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China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Tibet

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

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

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. There were no reports officials investigated or punished those responsible for such killings that had previously taken place.

b. Disappearance

Authorities in Tibetan areas continued to detain Tibetans arbitrarily for indefinite periods.

The whereabouts of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the second-most prominent figure after the Dalai Lama in Tibetan Buddhism’s Gelug school, remained unknown. Neither he nor his parents have been seen since Chinese authorities took them away in 1995, when he was six years old.

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

According to credible sources, police and prison authorities employed torture and degrading treatment in dealing with some detainees and prisoners. There were reports during the year Chinese officials severely beat some Tibetans who were incarcerated or otherwise in custody. In the past, such beatings have led to death.

On August 13, Chinese authorities released Gonpo Tseten, a Tibetan from Machu (Chinese: Maqu) county of Ganlho (Chinese: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP) in Gansu province who had served 10 years of a 12-year prison sentence for “inciting separatism.” On August 17, overseas website Free Tibet reported the authorities had severely tortured and subjected him to forced labor while he was in detention. According to media reports, Gonpo had spearheaded Tibetan protests against the Chinese government in 2008.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to physical abuse and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

There were reports of recently released prisoners permanently disabled or in extremely poor health because of the harsh treatment they endured in prison (see Political Prisoners and Detainees subsection below). Former prisoners reported being isolated in small cells for months at a time and deprived of sleep, sunlight, and adequate food. According to individuals who completed their prison terms during the year, prisoners rarely received medical care except in cases of serious illness. There were many cases in which officials denied visitors access to detained and imprisoned persons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arbitrary arrest and detention remained serious problems. Public security agencies are required by law to notify the relatives or employer of a detained person within 24 hours of their detention, but they often failed to do so when Tibetans and others were detained for political reasons. Public security officers may legally detain persons throughout the PRC for up to 37 days without formally arresting or charging them. Criminal detention beyond 37 days requires approval of a formal arrest by the procuratorate, but in cases pertaining to “national security, terrorism, and major bribery,” the law permits up to six months of incommunicado detention without formal arrest. After formally arresting a suspect, public security authorities are authorized to detain a suspect for up to an additional seven months while the case is investigated. After the completion of an investigation, the procuratorate can detain a suspect an additional 45 days while determining whether to file criminal charges. If charges are filed, authorities can detain a suspect for an additional 45 days before beginning judicial proceedings. Public security sometimes detained persons beyond the period allowed by law, and pretrial detention periods of a year or longer were common.

Security officials frequently violated these legal requirements. It was unclear how many Tibetan detainees the authorities held under forms of detention not subject to judicial review.

According to the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), on January 28, authorities arrested and detained Lodoe Gyatso from Nagchu (Chinese: Naqu) prefecture of the TAR after he staged a peaceful protest in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa. Prior to the protest, Lodoe Gyatso published a video announcing his plans to organize a peaceful demonstration in support of the Tibetan people’s commitment to world peace and nonviolence under the guidance of the Dalai Lama.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Legal safeguards for detained or imprisoned Tibetans were inadequate in both design and implementation. Prisoners in China have the right to request a meeting with a government-appointed attorney, but many Tibetan defendants, particularly those facing politically motivated charges, did not have access to legal representation. In cases which authorities claimed involved “endangering state security” or “separatism,” trials often were cursory and closed. Local sources noted trials were predominantly conducted in Mandarin, with government interpreters provided for Tibetan defendants who did not speak Mandarin. Court decisions, proclamations, and other judicial documents, however, generally were not published in Tibetan.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

In its annual work report, the TAR High People’s Court stated its top political tasks as fighting separatism, criticizing “the 14th Dalai (Lama) clique,” cracking down on the clique’s followers, and maintaining social stability, including by sentencing those who they claimed instigated protests and promoted separatism. The report also stated the court prioritized “political direction,” which included absolute loyalty to the Party.

In June the TAR High People’s Court hired 16 court clerks. Among the requirements for new employees were loyalty to the CCP leadership and having immediate family members with a “good record on combatting separatism” in the Tibet region.

Security forces routinely subjected political prisoners and detainees known as “special criminal detainees” to “political re-education” sessions.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

An unknown number of Tibetans were detained, arrested, and sentenced because of their political or religious activity. Authorities held many prisoners in extrajudicial detention centers and never allowed them to appear in public court.

Based on information available from the Political Prisoner Database (PPD) of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, as of November 27, there were 303 Tibetan political prisoners known to be detained or imprisoned, most of them in Tibetan areas. Of those 303 cases, 132 were reported to be monks (current and former), nuns, or reincarnate teachers. Of the 123 cases for which there was available information on sentencing, punishment ranged from three years to life imprisonment. Observers believed the actual number of Tibetan political prisoners and detainees to be much higher, but the lack of access to prisoners and prisons, as well as the dearth of reliable official statistics, made a precise determination difficult. Authorities continued to hold an unknown number of people in detention centers rather than prisons.

Tibetan Self-Immolations

There were three known cases of Tibetans self-immolating during the year. There have been 155 known immolations since 2009, more than half of which took place in 2012. Local contacts reported the decline in reported self-immolations was due to tightened security by authorities, the collective punishment of self-immolators’ relatives and associates, and the Dalai Lama’s public plea to his followers to find other ways to protest Chinese government repression. Chinese officials in some Tibetan areas withheld public benefits from the family members of self-immolators and ordered friends and monastic personnel to refrain from participating in religious burial rites or mourning activities for self-immolators. According to many contacts in Ngaba county, Sichuan province, officials place family members, relatives, and close friends of self-immolators on a security watch list to prevent them from meeting and communicating with international visitors and, in some cases, deprive them from receiving public benefits.

Self-immolators reportedly viewed their acts as protests against the government’s political and religious oppression. According to multiple contacts, the law criminalizes various activities associated with self-immolation, including “organizing, plotting, inciting, compelling, luring, instigating, or helping others to commit self-immolation,” each of which may be prosecuted as “intentional homicide.”

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

The TAR regional government punished CCP members who followed the Dalai Lama, secretly harbored religious beliefs, made pilgrimages to India, or sent their children to study with exiled Tibetans. Authorities continued to electronically and manually monitor private correspondence and search private homes and businesses for photographs of the Dalai Lama and other politically forbidden items. Police examined the cell phones of TAR residents to search for “reactionary music” from India and photographs of the Dalai Lama. Authorities also questioned and detained some individuals who disseminated writings and photographs over the internet.

The TAR CCP has also launched specialized propaganda campaigns to counter “Tibetan independence” including promoting the proliferation of party media into every household to undermine popular support for the Dalai Lama.

The “grid system” (also known as the “double-linked household system”) continued. The grid system involves grouping households and establishments and encouraging them to report problems in other households, including monetary problems and transgressions, to the government. Authorities reportedly reward individuals with money and other forms of compensation for reporting. While this allows for greater provision of social services to those who need them, it also allows authorities to more easily control those it considers “extremists” and “splittists.”

According to contacts in the TAR, Tibetans frequently received phone calls from security officials ordering them to remove from their mobile phones photos, articles, and contact information for international contacts the government deemed sensitive. Security officials visited the residences of those who did not comply with such orders.

In June news portal Phayul reported local officials arrested two Tibetans from Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) of Sichuan province for possessing photos of the Dalai Lama after they raided the two men’s residences.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Freedom of Expression: Tibetans who spoke to foreigners or foreign reporters, attempted to provide information to persons outside the country, or communicated information regarding protests or other expressions of discontent including via mobile phones, and internet-based communications, were subject to harassment or detention under “crimes of undermining social stability and inciting separatism.” During the year authorities in the TAR and other Tibetan areas sought to strengthen control over electronic media and to punish individuals for the poorly defined crime of “creating and spreading of rumors.” Supporting the CCP, criticizing the Dalai Lama, and “not creating and spreading rumors” were some of the major requirements Tibetans had to fulfill to apply for jobs and receive access to government benefits during the year.

On May 22, the government sentenced Tibetan language rights advocate Tashi Wangchuk to five years of imprisonment on the charge of “inciting separatism” for his 2015 video-recorded interview with The New York Times. On August 13, the Yulshul (Chinese: Yushu) Intermediate People’s Court rejected Tashi Wangchuk’s appeal. In a September 7 statement, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) stated the decision “not only violates Tashi’s right to free speech as stipulated in China’s constitution, but sends a message to sources they could be severely punished for accepting interviews with international media.”

Press and Media Freedom: Foreign journalists may visit the TAR only after obtaining a special travel permit from the government, and the authorities almost never granted this permission.

Authorities tightly controlled journalists who worked for the domestic press and could hire and fire them based on assessments of their political reliability. In May the TAR Press, Television, and Radio Bureau hired 26 individuals to fill positions for which one of the listed job requirements was to “resolutely implement the Party’s line, principles, policies, and political stance, fight against separatism, and safeguard the motherland’s unity and ethnic unity.” CCP propaganda authorities remained in charge of journalist accreditation in the TAR and required journalists working in the TAR to display “loyalty to the Party and motherland.” The deputy head of the TAR Propaganda Department simultaneously holds a prominent position in the TAR Journalist Association, a state-controlled professional association to which local journalists must belong.

Violence and Harassment: Chinese authorities arrested and sentenced many Tibetan writers, intellectuals, and singers for “inciting separatism.” Numerous prominent Tibetan political writers, including Jangtse Donkho, Kelsang Jinpa, Buddha, Tashi Rabten, Arik Dolma Kyab, Gangkye Drupa Kyab, and Shojkhang (also known as Druklo), reported security officers closely monitored them following their releases from prison between 2013 and 2018 and often ordered them to return to police stations for further interrogation. In addition, the authorities banned the writers from publishing and prohibited them from receiving services and benefits such as government jobs, bank loans, passports, and membership in formal organizations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The authorities prohibited domestic journalists from reporting on repression in Tibetan areas. Authorities promptly censored the postings of bloggers who did so, and the authors sometimes faced punishment.

The TAR Party Committee Information Office maintained tight control of a full range of social media platforms. According to multiple contacts, security officials often cancelled WeChat accounts carrying “sensitive information,” such as discussions about Tibetan language education, and interrogated the account owners. Many sources also reported it was almost impossible to register websites promoting Tibetan culture and language in the TAR with the government, as required by law.

The Chinese government continued to disrupt radio broadcasts of Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan and Mandarin-language services in Tibetan areas, as well as those of the Voice of Tibet, an independent radio station based in Norway.

In addition to maintaining strict censorship of print and online content in Tibetan areas, Chinese authorities sought to censor the expression of views or distribution of information related to Tibet in countries and regions outside of mainland China.

INTERNET FREEDOM

As in the past year, authorities curtailed cell phone and internet service in the TAR and other Tibetan areas, sometimes for weeks or even months at a time, during periods of unrest and political sensitivity, such as the March anniversaries of the 1959 and 2008 protests, “Serf Emancipation Day,” and around the Dalai Lama’s birthday in July. In addition, local observers reported authorities disrupted internet service in areas where self-immolations occurred (see section Tibetan Self-Immolations). Observers also claimed authorities threatened community members with sentences of up to 15 years for those who shared images, videos, and information of the self-immolations with people outside Tibetan areas. When the authorities restored internet service, they closely monitored its usage. There were widespread reports of authorities searching cell phones they suspected of containing suspicious content. Many individuals in the TAR and other Tibetan areas reported receiving official warnings and being briefly detained and interrogated after using their cell phones to exchange what the government deemed to be sensitive information. In July, in advance of the Dalai Lama’s birthday, Radio Free Asia reported authorities warned Tibetans from using social media chat groups to organize gatherings or celebrations of the spiritual leader’s birthday. The TAR Internet and Information Office is continuing a research project known as “Countermeasures to Internet-based Reactionary Infiltration by the Dalai Lama Clique.”

In July, TAR Party Secretary Wu Yingjie urged the region to “resolutely manage the internet, maintain the correct cybersecurity view, and keep in mind Tibet serves as the frontline in the fight against separatism.”

Throughout the year authorities blocked users in China from accessing foreign-based, Tibet-related websites critical of official government policy in Tibetan areas. Technically sophisticated hacking attempts originating from China also targeted Tibetan activists and organizations outside mainland China.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

As in recent years, authorities in many Tibetan areas required professors and students at institutions of higher education to attend regular political education sessions, particularly during politically sensitive months, in an effort to prevent “separatist” political and religious activities on campus. Authorities frequently encouraged Tibetan academics to participate in government propaganda efforts, both domestically and overseas, such as making public speeches supporting government policies. Academics who refused to cooperate with such efforts faced diminished prospects for promotion and research grants.

Academics in the PRC who publicly criticized CCP policies on Tibetan affairs faced official reprisal. The government controlled curricula, texts, and other course materials as well as the publication of historically or politically sensitive academic books. Authorities frequently denied Tibetan academics permission to travel overseas for conferences and academic or cultural exchanges the Party had not organized or approved. Authorities in Tibetan areas regularly banned the sale and distribution of music they deemed to have sensitive political content.

The state-run TAR Academy of Social Science continued to encourage scholars to maintain “a correct political and academic direction” in its annual July conference to “improve scholars’ political ideology” and “fight against separatists” under the guidance of Xi Jinping.

In May the TAR Academy of Social Sciences hired five young scholars. One of the requirements listed for these positions was “to demonstrate loyalty to the Party and to criticize the Dalai Lama in both words and deeds.”

In accordance with government guidance on ethnic assimilation, state policies continued to disrupt traditional Tibetan living patterns and customs and accelerated forced assimilation through promoting the influx of non-Tibetans to traditionally Tibetan areas, expanding the domestic tourism industry, forcibly resettling and urbanizing nomads and farmers, and weakening Tibetan-language education in public schools and religious education in monasteries.

Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese are the official languages of the TAR, and both languages appeared on some, but not all, public and commercial signs. Inside official buildings and businesses, including banks, post offices, and hospitals, signage in Tibetan was frequently lacking, and, in many instances, forms and documents were available only in Mandarin. Mandarin was used for most official communications and was the predominant language of instruction in public schools in many Tibetan areas. To print in the Tibetan language, private printing businesses in Chengdu needed special government approval, which was often difficult to obtain.

During the year the Communist Party continued to bring Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, two prominent Tibetan Buddhist educational centers, under tighter Communist Party control, giving Communist Party cadres authority over the institutions’ management, finances, security, and admissions. This was part of an ongoing effort, started in 2016, to reduce the population of these institutes by evicting around 5,000 monks and nuns and destroying as many as 1,500 homes.

The law states, “schools (classes and grades) and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the media of instruction.” Despite guarantees of cultural and linguistic rights, many primary, middle, high school, and college students had limited access to officially approved Tibetan language instruction and textbooks, particularly in the areas of “modern-day education,” which refers to nontraditional, nonreligious education, particularly computer, physical education, arts, and other “modern” subjects.

The country’s most prestigious universities provided no instruction in Tibetan or other ethnic minority languages, although classes teaching the Tibetan language were available at a small number of universities. “Nationalities” universities, established to serve ethnic minority students and ethnic Chinese students interested in ethnic minority subjects, offered Tibetan language instruction only in courses focused on the study of the Tibetan language or culture. Mandarin was used in courses for jobs that required technical skills and qualifications.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Even in areas officially designated as “autonomous,” Tibetans generally lacked the right to organize and play a meaningful role in the protection of their cultural heritage and unique natural environment. Tibetans often faced government intimidation and arrest if they protested official policies or practices.

In February the TAR Public Security Office announced it would consider as criminals those who promote “economic, people’s livelihood, environmental, traditional, and cultural development in Tibetan areas” on behalf of the “Dalai clique” and “foreign hostile forces,” and would label these “spokespersons” as criminals.

In July local contacts reported that many monasteries and rural villages in the TAR and Tibetan areas in Sichuan and Qinghai provinces received official warnings not to organize certain gatherings, including the celebration of the Dalai Lama’s birthday. In one instance, Radio Free Asia reported authorities from Malho (Chinese: Huangnan) TAP of Qinghai province deployed large numbers of armed police to Tibetan villages and towns to discourage such celebrations. According to these contacts, many Tibetan students at various nationality universities were instructed not to organize gatherings and parties in March (Tibet Uprising Day) or July (the Dalai Lama’s birthday).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

Chinese law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; however, the government severely restricted travel and freedom of movement for Tibetans, particularly Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns as well as lay persons whom the government considered to have “poor political records.”

In-country Movement: The People’s Armed Police (PAP) and local public security bureaus set up roadblocks and checkpoints in Tibetan areas on major roads, in cities, and on the outskirts of cities and monasteries, particularly around sensitive dates. Tibetans traveling in monastic attire were subject to extra scrutiny by police at roadside checkpoints and at airports.

Authorities sometimes banned Tibetans, particularly monks and nuns, from going outside the TAR and from traveling to the TAR without first obtaining special permission from multiple government offices. Many Tibetans reported encountering difficulties in obtaining the required permissions. This not only made it difficult for Tibetans to make pilgrimages to sacred religious sites in the TAR. Tibetans from outside the TAR who traveled to Lhasa also reported that authorities there required them to surrender their national identification cards and notify authorities of their plans in detail on a daily basis. These requirements were not applied to ethnic Chinese visitors to the TAR.

Even outside the TAR, many Tibetan monks and nuns reported it remained difficult to travel beyond their home monasteries for religious and traditional Tibetan education, with officials frequently denying permission for visiting monks to stay at a monastery for religious education. Implementation of this restriction was especially rigorous in the TAR, and it undermined the traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice of seeking advanced teachings from a select number of senior teachers based at major monasteries scattered across the Tibetan Plateau.

Foreign Travel: Many Tibetans continued to report difficulties in obtaining new or renewing existing passports. Sources reported that Tibetans and certain other ethnic minorities had to provide far more extensive documentation than other citizens when applying for a Chinese passport. For Tibetans, the passport application process sometimes required years and frequently ended in rejection. Some Tibetans reported they were able to obtain passports only after paying substantial bribes and offering written promises to conduct only apolitical or nonsensitive international travel.

Tibetans continued to encounter significant obstacles in traveling to India for religious, educational, and other purposes. Tibetans who had traveled to Nepal and planned to continue to India reported that Chinese officials visited their homes in Tibet and threatened their relatives if they did not return immediately. Sources reported that explicit punishments included placing family members on a blacklist which could lead to the loss of a government job or difficulty in finding employment; expulsion of children from the public education system; and revocation of national identification cards, thereby preventing access to other social services, such as health care and government aid.

According to local contacts, very few Tibetans from China were able to attend teaching sessions held by the Dalai Lama throughout the year in many parts of India, as local Chinese officials refused to issue passports. Many Tibetans who possessed passports were concerned the authorities would place them on the government’s blacklist, and therefore did not travel. In January the Tibetan Journalreported the Chinese government issued orders for the immediate return of Tibetans on pilgrimage in India and Nepal or attending the Dalai Lama’s teachings, with serious consequences for those who refused.

Tightened border controls sharply limited the number of Tibetans crossing the border into Nepal and India. Between January and July, 23 Tibetan refugees transited Nepal through the Tibetan Reception Center, run by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kathmandu, en route to permanent settlement in India. This reflected a decrease for two straight years.

The government restricted the movement of Tibetans in the period before and during sensitive anniversaries and events and increased controls over border areas at these times. According to local contacts, travel agents in the cities of Chengdu, Xining, and Kunming were forbidden to sell overseas package tours to Tibetans for the months of March and July, the periods around Tibet Uprising Day (March 10) and the Dalai Lama’s birthday (July 6).

In February, shortly after the Tibetan New Year and in advance of Tibet Uprising Day and the convening of China’s national legislature, Radio Free Asia reported that immigration authorities at Chengdu international airport detained three ethnic Tibetans holding non-Chinese passports and valid Chinese visas for eight hours before denying them entry to China and requiring they depart on the next international flight. During their detention, immigration officials and police officers interrogated and searched their web chats and notebooks as well as made copies of their telephone contacts.

The government strictly regulated travel of international visitors to the TAR, a restriction not applied to any other provincial-level entity of the PRC. In accordance with a 1989 regulation, international visitors had to obtain an official confirmation letter issued by the TAR government before entering the TAR. Most foreign tourists obtained such letters by booking tours through officially registered travel agencies. In the TAR, a government-designated tour guide had to accompany international tourists at all times. It was rare for foreigners to obtain permission to enter the TAR by road. As with prior years, authorities banned many international tourists from the TAR in the period before and during the March anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising as well as other periods in which the Chinese government deemed politically sensitive. International tourists sometimes also faced restrictions traveling to Tibetan areas outside the TAR during such times.

The TAR government routinely denied foreign diplomats’ requests for official travel. When foreign officials were allowed to travel to the TAR, the Foreign Affairs Office only allowed closely chaperoned trips. Authorities repeatedly denied requests for international journalists to visit the TAR and other Tibetan areas (see Freedom of Expression section).

Although foreign officials were able to travel more freely in Tibetan areas outside of the TAR, the PAP and local public security bureaus often subjected them to multiple checkpoints.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

According to the law, Tibetans and other Chinese citizens have the right to vote in some local elections. The Chinese government, however, severely restricted its citizens’ ability to participate in any meaningful elections. Citizens could not freely choose the officials who governed them and the CCP continued to control appointments to positions of political power.

Since 2015, the TAR and many Tibetan areas have strictly implemented the Regulation for Village Committee Management, which stipulates that the primary condition for participating in any local election is the “willingness to resolutely fight against separatism;” in some cases, this condition was interpreted to require candidates to denounce the Dalai Lama. Several sources reported that newly appointed Communist Party cadres have replaced more than 90 percent of traditional village leaders in the TAR and in Tibetan areas outside the TAR over the last two years, despite the lack of village elections.

Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza – West Bank and Gaza

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

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

Palestinian terrorist groups and unaffiliated individuals killed seven Israeli civilians and five Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers in terrorist attacks in the West Bank, and more were injured, according to the Israeli NGO B’Tselem. In addition, the Israeli government reported that security forces foiled approximately 500 terrorist attacks during the year.

For example, on September 17, 17-year-old Palestinian Khalil Jabarin fatally stabbed Ari Fuld at a shopping mall in the West Bank, before being shot by Fuld and another civilian and arrested by police. An Israeli military court indicted Jabarin on October 22 for “intentionally causing death,” and he remained in custody pending trial at year’s end.

During the year Israeli forces killed Palestinians in the West Bank who were attempting or allegedly attempting to attack Israelis, according to B’Tselem and media reports. According to media reports and B’Tselem, some of those killed did not pose a lethal threat to the Israeli Security Forces (ISF) or civilians at the time they were killed.

For example, on December 4, IDF soldiers shot and killed Mohammad Khosam Khabali in the West Bank city of Tulkarm. After the incident, the IDF claimed they were reacting to a group of rock throwing Palestinians. B’Tselem compiled security camera videos showing Khabali walking away from the soldiers when he was killed.

On March 30, Palestinians in Gaza launched the “March of Return,” a series of weekly protests along the fence between Gaza and Israel. The protests, some of which drew tens of thousands of people, and included armed terrorists, militants who launched incendiary devices into Israel, and unarmed protesters, continued throughout the year. Hamas took control of the weekly protests, and many of the protests were violent. IDF shot and killed 190 Palestinians at the Gaza border as of the end of the year, including 41 minors, according to B’Tselem. According to the World Health organization, 6,239 Palestinians in Gaza were injured by IDF live fire in the protests. B’Tselem stated that 149 of the Palestinian protesters who were killed did not take part in hostilities. The government stated that many of the victims were operatives of Hamas or encouraged by Hamas to protest near the border. For example, following media reports that the IDF shot and killed 62 Palestinians at the Gaza fence on May 14, Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed at least 53 were affiliated with their organizations, including some who were active members. The IDF stated they opened an internal inquiry into each Palestinian death at the border. The Israeli Military Advocate General opened five criminal investigations into IDF actions at the Gaza border, as of the end of the year.

On June 1, IDF shot and killed Razan al-Najjar north of Khuza’ah in Gaza during a Friday protest near the security fence with Israel. Al-Najjar was identified as a medical provider, according to B’Tselem. On October 29, media reported that Israel’s Military Advocate General (MAG) rejected the findings of an IDF inquiry that concluded a soldier did not deliberately shoot her. According to a New York Timesreport, an IDF sniper fired one round of live ammunition into a crowd including 14 white-coated medics, including al-Najjar, when no protesters in the immediate vicinity were conducting violent acts. According to the government, the circumstances of al-Najjar’s death were under investigation by the Military Police.

Gaza-based militant groups periodically conducted small arms attacks into Israel during the protests. In addition, from March 30 to December 5, Palestinian militant groups launched more than 1,150 rockets and mortars from the Gaza Strip indiscriminately toward civilian areas in Israel, as well as incendiary devices tied to kites and balloons that sparked nearly 2,000 fires and burned more than 5,600 acres of land in Israel, according to the government. More than 200 Israelis required treatment from these attacks, mostly for shock. Gaza-based militants shot and killed one Israeli soldier and a rocket launched by Gaza-based militant killed one Palestinian laborer in Ashkelon. On July 20, a Palestinian sniper shot and killed IDF Staff Sergeant Aviv Levi, an Israeli infantry soldier.

In August the Israeli military opened an investigation into the IDF shootings of two Palestinian minors in Gaza. According to an Israeli military statement, an initial probe suggested the soldiers who shot and killed 18-year-old Abed Nabi in March and 15-year-old Othman Hellis in July during Gaza border protests did not adhere to open-fire regulations.

Following multiple terrorist attacks by Palestinians in the West Bank in November and December, the IDF killed two Palestinian drivers and one minor passenger in three incidents in which IDF soldiers perceived attempts to ram vehicles into soldiers at checkpoints. According to B’Tselem, none of the three events were ramming attacks, and one of the adults and the minor passenger were shot in the back as their cars were driving away from checkpoints.

According to media reports, on October 28, an IDF drone strike killed three minors near the eastern Gaza perimeter fence. According to the IDF, the minors were planting an explosive device. The government stated it opened investigations into all deaths at the fence.

According to the government, Gaza-based militants, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, al-Mujahideen Movement, and other militant factions launched more than 1150 rockets and mortars toward Israel. These attacks killed a Palestinian laborer in Ashkelon and injured an IDF soldier. According to NGOs, media, and the Israeli government, Gaza-based militants fired rockets from civilian locations toward civilian targets.

In response to the rocket, mortar and incendiary attacks, and attempts to infiltrate Israel through the fence, the IDF launched 865 strikes against targets in Gaza during the year, according to the IDF. Air strikes and tank shellings killed 27 Palestinians at least seven of whom were civilians not participating in hostilities, according to B’Tselem. Seventeen of those killed in air strikes were militants, according to the Israeli government. According to B’Tselem, the IDF killed two minors in Gaza on July 14 in a “roof knocking,” a tactic in which a low-explosive projectile is dropped on the roof of a building to warn residents to vacate ahead of a full air strike. B’Tselem released a report on December 19 alleging the IDF withheld aerial footage of the event showing the teenage boys sitting on the edge of the roof. On August 9, the IDF struck more than 150 targets in the Gaza Strip in response to more than 180 rockets and mortars fired by Gaza-based militants into Israel. One of the IDF airstrikes killed one-year-old Bayan Abu Khamash and his pregnant mother, 22-year-old Inas Abu Kahmas, while they were asleep at home in Deir al-Balah, Gaza.

There were reports of Gazan fishermen killed by Israeli and Egyptian authorities. According to the NGO Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Israeli soldiers on a naval vessel shot and killed an 18-year-old Gazan fisherman, Isma’il Saleh Abu Riyalah in February. On November 8, Egyptian naval forces allegedly shot and killed Gazan Mostafa Abu Audeh while he was fishing just off the coast of the Palestinian city of Rafah. According to press, the Egyptian military denied the reports.

In Gaza, according to PCHR, Hamas extrajudicially executed seven persons during the year and has issued 125 death sentences since 2007. At year’s end, there were 10 persons in Hamas prisons awaiting capital punishment. PCHR noted a significant increase in application of the death penalty in Gaza since 2007 and particularly in the last three years. By law the PA president must ratify each death penalty sentence, but Hamas proceeded with these executions without the PA president’s approval.

