized or unauthorized protests. NGOs in Western Sahara were unwilling to gather in public spaces in areas of Laayoune. Violent confrontations between security forces and protesters were less common than in previous years, according to several local NGOs, although violent dispersals occurred on occasion. Security force practices were similar to those in internationally recognized Morocco; however, in Western Sahara there was often a higher ratio of members of security forces to protesters.

In March 2020 the government implemented a royal decree concerning the state of health emergency, making a violation of public authority confinement measures punishable with one to three months’ imprisonment, a small fine, or both; the decree also makes the use of social media or broadcast networks to spread misinformation regarding COVID-19 or incite criminal activity punishable with up to one year in prison. The UN high commissioner for human rights noted that security forces “used excessive force to make people abide by lockdowns and curfews.” Deputy Interior Minister Noureddine Boutayeb reported that between July 2020 and April 22, 1.5 million individuals were fined or arrested for being in violation of COVID-19 restrictions.

Some NGOs complained that authorities did not apply the approval process for holding a demonstration consistently and used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. HRW’s World Report 2021 highlighted interference with associations that expressed views critical of the monarch and events organized by the AMDH. Police allowed many protests demanding political reform and protesting government actions, but often forcibly dispersed peaceful protests, arrested protesters and protest leaders, or prevented demonstrations from occurring. According to the government, approximately 7,747 protests took place from January to July. While most protests proceeded peacefully, on several occasions violence erupted between protesters and police.

Security forces were generally present both in and out of uniform at protests, particularly if the protest was expected to address a sensitive issue. In general, officers were under orders to observe and not intervene, unless the demonstration became unruly, threatening to bystanders, or overflowed into public highways. In those cases, under standard operating procedures, officers were required to give the crowd three warnings that force would be used if they did not disperse. Security forces would then attempt to force protesters to leave the area, using riot shields to push standing protesters into a designated area or carrying seated protesters to the designated area.

Security force tactics did not differ significantly whether the protest was authorized or unauthorized, although the decision on whether to intervene sometimes depended on whether the protest was authorized. According to the government, if officers intervened in a protest, a police judiciary officer not involved in the intervention and under the supervision of the attorney general must produce a statement documenting the circumstances of the case, the number of victims, and the material damage due to the operation. The police judiciary officer must address the statement to the Attorney General’s Office with a copy to the governor of the territorial jurisdiction where the incident transpired. The government organized training on human rights-based methods to manage crowds throughout the year.

In February the CNDH released a report regarding security force actions to disperse the 2017 Hirak protests and largely upheld police action on the basis that the protests had gradually escalated towards violence. NGOs and the CNDH continued to monitor the Rif Hirak prisoners sentenced by the Casablanca Court of Appeal in 2019.

The Laayoune Commission monitored 21 demonstrations that were held despite restrictions on public gatherings implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The commission also investigated and monitored 10 cases of alleged human rights violations reported on social media. Security forces dispersed several demonstrations by force, with clashes resulting in injuries on both sides.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of association, although the government sometimes restricted this freedom. The government prohibited or failed to recognize some political opposition groups by deeming them unqualified for NGO status. While the government does not restrict the source of funding for NGOs operating in the country, NGOs that receive funding from foreign sources are required to report the amount and its origins to the government within 30 days from the date of receipt. The government denied official recognition to NGOs it considered to be advocating against Islam as the state religion or questioning the legitimacy of the monarchy or the country’s territorial integrity. Authorities obstructed the registration of a number of associations perceived to be critical of the authorities by refusing to accept their registration applications or to deliver receipts confirming the filing of applications (see section 5).

Amnesty International stated Sahrawi human rights activists remained subject to intimidation, questioning, arrest, and intense surveillance that occasionally amounted to harassment. Authorities routinely rejected the registration applications of Sahrawi human rights groups. NGOs in Western Sahara complained of surveillance, harassment, and intimidation from security forces.