On May 8, Israeli authorities released IDF soldier Elor Azaria from a military prison after nine months’ incarceration for killing incapacitated Palestinian attacker, Abed al-Fatah al-Sharif, in Hebron in 2016. A military court found Azaria guilty of manslaughter in January 2017. IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot shortened Azaria’s sentence from 18 months to 14 months in September 2017. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin denied Azaria’s request for clemency in November 2017. The parole board approved releasing Azaria after completing two-thirds of his sentence, as is customary in Israel. According to media reports, Azaria’s punishment included demotion to the rank of private prior to his discharge from the IDF.

The sixth update of the MAG investigation into the 2014 Gaza war closed 88 more cases, bringing the total of alleged incidents closed without charges to 186 of 360. MAG previously brought charges against three soldiers for looting. The remaining investigations were ongoing or not mentioned. This update addressed the IDF application of the “Hannibal Directive,” which calls for overwhelming firepower when an enemy captures an IDF soldier to prevent use of the soldier as a hostage. A March State Comptroller report on the war criticized the Hannibal Directive–which the IDF replaced in 2017–for failing to mention distinction and proportionality, as well as for ambiguous wording that led to confusion about whether the IDF should risk killing its own soldier when attacking kidnappers to prevent a hostage situation. Human rights organizations criticized MAG for failing to find fault in hundreds of incidents that caused more than 1,000 Palestinian civilian deaths, and for focusing on actions by individual soldiers, who may have violated IDF rules or the law, rather than the conformity of IDF rules and policies with international law, including high-level orders regarding the use of force.

b. Disappearance

In the West Bank, there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities in 2018. There was no new information on the disappearances in 2014 and 2015 of three Israeli citizens, Avraham Abera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed, and Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima, who crossed into Gaza and whom Hamas reportedly apprehended and held incommunicado.

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

The PA basic law prohibits torture or use of force against detainees; however, international and local human rights groups reported that torture and abuse remained a problem. According to an October Human Rights Watch (HRW) report based on 86 cases and dozens of interviews of former detainees, lawyers, and family members, torture occurred in detention centers in both Gaza and the West Bank by Hamas and PA security services. Based on 147 interviews with prisoners, HRW assessed abuse was systematic and routinely practiced in PA prisons, particularly in the PA’s Intelligence, Preventive Security, and Joint Security Committee detention facilities in Jericho. HRW reported tactics including forcing detainees to hold painful stress positions for long periods, beating, punching, and flogging. The spokesperson for PA’s security services, Adnan al-Dumairi, claimed the report was politically motivated and faulted HRW for not fact-checking it with the PA Ministry of Interior.

In September the Middle East Monitor reported that 28-year-old Ahmed Abu Hamada died in a PA jail. The PA reported that he died of natural causes. According to the Middle East Monitor, human rights groups alleged that he died due to torture in detention. Abu Hamada was reportedly a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and had been charged with “causing security chaos.”

Palestinian detainees held by Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) registered complaints of abuse and torture with the Palestinian Authority’s Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR). The PA Corrections and Rehabilitation Centers Department (CRCD), under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, continued to maintain a mechanism for reviewing complaints of prisoner abuse in civil prisons but reported no cases of inmate abuse by its staff. HRW reported that despite hundreds of complaints having been filed, no disciplinary action was taken in the majority of the cases. The PA denied the use of torture. CRCD conducted yearly assessments of all seven civil prisons in the West Bank to review prison operations, including mechanisms of reporting allegations of abuse and subsequent investigation and disciplinary action.

The ICHR and HRW reported that Hamas internal security tortured detainees. For example, one detainee reported being whipped on his feet and chest with a cable. In letters to HRW, Hamas denied the allegations.

Human rights organizations such as the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) reported that “special interrogation methods” used by Israeli security personnel against Palestinian security detainees in the West Bank included beatings, forcing an individual to hold a stress position for long periods, threats of rape and physical harm, and painful pressure from shackles or restraints applied to the forearms, sleep deprivation, and threats against families of detainees. Female prisoners and detainees reported harassment and abuse in detention by the ISF. According to PCATI there was no investigation into these complaints.

NGO HaMoked alleged that Israeli detention practices included prolonged solitary confinement, lack of food, exposure to the elements, and threats to demolish family homes.

Military Court Watch (MCW) and HaMoked claimed Israeli security services used these techniques to coerce confessions from minors arrested on suspicion of stone throwing or others acts of violence. Israeli officials stated they did not use these techniques.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical conditions in prisons and detention centers in the West Bank were reportedly poor. The PA does not publish data on detainee numbers. In responses to HRW in April, Preventive Security claimed it held 126 detainees and Intelligence Services claimed it held 61 detainees.

The basic conditions of Hamas-run prisons in Gaza were reportedly poor, prison cells were overcrowded, and there were many reports of abuses. There were an estimated 4,000 detainees in Gaza prisons with about 50 percent held in correctional facilities and 50 percent in temporary police detention, according to the United Nations. Approximately 100 detainees were held by Hamas’ Internal Security Agency. There were approximately 60 women and 60 minor detainees, each held in separate facilities.

Israeli authorities detained inside Israel 82 percent of Palestinian prisoners arrested by the ISF in the West Bank. According to the MCW, as of year’s end, these comprised 5,370 Palestinian detainees. According to Israel Prison Service figures obtained by MCW, the monthly average of minors in detention during the year was 283. As of year’s end, there were eight members of the PLC being held in Israeli prisons.

NGOs reported all prisons lacked adequate facilities and specialized medical care for detainees and prisoners with disabilities.

Physical Conditions: PA prisons continued to be crowded and lacked ventilation, heating, cooling, and lighting systems conforming to international standards. Authorities at times held male juveniles with adult male prisoners. Security services used separate detention facilities. Conditions for women were virtually identical to those for men. The PA used several refurbished structures and buildings as prisons, some of which lacked necessary security accommodations.

NGOs, including PCATI and MCW, stated that Israeli authorities appeared to use poor conditions or exposure to weather as an intimidation method.

Administration: According to HRW, mechanisms designed to hold employees and administrators accountable in both PA and Hamas detention facilities rarely, if ever, led to consequences for serious abuses. There were reports that prison administrators denied some detainees visits from family members.

Human rights groups such as the PCHR reported families of imprisoned Palestinians, particularly Gazans, had only limited ability to visit prisoners due to their detention inside Israel and the lack of entry permits to Israel for most Palestinians.

Independent Monitoring: In the West Bank, the PA permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to detainees to assess treatment and conditions. The ICRC continued its regular visits to detention facilities, including interrogation centers, in accordance with its standard modalities, as in previous years. Human rights groups, humanitarian organizations, and lawyers indicated that, as in previous years, there were some difficulties in gaining access to specific detainees held by the PA–depending on which PA security organization managed the facility.

In Gaza, Hamas granted ICRC access to detainees to assess treatment and conditions. The ICRC continued its regular visits to detention facilities, including interrogation centers, in accordance with its standard modalities, as in previous years. Human rights organizations conducted monitoring visits to some prisoners in Gaza, but Hamas authorities denied representatives permission to visit high-profile detainees and prisoners.

The Israeli government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. NGOs sent representatives to meet with Palestinian prisoners–including those on hunger strikes–and inspect conditions in Israeli prisons, detention centers, and some ISF facilities. Palestinian families and human rights groups reported delays and difficulties in gaining access to specific detainees from Israeli authorities. They also reported transfers of detainees without notice and claimed Israeli authorities at times used transfer practices punitively against prisoners engaging in hunger strikes.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

For information on treatment of Palestinians in Israeli prisons as well as prison conditions in Israel, see the Israel report. PA law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Nonetheless, the PA criminal justice system often did not provide a prompt and speedy trial. There were widespread instances of PA detention without charge or trial for selected security detainees in PASF custody. The PA also arrested without charge Palestinians who posted critical social media postings, journalists critical of the PA, and individuals from areas known to support PA President Abbas’ exiled Fatah rival Muhammad Dahlan, according to HRW.

In October the PA arrested in the West Bank a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem allegedly involved in the sale of an apartment in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter to a Jew, for allegedly violating a law that prohibits “transferring positions to the enemy.” On December 31, a criminal court sentenced him to life in prison with hard labor.

Hamas practiced widespread arbitrary detention in Gaza, particularly of Fatah members, civil society activists, journalists, and those accused of publicly criticizing Hamas. For example, Hamas arrested dozens of Fatah members for their planned participation in a gathering to watch President Abbas’ UN General Assembly speech in September. Some detainees registered complaints with the PA’s ICHR that their arrests were arbitrary. Information concerning the whereabouts and welfare of those detained was not consistently or reliably available. Hamas did not respect fair trial guarantees or provide access to family and legal counsel to many of those detained.

Since taking control of the West Bank in 1967, Israel has prosecuted Palestinian residents of the West Bank under military law. Since 1967 the Israeli Knesset has extended Israeli criminal and civil law protections to the 412,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

Under Israeli military law, the IPS may hold adults suspected of a security offense for four days prior to bringing them before a judge, with limited exceptions that allow the IPS to detain a suspect for up to eight days prior to bringing the suspect before the senior judge of a district court. Israeli law defines security offenses to include any offense committed under circumstances that might raise a suspicion of harm to Israel’s security and which the ISF believes may link to terrorist activity. Suspects between the ages of 12 and 14 can be held up to one day, with a possible one-day extension. Those between the ages of 14 and 16 can be held up to two days, with a possible two-day extension. Those between the ages of 16 and 18 can be held up to four days, with a possible four-day extension.

Under military law, in security-related cases, Israeli authorities may hold adults for 20 days prior to an indictment, with the possibility of additional 15-day extensions up to 75 days. An Israeli military appeals court can then extend the detention up to 90 days at a time. Prior to an indictment in security-related cases, authorities may hold minors for 15 days, with the possibility of 10-day extensions up to 40 days. An Israeli military appeals court can then extend the detention up to 90 days at a time.

The Emergency Powers Law allows the Israeli Ministry of Defense to detain persons administratively without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely.

The Illegal Combatant Law permits Israeli authorities to hold a detainee for 14 days before review by a district court judge, deny access to counsel for up to 21 days with the attorney general’s approval, and allow indefinite detention subject to twice-yearly district court reviews and appeals to Israel’s Supreme Court.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

West Bank Palestinian population centers mostly fall into Area A, as defined by the Oslo-era agreements. In Area A, which contains 55 percent of the Palestinian population on approximately 18 percent of West Bank land, the PA has formal responsibility for security and civil control. Nevertheless, according to media reports, since 2002 Israeli security forces regularly conducted security operations in Area A, at times without coordinating with the PASF. During the year the IDF conducted incursions throughout Area A in the West Bank, citing security concerns. The PA has civil control, and the PA and Israel maintain joint security control of Area B territory in the West Bank, which contains 41 percent of the population on approximately 21 percent of the land. Israel retains full civil and security control of Area C, which comprises approximately 4 percent of the Palestinian population and 61 percent of the land of the West Bank, although the majority of land in Area C is vacant, and according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), Israel has designated 30 percent of Area C as closed military zones. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, approximately 413,000 Israelis live in Area C Israeli settlements.

Six PA security forces operate in the West Bank. Several are under the PA Ministry of Interior’s operational control and follow the prime minister’s guidance. The Palestinian Civil Police have primary responsibility for civil and community policing. The National Security Force conducts gendarmerie-style security operations in circumstances that exceed the capabilities of the civil police. The Military Intelligence Agency handles intelligence and criminal matters involving PASF personnel, including accusations of abuse and corruption; it can refer cases to court. The General Intelligence Service is responsible for external intelligence gathering and operations. The Preventive Security Organization is responsible for internal intelligence gathering and investigations related to internal security cases (for example, antiterrorism, weapons violations, and money laundering). The Presidential Guard protects facilities and provides dignitary protection.

The PA maintained effective control over its security forces and has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. Some Israeli officials claimed that PA authorities failed to prevent and, in fact, incited violence, including terrorist attacks, against Israelis.

The PA and the PLO continued to provide “martyr payments” to the families of Palestinian individuals killed during the commission of a terrorist act. The PA and the PLO also continued to provide payments to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those convicted of acts of terrorism against Israelis. These payments and separate stipends for prisoners were first initiated by the PLO in 1965 and continued under the PA since the Oslo Accords with Israel. President Abbas said he will use his last penny “on the families of the prisoners and martyrs.”

In Gaza, Hamas forces exercised de facto authority. Impunity remained a problem. Hamas at times instigated violence at the fence with Israel and failed to prevent or deter violence in numerous other instances.

Israeli authorities maintained a West Bank security presence through the ISF, the ISA, the Israel National Police (INP), and Border Guard. According to organizations such as Yesh Din, PCATI, and B’Tselem, Israeli authorities took some steps to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, but there were reports of failure to take disciplinary action in cases of abuse (see section 1.a.). The ISF stated it continued to open investigations automatically into claims of abuse of Palestinians in Israeli military police custody. Yesh Din claimed the automatic opening of investigations applied only to some Israeli military activity in the West Bank, but not to Palestinians reporting abuse in custody. Reports of abuse go to the Israeli Attorney General’s Office; PCATI reported Israeli authorities systematically disregarded abuse allegations.

NGOs such as Yesh Din and Rabbis for Human Rights also criticized Israeli efforts and accountability in investigating reports of Israeli security forces killing Palestinians. In 2016 the State Attorney’s Office filed an indictment on charges of reckless and negligent use of a firearm against two soldiers who shot and killed a 16-year-old in the village of Budrus who was reportedly trying to flee a restricted area. The State Attorney’s Office proposed (among other actions) that the soldiers pay damages to the families, but the soldiers’ attorney rejected the offer. In June MAG withdrew a pending indictment against the soldiers.

According to NGOs Yesh Din and Bimkom, and media reports, the ISF did not respond sufficiently to violence perpetrated against Palestinians by Israelis in the West Bank (see section 6.).

In January the Israel Central District Attorney’s Office indicted two Israeli suspects on charges connected with a 2015 “price tag” arson attack on a Palestinian home in the West Bank village of Douma, which killed a toddler and his parents, and severely injured his four-year-old brother. A perpetrator also spray-painted “Revenge!” and a Star of David on the wall of the home. Authorities charged one Israeli with murder and another with conspiring to commit a crime. In May relatives of the Palestinian family killed in the attack filed a lawsuit against the Israeli government seeking admission of responsibility and damages. In July a defendant who was a minor at the time of the attack was released to house arrest for the remainder of the hearings. The case was ongoing at year’s end.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

PA law generally requires a warrant for arrest and provides for prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention. There are exceptions that allow for PA arrest without a warrant. PA law allows police to hold detainees for 24 hours if there is sufficient evidence to charge a suspect, and for up to 45 days with court approval. PA law requires that a trial start within six months, or authorities must release the detainee. PA authorities held some prisoners detained by order of Palestinian governors in lengthy pretrial detention, according to complaints received by the ICHR. Some PA security forces reportedly detained Palestinians outside appropriate legal procedures, including without warrants and without bringing them before judicial authorities within the required time. There were no known PA detentions extending beyond the six-month time limit without trial. PA authorities generally informed detainees of the charges against them, albeit sometimes not until interrogation. Bail and conditional release were available at the discretion of judicial authorities. PA authorities granted detainees access to a lawyer. PA courts consistently afforded the right to counsel to indigents charged with felony offenses. Indigent defendants charged with misdemeanors often did not receive counsel, although NGO efforts to represent indigent juveniles and adults in misdemeanor cases were at times successful. The Palestinian Bar Association (PBA) adopted a policy in May that restricted lawyers’ ability to represent indigents free of charge. An NGO challenged this policy in court, and in October the PBA rescinded it. Amnesty International reported that the PASF failed to provide prompt access to legal counsel to some detainees, effectively holding them incommunicado during interrogation.

The PA Military Intelligence Organization (PMI) operated without a service-specific mandate to investigate and arrest PA security force personnel and civilians suspected of “security offenses,” such as terrorism. The PMI conducted these activities in a manner consistent with the other PA security services. Hamas continued to charge that the PA detained individuals during the year solely due to their Hamas affiliation. The PA stated it charged many of these individuals with criminal offenses under PA civil or military codes.

In Gaza, Hamas detained a large number of persons during the year without recourse to legal counsel, judicial review, or bail. There also were instances in which de facto Hamas authorities retroactively issued arrest warrants and used military warrants to arrest Gaza residents.

Israeli military law applied to Palestinians in the West Bank. Israeli civil law applied to Israelis living in the West Bank. Under Israeli military law, authorities can hold detainees for up to 60 days without access to a lawyer. Israeli authorities informed Palestinian detainees of the charges against them during detention, but did not always inform them of the reasons for arrest at the time of arrest, according to the MCW. Israeli authorities stated their policy was to post notification of arrests within 48 hours, but senior officers could delay notification for up to 12 days, effectively holding detainees incommunicado during the interrogation process. An Israeli military commander may request that a judge extend this period.

In accordance with law, Israeli authorities generally provided Palestinians held in Israeli military custody inside Israel access to a lawyer of their choice (and provided lawyers for the indigent). Nonetheless, Palestinian detainees often obtained lawyers only after initial interrogations, and according to interviews with 29 minors, HaMoked reported that 22 of them did not see a lawyer prior to their interrogations. Impediments to movement on West Bank roads or at Israeli-operated crossings often made legal consultation difficult and delayed trials and hearings. According to the MCW, many Palestinian detainees saw their lawyer for the first time when they appeared before an Israeli military court. Based on the circumstances of each case, such as the severity of the alleged offense, status as a minor, risk of escape, or other factors, authorities either granted or denied bail to Palestinians detained for security violations, but denied bail in most cases. Israeli authorities delayed or deprived some Palestinian detainees of visits by their families or lawyers.

NGOs such as MCW and HaMoked claimed Israeli authorities in the West Bank frequently failed to inform Palestinian parents why authorities detained their children or where they had been taken. Israeli authorities stated their policy was to provide written notification about the arrest to parents when they arrested a child at home; however, the NGOs argued this occurred only in 19 percent of cases. Legally, minors who are 16 and 17 years old can be held for 96 hours before seeing a judge, the same period applied to adults. The law mandates audiovisual recording of all interrogations of minors in the West Bank but limits this requirement to nonsecurity-related offenses. NGOs expressed concern that the ISF entered Palestinian homes at night to arrest or photograph minors. Israeli military authorities began providing translations into Arabic of some recent changes to military laws affecting Palestinian minors.

During the year there was a decrease in the detention rate of minors, compared with the high in 2015, which coincided with a spike in knife attacks, but the rate remained higher than earlier levels.

In December 2017 the ISF arrested 16-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi, who had a series of previous altercations with the IDF, and charged her with assault after she was filmed slapping an Israeli soldier in the West Bank town of Nabi Saleh. NGOs criticized the nighttime arrest and charges, arguing that Tamimi did not pose a true threat. Tamimi remained in custody for nine months as a result of a plea agreement and sentencing. Her attorney alleged that Tamimi was interrogated by male interrogators without a female present and without an interrogator specialized in questioning minors. It was also alleged that one of the interrogators sexually harassed Tamimi and that threats were made to arrest her relatives if she remained silent during questioning. A formal complaint was filed in April and an IDF spokesperson stated that an investigation had been opened.

In June MCW reported that the majority of minor detainees reported ISF use of blindfolds, hand ties, physical abuse, and threats of violence. The MCW said data from more than 400 MCW detainee testimonials collected between 2013 and 2017 confirmed widespread physical mistreatment by Israeli authorities of Palestinian minor detainees in the West Bank. HaMoked interviewed minors and their families, who reported very similar circumstances of detention, including lack of notification to families of where authorities detained their children, lack of family visits, and coercive interrogation techniques.

According to NGOs, the ISA engaged in the practice of incommunicado detention of Palestinians, including isolation from outside monitors, legal counsel, and family throughout the duration of interrogation.

Arbitrary Arrest: The PA in the West Bank and Hamas de facto authorities in Gaza made arbitrary arrests based on political affiliation, according to ICHR and HRW. In many cases detainees were held without formal charges or proper procedures. There were numerous reports that the PA and Hamas improperly detained Palestinian journalists and arrested Palestinians who posted criticism of the PA (in the West Bank) or Hamas (in Gaza) online. Hamas also targeted those suspected of ties to Israel.

According to human rights NGOs, including the MCW, B’Tselem, and HaMoked, throughout the year there were reports Israeli security forces in the West Bank arbitrarily arrested and detained Palestinian protesters and activists, particularly those participating in demonstrations against the security barrier or against killings of Palestinians.

Pretrial Detention: It was unclear how many Palestinians were held in pretrial detention in West Bank prisons.

Hamas’ de facto Ministry of Interior told HRW that as of April there were more than 4,000 persons in custody, which includes both charged and pretrial detention. It was unclear how long detainees in Hamas custody stayed in pretrial detention.

As of the end of the year, according to the IPS, 467 persons were in administrative detention, including 432 Palestinian residents of the West Bank and four Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Three people in administrative detention were minors. An Israeli military court must approve an administrative detention order. Palestinian detainees may appeal the ruling to the Israeli Military Appeals Court and the Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ). The HCJ did not free any Palestinians under administrative detention during the year.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Palestinian detainees faced barriers to their ability to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, and to obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. Detainees held in PA custody faced delays in the enforcement of court rulings regarding their detention, especially regarding the PA’s obligation to release suspects who have met bail.

Hamas told HRW that between January 2016 and December 2017, Palestinians in Gaza lodged 314 complaints against the security services for “overstepping the law and mistreatment,” and 90 of them were proven true, according to Hamas’ internal investigations.

Palestinians held by Israeli military authorities in administrative detention have no right to trial and can only challenge their detention before a military court judge. In cases in which the evidence substantiating the charges against a detainee is classified, the detainee has no means of examining the evidence (nor, in some cases, to examine the charges) to challenge the detention.

Civil society organizations and some Israeli members of Knesset continued to criticize the Israeli government for using administrative detention excessively, adding that the practice was undemocratic since there was no due process. In its September 2017 submission regarding compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture, Israel claimed it issued administrative detention orders “as a preventive measure where there is a reasonable basis to believe that the detention is absolutely necessary for clear security purposes. Administrative detention is not employed where the security risk can be addressed by other legal alternatives, especially criminal prosecution.” The government further emphasized the role of military judges in reviewing administration detention orders.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The PA basic law provides for an independent judiciary. According to ICHR, the PA judicial system was subject to pressure from the security agencies and the executive, undermining judicial performance and independence. PA authorities did not always execute court orders.

Palestinians have the right to file suits against the PA but rarely did so. Seldom-used administrative remedies are available in addition to judicial remedies.

In Gaza Hamas-appointed prosecutors and judges operated de facto courts, which the PA considered illegal. Gaza residents can file civil suits. HRW reported Hamas internal security regularly tried civil cases in military courts.

Israeli law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected Israeli civil courts’ independence and impartiality. The ISF tried Palestinian residents of the West Bank accused of security offenses in Israeli military courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

PA law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right in the West Bank. Trials are public, except when the court determines PA security, foreign relations, a party’s or witness’ right to privacy, protection of a victim of a sexual offense, or an “honor crime” requires privacy. If a court orders a session closed, the decision may be appealed to a higher PA court. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to prompt and detailed information regarding the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. Amnesty International reported that PA political and judicial authorities sometimes failed to adhere to basic due process rights, including promptly charging suspects. PA law provides for legal representation, at public expense if necessary, in felony cases during the trial phase. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner during the trial, although during the investigation phase, the defendant only has the right to observe. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Suspects and defendants in the PA justice system have a right to remain silent when interrogated by the prosecutor according to the law. Defendants also have a legal right to counsel during interrogation and trial. They have the right to appeal. PA authorities generally observed these rights.

Hamas authorities in Gaza followed the same criminal procedure law as the PA in the West Bank but implemented the procedures inconsistently.

Israeli authorities tried Israelis living in West Bank settlements under Israeli civil law in the nearest Israeli district court. Israeli military trials were provided for Palestinians in the West Bank. The same evidentiary rules used in Israeli criminal cases apply in both Israeli military and civilian proceedings; for example, Israeli authorities cannot base convictions solely on confessions. Indigent detainees do not automatically receive free legal counsel for military trials, but almost all detainees had counsel, in part because NGOs funded their representation. Israeli military courts use Hebrew, but Palestinian defendants have the right to simultaneous interpretation at every hearing. Various human rights organizations claimed the availability and quality of Arabic interpretation was insufficient; most interpreters were bilingual Israelis performing mandatory military service. Defendants can appeal through the Military Court of Appeals and petition Israel’s HCJ. According to NGO reports, Israeli military courts rarely acquitted Palestinians charged with security offenses, although they occasionally reduced sentences on appeal.

Human rights lawyers also argued that the structure of military trials–which take place in Israeli military facilities with Israeli military officers as judges, prosecutors, and court officials, and with tight security restrictions–limited Palestinian defendants’ rights to public trial and access to counsel. MCW reported that 65 percent of Palestinian minors were shown or made to sign documentation written in Hebrew, a language most Palestinian minors could not read, at the conclusion of their interrogation. Israeli authorities disputed these findings, asserting that interrogations of Palestinians took place only in Arabic and that authorities submitted no indictments based solely on a confession written in Hebrew.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

NGOs reported arrests of Palestinians on political grounds occurred in both the West Bank and Gaza. There was no reliable estimate of the number of political prisoners the PA held in the West Bank during the year. In an April letter to HRW, the PA denied it had made any arrests based solely on political or party affiliation.

In Gaza, Hamas detained dozens of Palestinians due to political affiliation, public criticism of Hamas, or suspected collaboration with Israel and held them for varying periods. Hamas alleged that they arrested Fatah members on criminal, rather than political charges. Observers associated numerous allegations of denial of due process with these detentions. The ICRC and NGOs had limited access to these prisoners.

Some human rights organizations claimed Palestinian security prisoners held in Israel were political prisoners. The Israeli government described security prisoners as those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

A Palestinian resident of the West Bank can file suit against the PA, including on matters related to alleged abuses of human rights, but this was uncommon.

A Palestinian resident of Gaza can file suit against de facto Hamas authorities, including on matters related to alleged abuses of human rights, but this was also uncommon.

Palestinian residents of the West Bank can file suit against the government of Israel. In November an Israeli court ruled that residents of Gaza are not able to seek redress or compensation from the Israeli government for damage to property or bodily harm due to Gaza’s classification as an “enemy territory” under the Civil Wrongs (State Liability) Law.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The Israeli government conducted multiple demolitions of Palestinian property in the West Bank based on lack of permits, use of the property by the ISF, or as punishment. Human rights NGOs claimed that in the West Bank, Israeli authorities often placed insurmountable obstacles against Palestinian applicants for construction permits, including the requirement that they document land ownership despite the absence of a uniform post-1967 land registration process, the imposition of high application fees, and requirements to connect new housing to often-unavailable municipal works.

Israeli authorities, including the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) in the West Bank; part of Israel’s Ministry of Defense; and the Ministry of the Interior continued to demolish Palestinian homes, cisterns, and other buildings and property on the basis that these buildings lacked Israeli planning licenses. According to B’Tselem, from 2000 to 2016, Palestinians filed 5,475 applications for building permits in Area C of the West Bank. Of these requests, the ICA approved 226 applications, approximately 4 percent.

During the year Israeli authorities demolished 272 Palestinian structures in the West Bank, 98 percent of which lacked an Israeli building permit and displaced 220 Palestinians, according to data from UNOCHA. The Israeli authorities demolished 15 unpermitted Israeli homes in the Netiv Ha’avot neighborhood of the Elazar settlement in July that the owners had partially built on private Palestinian land. In February the government authorized a financial compensation plan for the affected Netiv Ha’avot residents to provide temporary lodging nearby in the Alon Shvut settlement and money to rebuild their homes elsewhere.

As of year’s end, the Palestinian Bedouin community Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank had not been demolished, although the Israeli government took administrative steps to do so during the year. Approximately 170 residents live in the community, in an area adjacent to a highway, with unpermitted, makeshift electrical and water connections. On May 24, after nearly 10 years of litigation, the HCJ ruled that the ICA’s demolition orders against the structures in Khan al-Ahmar were valid, which provided the ICA legal justification to demolish every structure in the village since all were built without ICA permits. Residents were not able to receive permits, as the Israeli government has not approved a master plan for the area. Following the ruling the HCJ issued a temporary injunction to delay the demolition pending a series of petitions from the PA and Khan al-Ahmar residents. On September 5, the HCJ convened a panel to judges to review these petitions. The panel ultimately rejected the petitions and upheld the HCJ’s May 24 decision, which terminated the temporary injunction beginning on September 12. In an effort to resolve the Khan al-Ahmar dispute, the government constructed an alternative site for the residents that included electric and water connections and a school building for the community’s children. Khan al-Ahmar residents rejected the transfer proposal, arguing that the site was unsuitable.

Israeli authorities sometimes charged demolition fees for demolishing a home; this at times prompted Palestinians to destroy their own homes to avoid the higher costs associated with Israeli demolition. Palestinians had difficulty verifying land ownership in Israeli courts, according to Israeli requirements for proof of land ownership. According to the government, all land ownership cases are assessed individually by an administrative committee, which is subject to judicial review, and decisions made according to the evidence provided.

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

The PA penal procedure code generally requires the PA Attorney General to issue warrants for entry and searches of private property; however, PA judicial officers may enter Palestinian houses without a warrant in case of emergency. NGOs reported it was common for the PA to harass family members for alleged offenses committed by an individual. According to Amnesty International, during the interrogation of a 31-year-old woman in Jericho the police threatened to hurt her family and take away her children.

Hamas de facto authorities in Gaza frequently interfered arbitrarily with personal privacy, family, and home, according to reporting from local media and NGO sources. Hamas authorities searched homes and seized property without warrants. They targeted Palestinian journalists, Fatah loyalists, civil society members, youth activists, and those whom Hamas security forces accused of criminal activity. Hamas forces monitored private communications systems, including telephones, email, and social media sites. They demanded passwords and access to personal information and seized personal electronic equipment of detainees. While Hamas membership was not a prerequisite for obtaining housing, education, or Hamas-provided services in Gaza, authorities commonly reserved employment in some government positions, such as those in the security services, for Hamas members. In several instances Hamas detained individuals for interrogation and harassment, particularly prodemocracy youth activists, based on the purported actions of their family members.

In response to reported security threats, the ISF frequently raided Palestinian homes, including in areas designated as areas under PA security control by Oslo-era accords, according to media and PA officials. These raids often took place at night, which the ISF stated was due to operational necessity. Only ISF officers of lieutenant colonel rank and above can authorize entry into Palestinian private homes and institutions in the West Bank without a warrant, based upon military necessity.

According to B’Tselem, the Israeli military forced Palestinian families in the Jordan Valley to temporarily vacate their homes 17 times to accommodate Israeli military training in the vicinity. In December the IDF forced 13 families, including 38 minors, to temporarily vacate their homes three separate times. A B’Tselem video from December 26 shows a convoy of Israeli military vehicles driving over crops as the IDF leads families away from their homes.

Israeli authorities froze family unification proceedings for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in 2000. HaMoked filed petitions to the High Court of Justice on November 1 on behalf of Palestinian residents of the West Bank and their foreign spouses, requesting that the Israeli government permit foreign spouses to legalize their status through a family unification procedure. HaMoked claimed the military’s refusal to review requests of foreign citizens for family unification is contrary to Israeli law, and to the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Oslo-era agreements. HaMoked further claimed that the IDF rejects family unification requests based on a broad policy, and not on the facts of the individual cases brought before it, and as such does not appropriately balance relevant security needs and the right of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza–protected persons under international humanitarian law–to family life.

Israeli authorities reportedly permitted children in Gaza access to a parent in the West Bank only if no other close relative was resident in Gaza. Israeli authorities did not permit Palestinians who were abroad during the 1967 War or whose residency permits the Israeli government subsequently withdrew to reside permanently in the West Bank or Gaza.

The ISF continued punitive demolitions of the homes of the families of Palestinians implicated in attacks against Israelis. As of December 21, Israeli authorities partially or fully demolished six family homes of Palestinians who had carried out attacks on Israelis. These actions often also rendered other dwellings near the demolished homes uninhabitable. Punitive demolitions displaced 45 Palestinians, including 13 children, according to the United Nations. NGOs such as Amnesty International, HRW, and several Palestinian and Israeli NGOs widely criticized punitive demolitions as collective punishment.

Demolition of the family home of Islam Abu Hmeid, located in the al-Ama’ari refugee camp in Ramallah occurred on December 15. Israeli authorities arrested Abu Hmeid in June for killing a soldier during a May raid into the camp. The Israeli government asserted such demolitions had a deterrent effect on would-be assailants.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The PA basic law generally provides for freedom of expression, but it does not specifically provide for freedom of the press. The PA enforced legislation that NGOs claimed restricted press and media freedom in the West Bank. The PASF continued to restrict freedom of expression in the West Bank, including for the Palestinian press–most notably through harassment, intimidation, and arrest.

In Gaza, Hamas restricted press freedom through arrests and interrogations of journalists, as well as harassment and limitations on access and movement for some journalists. These restrictions led journalists to self-censor.

Israeli civil and military law provides limited protections of freedom of expression and press for Palestinian residents of the West Bank. NGOs and Palestinian journalists alleged that Israeli authorities restrict press coverage and place limits on certain forms of expression–particularly by restricting Palestinian journalists’ movement, as well as through violence, arrests, closure of media outlets, and intimidation, according to media reports and the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms. The Israeli government stated it allows journalists maximum freedom to work and investigates any allegations of mistreatment of journalists.

Freedom of Expression: Although no PA law prohibits criticism of the government, media reports indicated PA authorities arrested West Bank Palestinian journalists and social media activists who criticized, or covered events that criticized the PA. Additionally, there were several complaints during the year that the PA prevented journalists from covering events favorable to Hamas in the West Bank. A video from December 14 showed PA police in Hebron beating people with batons at a rally to mark the 31st anniversary of the founding of Hamas.

The law restricts the publication of material that endangers the “integrity of the Palestinian state.” The PA arrested West Bank journalists and blocked websites associated with political rivals, including sites affiliated with political parties and opposition groups critical of the Fatah-controlled PA. The websites blocked during 2017 continue to be blocked throughout the year.

In Gaza Palestinians publicly criticizing Hamas authorities risked reprisal by Hamas, including arrest, interrogation, seizure of property, and harassment. Media practitioners accused of publicly criticizing Hamas, including civil society and youth activists, social media advocates, and journalists, faced punitive measures, including raids on their facilities and residences, arbitrary detention, and denial of permission to travel outside Gaza. Human rights NGOs reported that Hamas interrogators subjected several of those detained to harassment and violence.

On July 4, a Hamas court issued a suspended six-month jail sentence against journalist Amer Ba’lousha from Beit Lahia in Gaza after publishing a Facebook post criticizing the Hamas leadership, accusing them of corruption and of abusing their power at the expense of the inhabitants of Gaza.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent Palestinian media operated under restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza. The PA Ministry of Information requested that Israeli reporters covering events in the West Bank register with the ministry. According to the PA deputy minister of information, the ministry provides permits to Israeli journalists only if they do not live in a settlement. While officially the PA was open to Israeli reporters covering events in the West Bank, at times Palestinian journalists reportedly pressured Israeli journalists not to attend PA events.

On April 18, media reported that PA security forces arrested Palestinian cameraman Hazen Naser in the West Bank city of Tulkarem. He worked for the An-Najah Broadcast Channel. He was detained while covering a “sit-in”.

Hamas de facto authorities permitted broadcasts within Gaza of reporting and interviews featuring PA officials. Hamas allowed, with some restrictions, the operation of non-Hamas-affiliated broadcast media in Gaza. For example, the PA-supported Palestine TV continued to operate in Gaza.

In areas of the West Bank to which Israel controls access, Palestinian journalists claimed Israeli authorities restricted their freedom of movement and ability to cover stories. The ISF does not recognize Palestinian press credentials or credentials from the International Federation of Journalists. Few Palestinians held Israeli press credentials.

Violence and Harassment: There were numerous reports that the PA harassed, detained (occasionally with violence), prosecuted, and fined journalists in the West Bank during the year based on their reporting.

On June 13, a number of individuals in plain clothes, working alongside Palestinian police, attacked at least 12 journalists who were covering a peaceful protest in Ramallah, demanding that the PA suspend its sanctions against Gaza. They smashed or confiscated cameras and mobile phones belonging to photojournalists to keep them from covering police activities, including assaults against peaceful protesters. Security officials also briefly detained some journalists.

On June 30, Palestinian Authority Preventive Security Organization personnel attacked freelance journalist Lara Kan’an, who worked for the Palestinian Center for Development and media freedoms, as she was covering a march in the West Bank city of Nablus. The agents seized her phone and erased its pictures and recorded material.

The PA occasionally obstructed the West Bank activities of media organizations with Hamas sympathies and limited media coverage critical of the PA.

The PA also had an inconsistent record of protecting Israeli and international journalists in the West Bank from harassment by Palestinian civilians or their own personnel.

In Gaza, Hamas at times arrested, harassed, and pressured, sometimes violently, journalists critical of its policies. Reportedly, Hamas summoned and detained Palestinian journalists for questioning to intimidate them. Hamas also constrained journalists’ freedom of movement within Gaza during the year, attempting to ban access to some official buildings.

Throughout the year there were reports of Israeli actions that prevented Palestinian or Arab-Israeli journalists from covering news stories in the West Bank and Gaza. These actions included alleged harassment by Israeli soldiers and acts of violence against journalists. Palestinian journalists also claimed that Israeli security forces detained Palestinian journalists and forced them to delete images and videos under threat of violence or arrest/administrative detention.

On November 19, Israeli forces allegedly shot and wounded Associated Press cameraman Rashed Rashid while he was covering a demonstration in the Gaza Strip. According to press, witnesses said he was about 600 meters (1,969 feet) from the border fence, far from the protesters. He was reportedly operating a live camera on an elevated area overlooking the protest and wearing a blue helmet and protective vest with the word “PRESS” written in white. The Israeli military said it was investigating the incident.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The PA prohibits calls for violence, displays of arms, and racist slogans in PA-funded and controlled official media. There were no confirmed reports of any legal action against, or prosecution of, any person publishing items counter to these PA rules. Media throughout the West Bank and Gaza reported practicing self-censorship. There were reports of PA authorities seeking to erase images or footage from journalists’ cameras or cell phones.

In Gaza, civil society organizations reported Hamas censored television programs and written materials, such as newspapers and books.

The Israeli government raided and closed West Bank Palestinian media sources, primarily on the basis of allegations they incited violence against Israeli civilians or security services.

Acts of incitement under military law are punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. NGOs and other observers said Israeli military regulations were vaguely worded and open to interpretation. The ISF generally cited two laws in its military orders when closing Palestinian radio stations–the 1945 Defense Emergency Regulations and the 2009 Order Concerning Security Provisions. These laws generally define incitement as an attempt to influence public opinion in a manner that could harm public safety or public order.

On July 29, Israel Security Forces raided the Hamas-affiliated al-Quds TV Station and arrested four journalists, on charges of incitement.

NGO Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) reported that the PA promoted violations of human rights through messages conveyed via media controlled by the PA. On November 23, a host on official Palestinian TV praised the death of a Palestinian who attacked an Israeli police station stabbing three officers, reciting a poem calling him a martyr from Jerusalem and a protector of Al-Aqsa.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were some accusations of slander or libel against journalists and activists in the West Bank and Gaza. An HRW report found that Gazan authorities charged Hajar Harb with slander for an investigative piece she wrote in 2016 on corruption. She was convicted in absentia in 2017. She returned to Gaza during the year, and was granted a new trial after the 2017 conviction was overturned.

National Security: Human rights NGOs alleged that the PA restricted the activities of journalists on national security grounds.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Internet was generally accessible throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Frequent power outages in Gaza interrupted accessibility.

The PA blocked access to at least 29 news sites sympathetic to Hamas or political factions critical of Abbas. The PA monitored social media actively, pressuring and harassing activists and journalists. There were instances when the PA arrested or detained Palestinians because of their posts on social media.

On July 22, the Palestinian Preventive Security Organization questioned and detained Huthia Abu Jamous, a Palestinian photo-journalist and opinion writer for the Hamas-affiliated Quds news Network, regarding some of his Facebook posts.

Gaza-based Palestinian civil society organizations and social media practitioners stated Hamas de facto authorities monitored the internet activities of Gaza residents and took action to intimidate or harass them. According to HRW, in December Hamas officials arrested biology professor Saleh Jadallah for a social media post in which he accused Hamas leadership of corruption. On December 26, Hamas officials interrogated writer Khader Mihjez regarding a social media post in which he questioned Jadallah’s arrest.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The PA did not restrict academic freedom in the West Bank, and there were no known reports of PA censorship of school curricula, plays, films, or exhibits. Palestinian law provides for academic freedom, but individuals or officials from academic institutions reportedly self-censored curricula. Faculty members reported PA security elements were present on university campuses among the student body and faculty, which may have contributed to self-censorship. HRW claimed that authorities closely monitored criticism of the PA by university students and professors.

Public schools as well as UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools in Gaza followed the same curriculum as West Bank schools. Palestinians in Gaza reported interference by Hamas in public schools at the primary, secondary, or university levels. Hamas reportedly interfered in teaching methodologies or curriculum deemed to violate Islamic identity, the religion of Islam, or “traditions,” as defined by Hamas. Hamas also interfered if there were reports of classes or activities that mixed genders. UNRWA reported no Hamas interference in the running of its Gaza schools.

Students from Gaza participating in certain cultural and education programs (including programs sponsored by foreign governments and international organizations) faced questioning from de facto Hamas authorities.

Israeli restrictions on movement (see section 2.d.) adversely affected academic institutions and access to education and cultural activities for Palestinians.

According to the United Nations, more than 40 West Bank schools were under full or partial demolition orders. According to HRW, the difficulty of obtaining permits for new schools and the Israeli destruction of schools built without permits made it difficult for many West Bank Palestinian children to get an education.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Authorities in the West Bank and Gaza limited and restricted Palestinian residents’ freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

PA law permits public meetings, processions, and assemblies within legal limits. It requires permits for rallies, demonstrations, and large cultural events. Both the PA and Hamas security forces selectively restricted or dispersed peaceful protests and demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza during the year.

According to a Hamas decree, any public assembly or celebration in Gaza requires prior permission. Hamas used arbitrary arrest to prevent some events from taking place, particularly political events affiliated with Fatah. Hamas also attempted to impede criticism of Hamas policies by imposing arbitrary demands for the approval of meetings on political or social topics.

A 1967 Israeli military order stipulates that a “political” gathering of 10 or more persons requires a permit from the regional commander of military forces–which Israeli commanders rarely granted. The penalty for a breach of the order is up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a heavy fine. Israeli military law prohibits insulting a soldier, participating in an unpermitted rally, and “incitement” (encouraging others to engage in civil disobedience). In 2016 an Israeli military court indicted Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro on 18 charges dating to 2010. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International stated Amro’s actions during these incidents were consistent with nonviolent civil disobedience. Amro’s trial, which began in 2016, continued through the end of the year. In November the seventh hearing on the case was held in Israeli Military Court. Ha’aretz reported the IDF detained him at least 20 times at various checkpoints from May-July.

The IDF Central Command declared areas of the West Bank to be “closed military zones,” in which it prohibited Palestinian public assembly. It maintained the same designation on Fridays for areas adjacent to the security barrier in the Palestinian villages of Bil’in and Ni’lin during hours when Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists regularly demonstrated there. There were frequent skirmishes between protesters and ISF personnel. The ISF stationed on the West Bank side of the barrier during weekly protests in those villages responded to rock throwing with nonlethal force.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

PA law allows freedom of association. PA authorities sometimes imposed limitations in the West Bank, including on labor organizations (see section 7.a.). NGOs said a regulation subjecting “nonprofit companies” to PA approval prior to receiving grants impeded their independence and threatened the ability of both local and international nonprofits to operate freely in the West Bank.

In Gaza, Hamas attempted to prevent various organizations from operating. These included some it accused of being Fatah-affiliated, as well as private businesses and NGOs that Hamas deemed to be in violation of its interpretation of Islamic social norms. The Hamas de facto Ministry of Interior claimed supervisory authority over all NGOs, and its representatives regularly harassed NGO employees and requested information on staff, salaries, and activities.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

PA law provides for freedom of internal movement within the West Bank, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions.

Hamas authorities restricted some foreign travel into and out of Gaza and required exit permits for Palestinians departing through the Gaza-Israel Erez crossing. Hamas also prevented some Palestinians from exiting Gaza for reasons related to the purpose of their travel or to coerce payment of taxes and fines. There were some reports unmarried women faced restrictions on their travel out of Gaza.

Citing security concerns, Israel imposed significant restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israeli authorities frequently prohibited travel between some or all Palestinian West Bank towns and deployed “flying” (temporary) checkpoints. Palestinians who lived in affected villages stated that “internal closures” continued to have negative economic effects. During periods of potential unrest, including on some major Israeli, Jewish, and Muslim holidays, Israeli authorities enacted “comprehensive external closures” that prevented Palestinians from leaving the West Bank and Gaza. For example, Israeli authorities enacted a comprehensive closure for Gaza for eight days during the September 23-30 Sukkot holiday in September, but allowed access to Israel from the West Bank during part of the Sukkot holiday from September 25 to 28. These closures also reportedly resulted in Palestinian economic losses. B’Tselem reported 32 such days during the year.

Also due to security concerns, Israel has declared access restricted areas (ARA) on both the coastal and land borders around Gaza. The lack of clear information regarding the ARA created risks for Palestinians in Gaza who live or work either on the Mediterranean Coast or near the perimeter fence. The most recent Israeli policy, in 2009, asserts a 300 meter (984 feet) ARA along the perimeter fence, but this was not consistently applied. In some areas, the ARA extends to 500 meters (1,640 feet). No official signage to signify the line of demarcation exists and what exists as official policy changes frequently. Likewise, the permitted maritime activity area for Palestinians along the coastal region of Gaza changed between six and nine miles four separate times from mid-2017 to mid-2018. According to human rights NGOs, this confusion led to frequent instances per year of farmers and fishermen being fired upon by Israeli forces.

A key barrier to Palestinian movement was the security barrier that divides the majority of the West Bank from Israel, including Jerusalem, and some parts of the West Bank. Israeli authorities constructed this barrier to prevent attacks by Palestinian terrorists. In some areas it divides Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem. At its widest points, the barrier extends 11 miles (18 kilometers) into the West Bank. B’Tselem estimated that 27,000 Palestinians resided in communities west of the barrier whom were required to travel through Israeli security checkpoints to reach the remainder of the West Bank. Other significant barriers to Palestinian movement included internal ISF road closures and Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinian persons and goods into and out of the West Bank and Gaza. In July UNOCHA reported there were 705 permanent obstacles throughout the West Bank, a 3 percent increase from its last survey in 2016. Israeli restrictions on movement affected virtually all aspects of Palestinian life, including access to places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities.

The PA and Hamas generally cooperated with humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons and refugees. Israeli officials imposed controls on movement of materials, goods, and persons into and out of Gaza based on security concerns. Amnesty International and HRW reported difficulties by foreign workers in obtaining Israeli visas, which affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the West Bank and Gaza. Amnesty International and HRW also reported that the Israeli government denied their employees permits to enter Gaza from Israel.

PA-affiliated prosecutors and judges stated that ISF prohibitions on movement in the West Bank, including Israeli restrictions on the PA’s ability to transport detainees and collect witnesses, hampered their ability to dispense justice.

UNRWA reported its West Bank Headquarters staff lost 1,376 workdays during the year, mostly due to increased Israeli demands to search UNRWA vehicles at checkpoints between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. According to UNRWA, as of the end of 2017, there were more than 828,328 Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA in the West Bank and nearly 1.4 million in the Gaza Strip. Almost one-quarter (24 percent) of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank lived in camps, as did approximately 40 percent in Gaza. Some Palestinians, registered with UNRWA as refugees, who lived in Syria prior to the Syrian civil war were reportedly living in Gaza. Additionally, Syrians of Palestinian descent (not registered with UNRWA as refugees) were also reportedly living in Gaza after fleeing the Syrian civil war.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Israeli security operations in the West Bank led to 14 Palestinian UNRWA beneficiary fatalities as of December 2017 of whom six were killed allegedly while conducting an attack on the ISF or Israeli civilians. Israeli use of live ammunition caused most injuries. There were 223 Palestinians reported injured by Israeli authorities in West Bank refugee camps, according to UNRWA, of whom live ammunition injured 92, including 15 UNRWA beneficiary minors.

UNRWA data from 2014 through October suggests that while total injuries as a result of ISF operations in and around refugee camps have trended down, live ammunition injuries as a percentage of total injuries have increased from 16 percent to 42 percent. The UN Agency expressed particular concern over the use of live ammunition against minors. The most recent fatality in Deheishe refugee camp south of Bethlehem was in July, when the ISF fatally shot with live ammunition 14-year-old Arkan Thaer Mizher. According to the Israeli government, military police were investigating the incident.

There was no process for foreign spouses or foreign-born children of Palestinians to obtain permanent legal status in the West Bank. As a result, many Palestinian children and young adults, especially those born abroad, are without legal status in the region where they have spent most or all of their lives. HaMoked filed an appeal in October in the case of 24-year-old Maen Abu Hafez. Abu Hafez reportedly has lived in the Jenin refugee camp since he was three, when he moved there with his Palestinian father and Uruguayan mother. His family reunification request has been on hold for several years. In February 2017 he was detained at a checkpoint and has been held since then in an Israeli prison for illegal aliens in Ramle. The Israeli government is attempting to deport him to Brazil, where he was born, although he has no ties there and does not speak Portuguese.

In-country Movement: PA authorities did not interfere with Palestinians’ movement within the West Bank.

Hamas authorities did not enforce routine restrictions on internal movement within Gaza, although there were some areas of Gaza to which Hamas prohibited access. Pressure to conform to Hamas’s interpretation of Islamic norms generally restricted movement by women.

As part of security procedures, the ISF routinely detained for several hours Palestinians residing in Gaza who had permits to enter Israel for business and subjected them to interrogations and strip searches at Israeli-controlled checkpoints.

According to human rights NGOs, Israel imposed significant restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and between the West Bank and Jerusalem as described above. Israeli authorities damaged Palestinian property while conducting raids, sealed off entries and exits, and confiscated vehicles. The Israeli government stated that it imposed collective restrictions only if an armed forces commander believed there was a military necessity for the action and that the imposition on the everyday lives of Palestinian civilians was not disproportionate.

Restrictions on access to Jerusalem had a negative effect on Palestinian patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in Jerusalem that offered specialized care unavailable in the West Bank. According to Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), IDF soldiers at checkpoints at times harassed and delayed ambulances from the West Bank or refused them entry into Jerusalem, even in emergency cases. The PRCS reported hundreds of such actions impeding humanitarian services during the year. Most included blocking access to those in need, preventing their transport to specialized medical centers, or imposing delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours. According to the Israeli government, security considerations and lack of advanced coordination on the part of Palestinian medical teams often caused delays.

Israeli authorities restricted or prohibited Palestinian travel on 30 roads and sections of roads (totaling approximately 65 miles or 43 kilometers) throughout the West Bank, including many of the main traffic arteries. The ISF also imposed temporary curfews confining Palestinians to their homes during ISF arrest operations. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israeli authorities eased restrictions on Palestinians entering Israel, including Jerusalem, allowing West Bank Palestinians to use Ben Gurion airport, to visit family, and visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for religious services. Israeli authorities did not issue permits to Palestinians in Gaza to visit Jerusalem.

Israeli authorities extended the security barrier in the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem and began land clearing to extend the barrier through Walajah village, also near Bethlehem. Israel continued to restrict movement and development near the barrier, including access by some international organizations. In response to a freedom of information act request from HaMoked, the IDF reported in November that during the year it had denied 72 percent of permit requests by Palestinian farmers to access their land blocked by the security barrier, of which 1 percent of the denials were for security reasons. HaMoked said that many of these refusals were due to arbitrary claims by Israeli authorities that the farmer’s land was too small to cultivate.

Private security companies employed by the Israeli government controlled many points of access through the security barrier. International organizations and local human rights groups claimed these security companies did not respond to requests to allow movement of goods or NGO representatives through the barrier.

Palestinian farmers continued to report difficulty accessing their lands in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank. NGOs and community advocates reported numerous Palestinian villages owned land was rendered inaccessible by the barrier. A complicated Israeli permit regime (requiring more than 10 different permits) prevented these Palestinians from fully using their lands.

UNOCHA reported Palestinians in Gaza considered areas up to 984 feet (300 meters) from the perimeter fence to be a “no-go” area, and up to 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) to be “high risk,” which discouraged farmers from cultivating their fields. UNOCHA estimated nearly 35 percent of the Gaza Strip’s cultivable land was located in the restricted area.

Israeli restrictions allowed fishing only within three nautical miles of Gaza land during specific periods. The Israeli government stated these restrictions were necessary for security reasons. Israeli and Egyptian naval forces regularly fired warning shots at Palestinian fishermen entering the restricted sea areas, in some cases directly targeting the fishermen, according to UNOCHA (see section 1.a.). Israeli armed forces confiscated fishing boats intercepted in these areas and detained the fishermen. Palestinian fishermen reported confusion over the exact limits of the new fishing boundaries.

In the West Bank, Israeli military authorities continued to restrict Palestinian vehicular and foot traffic and access to homes and businesses in downtown Hebron, citing a need to protect several hundred Israeli settlers resident in the city center. The ISF continued to occupy rooftops of private Palestinian homes in Hebron as security positions, forcing families to leave their front door open for soldiers to enter. In response to these reports, the Israeli government stated that freedom of movement is not an absolute right, but must be balanced with security and public order.

Non-Muslims have designated times to visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, but the Al Aqsa mosque is not open to the non-Muslim public. The Israeli government, in accordance with the status quo understanding with the Jordanian authorities managing the site, officially prohibits non-Muslim worship and other non-Muslim religious activity at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. The Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, Jewish Temple Mount groups, and local media reported police became more permissive of silent Jewish prayer and other religious rituals performed on the site during the year and Jewish individuals and groups who identify as “Temple Mount activists” made a record number of visits. In July Prime Minister Netanyahu rescinded his 2015 prohibition of Israeli Knesset members and ministers visiting the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, and allowed them to visit once every three months, and in November, he began to allow these officials to visit monthly, according to media reports. The Israeli government, citing security concerns, continued to impose intermittent restrictions on Palestinian access to certain religious sites, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Waqf officials said Israeli police continued to restrict Waqf operations, and renovation and repair projects at the site. Israeli authorities permitted Waqf staff to carry out some minor repairs in September. Israeli officials cited security concerns when imposing travel restrictions, including limited access to Jerusalem during major Jewish holidays, as well as continued construction of Israel’s security barrier, which impeded the movements of Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the West Bank.

Foreign Travel: PA authorities generally did not limit West Bank residents’ foreign travel. Residents with pending court cases reported that they were not able to depart until the case had been resolved. The PA does not control border crossings into or out of the West Bank.

Hamas authorities in Gaza occasionally enforced movement restrictions on Palestinians attempting to exit Gaza to Israel via the Erez Crossing and to Egypt via the Rafah Crossing. Since April Hamas has imposed a checkpoint in front of the “Arba Arba” checkpoint near the Erez crossing, requiring all passengers to register before entering and exiting Gaza.

Israeli authorities often denied or did not respond to Palestinian applications for travel permits through the Erez Crossing. Israel largely limited entry and exit from Gaza at the Erez Crossing to humanitarian cases. This restriction prevented Palestinians from transiting to Jerusalem for visa interviews in some cases, to Jordan (often for onward travel) via the Allenby Bridge, and to the West Bank for work or education.