The Ministry of Interior required NGOs to register before being recognized as legal entities, but there was no comprehensive national registry publicly available. A prospective organization must submit its objectives, bylaws, address, and photocopies of members’ identification cards to local officials of the ministry. The local officials of the ministry issue a receipt to the organization that signifies formal approval. Organizations without receipts are not formally registered. According to the law, however, any association not denied registration and which did not receive a receipt within 60 days of submitting the required documentation has the right to engage in activities. These same organizations reported extended delays in receiving correspondence from the ministry on the receipt issue.

Unregistered organizations could not access government funds or legally accept contributions. The organizations stated local officials’ refusal to issue receipts was a violation of article five of Law 75, which governs the right of association. One of the organizations, the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, reported the ministry has refused to issue it a registration receipt for the last six years.

The National Federation of Amazigh Associations, an organization supporting the inclusion of the Amazigh (Berber) population in public life, reported that, as of October, nine Amazigh organizations denied registration in 2017 continued to be denied registration during the year, including the federation itself (see section 6, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination).

The Justice and Charity Organization, a Sunni Islamist movement that rejects the king’s spiritual authority, remained banned but largely tolerated, although authorities continued to monitor its activities.

Romania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government partially respected this right. Independent media organizations noted excessive politicization of media, corrupt financing mechanisms, as well as editorial policies subordinated to political parties and owners’ interests. Reporters and civil society representatives said their freedom of expression was also limited by restricted access to information of public interest issued by the government and public institutions, including expenses, contracts, or bids involving public funds, and officials’ academic records, and pandemic records. Reporters and NGOs often had to sue state-controlled ministries, agencies, or local entities to access public information.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits Holocaust denial and promoting or using symbols representing fascist, racist, xenophobic ideologies, or symbols associated with the interwar nationalist, extremist, fascist, and anti-Semitic Legionnaire movement. On February 4, a Bucharest court found former intelligence officer Vasile Zarnescu guilty of Holocaust denial and sentenced him to a deferred prison sentence of 13 months and two years’ probation. The defendant wrote articles that described the Holocaust as a “fraud.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without overt restriction, politicians, or those with close ties to politicians and political groups, either owned or indirectly controlled numerous media outlets. The news and editorial stance of these outlets frequently reflected their owners’ views and targeted criticism at political opponents and other media organizations.

Violence and Harassment: Some reporters throughout the country continued to be harassed, sued, or threatened by authorities they investigated or by their proxies.

On December 11, Bucharest police detained Italian journalist Lucia Goracci and her crew working for Italian state television broadcaster RAI at the request of Senator Diana Sosoaca, who held them against their will in her office during a previously agreed interview regarding her antivaccination views. Goracci stated that the senator’s husband Dumitru Silvestru Sosoaca bit her hand and accused police of following the senator’s orders instead of protecting the journalist and her crew. The RAI team was released by police after the Italian embassy’s intervention. As of December several criminal investigations were ongoing in connection with this case.

On May 24, the Bucharest Court of Appeals sentenced former dean of the Police Academy, Adrian Iacob, and his deputy, Mihail Marcoci, to a three-year suspended prison sentence, 120 hours of community service, and 80,000 lei ($18,900) in victim’s compensation for inciting a police officer to blackmail and issue death threats against a reporter, Emilia Sercan. Sercan and the National Anticorruption Directorate appealed the sentence. In 2019 Sercan received death threats after an investigative journalism article she wrote in PressOne.ro alleged several cases of plagiarism of Police Academy doctoral dissertations, including the dean’s dissertation. Sercan’s investigation led to the Police Academy losing its right to award doctorate degrees.

On September 16, a group of 20 individuals armed with axes and sticks attacked and beat journalist and filmmaker Mihai Dragolea, director Radu Constantin Mocanu, and environmental activist Tiberiu Bosutar, who were documenting illegal logging in a Suceava County forest. Media outlets reported that two of the victims lost consciousness and their film equipment was destroyed by the attackers. Four of the 20 individuals were arrested and later released and placed under judicial monitoring by prosecutors. The case remained ongoing as of October.

State officials filed baseless civil and criminal cases against investigative journalists, impeding the operation of some media outlets.