During the year, the Israeli Supreme Court continued to uphold with few exceptions the Israeli ban imposed in 2000 on students from Gaza attending West Bank universities. Students in Gaza generally did not apply to West Bank universities because they understood Israeli authorities would deny permits.

Delays in permit approvals by Israeli officials caused some Palestinians to miss the travel dates for exchange programs abroad, and even for matriculation in foreign universities. In some cases authorities asked students to submit to security interviews prior to receiving permits. Israeli authorities detained some students indefinitely without charge following their security interview, which caused other students to refuse to attend these interviews due to fear of detention.

Beginning in May, the Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah Crossing to pedestrians five days per week, and 87,979 Palestinians departed Gaza through the Rafah Crossing between July and December. For Palestinians in Gaza, obtaining permission from the Hamas de facto government in Gaza and the Egyptian government to travel through Rafah was difficult.

Israel imposed new restrictions on access to healthcare for family members associated with Hamas; according to Gisha, an Israeli organization that focuses on Palestinian freedom of movement, in the first quarter of the year, Israel denied 833 exit permit applications by residents of Gaza on the grounds that the applicants were “first-degree relative [of] a Hamas operative.” In comparison, Gisha said Israeli authorities refused 21 applications on the same grounds in 2017. In March, Gisha and other human rights groups petitioned for the practice to change, and following the petition, Israel granted a number of female cancer patients permits for treatment in the East Jerusalem Hospital Network. The Jordanian government issued passports to Palestinians based on individual requests.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

UNOCHA estimated that, at the end of 2016, 47,200 persons in Gaza remained displaced due to destruction caused by the 2014 war. Reconstruction progressed slowly. The Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism enabled the entry of construction materials to rebuild 8,000 of the 11,000 individual homes destroyed in Gaza, but authorities had not yet rebuilt more than 3,000 homes.

UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations provided services to IDPs in Gaza and the West Bank, with some limitations due to Israeli restrictions on movement and border access.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Basic Services: Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza were eligible to access UNRWA schools and primary health care clinics, although in some cases, movement restrictions limited access to UNRWA services and resources in the West Bank (see “Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons” section above regarding UNRWA’s definition of refugees).

All UNRWA projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip required Israeli government permits, but UNRWA does not apply for permits in refugee camps.

The deterioration of socioeconomic conditions during the year in Gaza severely affected refugees. UNRWA reported that food security continued to be at risk.

Israeli import restrictions on certain commodities considered as dual use continued to impede humanitarian operations in Gaza, including those directed toward refugees. In 2016 Israeli authorities introduced a requirement whereby approval of UNRWA projects remained valid for only one year. As project implementation timelines often exceeded one year, this requirement necessitated applications for reapproval of projects, which hampered implementation and increased transaction costs for multiple UNRWA projects.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to NGOs, 40,000 to 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza lacked identification cards recognized by Israel. Some were born in Gaza, but Israel never recognized them as residents; some fled Gaza during the 1967 war; and some left Gaza for various reasons after 1967 but later returned. A small number lacking recognized identification cards were born in the Gaza Strip and never left, but had only Hamas-issued identification cards. Under the Oslo Accords, the PA administers the Palestinian Population Registry, although status changes in the registry require Israeli government approval. The Israeli government has not processed changes to the registry since 2000.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The PA basic law provides Palestinians the ability to choose their government and vote in periodic free and fair elections held by secret ballot and based on universal, equal suffrage. The PA has not held national elections in the West Bank or Gaza since 2006. Residents of Gaza, which has been under Hamas control since 2007, were unable to choose their own government or hold it accountable. Civil society organizations in Gaza stated Hamas and other Islamist groups did not tolerate public dissent, opposition, civic activism, or the promotion of values contrary to their political and religious ideology.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: There have been no national elections in the West Bank and Gaza since 2006. On December 22, President Abbas announced that the PA Constitutional Court had issued a decision dissolving the PLC and calling for PLC elections within six months. Authorities scheduled municipal elections in both the West Bank and Gaza in May 2017; however, the PA postponed municipal elections in Gaza. Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine boycotted the elections in the West Bank. According to election observers, voting generally proceeded without incidents of violence or voter intimidation. As required by Palestinian law, 20 percent of candidates on the lists were women. As of year’s end, no date was set for new national or municipal elections in the West Bank or Gaza.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The PA allowed a diversity of political parties to exist in the West Bank but limited the ability of Hamas members to campaign and organize rallies. In Gaza Hamas allowed other political parties but restricted their activities. According to HRW, the PA and Hamas arbitrarily arrested each other’s supporters solely because of their political affiliation or expression of views.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No PA laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Legally women and minorities can vote and participate in political life on the same basis as men and nonminority citizens, although women faced significant social and cultural barriers in both the West Bank and Gaza. There were three women and three Christians in the 23-member PA cabinet.

Hamas generally excluded women from leadership positions in the de facto ministries in Gaza.

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

Palestinian human rights groups and international organizations generally operated without PA restriction in the West Bank and PA officials cooperated with their efforts to monitor the PA’s human rights practices, although according to HRW some civil society groups accused the PA of phone tapping. Several PA security services, including General Intelligence and the Palestinian Civil Police, appointed official liaisons who worked with human rights groups.

Israeli and Palestinian human rights NGOs operating in the West Bank and/or Gaza, including B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Breaking the Silence, reported harassment from Israeli settlers and anonymous sources. NGOs reported continued telephonic harassment following widespread publication of a video naming and vilifying activists or supporters of four NGOs that reported on Palestinian human rights issues. B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, Yesh Din, Human Rights Watch, and Breaking the Silence reported some of their employees were subjected to intimidation, death threats, or physical assault. NGOs claimed these behaviors increased during periods in which government officials spoke out against their activities or criticized them as enemies or traitors for opposing government policy.

Both Palestinian and Israeli human rights NGOs operating in the West Bank and Gaza reported they faced sophisticated cyberattacks on their websites, servers, and internal databases.

Gaza-based NGOs reported that Hamas representatives appeared at their offices to seek tax payments, demand beneficiary lists and salary information, and summon NGO representatives to police stations for questioning.

Humanitarian organizations continued to raise concerns about the shrinking operational space for international NGOs in Gaza following Israeli media reports that Israeli authorities arrested a French Consulate employee who admitted to smuggling weapons from Gaza to the West Bank in official diplomatic vehicles, which led to further scrutiny on both nongovernmental and diplomatic visitors to Gaza.

Palestinian, Israeli, and international NGOs monitored the Israeli government’s practices in the West Bank and Gaza, and published their findings. Israeli authorities permitted some human rights groups to hold and publish press conferences and provided the ICRC with access to most detainees.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: PA and Israeli officials generally cooperated with and permitted visits by representatives of the United Nations and other international organizations. There were numerous reports Hamas harassed members of international organizations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ICHR continued serving as the PA’s ombudsperson and human rights commission. The ICHR issued monthly and annual reports on human rights violations within PA-controlled areas; the ICHR also issued formal recommendations to the PA. The ICHR was generally independent but faced resource shortages that limited its ability to work effectively. Local and international human rights NGOs cooperated with the ICHR.

Samoa

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports government officials normally employed them. There were allegations of abuses by some police officials, such as the use of physical violence against detainees.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to inadequate food, potable water, overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: The Tafaigata men’s prison was overcrowded with more than 300 inmates in a facility with an official capacity of 260. Pretrial detainees were held together with convicts. Authorities made only basic provision for food, water (including potable water), and sanitation. Ventilation and cell lighting remained poor, and lights remained on all night.

Physical conditions in the separate Tafaigata women’s prison, including ventilation and sanitation, generally were better than in the men’s prison.

Authorities housed juveniles (prisoners younger than age 26) at the Olomanu Juvenile Center, where physical conditions generally were better than in adult facilities.

Police held overnight detainees in two cells at police headquarters in Apia and one cell at Tuasivi.

An inquest into the August 2017 death of a male prisoner continued as of November 2018. Prison officials ruled the death a suicide by hanging, a claim the family disputed.

Administration: The prison system could not account for or effectively supervise all inmates. This was evident in the recurring prison escapes and delays in recapturing escapees.

Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities and request investigation of alleged problematic conditions. Authorities investigated such allegations, documented them, and made the results publicly accessible. The government generally investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers, including UN organizations and diplomatic missions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Samoa Police Department, under the Ministry of Police and Prison Services, maintains internal security. Local councils enforce rules and security within each village. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving police. Insufficient capacity limited police effectiveness.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The Supreme Court issues arrest warrants based on compelling evidence. The law provides for the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention, and authorities generally respected this right. Officials informed detainees within 24 hours of the charges against them or else released them. There was a functioning bail system. The government allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice. The government provided indigent detainees with a lawyer upon request. The government did not hold suspects incommunicado or under house arrest.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. A trial judge examines evidence and determines if there are grounds to proceed. Under the law defendants are presumed innocent and may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Trials are public except for trials of juveniles, which only immediate family members may attend. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial; have timely consultation with an attorney; receive prompt and detailed information of the charges, including interpretation services as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals; and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may confront witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, access government-held evidence, and appeal a verdict. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

Village councils handled many civil and criminal matters, but the councils varied considerably in decision-making styles and the number of matai involved in decisions. The law recognizes the decisions of the local council and provides for limited appeal to the Lands and Titles Court and the Supreme Court. The nature and severity of a dispute determines which court receives an appeal. Defendants may make a further appeal to the Court of Appeal. A Supreme Court ruling stipulates that local councils may not infringe upon villagers’ freedom of religion, speech, assembly, or association. Village councils, however, consistently ignored this ruling.

A January 2017 amendment to the law on village councils sought to ensure that the powers exercised by the village council comply with the constitution. The amendment provides more detail on what is a punishable offense and steps to be taken to carry out a punishment. Because of a strong cultural focus on village authority, the effect of the amendment remains uncertain.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through the courts.

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

The laws prohibit such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions. There was little privacy in villages, where there could be substantial societal pressure on residents to grant village officials access to their homes without a warrant. There were reports some village councils banished individuals or families from villages.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press. The law stipulates imprisonment for any journalist who, despite a court order, refuses to reveal a confidential source upon request from a member of the public.

After abolishing it in 2013, parliament reinstated the Criminal Libel Act in December 2017, making defamation a criminal offense. The bill was rushed through parliament, passing its first, second, and third readings in less than one hour, and there was no public consultation on the bill. This move was largely in response to an increase in social media bloggers posting defamatory allegations, often about government leaders. Local media protested the law, calling it an obstacle to press freedom and questioned the need for it, since libel is already handled as a civil matter.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law authorizes the Samoa Tourism Authority (STA) to file suit against any person who publishes information about the tourism industry that it deems prejudicial to the public perception of the country. Violators are subject to a fine or maximum imprisonment of three months if they fail to retract the information or to publish a correction when ordered to do so by the STA. The STA did not exercise this authority in the year to October.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Internet access was widely available in most of the country via cellular technology, but the high cost limited internet access for much of the population outside the capital. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 30 percent of the population had access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting refugee status, but the government has not yet established a system for providing protection to refugees. There were no requests for asylum or refugee status.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the 2016 general election free and fair. The Human Rights Protection Party retained government control for a seventh consecutive term, winning 47 of 50 seats. The Tautua Samoa Party controlled three seats, not enough to form an official opposition. Following the election, plaintiffs filed six electoral petitions with the Supreme Court on grounds including cash and non-cash bribery, during the campaign. Of the six, five were withdrawn and the court dismissed one for lack of evidence. Bribery, village pressure, and the threat of countersuits were reportedly cited as reasons for petition withdrawals.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution gives all citizens older than age 21 the right to vote; however, only persons with a matai title, the 17,000 chiefly leaders of extended families, may run for parliament or serve on village councils. Matai were appointed, not elected, to the councils.

In addition to the restrictions favoring matai, the 2016 election was the first to require all candidates to satisfy a three-year period of monotaga (services rendered through participation and physical contributions) in their respective village(s) to be eligible to run. The law sought to ensure that candidates fulfilled cultural and other commitments to their village and could not just use their matai status or make large, last-minute contributions to their villages to garner votes. The amendment led to a number of court petitions and the disqualification of five candidates deemed not to have met the requirement. The cases exposed deficiencies in the amendment since monotaga is ill defined and can mean different types of service (or exemption from service for certain matai) in different villages. Some saw such subjective disqualifications as human rights abuses.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Four women won seats in parliament outright in 2016. A 50th seat was added to parliament to ensure that the constitutionally mandated 10 percent female representation in parliament was observed. The seat went to the unsuccessful woman candidate with the highest percentage of votes in her constituency. Although both men and women may become matai, only 10 percent of matai were women. Of the five female members of parliament, the ruling party appointed Fiame Naomi Mataafa deputy prime minister, a first for the country.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: Observers considered the Office of the Ombudsman generally effective and able to operate free from government or political party interference. The government usually adopted its recommendations. The Office of the Ombudsman also houses the National Human Rights Institute, which in September published the 2018 National State of Human Rights Report comprised entirely of a 300-page National Public Inquiry into Family Violence. The report revealed widespread verbal and physical abuse within families.

San Marino

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

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

Administration: No allegations of mistreatment were reported to the authorities.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent nongovernmental observers and international bodies.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Civil Police operate under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The captains regent control the Gendarmerie (national police force) and National Guard (military) when they are performing duties related to public order and security. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs exercises control over such administrative functions as personnel and equipment, and the courts exercise control over the Gendarmerie when it acts as judicial police. The Military Congress enforces the military code of conduct.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Civil Police, the Gendarmerie, and the National Guard, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The commissioner of the law investigated and prosecuted criminal activity in the country. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official are required for authorities to apprehend persons other than those who are caught and arrested during the commission of an alleged crime. Authorities did not detain individuals without judicial authorization or in secret. Police promptly informed detainees of charges against them. There was a well-functioning bail system. Authorities provided detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and to family members. The state provided legal assistance to indigent persons, and there were no reports of limitations to this provision. The law provides for an apprehended person to be detained in prison, in a treatment facility, or under house arrest. The person may be ordered also to remain in the country while their case is pending trial. There were no reports that authorities detained or held persons incommunicado.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides for the presumption of innocence and requires authorities to inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Defendants have the right to a fair, public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney during every stage of the investigation. Indigent defendants have the right to an attorney provided at public expense. A single judge presides over trials. Defendants have the right to adequate time to prepare a defense. Free language interpretation is provided throughout the legal process. Defendants may question witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Authorities may not compel defendants to testify or to confess guilt. Defendants have the right to two levels of appeal. The law extends these rights to all persons, and no groups were denied these rights.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. Administrative as well as judicial remedies exist for alleged wrongdoings, including human rights violations. Citizens may appeal cases involving alleged violations by the government of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights after they have exhausted all routes for appeal in the domestic courts.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Expression: The country’s laws prohibit persons from disseminating, by any means, ideas based on racial superiority or on racial or ethnic hatred, or from committing or encouraging others to commit discriminatory acts on the grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation. There were no reports of violations of or prosecutions based on these laws.

Press and Media Freedom: The law regulating media and the work of media professionals provides for an authority for information, which may impose sanctions (including fines) on journalists and media who violate a national media code of conduct. Online publications, such as blogs or messages on social media operated or written by individuals, associations, or parties were not considered as being part of the press and are therefore not covered by this legislation.

The Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance noted the absence of journalist representatives within the Office of the Press Ombudsman, which is in charge of ensuring compliance with the code of ethics.

One journalist, sentenced to one month in prison on charges of revealing private correspondence, lodged an appeal at the European Court for Human Rights, claiming he was not allowed to confront his accuser. The court accepted the case for review.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Reliable information on internet use in the country was not available.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

Although the country is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, the government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Only one family (from Syria) was granted asylum in the country during the year.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The government may grant refugee status or asylum by an act of the cabinet.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the 2016 parliamentary elections to be generally free and fair.

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

Both captains regent in power until April were women, but the cabinet did not include any other women.

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

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

Sao Tome and Principe

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

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

There was a report the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On October 4, a man arrested by police was beaten to death at the police station in Trindade. The police officers involved were arrested and charged with homicide and were awaiting trial as of October.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were reports, however, of police using physical force, including beatings, of persons who resisted arrest.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Although not life threatening, prison conditions were harsh due to overcrowding, inadequate medical care, and failing infrastructure.

Physical Conditions: There was one prison and no separate jails or detention centers. Authorities held pretrial and convicted prisoners together. Minors were held together with adults. There were 10 female prisoners, held in a separate part of the prison. Needs of prisoners with disabilities went unmet. Police stations had a small room or space to incarcerate detainees for periods under 48 hours.

As of October 5, there were 253 prison inmates; 83 were pretrial detainees, 10 were women, and 170 were sentenced prisoners. In addition, 56 individuals under house arrest were under the supervision of the prison administration. There were no reported prisoner deaths. The prison was originally built for 200 inmates but held 253.

Medical care was poor, and the prison lacked basic medicines. A doctor visited once a week, and there were three nurses. Prison authorities allowed inmates to see a doctor once a week and took prisoners with medical emergencies to the national hospital. Food and sanitation often were inadequate. Some rooms were unusable due to disrepair. High temperatures within the facility were typical and ventilation was insufficient.

Administration: Prisoners and detainees may submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of allegations of inhuman conditions. No investigations occurred during the year. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights monitored prison conditions.

Legal representatives from the prosecutor’s staff and court personnel were available to address prisoner grievances.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted human rights monitors to visit the prison; two international entities and at least three local human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) requested such visits during the year. Prison authorities allowed domestic charitable groups, family members, and churches to visit the prison to offer food, soap, and other necessities to prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. They provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court and obtain prompt release and compensation if unlawfully detained, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Defense and Internal Affairs has responsibility for the military, which is composed of the army and coast guard. The Internal Affairs side is responsible for the national police, immigration service, and customs police. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights has responsibility for the judiciary police, which does criminal investigations. Many citizens viewed police as ineffective and corrupt.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over national police, customs and immigration authorities, and the military. While the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, abuses committed with impunity remained a problem. There were reports of police mistreatment of persons upon arrest, although no reliable statistics were available.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police to have arrest warrants issued by a judge to apprehend suspects, unless the suspect is caught committing a crime. The law also requires a legal determination within 48 hours of detention, and authorities generally respected this requirement. Authorities informed detainees promptly of charges against them and allowed them access to family members. Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer and, if they could not afford one, the state provided one. During the year an NGO reported that authorities asked detainees whether they paid taxes, and if they answered no, denied them access to a lawyer. The Human Rights Committee denied there were any restrictions on a detainee’s right to a state-provided lawyer if he/she was unable to afford one. The bar association provided services, and the government paid lawyers a symbolic fee. There is a functioning bail system.

Pretrial Detention: According to the director of the prison, approximately 27 percent of inmates were pretrial detainees. Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem in some criminal cases. Due to overcrowding the prison held pretrial detainees together with convicted criminals. The understaffed and inefficient judicial system added to the delay.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial system in some cases appeared subject to political influence or manipulation. Prosecutors appeared not to pursue cases against politically well-connected individuals.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial. Under a judicial system based on the Portuguese model, a judge rather than a jury tries the accused. The constitution provides for the right of appeal, the right to legal representation, and, if a person is indigent, the right to an attorney provided by the state. The law presumes defendants to be innocent. They have the right to be present at their trial, confront their accusers, confront witnesses, and present evidence and witnesses on their own behalf. Defendants received adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They were not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities must inform defendants in detail of the charges against them within 48 hours of arrest and provide them with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals.

The law extends these rights to all citizens, and authorities generally respected these rights.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The same court considers both criminal and civil cases but uses different procedures depending on the type of case. Plaintiffs may file lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations; there are also administrative remedies for alleged wrongs. There is no regional body, however, to which individuals and organizations may appeal adverse court rulings.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. A somewhat independent press and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, although the press sometimes was susceptible to political influence and manipulation. The law grants all opposition parties access to state-run media, including a minimum of three minutes for each party per month on television. Some opposition leaders claimed newscasters did not always respect the minimum time, or the government edited content during that time.

Freedom of Expression: Political and human rights groups expressed concern over individuals’ reduced ability in general to criticize the government openly. On one occasion riot police and regular police entered parliament and expelled opposition members after a heated argument during which an opposition member broke the parliamentary ballot box. In August 2017 participants in a supposed military training exercise harassed opposition party members who attempted to gather for a meeting at the National Assembly.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media remained underdeveloped and subject to pressure and manipulation to avoid criticizing the government. Privately owned as well as government-owned radio and television stations broadcast throughout the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists claimed to have practiced self-censorship, particularly at government-owned media entities, which were the country’s most significant sources of news. Private news sources have also censored their own reporting. Critics claimed government-owned media intentionally interrupted the broadcast of speeches by opposition members in parliament.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal oversight. In June 2017 the online news source was inaccessible for approximately three weeks; no information was available as to the reason. Internet access was widely available through computer centers and chat rooms in most urban areas, including Sao Tome city, Trindade, Neves, Santana, and Angolares. It was not available in rural and remote areas. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 30 percent of individuals in the country used the internet during 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for this right, and the government generally respected it. On October 11, presumably to maintain order, police restricted freedom of peaceful assembly, forbidding public gatherings until after the announcement of election results on October 19. The restriction was prompted by a protest on October 8, when a crowd of several hundred overturned an official’s car and burned it. Several groups objected to the restriction but respected the ban.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Members of opposition parties feared retribution for expressing their opinions and criticism of the government openly.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held legislative elections on October 7. The ruling ADI party won 25 seats (eight less than in 2014) of the 55 total, the MLSTP/PSD won 23, the Coalition of PCD-MDFM-UDD won five, and the Independent Citizens Movement won two seats for Caue. International observers deemed the legislative election transparent and well organized. The election was generally free and fair. In 2016 voters elected President Evaristo do Espirito Santo Carvalho as head of state. Because Carvalho received fewer than 50 percent of the votes in the first round (49.8 percent), a second round of voting was required. The incumbent, Manuel Pinto de Costa (who received 24.8 percent of the first round vote), boycotted the second round, leaving Carvalho to run unopposed. International observers deemed the presidential election generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no laws limiting the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities participated. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Human Rights Committee, under the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, was moderately effective. The committee considered at least one complaint of poor prison conditions and proposed an interministerial Human Rights Institute to address concerns fully.

Saudi Arabia

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

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

The government or its agents engaged in arbitrary or unlawful killings. On October 2, Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist who lived abroad in “self-exile,” was killed by government agents during a visit to the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The government initially claimed he had left the consulate in good health but changed its story as facts came to light. On November 15, the PPO announced the indictment of 11 suspects in Khashoggi’s killing and that it would seek the death penalty for five of them charged with murder. The PPO added that an additional 10 suspects were under investigation in connection with the case. The PPO did not name the suspects. Previously, on October 19, the government announced the dismissal of five senior officials, including Royal Court advisor Saud al-Qahtani and Deputy Chief of the General Intelligence Presidency Ahmad al-Asiri, in connection with Khashoggi’s killing. In 2016 authorities reportedly banned Khashoggi from writing, appearing on television, and attending conferences due to remarks he made that were interpreted as critical of foreign and Saudi government officials, according to multiple media sources.

On March 12, the New York Times reported that unnamed sources said 17 detainees–among them princes, businessmen, and former and current government officials–held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh in November 2017 had required hospitalization for physical abuse and that one had died in custody.

Under the country’s interpretation and practice of sharia (Islamic law), capital punishment may be imposed for a range of nonviolent offenses, including apostasy, sorcery, and adultery, although in practice death sentences for such offenses were rare and often reduced on appeal. The government, however, frequently implemented capital punishment for nonviolent drug trafficking offenses. According to the governmental Saudi Press Agency, the country carried out 145 executions as of December 19, 57 of which were for drug-related offenses. Three of those executions were carried out in public.

Since the country lacks a comprehensive written penal code listing criminal offenses and the associated penalties for them (see section 1.e.), punishment–including the imposition of capital punishment–is subject to considerable judicial discretion. Defendants are able to appeal their sentences. The law requires a five-judge appellate court to affirm a death sentence, which a five-judge panel of the Supreme Court must unanimously affirm. Appellate courts may recommend changes to a sentence, including increasing a lesser sentence to the death penalty.

Defendants possess the right under the law to seek commutation of a death sentence for some crimes and may receive a royal pardon under specific circumstances (see section 1.d.).

Many of those executed during the year had been convicted in trials that did not meet international minimum fair trial standards, according to NGOs such as Amnesty International. Amnesty noted that “those sentenced to death are often convicted solely on the basis of ‘confessions’ obtained under torture and other mistreatment, denied legal representation in trials which are held in secret, and are not kept informed of the progress of the legal proceedings in their case.”

In August the public prosecutor charged six Eastern Province activists with offenses that potentially could lead to death sentences based on the sharia principle of ta’zir, or “discretionary” punishments, according to HRW. The judge has discretion over the definition of what constitutes a crime and the sentence. The activists had initial hearings before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), set up in 2008 to try terrorism cases, on charges including “participating in violent protests” in the Qatif area of Eastern Province. Local and international human rights organizations noted the hearings before the SCC lacked transparency and did not adhere to minimum fair trial standards.

On March 15, seven UN experts issued a statement expressing concern over the pending death sentence of Abbas Haiji al-Hassan and 14 others, whom the SCC convicted of spying for Iran, financing terrorism, and illegally proselytizing in 2016. The experts called on the government to annul the death sentences, which had been upheld by further court rulings in July and December 2017. Al-Hassan was later transferred to the State Security Presidency (SSP), and his sentence was, at year’s end, subject to ratification by the king. The UN report commented: “We are concerned that these individuals were subjected to torture during their interrogation to obtain confessions and that the death sentences may be based on evidence obtained under these conditions.”

The government also imposed death sentences for crimes committed by minors. According to the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR), at year’s end eight individuals on death row were minors when detained, or at the time they committed offenses. The new Juvenile Law (approved by Royal Decree No. M/113, dated August 1, 2018), however, sets the legal age at 18 based on the Hijri calendar and in some cases permits detention of minors in a juvenile facility for up to 15 years if the crime is otherwise punishable by death.

At year’s end the government had not carried out the execution of Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr, sentenced to death in 2014 for crimes he allegedly committed when he was 17. Al-Nimr was charged with protesting, aiding and abetting fugitives, attacking security vehicles, and various violent crimes. Human rights organizations reported due process concerns relating to minimum fair trial standards for his case. Al-Nimr was the nephew of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, executed in 2016.

There were terrorist attacks in the country during the year. A police officer, a Bangladeshi national, and two attackers were killed in a terrorist attack claimed by ISIS that targeted a security checkpoint in Buraidah, Qassim Province, on July 8.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances carried out by or on behalf of government authorities.

On May 29 and June 13, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Liz Throssell and HRW, respectively, urged authorities to disclose the whereabouts of Nawaf al-Rasheed, a citizen with dual Qatari nationality, whom Kuwait authorities stated had been deported to Saudi Arabia on May 12 at the kingdom’s request.

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

The law prohibits torture and makes officers, who are responsible for criminal investigations, liable for any abuse of authority. Sharia, as interpreted in the country, prohibits judges from accepting confessions obtained under duress. Statutory law provides that public investigators shall not subject accused persons to coercive measures to influence their testimony.

Multiple human rights organizations, the United Nations, and independent third parties noted numerous reports of torture and mistreatment of detainees by law enforcement officers. In November HRW and Amnesty International reported that some female right-to-drive activists arrested in May and June were subjected to torture and sexual harassment while in detention at Dhahban Prison near Jeddah. Human rights organizations and Western media outlets reported the women had been subjected to electric shocks, whipping, and forced kissing.

In a September SCC hearing attended by diplomatic representatives, three defendants reported their confessions had been forced after they were subject to abuse including beatings, sleep deprivation, being forced to stand for long periods, and food deprivation. In a June report, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson called on authorities to investigate allegations of the torture of detainees. While noting the country had “suffered numerous terrorist acts” and had a duty to protect its citizens, Emmerson said he had “well-documented reports” of torture and mistreatment by law enforcement officials against individuals accused of terrorism, as well as the use of coerced confessions. Emmerson also said authorities had widened their use of the broad antiterrorism law since his visit in April-May 2017. Authorities denied officials committed torture and stated they afforded all detainees due process and properly investigated credible complaints of mistreatment or torture.

On March 11, The New York Times reported that businessmen and princes arrested and detained during the government’s November 2017 anticorruption campaign were required to wear ankle bracelets that tracked their movements after their release. It added that at least 17 detainees were hospitalized for physical abuse, and one later died in custody with his body bearing signs of torture.

Amnesty, HRW, and other organizations also reported cases in which the SCC based its decisions on confessions allegedly obtained through torture and then admitted as evidence.

Former detainees in facilities run by the General Investigations Directorate (the country’s internal security forces, also known as Mabahith) alleged that abuse included beatings, sleep deprivation, and long periods of solitary confinement for nonviolent detainees.

Officials from the Ministry of Interior, PPO, and Human Rights Commission (HRC) claimed that rules prohibiting torture prevented such practices from occurring in the penal system. The ministry said it installed surveillance cameras to record interrogations of suspects in some criminal investigation offices, police stations, and prisons where such interrogations regularly occurred, such as the General Investigations Directorate/Mabahith prison facilities. There were reports that defendants who requested copies of video footage from the ministry’s surveillance system to provide as evidence of torture did not receive it.

Courts continued to sentence individuals to corporal punishment, usually in the form of floggings, whippings, or lashings, a common punishment that government officials defended as punishment dictated by sharia. According to human rights activists, police conducted the floggings according to a set of guidelines determined by local interpretation of sharia. The police official administering the punishment must place a copy of the Quran under his arm that prevents raising the hand above the head, limiting the ability to inflict pain or injury on the person subjected to the punishment, and instructions forbid police from breaking the skin or causing scarring when administering the lashes. Human rights organizations disputed that officials implemented floggings according to these guidelines for all prisoners and characterized flogging as a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

There were no reported cases of judicially administered amputation during the year.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions varied, and some did not meet international standards; reported problems included overcrowding and inadequate conditions.

Physical Conditions: In May the HRC reported that the most common problems observed during prison visits conducted in 2017 included overcrowding as well as insufficient facilities for inmates with disabilities.

Juveniles constituted less than 1 percent of detainees and were held in separate facilities from adults, according to available information.

Violations listed in National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) reports following prison visits documented shortages of properly trained wardens and lack of prompt access to medical treatment and services, including medication, when requested. Some prisoners alleged prison authorities maintained cold temperatures in prison facilities and deliberately kept lights on 24 hours a day to make prisoners uncomfortable.

Human rights activists reported that deaths in prisons, jails, or pretrial detention centers were infrequent (see section 1.a.).

Authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. They separated persons suspected or convicted of terrorism offenses from the general population but held them in similar facilities. Activists alleged that authorities sometimes detained individuals in the same cells as individuals with mental disabilities as a form of punishment and indicated that authorities mistreated persons with disabilities.

Administration: There were multiple legal authorities for prisons and detention centers. The General Directorate of Prisons administered approximately 91 detention centers, prisons, and jails, while the General Investigations Directorate/Mabahith administered approximately 20 regional prisons and detention centers for security prisoners. Article 37 of the law of criminal procedure gives members of the PPO the authority to conduct official visits of prisons and detention facilities “within their jurisdictional areas to ensure that no person is unlawfully imprisoned or detained” (see section 1.d., Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees).

No ombudsmen were available to register or investigate complaints made by prisoners, although prisoners could and did submit complaints to the HRC and the NSHR for follow up. Article 38 of the law of criminal procedure provides that “any prisoner or detainee shall have the right to submit, at any time, a written or verbal complaint to the prison or detention center officer and request that he communicate it to a member of the [former] Bureau of Investigations and Public Prosecution [renamed the PPO].” Under the law there is no right to submit complaints directly to judicial authorities or to challenge the legality of an individual’s detention before a court of law (habeas corpus). There was no information available on whether prisoners were able to submit complaints to prison or prosecutorial authorities without censorship, or whether authorities responded or acted upon complaints.

On December 17, the Wall Street Journal reported the HRC was investigating alleged abused of detained women’s rights activists.

On July 6, security authorities arrested human rights defender Khaled al-Omair after he had filed a complaint with the Royal Court against an officer of the General Directorate of Investigation who allegedly tortured him during a prior imprisonment, according to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR). Al-Omair was previously released in April 2017 after serving an eight-year sentence for inciting demonstrations and calling for them via the internet, according to the GCHR.

Recordkeeping on prisoners was inadequate; there were reports authorities held prisoners after they had completed their sentences.

A Ministry of Interior-run website (Nafetha) provided detainees and their relatives access to a database containing information about the legal status of the detainee, including any scheduled trial dates. Activists said the website did not provide information about all detainees.

Authorities differentiated between violent and nonviolent prisoners, sometimes pardoning nonviolent prisoners to reduce the prison population. Certain prisoners convicted on terrorism-related charges were required to participate in government-sponsored rehabilitation programs before consideration of their release.

Authorities generally permitted relatives and friends to visit prisoners twice a week, although certain prisons limited visitation to once every 15 days. There were reports that prison, security, or law enforcement officials denied this privilege in some instances, often during investigations. The families of detainees could access the Nafetha website for applications for prison visits, temporary leave from prison (generally approved around post-Ramadan Eid holidays), and release on bail (for pretrial detainees). Some family members of detained persons under investigation said family visits were typically not allowed, while others said allowed visits or calls were extremely brief (less than five minutes). Some family members of prisoners complained authorities canceled scheduled visits with relatives without reason.

Authorities generally permitted Muslim detainees and prisoners to perform religious observances such as prayers.

Independent Monitoring: Independent institutions were not permitted to conduct regular, unannounced visits to places of detention, according to the UN Committee against Torture. During the year the government permitted some foreign diplomats to visit some prison facilities to view general conditions in nonconsular cases. In a limited number of cases, foreign diplomats visited individuals in detention, but the visits took place in a separate visitors’ center where conditions may have differed from those in the detention facilities holding the prisoners.

The government permitted the HRC and domestic quasi-governmental organizations, such as the NSHR, to monitor prison conditions. The organizations stated they visited prisons throughout the country and reported on prison conditions. In December the HRC reported it had conducted more than 1,200 prison visits in 2017, including visits to Mabahith prisons, criminal investigation prisons, and some military prisons, as well as “social surveillance centers” and girls’ welfare institutions. The NSHR reportedly monitored health care in prisons and brought deficiencies to the attention of the PPO.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law provides that no entity may restrict a person’s actions or imprison a person, except under the provisions of the law. The law of criminal procedure provides that authorities may not detain a person for more than 24 hours, except pursuant to a written order from a public investigator. Authorities must inform the detained person of the reasons for detention. Regardless, the Ministry of Interior and the SSP, to which the majority of forces with arrest powers reported, maintained broad authority to arrest and detain persons indefinitely without judicial oversight, notification of charges, or effective access to legal counsel or family. Authorities held persons for months and sometimes years without charge or trial and reportedly failed to advise them promptly of their rights, including their legal right to be represented by an attorney. Under the law of criminal procedure, detentions can be extended administratively for up to six months at the discretion of the PPO.

The Supreme Anti-Corruption Committee, formed by Royal Order No. (A/38) in November 2017, was granted broad powers, including the authority to issue arrest warrants and travel bans, freeze accounts and portfolios, and take whatever measures deemed necessary to deal with those involved in public corruption cases.

In January the public prosecutor stated the committee summoned 381 persons for questioning, of whom 56 suspects were still held on graft charges. On April 8, the public prosecutor began investigations and opening arguments for the remaining 56 suspects. In an October 5 interview with Bloomberg News, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman declared only eight suspects remained.

The PPO may order the detention of any person accused of a crime under the 2017 counterterrorism law for up to 30 days, or successive periods not exceeding 30 days each, and in total not more than 12 months. The SCC must authorize periods of detention of more than 12 months. In practice the United Nations and international human rights organizations documented numerous cases of detention that reportedly exceeded the maximum allowable period under the law.

By law defendants accused of any crime cited in the law are entitled to hire a practicing lawyer to defend themselves before the court “within an adequate period of time to be decided by the investigatory body.”

Since May 15, authorities arrested at least 30 prominent activists, and imposed travel bans on others, in connection with these activists’ advocacy for the right of women to drive. On June 1, Public Prosecutor Sheikh Saud al-Mu’jab stated authorities temporarily released eight of the detainees (five women and three men). An additional activist was released in December.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

In July 2017 King Salman issued a royal decree that established the State Security Presidency (SSP), a new entity reporting directly to the king, to consolidate “the counterterrorism and domestic intelligence services” and “all matters related to state security, … combatting terrorism, and financial investigations,” according to the official Saudi Press Agency. The royal decree moved the General Directorate of Investigation (Mabahith), Special Security Forces, Special Emergency Forces, General Security Aviation Command, General Directorate of Technical Affairs, and the National Information Center from the Ministry of Interior to the SSP. Police, traffic authorities, and the General Directorate of Passports remained under the Ministry of Interior, according to the Ministry of Information’s website.

The king, SSP, and Ministries of Defense, Interior, and National Guard are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The SSP and Ministry of Interior exercise primary control over internal security and police forces. The civil police and the internal security police have authority to arrest and detain individuals. Ministry of Interior and SSP police and security forces were generally able to maintain order.

The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), which monitors public behavior to enforce strict adherence to official interpretation of Islamic norms, reports to the king via the Royal Diwan (royal court) and to the Ministry of Interior. In 2016 the cabinet issued regulations severely curtailing the CPVPV’s enforcement powers. The new regulations prohibit CPVPV officers from investigating, detaining or arresting, or requesting the identification of any individual. The regulations also limit their activities to providing counseling and reporting individuals suspected of violating the law to police or other authorities. Evidence available since the end of 2017 indicated that CPVPV officers were less visibly present and active after implementation of the new strictures. Mabahith officers also have broad authorities to investigate, detain, and forward “national security” cases to judicial authorities–which ranged from terrorism cases to dissident and human rights activist cases–separate from the PPO.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, and the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. Military and security courts investigated abuses of authority and security force killings. The Board of Grievances (“Diwan al-Mazalim”), a high-level administrative judicial body that hears cases against government entities and reports directly to the king, is the primary mechanism to seek redress for claims of abuse. Citizens may report abuses by security forces at any police station or to the HRC or NSHR. The HRC and NSHR maintained records of complaints and outcomes, but privacy laws protected information about individual cases, and information was not publicly available. The HRC said in February that it received 2,646 human rights-related complaints during fiscal year 2016-17. During the year the Board of Grievances held hearings and adjudicated claims of wrongdoing, but there were no reported prosecutions of security force members for human rights violations.

The HRC, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, provided materials and training to police, other security forces, the Ministry of Defense, and the CPVPV on protecting human rights.

The Supreme Anti-Corruption Committee, established in November 2017, the National Anticorruption Commission (Nazaha), the PPO, and the Control and Investigation Board are units of the government with authority to investigate reports of criminal activity, corruption, and “disciplinary cases” involving government employees. These bodies are responsible for investigating potential cases and referring them to the administrative courts. Legal authorities for investigation and public prosecution of criminal offenses are consolidated within the PPO; the Control and Investigation Board is responsible for investigation and prosecution of noncriminal cases. Financial audit and control functions are vested in the General Auditing Board.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

In June 2017 King Salman issued two royal decrees that created the Public Prosecutor’s Office, (formerly the Bureau of Investigations and Public Prosecution or BIPP), establishing Saud bin Abdullah bin Mubarak al-Mu’jab as its head attorney general. The decrees directed the newly named agency to report directly to the king (rather than the Ministry of Interior, to which the BIPP had reported). Officials stated these changes would increase the independence and effectiveness of the lead prosecutorial office.

According to the law of criminal procedure, “no person shall be arrested, searched, detained, or imprisoned except in cases provided by law, and any accused person shall have the right to seek the assistance of a lawyer or a representative to defend him during the investigation and trial stages.” By law authorities may summon any person for investigation and may issue an arrest warrant based on evidence. In practice authorities frequently did not use warrants, and warrants were not required under the law in all cases.

The law requires authorities to file charges within 72 hours of arrest and hold a trial within six months, subject to exceptions specified by amendments to the law of criminal procedure and the counterterrorism law (see section 2.a.). Authorities may not legally detain a person under arrest for more than 24 hours, except pursuant to a written order from a public investigator. Authorities reportedly often failed to observe these legal protections, and there was no requirement to advise suspects of their rights. There were also reports that authorities did not allow legal counsel access to detainees who were under investigation in pretrial detention. Judicial proceedings begin after authorities complete a full investigation, which in some cases took years.

The law of criminal procedure specifies procedures required for extending the detention period of an accused person beyond the initial five days. Authorities may approve official detentions in excess of six months in “exceptional circumstances,” effectively allowing individuals to be held in pretrial detention indefinitely. Authorities may also extend from three months to six months the deadline for the PPO to gather evidence against the accused and issue a warrant for the defendant’s arrest, summons, or detention.

There is a functioning bail system for less serious criminal charges. Detainees generally did not have the right to obtain a lawyer of their choice. The government provided lawyers to defendants who made a formal application to the Ministry of Justice to receive a court-appointed lawyer and prove their inability to pay for their legal representation. The law contains no provision regarding the right to be informed of the protections guaranteed under the law.

Incommunicado detention was a problem. Authorities reportedly did not always respect a detainees’ right to contact family members following detention, and the counterterrorism law allows the investigatory body to hold a defendant for up to 90 days in detention without access to family members or legal counsel (and the SCC may extend such restrictions beyond this period). Security and some other types of prisoners sometimes remained in prolonged solitary detention before family members or associates received information of their whereabouts, particularly for detainees in Mabahith-run facilities.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrest and detention. During the year authorities detained security suspects, persons who publicly criticized the government, Shia religious leaders, and persons who violated religious standards, without charge.

On January 2, a group of UN human rights experts deplored what they said was “a worrying pattern of widespread and systematic arbitrary arrests and detention” following the arrests of religious figures, writers, journalists, academics, and civic activists, along with members of the banned Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) since September 2017. The experts denounced the use of the 2014 Counterterrorism Law (as amended in 2017) and other security-related laws against human rights defenders, urging the government to end repression and release those detained for peacefully exercising their rights. In September the SCC opened trials against some of the clerics, academics, and media figures arrested in September 2017. The SCC saw a significant increase in the number of cases and judicial rulings between September 2017 and March 2018, compared with the same period in the previous 12-month period. On April 22, local media reported an increase of 132 percent in the number of cases referred to the SCC and a 182 percent increase in the number of defendants.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem.

In August 2017 the PPO found during inspections of prisons and detention centers across the country that more than 2,000 individuals remained in detention without charge or trial since 2014. The attorney general ordered the cases immediately examined, and the majority of detainees were reportedly released on bail. The attorney general also asked the courts to find an appropriate legal remedy for the affected individuals.

Nonetheless, in a May 6 statement, HRW noted that authorities had detained thousands of persons for more than six months, in some cases for more than a decade, without referring them to courts for criminal proceedings, and that the number held for excessively long periods had apparently increased dramatically in recent years.

There was no current information available on the percentage of the prison population in pretrial detention or the average length of time held. Local human rights activists and diplomatic representatives reportedly received regular reports from families claiming authorities held their relatives arbitrarily or without notification of charges.

During the year the SSP stated it had detained numerous individuals for terrorist acts. On May 9, local media reported there were 5,342 detainees in five intelligence prisons across the country, of whom 83 percent were Saudis.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Under the law detainees are not entitled to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court. In the case of wrongful detention, the law of criminal procedure, as well as provisions of the counterterrorism law, provide for the right to compensation if detainees are found to have been held unlawfully.

Amnesty: The law of criminal procedure stipulates that the king may issue a pardon “on pardonable matters” for public crimes only. The law of criminal procedure also states that a victim’s heirs may grant a pardon for private crimes. The Ministry of Interior publishes the conditions for royal pardons annually, and these generally exclude specific crime categories such as murder or drug smuggling, or those convicted of crimes involving state security. Under the country’s interpretation of sharia, there are three broad categories of offenses: (1) huddud or “boundary” crimes, which are explicitly enumerated in the Quran and whose corresponding punishments are also prescribed; these are considered crimes against God and thus not pardonable; (2) qisas or “legal retribution crimes,” which involve murder or intentional bodily harm and give the victim’s family or legal heirs the private right to legal retribution; the victim’s family or legal heirs may grant a pardon in exchange for financial compensation (diya or “blood money,); and (3) crimes that do not reach the level of huddud or qisas and which are left to the discretion of the state (judge). Ta’zir or “discretionary” punishments are issued for crimes against public rights; this is the most frequently used basis for conviction.

The king continued the tradition of commuting some judicial punishments. Royal pardons sometimes set aside a conviction and sometimes reduced or eliminated corporal punishment. The remaining sentence could be added to a new sentence if the pardoned prisoner committed a crime subsequent to release.

Authorities did not detain some individuals who had received prison sentences. The counterterrorism law allows the PPO to stop proceedings against an individual who cooperates with investigations or helps thwart a planned terrorist attack. The law authorizes the SSP to release individuals already convicted.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides that judges are independent and not subject to any authority other than the provisions of sharia and the laws in force. Nevertheless, the judiciary, PPO, and SSP were not independent entities, as they were required to coordinate their decisions with executive authorities, with the king and crown prince as arbiters. Although public allegations of interference with judicial independence were rare, the judiciary reportedly was subject to influence, particularly in the case of legal decisions rendered by specialized judicial bodies, such as the SCC, which rarely acquitted suspects. Human rights activists reported that SCC judges received implicit instructions to issue harsh sentences against human rights activists, reformers, journalists, and dissidents not engaged in violent activities. Activists also reported that judicial and prosecutorial authorities ignored due process-related complaints, including lack of access by lawyers to their clients at critical stages of the judicial process, particularly during the pretrial/investigation phase.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

In the judicial system, there traditionally was no published case law on criminal matters, no uniform criminal code, no presumption of innocence, and no doctrine of stare decisis that binds judges to follow legal precedent. The Justice Ministry is expanding a project first started in 2007 to encapsulate and distribute model judicial decisions to ensure more uniformity of legal application. The law states that defendants should be treated equally in accordance with sharia. The Council of Senior Scholars (CSS), or the ulema, an autonomous advisory body, issues religious opinions (fatwas) that guide how judges interpret sharia.

In the absence of a formalized penal code that details all criminal offenses and punishments, judges in the courts determine many of these penalties through their interpretations of sharia, which varied according to the judge and the circumstances of the case. Because judges have considerable discretion in decision making, rulings and sentences diverged widely from case to case.

Several laws, however, provide sentencing requirements for crimes including terrorism, cybercrimes, trafficking in persons, and domestic abuse. In 2016 the Ministry of Justice issued its first compilation of previous decisions that judges could refer to as a point of reference in making rulings and assigning sentences.

Appeals courts cannot independently reverse lower court judgments; they are limited to affirming judgments or returning them to a lower court for modification. Even when judges did not affirm judgments, appeals judges in some cases remanded the judgment to the judge who originally authored the opinion. This procedure sometimes made it difficult for parties to receive a ruling that differed from the original judgment in cases where judges hesitated to admit error. While judges may base their decisions on any of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, all of which are represented in the CSS, the Hanbali school predominates and forms the basis for the country’s law and legal interpretations of sharia. Shia citizens use their legal traditions to adjudicate family law cases between Shia parties, although either party can decide to adjudicate a case in state courts, which apply Sunni legal traditions.

While the law states that court hearings shall be public, courts may be closed at the judge’s discretion. As a result, many trials during the year were closed. Through mid-October foreign diplomatic missions were able to obtain permission to attend some nonconsular court proceedings (cases to which neither the host country nor any of its nationals were a party; diplomatic missions are generally allowed to attend consular proceedings of their own nationals). To attend, authorities required diplomats to obtain advance written approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In October, however, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs suspended diplomatic access to court proceedings. Authorities sometimes did not permit entry to such trials to individuals other than diplomats who were not the legal agents or family members of the accused. SCC officials sometimes banned female relatives or diplomats from attending due to the absence of women officers to conduct security inspections of the women upon entry to the courtroom. According to the Ministry of Justice, authorities may close a trial depending on the sensitivity of the case to national security, the reputation of the defendant, or the safety of witnesses. Representatives of the HRC sometimes attended trials at the SCC.

Amendments to the law of criminal procedure in 2013 strengthened provisions stating that authorities will offer defendants a lawyer at government expense. In August 2017 the Ministry of Justice stated that defendants “enjoy all judicial guarantees they are entitled to, including the right to seek the assistance of lawyers of their choosing to defend them, while the ministry pays the lawyer’s fees when the accused is not able to settle them.” Activists, however, reported the process for applying for a court-appointed lawyer was difficult and cumbersome. Many said they were not able or allowed to retain an attorney or consult with their attorneys during critical stages of the investigatory and trial proceedings. Detained human rights activists often did not trust the courts to appoint lawyers for them due to concerns of lawyer bias.

The law provides defendants the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney during the trial. The counterterrorism law, however, authorizes the attorney general to limit the right of defendants accused of terrorism to access legal representation while under investigation “whenever the interests of the investigation so require.” There is no right to discovery, nor can defendants view their own file or the minutes from their interrogation. Defendants have the right to call and cross-examine witnesses under the law; however, activists reported SCC judges could decide to restrict this right in “the interests of the case.” The law provides that a PPO-appointed investigator questions the witnesses called by the defendant during the investigation phase before the initiation of a trial. The investigator may also hear testimony of additional witnesses he deems necessary to determine the facts. Authorities may not subject a defendant to any coercive measures or compel the taking of an oath. The court must inform convicted persons of their right to appeal rulings.

The law does not provide for a right against self-incrimination.

The law does not provide free interpretation services, although services were often provided in practice. The law of criminal procedure provides that “the court should seek the assistance of interpreters,” but it does not obligate the court to do so from the moment the defendant is charged, nor does the law specify that the state will bear the costs of such services.

While sharia as interpreted by the government applies to all citizens and noncitizens, the law in practice discriminates against women, noncitizens, nonpracticing Sunni, Shia, and persons of other religions. Although exceptions exist, a woman’s testimony before a court counts as only half that of a man’s. Judges may discount the testimony of nonpracticing Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, or persons of other religions; sources reported judges sometimes completely disregarded or refused to hear testimony by Shia.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government maintained there were no political prisoners, including detainees who reportedly remained in prolonged detention without charge, while local activists and human rights organizations claimed there were “hundreds” or “thousands.” Credible reporting by advocacy groups and press suggested that authorities detained persons for peaceful activism or political opposition, including nonviolent religious figures, imams deemed to have strayed from the official religious line, Shia activists, women’s rights defenders, other activists, and bloggers who the government claimed posted offensive or antigovernment comments on websites.

In many cases it was impossible to determine the legal basis for incarceration and whether the detention complied with international norms and standards. Those who remained imprisoned after trial, including persons who were political activists openly critical of the government, were often convicted of terrorism-related crimes. During the year the SCC tried political and human rights activists for nonviolent actions unrelated to terrorism, violence, or espionage against the state.

International NGOs, the United Nations, and others criticized the government for abusing its antiterrorism prerogatives to detain or arrest some dissidents or critics of the government or royal family on security-related grounds who had not espoused or committed violence. Authorities restricted attorneys’ access to all detainees, and no international humanitarian organizations had access to them.

On May 25, authorities arrested ACPRA founding member Mohammed al-Bajadi, along with almost a dozen women rights defenders, some of whom were later released. Al-Bajadi was previously released from prison in 2016 after serving a four-year prison sentence on charges stemming from his work with ACPRA. Among other rights defenders arrested in May was lawyer Ibrahim al-Mudaimeegh, who previously represented activists including Waleed Abu al-Khair and Lujain al-Hathloul. Al-Mudaimeegh was reportedly released on December 21.

At least 120 persons remained in detention for activism, criticism of government leaders, impugning Islam or religious leaders, or “offensive” internet postings, including prominent activists such as Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Hatoon al-Fassi, Raif Badawi, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Loujain al-Hathloul, and Samar Badawi, and clerics including former Grand Mosque Imam Salih al-Talib, Sahwa movement figures Safar al-Hawali, Nasser al-Omar, and others.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Complainants claiming human rights violations generally sought assistance from the HRC or the NSHR, which either advocated on their behalf or provided courts with opinions on their cases. The HRC generally responded to complaints and could refer cases to the PPO; domestic violence cases were the most common. Individuals or organizations may petition directly for damages or government action to end human rights violations before the Board of Grievances, except in compensation cases related to state security, where the SCC handles remediation. The counterterrorism law contains a provision allowing detainees in Mabahith-run prisons to request financial compensation from the Ministry of Interior/SSP for wrongful detention beyond their prison terms. In some cases the government did not carry out judicially ordered compensation for unlawful detentions in a timely manner.

In August 2017 the Ministry of Justice issued a press release stating that “…the accused enjoy all judicial guarantees they are entitled to, including the right to seek the assistance of lawyers of their choosing to defend them, while the Ministry [of Justice] pays the lawyer’s fees when the accused is not able to settle them.” Security detainees held in accordance with the 2017 Counterterrorism Law are entitled “to seek the assistance of a lawyer or legal agent,” but the Public Prosecutor may restrict this right during the investigation “whenever the interests of the investigation so require.” The United Nations and international NGOs reported security detainees were denied access to legal counsel during pretrial detention during the year.

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

The law prohibits unlawful intrusions into the privacy of persons, their homes, places of work, and vehicles. Criminal investigation officers are required to maintain records of all searches conducted; these records should contain the name of the officer conducting the search, the text of the search warrant (or an explanation of the urgency that necessitated the search without a warrant), and the names and signatures of the persons who were present at the time of search. While the law also provides for the privacy of all mail, telegrams, telephone conversations, and other means of communication, the government did not respect the privacy of correspondence or communications and used the considerable latitude provided by law to monitor activities legally and intervene where it deemed necessary.

There were reports from human rights activists of governmental monitoring or blocking of mobile telephone or internet usage. The government strictly monitored politically related activities and took punitive actions, including arrest and detention, against persons engaged in certain political activities, such as calling for a constitutional monarchy, publicly criticizing senior members of the royal family by name, forming a political party, or organizing a demonstration (see section 2.a.). Customs officials reportedly routinely opened mail and shipments to search for contraband. In some areas Ministry of Interior/SSP informants allegedly reported “seditious ideas,” “antigovernment activity,” or “behavior contrary to Islam” in their neighborhoods.

The 2017 Counterterrorism Law allows the Ministry of Interior/SSP to access a terrorism suspect’s private communications as well as banking information in a manner inconsistent with the legal protections provided by the law of criminal procedure.

The CPVPV monitored and regulated public interaction between members of the opposite sex, though in practice CPVPV authorities were greatly curtailed and mixed-gender events this year.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law does not provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. The Basic Law specifies, “Mass media and all other vehicles of expression shall employ civil and polite language, contribute towards the education of the nation, and strengthen unity. The media are prohibited from committing acts that lead to disorder and division, affect the security of the state or its public relations, or undermine human dignity and rights.” Authorities are responsible for regulating and determining which speech or expression undermines internal security. The government can ban or suspend media outlets if it concludes they violated the press and publications law, and it monitored and blocked hundreds of thousands of internet sites. There were frequent reports of restrictions on free speech.

The legal definition of terrorism, according to the 2017 counterterrorism law, includes “any conduct…intended to disturb public order…or destabilize the state or endanger its national unity.” The law also penalizes “anyone who challenges, either directly or indirectly, the religion or justice of the King or Crown Prince…or anyone who establishes or uses a website or computer program…to commit any of the offenses set out in the law.” Local human rights activists, international human rights organizations, and the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism criticized the counterterrorism law for its overly broad and vague definitions of terrorism and complained the government used it to prosecute peaceful expression and dissent.