For example, throughout the year the mayor of Bucharest Sector 4, Daniel Baluta, filed more than 30 civil court cases and administrative complaints against the Libertatea newspaper and demanded the paper stop mentioning his name in their reporting. From May 20-21, the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism interrogated senior editors and employees from Libertatea and Newsweek Romania in response to Baluta’s claims that the reporters had formed an organized crime group to blackmail him. Both outlets had published investigative journalism article regarding Baluta’s mishandling of public tenders and contracts. Local and international media freedom watchdogs, including Reporters Without Borders, called on authorities to investigate the directorate’s handling of the case and intimidating interrogation methods. In June the directorate dropped some of the charges against the reporters and sent the remaining cases to the National Anticorruption Directorate. The case remained pending as of November.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

On June 1, the ECHR ordered the country to pay 60,000 euros ($69,000) in compensation to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) rights NGO ACCEPT for failure of police and prosecutors to prevent and investigate the violent disruption of a 2013 cultural event. Despite police presence, approximately 45 far-right protesters entered a cinema, threatened viewers, and shouted homophobic slurs during an event that showcased a movie dedicated to LBGTQI+ history month. ACCEPT and five individuals took the case to the ECHR after prosecutors closed the case in 2014 and 2017 without indicting any of the perpetrators.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government occasionally restricted freedom of peaceful assembly.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, which the government has occasionally restricted. The law provides that unarmed citizens may assemble peacefully, but it also stipulates that meetings must not interfere with other economic or social activities and may not take place near such locations as hospitals, airports, or military installations. In most cases organizers of public assemblies must request permits in writing three days in advance from the mayor’s office of the locality where the gathering is to occur.

Between January and July, the government maintained anti-COVID-19 regulations that allowed public gatherings of a maximum of 100 persons. On June 22, a group of 65 NGOs sent a letter to the government complaining that religious, cultural, or sports gatherings were allowed a significantly higher number of participants than rallies and demonstrations and called the regulations discriminatory and unjustified. Regulations that entered into force in August allowed demonstrations or rallies with up to 500 participants in cities and villages with a COVID-19 incidence rate of less than two per 1,000 persons. Several NGOs and human rights activists, including Funky Citizens and the Center for Public Innovation, stated that the new regulations continued to be discriminatory and unjustified. On August 14, the gendarmerie imposed a fine on the organizer of the Bucharest Pride Parade for exceeding the 500-person threshold.

South Africa

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, a generally effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the press. Nevertheless, the law permits authorities to restrict reporting on security forces, prisons, and mental institutions.

Freedom of Expression: The decade-old case of journalist John Qwelane convicted of antigay hate speech for a 2008 editorial, “Call me names, but gay is not okay,” was finally settled in July when the Constitutional Court ruled that Qwelane’s article was tantamount to hate speech. This came after the Constitutional Court reviewed the lower courts’ decisions on the case and examined the constitutionality of the law defining hate speech.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The country’s media maintained self-regulation. The South African News Editors Forum (SANEF) encouraged accurate reporting and held outlets to account when they violated ethics norms. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) and SANEF highlighted the impact of financial pressure on newsrooms and the resulting high workload for staffs that continue to shrink. As a result, journalists and newsrooms were more susceptible to bribes, according to Kate Skinner, an independent media researcher. MMA Director William Bird also noted that smaller newsrooms spent less time fact checking stories with multiple sources, which might also impede press freedom.

Violence and Harassment: There were instances of journalists, in particular female journalists, who were subjected to violence, harassment, or intimidation by authorities or political party representatives due to their reporting.

In March, Johannesburg police shot at a News24 reporter when he started to report on police firing rubber bullets to disperse a group of individuals violating lockdown regulations. SANEF reportedly filed a formal complaint regarding the incident.

Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party threatened the late journalist and broadcaster Karima Brown with rape and flaying after the party’s leader Julius Malema published her mobile number on Twitter. Similar threats targeted Daily Maverick investigative reporter Pauli Van Wyk following her report on a scandal that linked the EFF to VBS Mutual Bank. EFF supporters also reportedly attacked journalists for the private broadcaster eNCA. In March they attacked journalist Sli Masikane as she covered a protest on student debt in Durban. On June 10, demonstrators in Cape Town threatened reporter Ayesha Ismail and cameraman Mario Pedro as they attempted to cover an antiracism protest.