Freedom of Expression: The government monitored public expressions of opinion and took advantage of legal controls to impede the free expression of opinion and restrict individuals from engaging in public criticism of the political sphere. The law forbids apostasy and blasphemy, which can carry the death penalty, although there were no recent instances of death sentences being carried out for these crimes (see section 1.a.). Statements that authorities construed as constituting defamation of the king, monarchy, governing system, or Al Saud family resulted in criminal charges for citizens advocating government reform. The government prohibits public employees from directly or indirectly engaging in dialogue with local or foreign media or participating in any meetings intended to oppose state policies.

Some human rights activists were detained and then released on the condition that they refrain from using social media for activism, communicating with foreign diplomats and international human rights organizations, and traveling outside the country, according to human rights organizations.

The government charged a number of individuals with crimes related to their exercise of free speech during the year.

From May 15 to year’s end, authorities arrested at least 30 prominent women activists and their male supporters and imposed travel bans on others, in connection with their advocacy for lifting the ban on women driving. Those arrested included some of the women who first defied the driving ban in 1990, as well as others who expressed solidarity with detained activists. At least 12 persons remained in detention “after sufficient evidence was made available and for their confessions of charges attributed to them.” In a June 2 statement, the public prosecutor stated the detainees had admitted to communicating and cooperating with individuals and organizations opposed to the kingdom, recruiting persons to get secret information to hurt the country’s interests, and offering material and emotional support to hostile elements abroad. State-linked media labelled those arrested as traitors and “agents of embassies.” The detained included Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Hatoon al-Fassi, Loujain al-Hathloul, Hatoon al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, and Nouf Abdulaziz al-Jerawi, among others.

In August authorities arrested Mecca Grand Mosque Imam Sheikh Salih al-Talib. In his last Friday sermon on July 13, Al-Talib discussed the duty in Islam to speak out against evil in public. Al-Talib was the first imam of the Two Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina to be detained.

In September the SCC opened trials against clerics, academics, and media persons for alleged association with the Muslim Brotherhood, including prominent Muslim scholars Salman al-Odah, Awad al-Qarni, and Ali al-Omari. The three were arrested in September 2017, and the public prosecutor was reportedly seeking the death penalty against them. The public prosecutor brought 37 charges against al-Odah, the vast majority of which alleged ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatari government, in addition to his public support for imprisoned dissidents. None referred to specific acts of violence or incitement to acts of violence, according to a HRW statement on September 12. The 30 charges against al-Omari included “forming a youth organization to carry out the objectives of a terrorist group inside the Kingdom.”

Press and Media Freedom: The Press and Publications Law governs printed materials; printing presses; bookstores; the import, rental, and sale of films; television and radio; foreign media offices and their correspondents; and online newspapers and journals. Media fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Information. The ministry may permanently close “whenever necessary” any means of communication–defined as any means of expressing a viewpoint that is meant for circulation–that it deems is engaged in a prohibited activity, as set forth in the law.

Media policy statements urged journalists to uphold Islam, oppose atheism, promote Arab interests, and preserve cultural heritage. In 2011 a royal decree amended the press law to strengthen penalties, create a special commission to judge violations, and require all online newspapers and bloggers to obtain a license from the ministry. The decree bans publishing anything “contradicting sharia, inciting disruption, serving foreign interests that contradict national interests, and damaging the reputation of the grand mufti, members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, or senior government officials.”

The law states that violators can face fines up to 50,000 riyals ($13,300) for each violation of the law, which doubles if the violation is repeated. Other penalties include banning individuals from writing. While the Violations Considerations Committee in the Ministry of Information has formal responsibility for implementing the law, the Ministry of Interior, the CPVPV, and sharia court judges considered these issues regularly and exercised wide discretion in interpreting the law. It was unclear which process accords with the law.

On July 12, authorities arrested influential religious scholar and Sahwa (Awakening) movement figure Safar al-Hawali, four of his sons, and his brother after al-Hawali reportedly published a book criticizing the Saudi royal family and the country’s foreign policy.

Although unlicensed satellite dishes were illegal, the government did not enforce restrictions on them, and their use was widespread. Many foreign satellite stations broadcast a wide range of programs into the country in Arabic and other languages, including foreign news channels. Access to foreign sources of information, including via satellite dishes and the internet, was common. Foreign media were subject to licensing requirements from the Ministry of Information and could not operate freely. Privately owned satellite television networks, headquartered outside the country, maintained local offices and operated under a system of self-censorship.

On February 19, the Ministry of Culture and Information banned writer Muhammad al-Suhaimi from writing and taking part in any media activity, and referred him to an investigation committee for criticizing the Muslim call to prayer (adhan) and calling for reducing the number of mosques. Speaking to the MBC TV channel, al-Suhaimi had criticized the volume of the call to prayer, calling it a nuisance.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected journalists, writers, and bloggers to arrest, imprisonment, and harassment during the year.

Throughout the year NGOs, academics, and the press reported on the government’s targeting of dissidents using automated social media accounts to ensure that progovernment messages dominate social media trend lists and effectively silence dissenting voices. Automated account activity was reportedly accompanied by online harassment by progovernment accounts in some instances. Dissidents with large social media followings were targeted for offline harassment and surveillance as well.

On February 8, the SCC sentenced prominent newspaper columnist Saleh al-Shehi to five years in prison, followed by a five-year travel ban, for insulting the royal court and its employees. Al-Shehi was reportedly arrested on January 3 after a televised appearance on the privately owned Rotana Khalejia channel in which he accused the royal court of being “one of the institutions that reinforced corruption” in the country, citing examples such as granting plots of land to citizens based on personal connections.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government reportedly penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines and directly or indirectly censored the media by licensing domestic media and by controlling importation of foreign printed material.

All newspapers, blogs, and websites in the country must be government-licensed. The Ministry of Information must approve the appointment of all senior editors and has authority to remove them. The government provided guidelines to newspapers regarding controversial issues. The Saudi Press Agency reported official government news. The government owned most print and broadcast media and book publication facilities in the country, and members of the royal family owned or influenced privately owned and nominally independent operations, including various media outlets and widely circulated pan-Arab newspapers published outside the country. Authorities prevented or delayed the distribution of foreign print media covering issues considered sensitive, effectively censoring these publications.

The government censored published material it considered blasphemous, extremist, racist, or offensive, or as inciting chaos, violence, sectarianism, or harm to the public order. In June 2017 the PPO stated that producing and promoting “rumors that affect the public order” was a crime under the anti-cybercrimes law and punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of three million riyals ($800,000), or both. On June 13, 2018, the PPO warned against sending, producing, or storing any material that stirs up tribalism and fanaticism, and harms public order, which is also punishable by the above penalties.

In some cases, however, individuals criticized specific government bodies or actions publicly without repercussions. The Consultative Council (Majlis ash-Shura), an advisory body, frequently allowed print and broadcast media to observe its proceedings and meetings, but the council closed some high-profile or controversial sessions to the media.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were numerous reports during the year of the government using libel laws to suppress publication of material that criticized policies or public officials.

The anti-cybercrimes law provides for a maximum penalty of one year’s imprisonment for “defamation and infliction of damage upon others through the use of various information technology devices.” In 2014 the law was amended to include social media and social networks.

On May 30, the SCC in Riyadh sentenced academic and media professional Mohammed al-Hudaif to five years in prison, followed by a five-year travel and social media ban, and ordered his Twitter account shut down. Al-Hudaif was convicted of “insulting neighboring states” following a comment he wrote about the visit of the former Egyptian justice minister, Ahmed al-Zind, to the UAE. The government deemed Hudaif’s tweet insulting to both the Egyptian and Emirati authorities. He was convicted of destroying national cohesion, publishing writings hostile to state policy, and communicating with members of bodies hostile to the state (the Muslim Brotherhood), according to Al-Qst rights group.

On September 3, the public prosecutor warned that producing and distributing content that ridicules, mocks, provokes, and disrupts public order, religious values and public morals through social media would be considered a cybercrime punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of three million riyals ($800,000).

National Security: Authorities used the anti-cybercrimes law and the counterterrorism law to restrict freedom of expression, including by prosecuting numerous individuals under these laws on charges related to statements made on social media.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The Ministry of Information or its agencies must authorize all websites registered and hosted in the country. The General Commission for Audiovisual Media has responsibility for regulating all audio and video content in the country, including satellite channels, film, music, internet, and mobile applications, independent from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Internet access was widely available, and 82 percent of the population used the internet in 2017, according to International Telecommunication Union data.

The press and publications law implicitly covers electronic media, since it extends to any means of expression of a viewpoint meant for circulation, ranging from words to cartoons, photographs, and sounds. In 2011 the government issued implementing regulations for electronic publishing that set rules for internet-based and other electronic media, including chat rooms, personal blogs, and text messages. On May 27, then information minister Awwad bin Saleh al-Awwad approved the executive regulations for types and forms of electronic publishing activities. The list consists of 17 items defining the mechanisms of dealing with electronic publishing activities, classifications, and ways of obtaining the appropriate regulatory licenses to carry out the required activities. Laws, including the anti-cybercrimes law, criminalize defamation on the internet, hacking, unauthorized access to government websites, and stealing information related to national security, as well as the creation or dissemination of a website for a terrorist organization. Security authorities actively monitored internet activity, both to enforce laws, regulations, and societal norms and to monitor recruitment efforts by extremist organizations such as ISIS. Activists complained of monitoring or attempted monitoring of their communications on web-based communications applications.

Access to the internet is legally available only through government-authorized internet service providers. The government required internet service providers to monitor customers and required internet cafes to install hidden cameras and provide identity records of customers. Although authorities blocked websites offering proxies, persistent internet users accessed the unfiltered internet via other means.

On a number of occasions, government officials and senior clerics publicly warned against inaccurate reports on the internet and reminded the public that criticism of the government and its officials should be done through available private channels. The government charged those using the internet to express dissent against officials or religious authorities with terrorism, blasphemy, and apostasy.

On February 12, the SCC in the western city of Tabuk held the first hearing for student and activist Noha al-Balawi. Al-Balawi was detained on January 23 after posting a video online in which she criticized the country’s potential normalization of ties with Israel. According to the United Kingdom-based Saudi rights group Al-Qst, Balawi was charged under anti-cybercrime laws and faced up to five years in prison and a fine of up to three million riyals ($800,000). On February 22, authorities reportedly released al-Balawi, according to online activists and media sources.

On February 27, the SCC convicted computer engineer Essam Koshak of posting tweets that “infringe on public order and religious values” and sentenced him to four years in prison followed by a four-year ban on travel and social media usage. According to multiple NGOs, Koshak tweeted in support of the 2017 social media campaign #EndMaleGuardianship, organized by HRW. According to court documents and trial observations, the prosecution charged Koshak with creating the #EndMaleGuardianship social media campaign and, in so doing, undermining public order and “violating freedom of expression.”

The press and publications law criminalizes the publication or downloading of offensive sites, and authorities routinely blocked sites containing material perceived as harmful, illegal, offensive, or anti-Islamic. The governmental Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) filtered and blocked access to websites it deemed offensive, including adult content, as well as pages calling for domestic political, social, or economic reforms or supporting human rights, including websites of expatriate Saudi dissidents.

The CITC coordinated decisions with the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency on blocking phishing sites seeking to obtain confidential personal or financial information. Authorities submitted all other requests to block sites to an interagency committee, chaired by the Ministry of Interior, for decision. Under the Telecommunication Act, failure by service providers to block banned sites can result in a fine of five million riyals ($1.33 million).

The CITC claimed that Facebook removed materials that the CITC deemed offensive but that Twitter ignored all CITC requests. In 2016 the CITC announced it was no longer blocking any free voice, video, or messaging services after criticisms on social media that these services had been blocked. In September 2017 the CITC announced the unblocking of calling features for private messenger apps that met regulatory requirements in the country, such as Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, Snapchat, Skype, Line, Telegram, and Tango. Other video-calling apps, including WhatsApp and Viber, however, reported services were still blocked.

The government continued blocking Qatari websites such as al-Jazeera, an action it began in May 2017, due to a dispute between Qatar and a group of countries that included Saudi Arabia.

In June 2017 Ministry of Information spokesperson Hani al-Ghofaily stated that writing for blocked websites, providing them with materials to publish, or promoting alternative addresses to access them is a crime under the anti-cybercrimes law.

The government reportedly collected information concerning the identity of persons peacefully expressing political, religious, or ideological opinions or beliefs online.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted some public artistic expression but opened up cultural expression in a number of areas. Academics reportedly practiced self-censorship, and authorities prohibited professors and administrators at public universities from hosting meetings at their universities with foreign academics or diplomats without prior government permission. In 2016 King Salman issued royal decrees creating the General Authority for Entertainment (GEA) and the General Authority for Culture, with a mandate to expand the country’s entertainment and cultural offerings in line with its social and economic reform plan, known as Vision 2030. During the year the GEA sponsored events dedicated to film, comics, music, and dance. On June 2, King Salman issued a royal order creating the Ministry of Culture, separating it from the Information Ministry, and appointed Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud as its minister. On April 18, the country’s first cinema in more than 35 years opened after a ban was lifted in 2017. AMC Entertainment was granted the first license to operate cinemas in the country and was expected to open more theaters over the next five years, according to state media.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law does not provide for freedom of assembly and association, which the government severely limited.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law requires a government permit for an organized public assembly of any type. The government categorically forbids participation in political protests or unauthorized public assemblies, and security forces reportedly arrested demonstrators and detained them for brief periods. Security forces at times allowed a small number of unauthorized demonstrations throughout the country.

On March 27, security forces arrested 32 citizens and referred them to the public prosecutor for illegally gathering in front of Taif governorate headquarters to protest the removal of unlicensed housing structures built on government land, according to the Ministry of Interior.

CPVPV and other security officers also restricted mixed gender gatherings of unrelated men and women in public and private spaces (see section 1.f.).

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provided for limited freedom of association, however, the government strictly limited this right. In 2016 a law came into effect known as the Law on Associations and Foundations (Civil Society Organizations Law), which for the first time provided a comprehensive legal framework to govern the establishment, operation, and supervision of associations and foundations. The government, however, prohibited the establishment of political parties or any group it considered as opposing or challenging the regime. All associations must be licensed by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development and comply with its regulations. Some groups that advocated changing elements of the social or political order reported their licensing requests went unanswered for years, despite repeated inquiries. The ministry reportedly used arbitrary means, such as requiring unreasonable types and quantities of information, to delay and effectively deny licenses to associations.

On January 25, the SCC sentenced Mohammad al-Otaiby and Abdullah al-Attawi, founding members of the Union for Human Rights (known in Arabic as “al-Ittihad”) to 14 and seven years in prison, respectively, for “participating in setting up an organization and announcing it before getting an authorization,” “spreading chaos, inciting public opinion and publishing statements harmful to the kingdom and its institutions,” and “publishing information about their interrogations despite signing pledges to refrain from doing so,” according to media and NGO reporting.

In 2013 and 2014, the few local NGOs that had operated without a license ceased operating after authorities ordered them disbanded. While ACPRA maintained a presence on social media networks such as Twitter, the government severely curtailed its operations and closed down its website. On February 28, the SCC sentenced lawyer and ACPRA member Issa al-Nukheifi to six years in prison (three years under the anti-cybercrimes law and three years under ta’zir, or “discretionary” sentencing), followed by a six-year ban on social media and travel outside of the country, based on charges of “infringing on the public order and religious values,” “communicating with members of ACPRA,” “opposing Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen,” and related charges. Al-Nukheifi was detained in 2016 and charged in August 2017 under provisions of both the 2014 Counterterrorism Law and the 2008 Anti-Cybercrimes Law.

Government-chartered associations limited membership only to citizens.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law does not contain provisions for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

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

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the free movement of male citizens within the country, but it severely restricted the movement of female citizens. While the guardianship system does not require a woman to have the permission of her male guardian (normally a father, husband, son, brother, grandfather, uncle, or other male relative) to move freely within the country, courts sometimes ruled that women should abide by a male guardian’s request to stay at home by “occasionally upholding a guardian’s right to obedience from his female dependents,” according to a HRW report.

In April 2017 King Salman issued a royal decree ordering all government agencies to review their guardianship laws and to provide, within three months, their understanding of the legal basis for withholding services to women. The stated goal was to avoid denying government services to women who do not present a male guardian’s consent except when law or regulations explicitly require it. At year’s end the results of the government’s review of its guardianship laws had not been announced.

Authorities respected the right of citizens to change residence or workplace, provided they held a national identification card (NIC). The law requires all male citizens who are 15 or older to possess a NIC. In 2012 the Ministry of Interior announced it would start issuing NICs to all female citizens at the age of 15, phasing in the requirement over a seven-year period. There was minimal information available regarding whether this initiative was successfully implemented.

On June 24, the country lifted its longstanding ban on women driving. The process of issuing licenses, however, was slowed by the small number of training schools available to women and the high cost of driver’s education for women, which was four to five times as expensive as men’s fees. As a result, there were waiting lists for driving classes.

Foreign Travel: There are severe restrictions on foreign travel, including for women and members of minority groups. No one may leave the country without an exit visa and a passport. Females of any age, males younger than 21, and other dependents or foreign citizen workers under sponsorship require a male guardian’s consent to travel abroad. According to Ministry of Interior regulations, a male guardian must apply for and collect a passport for women and minors. A noncitizen wife needs permission from her husband to travel, unless both partners sign a prenuptial agreement permitting the noncitizen wife to travel without the husband’s permission. If a wife’s guardian is deceased, a court may grant the permission. Government entities can ban the travel of citizens and noncitizens without trial, and male family members can “blacklist” women and minor children, prohibiting their travel. In December the General Directorate of Passports announced that divorced Saudi women older than 21 who possess a NIC with at least three months’ validity may travel to other Gulf Cooperation Council member states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates) without the consent of a male guardian.

Employers or sponsors controlled the departure of foreign workers and residents from the country; employers or sponsors were responsible for processing residence permits and exit visas on their behalf. Sponsors frequently held their employees’ passports against the desires of the employees, despite a law specifically prohibiting this practice. Foreign workers typically provided sponsors with their residence permit before traveling in exchange for their passport to ensure the worker’s return to their employer after their travel.

The government reportedly confiscated passports for political reasons and revoked the rights of some citizens to travel, often without providing them notification or opportunity to contest the restriction. Most travel bans reportedly involved individuals in court cases relating to corruption; state security concerns; or labor, financial, and real estate disputes. Many relatives of citizens detained in relation to the government’s anticorruption campaign, as well as relatives of detained clerics and human rights activists, were also reportedly under travel bans.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The law does not contain provisions for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

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

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the free movement of male citizens within the country, but it severely restricted the movement of female citizens. While the guardianship system does not require a woman to have the permission of her male guardian (normally a father, husband, son, brother, grandfather, uncle, or other male relative) to move freely within the country, courts sometimes ruled that women should abide by a male guardian’s request to stay at home by “occasionally upholding a guardian’s right to obedience from his female dependents,” according to a HRW report.

In April 2017 King Salman issued a royal decree ordering all government agencies to review their guardianship laws and to provide, within three months, their understanding of the legal basis for withholding services to women. The stated goal was to avoid denying government services to women who do not present a male guardian’s consent except when law or regulations explicitly require it. At year’s end the results of the government’s review of its guardianship laws had not been announced.

Authorities respected the right of citizens to change residence or workplace, provided they held a national identification card (NIC). The law requires all male citizens who are 15 or older to possess a NIC. In 2012 the Ministry of Interior announced it would start issuing NICs to all female citizens at the age of 15, phasing in the requirement over a seven-year period. There was minimal information available regarding whether this initiative was successfully implemented.

On June 24, the country lifted its longstanding ban on women driving. The process of issuing licenses, however, was slowed by the small number of training schools available to women and the high cost of driver’s education for women, which was four to five times as expensive as men’s fees. As a result, there were waiting lists for driving classes.

Foreign Travel: There are severe restrictions on foreign travel, including for women and members of minority groups. No one may leave the country without an exit visa and a passport. Females of any age, males younger than 21, and other dependents or foreign citizen workers under sponsorship require a male guardian’s consent to travel abroad. According to Ministry of Interior regulations, a male guardian must apply for and collect a passport for women and minors. A noncitizen wife needs permission from her husband to travel, unless both partners sign a prenuptial agreement permitting the noncitizen wife to travel without the husband’s permission. If a wife’s guardian is deceased, a court may grant the permission. Government entities can ban the travel of citizens and noncitizens without trial, and male family members can “blacklist” women and minor children, prohibiting their travel. In December the General Directorate of Passports announced that divorced Saudi women older than 21 who possess a NIC with at least three months’ validity may travel to other Gulf Cooperation Council member states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates) without the consent of a male guardian.

Employers or sponsors controlled the departure of foreign workers and residents from the country; employers or sponsors were responsible for processing residence permits and exit visas on their behalf. Sponsors frequently held their employees’ passports against the desires of the employees, despite a law specifically prohibiting this practice. Foreign workers typically provided sponsors with their residence permit before traveling in exchange for their passport to ensure the worker’s return to their employer after their travel.

The government reportedly confiscated passports for political reasons and revoked the rights of some citizens to travel, often without providing them notification or opportunity to contest the restriction. Most travel bans reportedly involved individuals in court cases relating to corruption; state security concerns; or labor, financial, and real estate disputes. Many relatives of citizens detained in relation to the government’s anticorruption campaign, as well as relatives of detained clerics and human rights activists, were also reportedly under travel bans.

STATELESS PERSONS

The country had a number of habitual residents who were legally stateless, but data on the stateless population were incomplete and scarce.

Citizenship is legally derived only from the father. Children born to an unmarried citizen mother who is not legally affiliated with the citizen father may be considered stateless, even if the father recognized the child as his, or if the government did not authorize the marriage of a citizen father and a noncitizen mother prior to birth of the children. The nationality laws do not allow Saudi women married to foreign nationals to pass their nationality to their children, except in certain circumstances such as fathers who are unknown, stateless, of unknown nationality, or do not establish filiation. Sons of citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers may apply for citizenship once they turn 18 (if not already granted citizenship at birth under certain circumstances); daughters in such cases can obtain citizenship only through marriage to a Saudi man. A child may lose legal identification and accompanying rights if authorities withdraw identification documents from a parent (possible when a naturalized parent denaturalizes voluntarily or loses citizenship through other acts). Since there is no codified personal status law, judges make decisions regarding family matters based on their own interpretations of Islamic law.

Foreign male spouses of female citizens are entitled to permanent residency in the country without needing a sponsor, and they receive free government education and medical benefits. These spouses are also included in the quota of Saudis employed in private companies under the nitaqaat, or labor quota system, which improves their employment prospects. Female citizens must be between the ages of 30 and 50 in order to marry a non-Saudi man. Non-Saudi wives of Saudi men receive more rights if they have children resulting from their marriage with a Saudi man. Male citizens must be between the ages of 40 and 65 in order to marry a non-Saudi woman. The extent to which those strictures were enforced was unclear; there was anecdotal evidence that they were not uniformly enforced. Children of Saudi women who are married to foreign spouses receive permanent residency, but their residency status is revocable in the event of the death of the Saudi mother.

In past years UNHCR unofficially estimated there were 70,000 stateless persons in the country, almost all of whom were native-born residents known locally as Bidoon (an Arabic word that means “without” [citizenship]). Updated information on stateless persons was not available. Bidoon are persons whose ancestors failed to obtain nationality, such as descendants of nomadic tribes not counted among the native tribes during the reign of the country’s founder, King Abdulaziz; descendants of foreign-born fathers who arrived before there were laws regulating citizenship; and rural migrants whose parents failed to register their births. As noncitizens, Bidoon are unable to obtain passports. The government sometimes denied them employment and educational opportunities, and their marginalized status made them among the poorest residents of the country. In recent years the Ministry of Education encouraged them to attend school. The government issues Bidoon five-year residency permits to facilitate their social integration in government-provided health-care and other services, putting them on similar footing with sponsored foreign workers. The General Directorate of Passports issued special identification cards to Bidoon similar to residency permits issued to foreigners in the country, but with features entitling their holders to additional government services similar to those available to citizens.

There were also some Baloch, West Africans, and Rohingya Muslims from Burma, but only a small portion of these communities was stateless. Many Rohingya had expired passports that their home government refused to renew, or had entered the country with fraudulent travel documents. UNHCR estimated there were between 250,000 and 500,000 Rohingya in the country. Some of these individuals benefited from a prior program to correct their residency status; in 2014 the government issued nearly 200,000 four-year residency permits to Rohingya who entered the country prior to 2008. Rohingya who arrived in the country after 2008 were not eligible for residency permits, although NGOs reported that Rohingya, including those without legal residency, were generally not subject to deportation prior to 2018. Upon the expiration of Rohingya residency permits in 2018, media reported more than 100 Rohingya faced deportation to Bangladesh at year’s end and hundreds more were in detention at Shumaisi Detention Center near Mecca. Only an estimated 2,000 individuals of Rohingya origin had Saudi citizenship. There also were between 300,000 and 400,000 Palestinian residents not registered as refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage; it establishes an absolute monarchy led by the Al Saud family as the political system. The Allegiance Council, composed of up to 34 senior princes appointed by the king, is formally responsible for selecting a king and crown prince upon the death or incapacitation of either. Only select members of the ruling family have a voice in the choice of leaders, the composition of the government, or changes to the political system.

The law provides citizens the right to communicate with public authorities on any matter and establishes the government on the principle of consultation (shura). The king and senior officials, including ministers and regional governors, are required to be available through majlis, open-door meetings where in theory any male citizen or noncitizen may express an opinion or a grievance without an appointment.

Most government ministries and agencies had women’s sections to interact with female citizens and noncitizens, and at least two regional governorates hired female employees to receive women’s petitions and arrange meetings for women with complaints for, or requests of, the governor.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 elections were held for two-thirds of the 3,159 seats on 284 municipal councils; the government appointed the remaining third. Council members serve four-year terms. Women were allowed to vote and run as candidates for the first time. The voting age was also lowered universally to 18 years. The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs actively encouraged women’s participation in the municipal elections. Election regulations prohibited candidates from contesting under party affiliation. Twenty-one women won seats and 17 were appointed to seats, totaling approximately 1 percent of all available seats.

The NSHR observed the elections, and select international journalists were also permitted to observe. Independent polling station observers identified no irregularities with the election. Prior to the election, several candidates reported they were disqualified for “violating the rules and regulations,” without further explanation. They had the right to appeal, and some were reinstated in time for the elections. Uniformed members of the security forces, including the military and police, were ineligible to vote.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no political parties or similar associations. The law does not protect the right of individuals to organize politically. In November 2017 implementing regulations for the 2017 counterterrorism law were published; however, implementation regulations for the 2014 counterterrorism law (issued by the Ministry of Interior in March 2014) remain in place, as they explicitly and specifically banned a number of organizations with political wings, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as regional and local terrorist groups. The government continued to regard human rights organizations, such as ACPRA, as illegal political movements and treated them accordingly.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Gender discrimination excluded women from many aspects of public life. Women slowly but increasingly participated in political life, albeit at a disadvantage, in part due to guardianship laws requiring a male guardian’s permission for legal decisions, restrictions on women candidates’ contact with male voters in the 2015 elections, and the ban on women driving, which the government lifted in June. In the 2015 municipal elections, women made up less than 10 percent of the final list of registered voters, according to HRW.

In 2013 former king Abdullah issued a royal decree changing the governance of the Consultative Council, the 150-person royally appointed body that advises the king and may propose but not pass laws. The changes mandate that women constitute no less than 20 percent of the membership of the Consultative Council. In accordance with the law, in 2013 the council inducted 30 women as full members.

Women were routinely excluded from formal decision-making positions in both government and the private sector, although some women attained leadership positions in business and served in senior advisory positions within government ministries. Women’s ability to practice law was limited; there were no women on the High Court or Supreme Judicial Council and no female judges or public prosecutors. The Ministry of Justice, however, announced in February that it was planning to hire 300 women as social, legal, and sharia researchers and administrative assistants in the first stage of its female employment program, following a decision by Minister of Justice Walid Al-Samaani to find vacancies for Saudi women in four sectors. As of November 14, the ministry appointed at least 213 female employees. On February 12, the PPO announced it would recruit women as lieutenant investigators for the first time. Furthermore, women lawyers were granted the right to obtain a notarization permit that allows them to assume some of the functions of public notaries effective March 12.