The trial of EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu, who was accused of assaulting a Network24 photographer in 2018 on the parliamentary precinct, was postponed to February 2022.

During civil unrest in July in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, four radio stations, Alex FM, Mams Radio, West Side FM, and Intokozo FM, were vandalized by rioters. Other journalists covering the unrest reported assaults and theft of equipment, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In October, SANEF issued a statement condemning criminal attacks and robberies on journalists, especially those attempting to provide election coverage in the lead-up to the November 1 municipal elections. SANEF’s statement declared, “South Africa is becoming a very dangerous place for journalists and apart from attacks on the field, journalists also face cyberbullying and severe attacks on social media platforms.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government and political officials often criticized media for lack of professionalism and reacted sharply to media criticism. Some journalists believed the government’s sensitivity to criticism resulted in a higher degree of self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law makes defamation a criminal offense, but there were no prosecutions for defamation during the year. The law also prohibits blasphemy, although reports indicated the last known prosecution for blasphemy was in 1968.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law authorizes state monitoring of telecommunication systems, however, including the internet and email, for national security reasons. The law requires all service providers to register on secure databases the identities, physical addresses, and telephone numbers of customers.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Nevertheless, NGOs reported many municipalities continued to require protest organizers to provide advance written notice before staging gatherings or demonstrations.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

In prior years protest organizers could be legally required to notify local authorities before staging gatherings or demonstrations. In 2018 the Constitutional Court ruled unanimously against this requirement. Legal experts noted the ruling did not address the question of assuring security by local authorities during protests.

Despite the court ruling, NGOs reported many municipalities continued to require protest organizers to provide advance written notice, especially in small rural communities where organizers were often unaware of their rights.  The NGO Right2Protest reported the city of Johannesburg classified protests as “special events” like marathons and thus charged protest organizers fees to cover police security expenses.  The NGO contended this practice violated the law on public gatherings.

Police on occasion used excessive force in response to demonstrations (see section 1.a.). In March police fired rubber bullets at students protesting at Wits University in Johannesburg. One bystander at close range was hit and killed. The Independent Police Investigative Directorate was sent to the scene to investigate excessive use of force. Four police officers were being tried for the killing of the bystander, Mthokozisi Ntumba.

Sudan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The 2019 constitutional declaration provides for the unrestricted right of freedom of expression and for freedom of the press as regulated by law, and the CLTG reportedly respected these rights. Following the military takeover on October 25, however, security forces stormed media offices, physically assaulted journalists, and revoked credentials of media outlets covering prodemocracy protests.

Freedom of Expression: There were few reports of specific reprisals against individuals who criticized the government, with the primary exception of criticism of the security services. Following the military takeover, prodemocracy protesters faced excessive use of force in frequent protests; the security services claimed this was to protect sensitive government sites.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The CLTG generally respected press and media freedoms and issued media licenses, although media continued to be dominated by former regime loyalists. Following the military takeover, the government restricted press and media freedoms, especially with respect to the prodemocracy protests.

Violence and Harassment: On November 14, Qatar-based news network al-Jazeera reported that security forces raided the home of its Sudan bureau chief al-Musallami al-Kabbashi and detained him; he was released days later. During the December 30 protests, security forces stormed the offices of al-Arabia, al-Sharq, and al-Hadath television studios, assaulting journalists and staff to prevent coverage of the protests. Security forces seized mobile phones, destroyed equipment, and threw tear gas into the offices of al-Sharq.

Al-Hadath Khartoum bureau chief Lina Yaqoub was beaten by security forces while trying to protect staff members. Further, a European News Agency cameraman was brutally beaten while covering the demonstrations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were no reports of government censorship or print confiscations. Many journalists, however, practiced self-censorship in reporting on corruption (see section 4).

Libel/Slander Laws: The law holds editors in chief potentially criminally liable for libel or slander for all content published or broadcast. There were no reported prosecutions under this law during the year.

Internet Freedom

On October 25, internet and cell service across the country experienced significant disruption as a result of the military takeover. Full service was not restored for several weeks, and on December 19, authorities began ordering internet and cell service providers to shut off services hours before each planned demonstration reportedly to disrupt communication among protest organizers and reduce media coverage of the demonstrations. Internet and cell service was restored in the late evenings, after the protests concluded.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom. Following criticism, especially by Muslim clerics, in January the prime minister instructed the National Center for Curricula and Educational Research to stop drafting a new curriculum for public schools. The prime minister established a committee that was responsible for reviewing the previous committee’s efforts to create a curriculum that respects diversity and the freedom of religion of belief. As of September there were no changes to the curriculum.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The CLTG generally respected the right of peaceful assembly; however, it restricted the freedom of association of civil society and NGOs. Following October 25, at least one protester was killed at every announced protest.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the CLTG in most cases respected those rights. Peaceful protests were generally allowed to occur. For example, on June 3, June 30, and October 21, protesters conducted demonstrations. Demonstrations were largely peaceful; police generally used nonviolent measures to maintain order. On May 11, however, government officials reported that Osman Ahmed Badr al-Din and Muddather al-Mukhtar Elshafie were killed, and 37 others were wounded when military personnel fired live ammunition into a crowd of protesters in Khartoum (see section 1.a, Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings). Attorney General el-Hibir told local media that the Public Prosecution’s Office had opened cases against those who killed protesters. As of September the cases remained pending. Media outlets also reported that on September 1, security forces killed one protester and injured 17 others when they dispersed a protest in Central Darfur. Members of the CLTG issued statements condemning the use of excessive force, and the governor of Central Darfur opened an investigation into the incident.

After the October 25 takeover, political and civil society organizations organized frequent prodemocracy demonstrations across the country, condemning the military takeover and calling for a full civilian government. Initially, demonstrations were largely peaceful but grew more violent until security forces used live ammunition, tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, and stun grenades to disperse crowds. According to the Sudanese Doctors Central Committee, the security forces killed 52 protesters and injured hundreds during violent crackdowns from October 25 until year’s end.

In an effort to prevent protesters from peacefully gathering in sensitive locations including the Presidential Palace, security forces blocked bridges with shipping containers and closed roads with barbed wire.

Freedom of Association

Although the 2019 constitutional declaration provides for the right of freedom of association, the existing law still included many restrictions on civil society organizations and NGOs, and the country lacked a labor union law.

Under the CLTG, the Dismantling Committee continued to dissolve civil society organizations perceived to be associated with the former regime. In May the OHCHR reported that it dissolved 64 civil society organizations in North Darfur and seven in Khartoum.

Vietnam

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media; however, the government did not respect these rights, and several laws specifically encroach on freedom of expression. The government also continued to use broad national security and antidefamation provisions in the law to restrict freedom of expression. Such provisions establish crimes such as “sabotaging the infrastructure of socialism,” “sowing divisions between religious and nonreligious people,” and “propagandizing against the state” as serious offenses against national security. The law also expressly forbids “taking advantage of democratic freedoms and rights to violate the interests of the state or lawful rights and interests of organizations or individuals.”

Freedom of Expression: The government continued to restrict speech that criticized individual government leaders or the party, promoted political pluralism or multiparty democracy, or questioned policies on sensitive matters, such as human rights, religious freedom, or sovereignty disputes with China.

Representatives from state-run organizations and progovernment groups visited activists’ residences and attempted to propagandize or intimidate them into supporting government policies, according to social media and activists’ reports. Family members of activists also reported numerous incidents of physical harassment, intimidation, and questioning by Ministry of Public Security officials.

On April 23, a court in Phu Yen Province sentenced Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu to eight years in prison for spreading “antistate propaganda.” According to the indictment she posted 25 articles and nine videos on Facebook and YouTube starting in 2019 until April 2020 “with content opposing the State of the Communist Republic of Vietnam.” Dieu was a former reporter at the province’s official newspaper Phu Yen.