In August the General Authority of Civil Aviation issued five licenses to Saudi female pilots, permitting them to work as captains on Saudi Arabian Airlines aircraft.

On September 10, the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques appointed 41 female employees to leadership positions in the women’s public administration.

During the year the most senior position held by a woman in government was Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Development Tamadur Al-Rammah. She was also appointed supervisor of the Social Welfare and Family Agency.

The country had an increasing number of female diplomats. Bureaucratic procedures largely restricted women working in the security services to employment in women’s prisons, at women’s universities, and in clerical positions in police stations, where they were responsible for visually identifying other women, for example wearing niqabs, for law enforcement purposes.

In February the General Directorate of Public Security allowed women to apply to join the military in the enlisted ranks.

No laws prevent citizen males from minority groups from participating in political life on the same basis as other male citizens. Societal discrimination, however, marginalized the Shia population, and tribal factors and longstanding traditions continued to dictate many individual appointments to positions. Unofficially, government authorities will not appoint a Bedouin tribesman to a high-ranking cabinet-level position, and Bedouins can only reach the rank of major general in the armed forces. All cabinet members from tribal communities were members of urbanized “Hamael” tribes, rather than Bedouin tribes. While the religious affiliation of Consultative Council members was not known publicly, the council included an estimated seven or eight Shia members. In contrast with previous years, the cabinet contained one religious minority member. Multiple municipal councils in the Eastern Province, where most Shia were concentrated, had large proportions of Shia as members to reflect the local population, including a majority in Qatif and 50 percent in al-Ahsa. Eastern Province Shia judges dealing with intra-Shia personal status and family laws operated specialized courts.

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

The law provides that “the State shall protect human rights in accordance with Islamic sharia.” The government restricted the activities of domestic and international human rights organizations. The government did not allow international human rights NGOs to be based in the country and restricted access to the country for visits. International human rights and humanitarian NGOs reported that the government was at times unresponsive to requests for information and did not establish a clear mechanism for communication with NGOs on both domestic human rights issues and issues relating to the conflict in Yemen. There were no transparent standards governing visits by international NGO representatives. The HRC stated that the government welcomed visits by legitimate, unbiased human rights groups but added the government could not act on the “hundreds of requests” it received, in part because it was cumbersome to decide which domestic agencies would be their interlocutor.

The government often cooperated with and sometimes accepted the recommendations of the NSHR, the sole government-licensed domestic human rights organization. The NSHR accepted requests for assistance and complaints about government actions affecting human rights.

The government viewed unlicensed local human rights groups with suspicion, frequently blocking their websites and charging their founders with founding and operating unlicensed organizations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The HRC is part of the government and requires the permission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before meeting with diplomats, academics, or researchers with international human rights organizations. The HRC president has ministerial status and reports to the king. The well-resourced HRC was effective in highlighting problems and registering and responding to the complaints it received, but its capacity to effect change was more limited. The HRC worked directly with the Royal Diwan and the cabinet, with a committee composed of representatives of the Consultative Council and the Ministries of Labor and Social Development and Interior, and with Consultative Council committees for the judiciary, Islamic affairs, and human rights.

During the year the HRC and NSHR were more outspoken in areas deemed less politically sensitive, including child abuse, child marriage, prison conditions, and cases of individuals detained beyond their prescribed prison sentences. They avoided topics such as protests or cases of political activists or reformers that would require directly confronting government authorities. The HRC board’s 18 full-time members included four women and at least three Shia; they received and responded to complaints submitted by their constituencies, including problems related to persons with disabilities, religious freedom, and women’s rights. The Consultative Council’s Human Rights Committee also actively followed cases and included women and Shia among its members; a woman served as chairperson of the committee.

Senegal

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

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

There was at least one report that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On May 15, a gendarmerie (paramilitary) unit leader shot and killed Fallou Sene, a second-year university student, during a clash between students and security forces at Gaston Berger University in Saint-Louis. Authorities opened an investigation into the killing, which remained pending; no arrest had been made by year’s end.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Human rights organizations noted examples of physical abuse committed by law enforcement, including excessive use of force as well as cruel and degrading treatment in prisons and detention facilities. In particular, they criticized strip search and interrogation methods. Police reportedly forced detainees to sleep on bare floors, directed bright lights at them, beat them with batons, and kept them in cells with minimal access to fresh air. The government claimed these practices were not widespread and that it usually conducted formal investigations into allegations of abuse. Investigations, however, often were unduly prolonged and rarely resulted in charges or indictments.

In June Mamadou Diop, a young merchant, died in police custody after officers arrested him in his apartment in the Dakar district of Medina on charges of handling stolen goods. Postmortem examinations revealed his death was caused by head injuries. Investigations into the case were pending at year’s end.

According to the United Nations, three allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Senegal prior to 2018 were pending. Two cases reported in 2017 alleged exploitative sexual relationships involving police officers deployed with the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic respectively. One allegation was substantiated, according to the UN investigation. The United Nations repatriated one police officer, and the UN investigation on the other case was pending. Investigations by Senegal remained pending. A third allegation reported in 2016 also remained pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and potentially life-threatening due to food shortages, overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate medical care.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was endemic. For example, Dakar’s main prison facility, Rebeuss, held more than twice the number of inmates for which it was designed. Female detainees generally had better conditions than males. Pretrial detainees were not always separated from convicted prisoners. Juvenile boys were often housed with men or permitted to move freely with men during the day. Girls were held together with women. Infants and newborns were often kept in prison with their mothers until age one, with no special cells, additional medical provisions, or extra food rations.

In addition to overcrowding, the National Organization for Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), identified lack of adequate sanitation as a major problem. Poor and insufficient food, limited access to medical care, stifling heat, poor drainage, and insect infestations also were problems throughout the prison system.

According to 2016 government statistics, the most recent available, 25 inmates died in prisons and detention centers in 2016. While perpetrators may have been subject to internal disciplinary sanctions, no prosecutions or other public actions were taken against them.

On February 19, Balla Basse, a pretrial detainee, died at Aristide Le Dantec Hospital in Dakar of natural causes.

Administration: Authorities did not always conduct credible investigations into allegations of mistreatment. Ombudsmen were available to respond to complaints, but prisoners did not know how to access them or file reports. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, but there was no evidence that officials conducted any follow-up investigations.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by local human rights groups, all of which operated independently, and by international observers. The National Observer of Detention Facilities had full and unfettered access to all civilian prison and detention facilities, but not to military and intelligence facilities. The national observer lacked funds to monitor prisons throughout the country. It previously published an annual report, but reports for 2015-17 had not been published by year’s end.

Members of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited prisons in Dakar and the Casamance.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government did not always observe these prohibitions. Detainees are legally permitted to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained; however, this rarely occurred due to lack of adequate legal counsel.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police and gendarmes are responsible for maintaining law and order. The army shares that responsibility in exceptional cases, such as during a state of emergency. The National Police are part of the Interior Ministry and operate in major cities. The Gendarmerie is part of the Ministry of Defense and primarily operates outside major cities.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over police, gendarmes, and the army, but the government did not have effective mechanisms to punish abuse and corruption. The Criminal Investigation Department (DIC) is in charge of investigating police abuses but was ineffective in addressing impunity or corruption.

An amnesty law covers police and other security personnel involved in “political crimes” committed between 1983 and 2004, except for killings in “cold blood.”

The Regional Court of Dakar includes a military tribunal, which has jurisdiction over crimes committed by military personnel. The tribunal is composed of a civilian judge, a civilian prosecutor, and two military assistants to advise the judge, one of whom must be of equal rank to the defendant. The tribunal may try civilians only if they were involved with military personnel who violated military law. The military tribunal provides the same rights as a civilian criminal court.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Unless a crime is “flagrant” (just committed or discovered shortly after being committed), police must obtain a warrant from a court to arrest or detain a suspect. In practice, police treat most cases as “flagrant” offenses and make arrests without warrants, invoking the law that grants them broad powers to detain prisoners for long periods before filing formal charges. The DIC may hold persons up to 24 hours before releasing or charging them. Authorities did not promptly inform many detainees of the charges against them. Police officers, including DIC officials, may double the detention period from 24 to 48 hours without charge if they can demonstrate substantial grounds for a future indictment and if a prosecutor so authorizes. If such extended detention is authorized, the detainee must be brought in front of the prosecutor within 48 hours of detention. For particularly serious offenses, investigators may request that a prosecutor double this period to 96 hours. Authorities have the power to detain terrorist suspects for an initial 96 hours, and with renewals for a maximum of 12 days. The detention period does not formally begin until authorities officially declare an individual is being detained, a practice Amnesty International criticized for the resulting lengthy detentions.

Bail was rarely available, and officials generally did not allow family access. In 2016 the government amended the criminal code and criminal procedure code, giving defense attorneys access to suspects from the moment of arrest and allowing them to be present during interrogation; this provision, however, was not regularly implemented. In theory an attorney is provided at public expense in felony cases to all criminal defendants who cannot afford one after the initial period of detention. In many cases, however, the appointed counsel rarely shows up, especially outside of Dakar. Indigent defendants did not always receive attorneys in misdemeanor cases. A number of NGOs provided legal assistance or counseling to those charged with crimes.

Pretrial Detention: According to a 2014 EU-funded study, more than 60 percent of the prison population consisted of pretrial detainees. According to official statistics, approximately 4,200 of the approximately 10,000 registered prisoners in 2017 were pretrial detainees. The law states an accused person may not be held in pretrial detention for more than six months for minor crimes; however, authorities routinely held persons in custody until a court demanded their release. Judicial backlogs and absenteeism of judges resulted in an average delay of two years between the filing of charges and the beginning of a trial. In cases involving allegations of murder, threats to state security, and embezzlement of public funds, there were no limits on the length of pretrial detention. In many cases pretrial detainees were held longer than the length of sentence later imposed. The 2016 modification to the criminal code created permanent criminal chambers to reduce the backlog of pretrial detainees, with some success.

On July 19, Imam Alioune Badara Ndao was acquitted of terrorism charges but sentenced to a one-month suspended sentence for illegal possession of weapons. Fourteen of his co-defendants were also acquitted and released. All had spent nearly three years in pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was subject to corruption and government influence. Magistrates noted overwhelming caseloads, lack of adequate space and office equipment, and inadequate transportation, and they openly questioned the government’s commitment to judicial independence. According to Freedom in the World 2016, “inadequate pay and lack of tenure expose judges to external influences and prevent the courts from providing a proper check on the other branches of government. The president controls appointments to the Constitutional Council.” Authorities did not always respect court orders.

On several occasions the Union of Senegalese Judges and Prosecutors complained about the influence of the executive over the judiciary, in particular through the presence of the president and the minister of justice in the High Council of Magistrates, which manages the careers of judges and prosecutors. In response Justice Minister Ismaila Madior Fall defended existing systems, including the High Council of Magistrates, and stated the executive did not interfere in judicial affairs. To address the complaints, however, in February President Sall instructed the minister to propose changes to strengthen judicial independence, taking the union’s recommendations into account. No proposed changes had been adopted by year’s end.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for all defendants to have the right to a fair and public trial, and for an independent judiciary to enforce this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. They have the right to a fair, timely, and public trial, to be present in court during their trial and to have an attorney (at public expense if needed) in felony cases, and they have the right to appeal. They also have the right to sufficient time and facilities to prepare their defense, and to receive free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants enjoy the right to confront and present witnesses and to present their own witnesses and evidence.

While defendants cannot be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt, the country’s long-standing practice is for defendants to provide information to investigators and testify during trials. In addition, case backlogs, lack of legal counsel (especially in regions outside of Dakar), judicial inefficiency and corruption, and lengthy pretrial detention undermined many of the rights of defendants.

Evidentiary hearings may be closed to the public and press. Although a defendant and counsel may introduce evidence before an investigating judge who decides whether to refer a case for trial, police or prosecutors may limit their access to evidence against the defendant prior to trial. A panel of judges presides over ordinary courts in civil and criminal cases.

The right of appeal exists in all courts, except for the High Court of Justice. These rights extend to all citizens.

In March 2017 authorities in Dakar arrested the city’s then mayor Khalifa Sall (no relation to President Sall), an opposition leader, on charges of fraudulent use of public funds. Sall was elected to the National Assembly in July 2017 while still in custody and has since remained in custody. On March 30, Sall was convicted of fraudulent use of public funds and forgery of administrative documents and sentenced to five years in prison. Opposition figures and human rights advocates alleged Sall’s arrest and conviction, despite his election and subsequent parliamentary immunity, were politically motivated. On June 29, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice agreed the government had violated Sall’s rights, including his parliamentary immunity, by not releasing him upon his election to the legislature. The ECOWAS court ordered the government to pay damages to Sall and his codefendants. Despite these irregularities, on August 30, an appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision, and on August 31, President Sall issued a decree formally removing Khalifa Sall as the mayor of Dakar.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may seek cessation of and reparation for human rights violations in regular administrative or judicial courts. Citizens may also seek administrative remedies by filing a complaint with the ombudsman, an independent authority. Corruption and lack of independence hampered judicial and administrative handling of these cases. At times prosecutors refused to prosecute security officials, and violators often went unpunished. In matters related to human rights, individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions to the ECOWAS Court of Justice.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government occasionally limited these freedoms.

Freedom of Expression: Blasphemy, security, and criminal defamation laws are in place and were occasionally enforced.

On March 30, authorities arrested Barthelemy Dias, a former member of the National Assembly and current mayor of the Dakar district of Mermoz-Sacre Coeur, and prominent supporter of Khalifa Sall. After Sall’s conviction earlier that day, Dias made inflammatory remarks against the country’s judiciary and called on the crowd of Sall supporters gathered outside the court to continue the fight. In April a court in Dakar convicted Dias on charges of contempt and of provoking a potentially disruptive, unauthorized gathering; it sentenced Dias to six months in jail.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent journalists regularly criticized the government without reprisal. Private independent publications and government-affiliated media were available in Dakar, although their distribution in rural areas was irregular.

Radio was the most important medium of mass information and source of news due to the high illiteracy rate. There were approximately 200 community, public, and private commercial radio stations. Although an administrative law regulates radio frequency assignments, community radio operators claimed a lack of transparency in the process.

Although the government continued to influence locally televised information and opinion through Radio Television Senegal (RTS), more than 10 privately owned television channels broadcast independently. By law the government holds a majority interest in RTS, and the president directly or indirectly controlled selection of all members of the RTS executive staff. Beyond RTS all other public media outlets including the Senegalese Press Agency and the Le Soleil daily journal were controlled by members of President Sall’s ruling party, appointed by Sall; reporting by these outlets often carried a progovernment bias.

On September 3, a gendarme on duty physically attacked and injured Mamadou Sakine, a reporter from Le Quotidien newspaper, for photographing him assaulting a woman outside the Court of Appeals in Dakar. The gendarme first confiscated Sakine’s camera, then attacked Sakine for protesting his camera’s seizure. After pressure from other journalists, the gendarme returned the camera. Authorities did not announce an investigation into the incident nor sanctions against the officer.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists occasionally practiced self-censorship, particularly in government-controlled media.

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.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 58 percent of individuals used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government sometimes restricted freedom of peaceful assembly but generally respected freedom of association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of assembly, but the government sometimes restricted this right. Some groups complained of undue delays in response to authorization requests for public demonstrations. Other groups were denied such authorization.

In April the government denied a permit to opposition activists to protest the National Assembly’s vote on a law changing the eligibility requirements for presidential candidates and used force to disperse opposition supporters trying to hold the protest despite the ban. The government also detained several opposition leaders for several hours before releasing them without pressing charges.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: President Macky Sall has held office since 2012. In legislative elections held on July 30, 2017, Sall’s coalition won a majority of seats in the National Assembly. Local NGOs and international observers, including those from the African Union, characterized the elections as generally free and fair, despite significant irregularities. Approximately 53 percent of voters cast ballots, a significant increase from the 36 percent who cast ballots in the previous legislative election in 2012.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The 2010 gender parity law requires the candidate lists of political parties to contain equal numbers of men and women for elected positions at all levels, from city councils to the National Assembly. In the July 2017 legislative election, all lists of candidates fully complied with the parity law. While the number of women in elected positions has increased, the law has not significantly expanded their role in exercising political authority since it does not apply to party leadership positions or to other important decision-making bodies, such as the cabinet and the judiciary. Some observers believed that traditional and cultural factors prevented women from participating in the political process to the same extent as men.

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative but rarely took action to address their concerns.

Nongovernmental Organizations: Amnesty International released its 2017-18 annual report on February 22, noting concerns over several issues including the arrest and judicial procedure against Khalifa Sall, banning of opposition demonstrations, arrests of individuals critical of President Macky Sall, and lack of progress in combating forced child begging. Government officials responded swiftly, with Justice Minister Fall declaring the report “not credible,” while Prime Minister Mahammed Dionne accused the organization of attempting to “break up” Senegalese society by imposing human rights “contrary to [Senegalese] ethics.” Dionne’s remarks focused on a brief mention in the report regarding LGBTI rights, declaring, “We will not accept [homosexuality] because it is contrary to our values.”

The government also reacted defensively to an October 18 report by Human Rights Watch on sexual exploitation and abuse in schools, claiming the report’s research methodology was insufficiently rigorous and that the report demonstrated a Western cultural bias. The government did appear willing to agree with the report’s recommendation that it provide child protection training for teachers.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s National Committee on Human Rights included government representatives, civil society groups, and independent human rights organizations. The committee had authority to investigate abuses but lacked credibility, had limited funding, did not conduct investigations, and last released an annual report in 2001.

Serbia

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

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

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

Throughout the year the government continued to discuss publicly the 1999 disappearance and presumed killing of Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi, three Kosovar-American brothers taken into custody by Serb paramilitary groups. While authorities stated they were investigating the case, the government made no significant progress toward providing justice for the victims.

With regard to the ongoing criminal proceeding on the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Srebrenica-Kravica case), in October 2017 the Appellate Court in Belgrade ruled that conditions were met to continue criminal proceedings. The indictment in this case was against eight former members of the Ministry of Interior of Republika Srpska for the alleged murder of more than 1,000 Bosniak civilians in Kravica, Bosnia, in 1995. The defendants in this case were Bosnian Serbs who fled to Serbia at the end of the war in 1995, where they continued to reside. They eluded justice by ignoring legal proceedings against them in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A 2013 information-sharing protocol between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina paved the way for their arrests in 2015; the trial continued throughout the year with the most recent hearing in October.

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, police at times beat detainees and harassed suspects, usually during arrest or initial detention with a view towards obtaining a confession, notwithstanding that such evidence is not permissible in court.

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) report on its ad hoc visit to Serbia (May-June 2017) stated that authorities needed to recognize that the abuse of criminal suspects as a means of coercion by police officers was a systemic problem in the country. The report emphasized that the mistreatment of detainees was not the work of a few rogue officers within the police. According to the report, detainee abuse was accepted practice within police culture, especially among crime inspectors. The report noted a significant number of allegations of physical abuse of detained persons by police officers. This abuse consisted of slaps, punches, kicks, truncheon blows, and strikes with nonstandard objects (such as baseball bats). The CPT also received several claims of law enforcement inflicting electrical shocks on criminal suspects. The report also stated that police inflicted the abuse at the time of apprehension or during questioning at a police station to coerce suspects to admit to certain offences or to exact extrajudicial punishment.

Impunity for perpetrators of abuse and alleged mistreatment of detainees during arrest or initial detention remained a problem. There were few prosecutions and even fewer convictions of officials for abuse or mistreatment of detainees. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported a lack of independent oversight of police work in detention, a failure of methodology in prosecution, and low capacity for internal investigations by the Sector of Internal Control of the Ministry of the Interior. Over half of the investigations into police abuse and torture took over a year from the date of the criminal complaint.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Many prisons and detention centers did not meet international standards.

Physical Conditions: Prison conditions were harsh due to overcrowding, physical abuse, unsanitary conditions, and inadequate medical care.

According to the Ministry of Justice, prison capacity increased to 9,800, while the inmate population during the year was 10,600. Although prisons remained overpopulated, construction of new prisons and wider use of alternative sanctions (for example, community service, house arrest, and other measures) reduced overcrowding.

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

Independent Monitoring: Independent monitoring of prison conditions was allowed under the law, and the government provided access to independent monitors.

Improvements: During the year part of the Belgrade District Prison was renovated and the Special Prison Hospital was fully renovated.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained, and the government generally observed these requirements.

A 2017 television documentary series, Dokaz (Proof), discussed concerns about the presumption of innocence, alleging that more than 20,000 days of unfounded detention were collectively imposed each year. The series was produced with the support of the EU and the Ministry of Culture and Information of Serbia.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The country’s approximately 28,000 police officers have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country and are under the authority of the Ministry of Interior. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the five main departments that supervise 27 regional police directorates reporting to the national government. The government does not have effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse, and there were reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. Despite efforts by prosecutors and police to tackle corruption, abuse, and fraud, significant problems and abuses in these areas remained. The newly formed Anticorruption Department within the Ministry of Interior was created to investigate serious corruption. There was no specialized governmental body to examine killings at the hands of the security forces. The Police, the Security Information Agency (BIA), and the Directorate for the Enforcement of Penal Sanctions examined such cases through internal audits.

The composition of the police force varied. While most officers were ethnic Serbs, the force included Bosniaks (Slavic Muslims), ethnic Hungarians, ethnic Montenegrins, a small number of ethnic Albanians, and other minorities, including Roma.

Police corruption and impunity remained problems, despite some progress to hold corrupt police officials accountable. During the year experts from civil society noted that the quality of police internal investigations continued to improve, primarily because of the implementation of the new criminal procedure code. In the first eight months of the year, the Ministry of Interior’s Sector of Internal Control filed one criminal charge against a police officer due to reasonable suspicion that he had committed a crime of abuse and torture. During the same period, the ministry’s internal control office filed 155 criminal charges against 227 individuals for 1,004 crimes; 145 were police officers and 82 were civilians.

The government was less effective when high-level police officials were accused of criminal wrongdoing. In these cases criminal charges rarely reflected the seriousness of the offense and were often filed after lengthy delays. For example, in 2008 rioters attacked and set fire to a foreign diplomatic mission that supported Kosovo’s independence. Following a 10-year lapse, charges were finalized in February against five high-level police officials, three of whom have since retired, who were charged with failing to protect the mission, endangering public safety, and abusing their offices.

In another high profile case, masked men illegally bulldozed residential and commercial buildings in Belgrade’s Savamala neighborhood in 2016. The ombudsman at the time, Sasa Jankovic, released a report alleging that police deliberately did not respond to witness requests for assistance and alleged other police misconduct. In May, nearly two years after the crime, a police shift supervisor, Goran Stamenkovic, pled guilty to negligence in the discharge of his official duties and received a suspended sentence and probation. No high-level police officials have been held responsible.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Law enforcement authorities generally based arrests on warrants. The constitution states that police must inform arrested persons of their rights immediately at the time of arrest, and authorities generally respected this requirement. Police cannot question a suspect without informing the suspect of the right to remain silent and have counsel present. Detainees can obtain access to counsel at the government’s expense if they cannot afford counsel; however, free legal aid is only provided for serious offenses that carry a possible prison sentence of at least three years and, in some cases, where the law specifically requires it. The prosecutor can elect to question the suspect or be present during police questioning. The law requires a judge to approve any detention lasting longer than 48 hours, and authorities generally respected this requirement. The law provides the possibility of pretrial release for some detainees but pretrial release was rarely used as an alternative to detention. Authorities generally allowed family members to visit detainees.

The law prohibits excessive delays by authorities in filing formal charges against suspects and in conducting investigations. Authorities may hold suspects detained in connection with serious crimes for up to six months before indicting them. By law investigations should conclude within 12 months in cases of special jurisdiction (organized crime, high corruption, and war crimes). In practice, investigations often lasted longer because there was no clear consequence for failing to meet the prescribed deadline.

The law allows for indefinite detention of prisoners deemed a danger to the public because of a mental disability.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention has improved over the last decade but remained a problem. As of September approximately 15 percent of the country’s total prison population were persons in pretrial detention, down from 30 percent in 2010. The average length of detention was not reported and could not be reliably estimated. The court is generally obliged by law to act with urgency when deciding on pretrial detention. The constitution and laws limit the length of pretrial detention to six months, but there is no statutory limit to detention once a trial begins. There is also no statutory limit for detention during appellate proceedings. Due to inefficient court procedures, some of which are legally required, cases often took extended periods to come to trial. The government used house arrest in approximately 258 cases since the beginning of the year, which helped relieve overcrowding in pretrial detention centers. In 2017 the use of house arrest increased to 243 cases, up from 170 sentences in 2016.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the courts remained susceptible to corruption and political influence.

The European Commission (EC) staff’s working document Serbia 2018 Report, released on April 17, stated that, even though there was some progress, the scope for political influence over the judiciary remained a concern. The report stated that the current constitutional and legislative framework still leaves room for undue political influence over the judiciary. This has been an ongoing concern in several EU progress reports.

Regional cooperation on war crimes prosecutions remained a problem for all the states involved in the conflicts of the 1990s. The country’s full cooperation with the current Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals is an issue of serious concern. The EC’s Serbia 2018 Report working document stated that, while the country’s technical cooperation on requests for assistance from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) remained satisfactory, cooperation on the lawful arrest of individuals indicted for contempt of court was unsatisfactory.

The implementation of the 2016 National Strategy for the Processing of War Crimes was delayed and had not been implemented expeditiously. The Humanitarian Law Center reported that there had been no tangible progress with respect to war crimes prosecutions since the adoption of the strategy. Of the 12 indictments issued since the adoption of the national strategy, only one was the result of an investigation conducted by the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office (WCPO) in Serbia; the other 11 were transferred directly from the WCPO of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Trials within the Special Court that adjudicates war crime prosecutions continued to be unnecessarily protracted. The procedural rights of victims had not been strengthened, and the resolution of missing persons cases proceeded at a slower pace than predicted in the national strategy.

Another problem of serious concern was that the position of chief war crimes prosecutor was filled by a deputy war crimes prosecutor from January 2016 to May 2017. The deputy prosecutor lacked formal authorization to do the work, and the defense counsel used the prosecutor’s lack of authority to contest the validity of several prosecution and investigative acts taken during this period. In seven cases the indictments were dismissed, requiring that one indictment be resubmitted and the prosecution file a request to resume proceedings in the remaining six cases. Five of these resumption requests were granted. These issues further delayed already protracted war crimes trials.

The lack of appointments of war crimes prosecutors delayed court proceedings.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

The constitution and laws grant defendants the presumption of innocence. Authorities must inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free translation throughout criminal proceedings if necessary. Defendants have a right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, although authorities may close a trial if the trial judge determines it is warranted for the protection of morals, public order, national security, the interests of a minor, the privacy of a participant, or during the testimony of a state-protected witness.

Lay judges sit on the trial benches in all cases except those handled by the organized crime and war crimes authorities. Defendants also have the right to have an attorney represent them, at public expense, when a defendant lacks resources to acquire representation and one of two conditions is met: either the crime is punishable for three or more years of imprisonment or a defense attorney is mandatory under the law. Defendants and attorneys are generally given ample time and sufficient facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right to be present at their own trials, to access government evidence, to question witnesses, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Both the defense and the prosecution have the right to appeal a verdict.

The government generally respected these rights; some defendants complained about not being able to present evidence at court and not being able to depose their witnesses. Poorer defendants struggled to get legal representation, as the country does not have a functional system of free legal aid for all situations. Free legal aid was granted only in serious cases, where the law mandates representation.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution grants individuals the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court regarding an alleged violation of human rights. In addition to ruling whether a violation occurred, the court can also issue a decision that can serve as grounds for seeking restitution. The government generally respected decisions rendered by the Constitutional Court. Once all avenues for remedy in the domestic courts are exhausted, citizens may appeal cases involving alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government has laws and/or mechanisms in place, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported that the government made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens.