On September 2, Ho Chi Minh City police and the Department of Information and Communications fined Facebook user Nguyen Thi Thuy Duong five million dong ($220) for “sharing untruthful content” by criticizing the government’s handling of COVID-19. According to media reports, Duong posted a video on July 22 and claimed that Binh Trung Dong Ward did not provide sufficient food, aid, and care for individuals under lockdown.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The CPV, government, and party-controlled mass media organizations exercised legal authority over all print, broadcast, online, and electronic media, primarily through the Ministry of Information and Communications under the overall guidance of the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission. The law requires editors in chief to be CPV members; many outlets applied this to additional managers as well.

Many nongovernmental entities, however, produced and distributed publications by subcontracting, joint publishing, or buying permits from government or other public publishing entities. State-run media reported private entities produced more than 90 percent of all publications in the country, although outright private ownership or operation of any media outlet or publishing house was prohibited. Media independent of government authority operated on a limited basis online, primarily via blogs and social media, but independent journalists faced government harassment.

Authorities further consolidated government control over media outlets, including requiring them to be affiliated with a government body. In Ho Chi Minh City, the party committee assumed the role of the governing agency for two major newspapers, Nguoi Lao Dong (Laborers) and Phu Nu (Women), previously under the management of the Labor Federation and the Women’s Union respectively. Similarly the People’s Committee took over four popular city-based publications, Phap Luat (Law), Du Lich (Tourism), Giao Duc (Education) and Kinh Te Saigon (Saigon Economic Times), previously managed by the committee’s departments. The magazine Doanh Nhan Saigon (Saigon Entrepreneurs) was also transferred to the People’s Committee from the Ho Chi Minh City Business Association.

On June 24, Hanoi police arrested Mai Phan Loi and Bach Hung Duong, the chairman and director of the nongovernmental Media and Education Center; Dang Dinh Bach, director of the NGO Law and Policy of Sustainable Development; and at least two other persons, one of them an accountant and director at the Media and Education Center, for tax evasion. Loi produced and shared many critical programs and reports concerning a variety of topics, notably the environment, on social media.

On June 30, police arrested Dung Le Van (also known as Dung Vova), a freelance journalist who runs Chan Hung Nuoc Viet, a Facebook and YouTube-based outlet that covers politics, social topics, and corruption, according to news reports. Authorities issued a warrant for Dung’s arrest in late May for purportedly violating provisions of the penal code that bar “making, storing, distributing or spreading” news or information against the state.

In a closed trial on July 9, a Hanoi court sentenced independent journalist Pham Chi Thanh to six years and six months in jail for “creating, storing and disseminating information against the state.” Thanh was famous for criticizing and making fun of many high-ranking communist party and state officials on his Facebook page Ba Dam Xoe (Lady Liberty) and in other social media. The conviction reportedly was mostly for his book published in late 2019 criticizing Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.

On October 28, a court in Can Tho sentenced five members of anticorruption group Bao Sach (Clean Journalism) to more than 14 years’ imprisonment in total on charge of “abusing democratic freedoms.” The indictment accused Truong Chau Huu Danh, Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao, Nguyen Thanh Nha, Doan Kien Giang‎, and Le The Thang of publishing 47 articles on the Bao Sach Facebook page with “negative and biased information.” By law the government may fine journalists and newspapers for failing to cite their sources of information or for using “documents and materials from organizations and personal letters and materials from individuals.”

Online news site Dan Tri was fined for inaccurately reporting that a student had died of COVID-19 when the student was still being treated. Dan Tri was not the sole outlet to publish the information but was the only one fined because it was the first to publish the story. Journalists interpreted the sanctions as an attempt to discourage local media outlets from publishing stories critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic or even stories on the pandemic deemed too negative.

The law allows the government to punish publishers if they publish “untruthful information” in the fields of statistics; atomic energy; management of prices, charges, fees, and invoices; education; civil aviation; vocational training; hydrometeorology; cartography; and health.

The law limits satellite television access to senior officials, foreigners, luxury hotels, and the press, but persons throughout the country accessed foreign programming via home satellite equipment or cable.

The government permitted journalists employed by foreign-based media outlets to operate under significant restrictions. Foreign journalists required formal permission to travel outside Hanoi for reporting. The law also requires “live” foreign television programming to run on a 30- to 60-minute delay to enable content monitoring.

Viewers reported obstruction of coverage of various commentaries, documentaries, and movies on human rights incidents in the country, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Soviet era, or reports involving trade tensions. The information ministry may revoke the licenses of foreign publishers; foreign publishers must renew their licenses annually.

The government also sought to impede criticism by monitoring journalists’ meetings and communications.

Violence and Harassment: Independent journalists faced restrictions on freedom of movement, other forms of harassment, and physical attacks, if they reported on sensitive topics.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministries of Information and Communications, Public Security, National Defense and the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission frequently intervened directly with media to dictate or censor a story.

Propaganda officials forced editors of major media outlets to meet with them regularly to discuss what topics were off-limits for reporting. More often pervasive self-censorship, including among independent journalists and bloggers, due to the threat of dismissal and possible arrest, enabled the party and government to control media content. The government punished journalists for failing to self-censor, including by revoking journalists’ press credentials.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense, and the laws were enforced.

On March 31, a court in Lam Dong Province in the Central Highlands sentenced Vu Tien Chi to 10 years in prison. The court alleged Chi shared nearly 340 “antistate” articles and conducted 181 social media livestreams in which he “defamed senior communist leaders, including President Ho Chi Minh.” On the same day, a court in Khanh Hoa sentenced Nguyen Thi Cam Thuy to nine years, Ngo Thi Ha Phuong to seven years, and Le Viet Hoa to five years in prison. Thuy, a former schoolteacher fired for expressing “antistate” political opinions, was accused of burning the national flag and cutting up pictures of senior leaders including Ho Chi Minh on her Facebook page.

National Security: The law allows significant fines to be levied against journalists, newspapers, and online media that publish or broadcast information deemed harmful to national interests or for disseminating information considered to distort history and the revolution’s achievements. In some cases these “violations” may lead to criminal proceedings. No such cases were reported, although editors noted that publications and journalists must be careful of national security laws, contributing to self-censorship.

Citing laws protecting national security, police arrested and ordered journalists to restrict criticism of government policies or officials.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Although permitted by the constitution, the government restricted freedom of peaceful assembly. Laws and regulations require permits for group gatherings, which local authorities issued or denied without explanation. Only those arranging publicized gatherings to discuss sensitive matters appeared to require permits. The government generally did not permit any demonstrations that could be perceived as political. The law permits security forces to detain individuals gathering or protesting outside of courthouses during trials. Persons routinely gathered in informal groups without government interference so long as the gathering was not perceived as political or a threat to the state.

Police and plainclothes authorities routinely mistreated, harassed, and assaulted activists and those demonstrating against the government.

Freedom of Association

The constitution affords individuals the right of association, but the government severely restricted the establishment of associations involved in what the government considered “sensitive” fields such as political, religious, and labor topics. The country’s legal and regulatory framework includes mechanisms particularly aimed at restricting the freedom of NGOs, including religious organizations, to organize and act. The government generally prohibited the establishment of private, independent organizations, insisting that persons work within established, party-controlled mass organizations, usually under the aegis of the VFF.

Laws and regulations governing NGOs restrict their ability to engage in policy advocacy or conduct research outside of state-sanctioned topics and prohibit organizations focused on social science and technology from operating in fields such as economic policy, public policy, political matters, and a range of other areas considered sensitive. Authorities also did not permit NGOs generally to publicly advocate specific policy positions.

The law requires religious groups to register with authorities and to obtain official approval of their activities. Unregistered religious groups such as the Vietnam Baptist Convention, independent Pentecostal groups, independent Cao Dai groups, Pure Hoa Hao, and the Evangelical Church of Christ reported government interference.

According to some recognized groups and others attempting to register, implementation of the law varied from province to province. Some registered organizations, including governance, women’s rights, and environment-focused NGOs, reported increased scrutiny of their activities.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future