In accordance with the country’s participation in the Terezin Declaration, in 2016 parliament adopted a law on the restitution of heirless and unclaimed Jewish property seized during the Holocaust. This law allows the Jewish community to file restitution claims based on these seizures, without restricting the rights of future claimants. The law defines “heirless property” as any property that was not the subject of a legitimate claim for restitution under the General Restitution Law. The community must prove the former owner of the property was a member of the Jewish community, and that the property was confiscated during the Holocaust. The law also stipulates financial support from the state budget for the Jewish community. This financial support is 950,000 euros ($1.1 million) per year for a 25-year period; the government made the second payment during the year.

The Serbian Agency for Restitution received 239 claims from the Jewish Communities of Serbia and returned nine heirless apartments, 29 commercial real estate parcels, 39 buildings, and 250 acres of agricultural land to the Jewish community from the beginning of the year through November.

The government appointed a new representative to the supervisory board, created under the 2016 Holocaust-era Heirless Property Restitution Law, designed to provide for accountability in the use of restituted property and financial compensation to Serbian Jewish communities.

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

While the constitution prohibits such actions, there were reports that the government failed to respect prohibitions on interfering with correspondence and communications. The law requires the Ministry of Interior to obtain a court order before monitoring potential criminal activity and police to obtain a warrant before entering property except to save persons or possessions. Police frequently failed to respect these laws.

In May the ombudsman ordered the BIA to respond as to whether it had released personal information of journalist Stefan Dojcinovic to the tabloid Informer in 2016. Dojcinovic filed a complaint in 2016.

According to SHARE Foundation research, state bodies monitored approximately 100,000 citizens annually. Data from the mobile telecommunications service provider Telenor indicated that the state accessed 70,000 telephones and other devices in 2016.

Human rights activists and NGOs reported a lack of effective parliamentary oversight of security agencies.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but a lack of transparency of media ownership, continuing government involvement in media ownership, and threats and attacks on journalists undermined these freedoms. Independent observers claimed that 2017 was one of the worst years on record for press freedom in the country. The trend of decreased media freedom continued during the year.

Press and Media Freedom: Although independent media organizations continued to exist and express a wide range of views, press organizations and international monitors claimed government pressure on media was deepening. The government reportedly controlled media outlets through advertising revenue and the allocations of media grants. According to a 2017 study by Reporters without Borders, the government is the biggest advertiser in the country and uses its purchasing power to support progovernment editorial content and stifle critical viewpoints. A number of independent journalists and outlets claimed that they were being pressured by targeted tax investigations, smear campaigns, threats, and politically motivated attacks.

Violence and Harassment: The law prohibits threatening or otherwise putting pressure on public media and journalists or exerting any other kind of influence that might obstruct their work. The Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia reported at least 92 cases in which journalists had been attacked, threatened, or exposed to political pressure in 2017. These attacks included vandalism, intimidation, and physical attacks.

In May 2017 six journalists were attacked while reporting on the presidential inauguration by members of the security service of the SNS, which were securing the event. Despite photographs of the journalists’ being dragged and choked, state prosecutors dropped criminal charges because they claimed there were no elements of a criminal act. The journalists filed an objection to the high prosecutor’s office in late 2017; there were no developments on the case during the year.

N1 television was a frequent target of government criticism. Some observers blamed the criticism for a January attack against an N1 journalist, Nikola Radisic. Two unidentified men insulted, spat at, and threatened Radisic after recognizing him in the street.

According to Amnesty International’s 2017-18 report on the country, investigative journalists were subjected to smear campaigns by ministers and media close to the government. In particular, the report noted that journalists working for the Network for Investigating Crime and Corruption (KRIK) received death threats, and that the apartment of its investigative reporter Dragana Peco had been the subject of a home invasion. KRIK’s investigative reporting into the unexplained source of funding that allowed Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin to purchase property in Belgrade was also met with a smear campaign. The Movement of Socialists immediately responded to the story by publishing a statement accusing KRIK’s editor in chief, Stevan Dojcinovic, of being a drug addict and foreign agent.

Watchdog organizations also noted that past killings of several journalists have yet to be resolved, including the killings of journalists Slavko Curuvija (1999), Dada Vujasinovic (1994), and Milan Pantic (2001).

A study by the Slavko Curuvija Foundation, Media Freedoms and Control: Journalists’ Testimonies, found that 74 percent of Serbian journalists believed “there [were] serious obstacles to exercising media freedoms” or that they had no media freedom at all. Nearly two-thirds of journalists interviewed believed that the political establishment had the strongest influence over the media community.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports that the government actively sought to direct media reporting on a number of issues.

Economic pressure sometimes led media outlets to practice self-censorship, refraining from publishing content critical of the government, based on a fear of economic consequences. State-controlled funds were believed to contribute a significant percentage of overall advertising revenue, giving the state leverage over media outlets. According to the regional media advocacy group fairpress.eu, the government allocated more than two billion dinar ($19.2 million) each year for media support; the recipients of these funds were not publicly disclosed.

Watchdog organizations believed the media market was too saturated for outlets to be financially viable without government support or access to government advertising contracts.

According to a report from the Center of Investigative Journalism of Serbia, the progovernment tabloids Srpski Telegraf and Informerwere granted about 23.5 million dinars ($225,000) by the government, notwithstanding their frequent breach of the country’s Code of Journalism. Meanwhile the daily newspaper Danas, the weekly news agency Beta, the weekly Novi Magazin, and the Media Center of the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia–none of which had ever received even a sanction or warning from the press council–did not receive state funding. The report concluded: “The situation is completely clear: progovernment media obtain money at state-run contests.”

Between October 2017 and mid-January, research by the Center for Research Transparency and Accountability (CRTA) showed that government representatives received four times more coverage in the media than representatives of the opposition. After the research results were published, progovernment broadcaster TV Pink used its platform to discredit CRTA and journalist Tamara Skrozza, who is also a member of CRTA’s board of directors. The Center for Investigative Journalism Serbia reported that Pink International, TV Pink’s corporate parent, received loans in excess of 10 million euros ($11.5 million) from the Serbian Export Credit and Insurance Agency in 2014, plus assurances of another 2.5 million euros ($2.9 million). In 2017 it reportedly received another loan of 3.2 million euros ($3.7 million) from the same agency. The government did not provide information to explain why a governmental agency tasked with supporting exports had funded a private television company.

Nongovernmental Impact: During the year several media outlets published articles that accused numerous journalists, NGO activists, and independent institution representatives of being “traitors” to the country and attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.

Shortly after the Independent Journalists Union of Serbia (IJAS) objected to the slow progress in solving the January 16 killing of Oliver Ivanovic, a prominent politician in Kosovo’s Serb community, President Vucic denounced IJAS president Slavisa Lekic, IJAS vice president and Beta editor in chief Dragan Janjic, and others for suggesting that the killing may have been politically motivated. Janjic’s photograph and home address were posted on a website, together with the statement, “This is what a man who hates all things Serbian looks like.” Responses on Facebook included, “Put a bullet in his head,” and “Hang him in the public square.”

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no reports that the government restricted or disrupted access to the internet, monitored private online communication without appropriate legal authority, or censored online content.

Although the internet remained unrestricted, the law obliges telecommunications operators to retain certain data for one year. This data included the source and destination of a communication; the beginning, duration, and end of a communication; the type of communication; terminal equipment identification; and the location of the customer’s mobile terminal equipment. While intelligence agencies can access this metadata without court permission, the law requires a court order to access the contents of these communications.

According to National Institute of Statistics’ most recent data, 68 percent of the country’s population had an internet connection.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government limited these rights in some cases.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected the right. The law obliges protesters to apply to the police for a permit, providing the exact date, time, and estimated number of demonstrators. Police generally issued a permit if a protest was not likely to disturb the public or public transportation; otherwise, police consulted with city authorities before issuing a permit. Higher-level government authorities decided whether to issue permits for gatherings assessed as posing high security risks.

EC staff noted in the Serbia 2018 Report working document that the country lacked secondary legislation to implement fully the law on freedom of assembly. Commission staff also noted numerous reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement and a lack of prosecution of violent counterprotestors.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.

All companies continued to pay mandatory annual membership to the Serbian Chamber of Commerce. In March 2017 the Association for Protection of Constitutionality and Legality filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court, asserting that mandatory membership was against the constitution. The Constitutional Court has not issued a ruling on this case.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The law provides protection to IDPs in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, but implementation fell short in some areas. According to official statistics of the Serbian Commissariat for Refugees and Migration (SCRM), approximately 200,000 displaced persons from Kosovo resided in the country, most of whom were Serbs, Montenegrins, Roma, Egyptians, Ashkali, Gorani, and Bosniaks who left Kosovo, then an autonomous province of Yugoslavia, because of the 1998-99 war. Approximately 80 percent resided in urban areas. According to recent research conducted by the SCRM, more than 68,000 of these persons were extremely vulnerable and in need of assistance. These displaced persons met one or more of UNHCR’s vulnerability criteria, such as households that had income below the poverty line; persons living in undignified conditions; persons with mental or physical disabilities; single parents; elderly persons and women, children, or adolescents at risk.

According to UNHCR research, displaced Roma were the most vulnerable and marginalized displaced population in the country, with 92 percent of the 20,000 internally displaced Roma living below the poverty threshold, and 98 percent of displaced Roma households unable to satisfy basic nutritional needs or afford to pay for utilities, health care, hygiene, education, and local transport. Displaced Roma had a 74 percent unemployment rate. According to UNHCR, almost 90 percent of displaced Roma lived in substandard housing, and the vast majority had not been able to integrate or return home. According to the SCRM, over the past 18 years, the government, supported by the international community, implemented measures and activities related to the reception and care of displaced persons from Kosovo to provide for adequate living conditions. Their recent research stated that more than 4,700 housing units, generally defined as living spaces for one family, were provided. It was not clear how many of these units were provided to Romani displaced persons, who often did not identify themselves as Roma.

While government officials continued to state publicly that displaced persons from Kosovo should return, senior government officials also claimed that it was unsafe for many to do so. To assist refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as displaced persons from Kosovo, the government continued to implement its 2002 National Strategy on Refugees and Internally Displaced People. It was expanded and updated in 2015 and slated to continue until 2020. The strategy was not comprehensive and failed to provide the technical and financial capacity to ensure durable solutions for displaced persons. Some progress was made within the Skopje Process, which started in 2014 when the governments of Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Kosovo identified security, property, data management, documentation, and solutions planning as the issues to be resolved and agreed on actions that needed to be taken. The adoption and implementation of these actions, however, were still pending. UNHCR stated that the government continued to underreport the funding needed for the integration of displaced persons to avoid pressure from the EU to direct more funds to these programs.

During the year the government provided 173 housing units and 151 income-generation packages to displaced persons. Local NGOs and international organizations provided additional housing, financial assistance, and free legal assistance for civil registration, resolution of property claims, securing work rights, and obtaining personal documents.

The housing situation of many displaced persons remained a source of concern. Many of the more than 68,000 extremely vulnerable displaced persons from Kosovo lived in substandard private accommodation. The Commissariat for Refugees and Migration reported 68 displaced persons from Kosovo remained in three official collective centers in the country; 52 of the displaced persons from Kosovo were Roma accommodated in the so-called “Salvatore” collective center in Bujanovac, a minimally habitable facility originally constructed for only temporary accommodation. These individuals were particularly marginalized and, according to UNHCR, did not have access to social assistance or economic empowerment programs.

The most vulnerable displaced persons were Roma living in informal settlements without access to basic infrastructure, electricity, water, and sanitation, who were in constant fear of forced evictions. These Romani communities were mostly in urban areas; some of the most vulnerable were in the informal settlements Cukaricka Suma in Belgrade, Veliki Rit in Novi Sad, and in other urban areas.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Humanitarian organizations noted the government lacked the resources and expertise to provide sufficient protection against refoulement. Various press and humanitarian reports indicated that authorities pushed back irregular migrants without screening them to see if they were seeking asylum. There was also a credible report of a group of 25 Afghan nationals, who expressed their intent to claim asylum in the country in February 2017. The migrants were issued asylum intention certificates stating that they should proceed to Divljana Reception Center, in accordance with the country’s asylum law. The group’s arrival at the Divljana Reception Center could not be confirmed, and reports indicated that they were expelled into Bulgaria by Serbian security forces.

The government’s Mixed Migration Group was inactive during the year and did not deliberate on any of the issues in its portfolio or communicate the number of illegal entrances prevented since January 1. UNHCR estimated that some 5,267 individuals were prevented from illegally entering Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia from the country’s territory in the period through August.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for giving protection to refugees. The asylum office within the Ministry of Interior is responsible for implementing the system but lacked the capacity, resources, and trained staff to do so effectively.

While the law was broadly in accordance with international standards, failures and delays in the implementation of its provisions denied asylum seekers access to a prompt and effective individual assessment of their protection needs. In the majority of cases, asylum applications were discontinued or suspended because the applicants left the country. According to UNHCR the primary reasons for asylum seekers leaving the country were their lack of interest in living in Serbia and a lengthy government procedure for adjudicating applications.

The Asylum Office granted subsidiary protection to 14 asylum seekers and refugee status to nine asylum seekers during the year. In March parliament adopted a new Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection, which came into effect in the beginning of June. In theory, it represented a step forward, bringing procedural guarantees to asylum seekers, and improving all steps of the procedures pertaining to refugee children. The law’s practical impact on the asylum system could not be evaluated due to the short time it had been in effect.

In 2017 the government expanded its network of five official asylum centers (Krnjaca, Sjenica, Tutin, Banja Koviljaca, and Bogovadja) by opening 13 additional centers (Subotica, Principovac, Sid, Adasevci, Bujanovac, Vranje, Presevo, Dimitrovgrad, Pirot, Divljana, Bosilegrad, Sombor, and Kikinda) with capacity to accommodate approximately 6,000 persons. In September the government closed the Divljana, Presevo, and Dimitrovgrad centers due to a lower migrant population. These reception centers could be reopened quickly in the event that migrant flows increased. The government also erected three large tents in Adasevci, near the border with Croatia, during the year to accommodate asylum seekers waiting to cross the border.

NGOs and UN agencies reported that the Hungarian government continued the practice of “pushing back” irregular migrants into the territory of Serbia, including individuals who had not been previously present in the country and who entered Hungary from another country.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: International humanitarian organizations raised concerns about the government’s interpretation and use of the concept of a safe country of origin/transit. It was government policy to issue blanket denials of asylum to applicants from a “safe country of origin.” Asylum authorities dismissed the asylum applications of almost all the persons who entered the country from one of the countries on the list of safe third countries and declined jurisdiction. Court rulings in extradition proceedings extradited asylum seekers without a final decision on their asylum applications and without examining potential risks of persecution in their countries of origin, rigorously abiding by the provisions of the law. Competent authorities in both asylum procedures and extradition proceedings did not examine the risks of persecution in the countries of origin (the grounds on which these persons had requested asylum); in two cases authorities extradited asylum seekers to their countries of origin. In one case the Asylum Office established the jurisdiction of Montenegro (from where the asylum seeker had entered Serbia) by examining the individual’s asylum application, but authorities in charge of extradition proceedings deported him to Turkey, his country of origin.

The UNHCR claimed this policy and the list of “safe third countries” were not valid, because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs determined them based solely on the country’s relations and affiliations with those countries and not on their actual safety with regard to humanitarian and human rights conditions. As a result all neighboring states recognized by the government were on its list of “safe third countries.” The new Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection introduced procedural guarantees to asylum seekers with the aim of limiting the application of the “safe third country” concept by obliging asylum authorities to examine its application in every individual case.

Employment: Asylum seekers do not have the right to employment until nine months after an asylum application is submitted if no decision has been taken on their case. Employment is also available once an applicant is recognized as a refugee at the end of the country’s refugee determination process.

Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees have the right to access health and education services, although barriers including language and cultural differences limited access.

Durable Solutions: The government provided support for the voluntary return and reintegration of refugees from other countries of the former Yugoslavia. Those who chose the option of integration in Serbia rather than return to their country of origin enjoyed the same rights as nationals, including access to basic services such as health and education, and had access to simplified naturalization in the country; they did not have the right to vote unless their naturalization process was complete. According to the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration’s official statistics, 26,502 refugees (18,232 refugees from Croatia and 8,270 from Bosnia and Herzegovina) resided in the country, while the government estimated that approximately 200,000 to 400,000 former refugees were naturalized but not socially or economically integrated into the country.

There are no remaining refugees displaced during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the country’s collective centers. The government directly funded 178 housing units for these refugees during the year.

Together with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro, Serbia participated in the Regional Housing Project (RHP) to provide housing for approximately 16,000 vulnerable refugee families who have decided to integrate into their countries of residence. Since inception RHP donors approved nine project proposals to provide housing to more than 7,000 refugee families living in the country. To date more than 2,000 housing units had been provided or were under construction. The total value of the nine projects was 152 million euros ($175 million), of which the government contributed 25.2 million euros ($29.0 million). During the year 772 housing units were provided in Serbia.

Temporary Protection: The government made no decisions on temporary protection during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

Poverty, social marginalization, lack of information, cumbersome and lengthy bureaucratic procedures, difficulty in obtaining documents, the lack of an officially recognized residence, and the lack of birth registration limited the ability of those at risk of statelessness to gain nationality.

According to UNHCR an estimated 2,200 persons, primarily Roma, Balkan Egyptians, and Ashkali, were at risk of statelessness in the country; approximately 300 of these remained without birth registration. The country has laws and procedures that afford the opportunity for late birth registration and residence registration as well as the opportunity to gain nationality. Children whose parents lacked personal documents (identification cards) could not, however, be registered into birth registry books immediately after birth, creating new cases of persons at risk of statelessness.

One example was the case of R.A. and her family, members of the Romani minority in the country who fled Kosovo after the conflict in 1999. In 2000 R.A. gave birth in a hospital to a girl, whom she named N. When her daughter was born, R.A. did not have an identification card and a birth certificate to prove her identity. When she came to the hospital to give birth, she presented herself under the last name of her common-law husband, although they were never formally married. Under the operative rules and regulations, to register the birth and name of a child immediately upon birth, the mother needs to possess both her birth certificates and identification. Since R.A. had neither, her child remained unregistered. It subsequently took an NGO that provided free legal aid five years to reregister N in the birth registry, and an additional procedure was required for determination of citizenship. In 2015 R.A. obtained an identification card for the first time. After she obtained her card, she initiated the procedure for registration of her daughter N. In this procedure it was necessary to correct all the mistakes that resulted from the erroneously entered data in the hospital records when N. was born. After the attempts to register N. before an administrative body failed, a procedure for determination of date and place of birth before the court was initiated and was still pending.

Due to existing regulations, children of undocumented parents can be without birth registration for upwards of a year. Until they are registered, children remain legally invisible, at risk of statelessness, and deprived of access to numerous rights, such as health care and social protection.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held extraordinary parliamentary elections in 2016 and presidential elections in 2017. Aleksandar Vucic, president of the SNS, was elected president of the country, winning approximately 55 percent of the vote. International observers stated that these elections were mostly free, but that campaigning during both periods was tilted to benefit the ruling party. The final report of the limited election observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights on the 2017 Presidential Election concluded that the election provided voters with a genuine choice of contestants who were able to campaign freely. The campaign, however, was dominated by then-prime minister Aleksandar Vucic, who benefited from the effectively blurred distinction between the campaign and official activities.

In March there were elections for the Belgrade City Assembly. Belgrade has a population of 1.6 million, and the mayor of Belgrade is considered the third most powerful political position in the country. Because of this and Belgrade’s historic role as a center of power for opposition parties, the elections received extensive media coverage and political attention. President Vucic’s SNS won almost 45 percent of the vote, giving it a majority in the assembly. There were 24 political parties on the ballot, but only three others crossed the 5 percent electoral threshold. Although contestants were largely able to campaign freely, opposition parties raised concerns about restricted access to the country’s media outlets.

In all three recent elections, unbalanced media coverage, credible allegations of pressure on voters and employees of state-affiliated structures, and a misuse of administrative resources tilted the playing field. Regulatory and oversight mechanisms were ineffective and did not safeguard the fairness of competition. While the legal framework was conducive to the conduct of democratic elections, it did not sufficiently cover all fundamental aspects of the process, with certain areas left under- or poorly regulated.

The Center for Research, Transparency, and Accountability observation mission for the Belgrade City Assembly elections reported serious breaches of electoral procedures at 8 percent of polling stations, more than the number of irregularities reported during the 2017 presidential or 2016 legislative elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The law states that for municipal and parliamentary elections, one in three candidates must be a member of the sex least represented on the list. Minority groups need only 1,000 signatures to register political parties compared to 10,000 for nonminority parties.

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

A variety of independent domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases without overt resistance from the government. While government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their questions, at times government bodies selectively ignored freedom of information requests. Civil society groups were subject to criticism, harassment, and threats from nongovernmental actors, including progovernment media outlets. Actions likely to draw this response included expressing views critical of the government, contrary to nationalist views regarding Kosovo, or in support of the ICTY.

On August 1, the misdemeanor court in Ruma fined eight activists from the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) 50,000 dinars ( $480) each for violating the public order and peace. The activists blew whistles and displayed a banner to disrupt a speech by convicted war criminal Veselin Sljivancanin. Media outlets reported that the activists were assaulted and forcibly removed from the room. The event was organized by the SNS; the party subsequently issued a statement blaming the protestors for disturbing the event. The activists filed charges against their alleged attackers; the charges were dismissed due to a lack of evidence.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman was responsible for identifying problems within state institutions and making recommendations on remedies. The ombudsman continued to operate branch offices in three municipalities with significant ethnic Albanian populations. Vojvodina Province had its own ombudsman, who operated independently during the year.

The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality had legal authority to bring civil lawsuits against businesses and government institutions for violations of the antidiscrimination law.

Government officials, members of parliament, NGOs with government ties, and progovernment tabloids continued to criticize and attack the commissioner for information and personal data protection. In September Commissioner Sabic stated he had received death threats; Sabic did not report the threats to police, as he did not expect a substantive investigation.

Seychelles

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions worsened during the year with a high level of inmate indiscipline and life-threatening violence. Compared with previous years, the main prison at Montagne Posee was less crowded.

A high-level committee on prison reform and rehabilitation, formed in 2017 and chaired by the vice president and the speaker of the National Assembly, did not meet during the year.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in Montagne Posee Prison significantly lessened during the year. In 2016 amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis, which reduced the prison’s population; the reduction continued during the year. A work release program that allowed prisoners to work during the day either with a stevedoring company at the port or landscaping in the streets of the capital, then return to prison at night, continued. Several therapy programs including the use of dogs and boxing classes were introduced during the year. On September 28, the Seychelles Nation newspaper reported on a meeting between prison authorities and religious groups for better engagement in prison by the groups.

There were reports that the level of inmate indiscipline worsened, with rampant use of heroin. Violence among inmates increased with two recorded cases of death from inmate fighting. For example, on August 21, Seychelles Nation reported that inmate Roy Philoe died from stabbing by another inmate at Montagne Posee Prison. There were four deaths in prison reported during the year, two from inmate on inmate violence and two from drug-related causes. Prisoners continued to extort money from family members of fellow inmates who pretended their lives were in danger. Inmate use of mobile phones was common despite authorities’ use of jammers at Montagne Posee Prison.

A separate holding facility for pretrial male detainees opened on Bois de Rose Avenue at the former Coast Guard base. Female pretrial detainees continued to be held at Montagne Posee Prison with convicted female prisoners. Juvenile pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were held together with adult prisoners.

Administration: An ombudsman may make recommendations to the National Assembly and the president to improve conditions for prisoners and detainees but had no authority to enforce such recommendations. Although the ombudsman is required to issue an annual report on inmate complaints and on investigations into human rights abuses and corruption, the ombudsman did not do so during the year. National Human Rights Commission statistics on prisoner complaints to the commission were not available at year’s end.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) visited Montagne Posee Prison during the year. Several religious groups also visited the prison and the pretrial facility; however, visits to the Coetivy Island prison remained difficult, due to distance and cost.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The president maintained effective control over the security apparatus. This includes the Seychelles People’s Defense Forces (SPDF), Presidential Protection Unit, Coast Guard, and police, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. The police commissioner, who reports directly to the minister for home affairs, commands the unarmed police, the armed paramilitary Police Special Support Wing, the Anti-Narcotics Bureau, and the Marine Police Unit, which together have primary responsibility for internal security. When necessary, the SPDF assisted police on matters of internal security.

Security forces were effective.

Authorities rarely used the enquiry board (a police complaint office) but instead established independent inquiry commissions to examine security force abuses. Private attorneys generally filed complaints with police or published them in the Today in Seychellesnewspaper or in opposition party newspapers, such as Seychelles Weekly and Le Seychellois Hebdo. For example, on August 27, Today in Seychelles reported that police launched an inquiry into the lack of action by two police officers who did nothing to prevent a man being assaulted and tased by private security officers in a break-in at a store in Mont Fleuri. Although respect for human rights was included as a core precept in police training, the course was skeletal and did not comprehensively cover human rights.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires warrants, except for persons arrested under the Misuse of Drugs Act, which allows police officers to arrest and detain persons without a warrant. The law provides for detention without criminal charge for up to 14 days if authorized by court order. Persons arrested must be brought before a magistrate within 24 hours, with allowance made for travel from distant islands. Police generally respected this requirement. Authorities generally notified detainees of the charges against them and generally granted family members prompt access to them. Detainees have the right to legal counsel, and indigents generally received free counsel on all cases, including felony. Courts allowed bail in most cases.

Pretrial Detention: The constitution provides that remand (pretrial) prisoners be released after six months of detention if their cases have not been heard, but prolonged pretrial detention was frequently a problem. Prisoners sometimes waited more than three years for trial or sentencing due to case backlogs. Pretrial detainees made up approximately 16 percent of the prison population.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. There were reports of improved court processes with both civil and criminal cases expedited quicker than in previous years. Case backlogs also were reduced during the year.

Supreme Court, Appeals Court, and magistrate court justices were mostly Seychellois by birth, with a few either naturalized Seychellois or citizens of other Commonwealth countries. Judges were generally impartial. Special tribunals were investigating two Supreme Court justices, Chief Justice Mathilda Twomey, and Justice Durai Karunakaran. In October a tribunal of inquiry composed of three Commonwealth jurists exonerated Chief Justice Twomey. Complaints against the chief justice were brought by Judge Durai Karunakaran, a senior member of the bench in Seychelles, stemming from Karunakaran’s prior suspension. There were several unconfirmed reports that Chief Justice Twomey was selectively strict with certain attorneys and certain cases. At least two lawyers reported the chief justice to the Constitutional Appointments Authority, the authority that appoints judges. Results of a 2016 case, whereby Supreme Court Justice Karunakaran, a naturalized citizen, was reported to the Constitutional Appointments Authority at the request of the chief justice and investigated for malpractice, were made not made public at year’s end.

Authorities generally respected court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to be present at their trials and to appeal. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary from the first court appearance through all appeals. Only cases involving charges of murder or treason use juries. The constitution makes provision for defendants to present evidence and witnesses and to cross-examine witnesses in court. The law provides the right of defendants to consult with an attorney of choice or to have one provided at public expense in a timely manner and to be provided adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right not to confess guilt, not to testify, nor to enter a plea. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. A commission established in 2017 to investigate claims of forced land acquisitions since the 1977 military takeover and to settle all claims did not meet during the year. On March 29, the Seychelles News Agency reported that President Faure publicly apologized to the Jeannie family for the death of Berard Jeannie, a police officer killed on the day of the 1977 coup. Individuals may also appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected this right.

Freedom of Expression: Compared with previous years, individuals were more willing to exercise freedom to criticize the government with less fear of reprisal, such as harassment by police or the loss of jobs or contracts, as was the case in the past. As a result public protests, both spontaneous and organized, increased. Campaigners against a proposed military base to be built and comanaged by India and Seychelles on Assomption Island organized several protests and petitions, forcing President Faure and the National Assembly to shelve plans to build a facility with India. The government announced plans to build its own military facility instead.

The government funded two of the four radio stations and the only television station. Telecommunications company Cable and Wireless runs a local news and entertainment channel on its Internet Protocol Television service. The law allows for independent radio and television but prohibits political parties and religious organizations from operating radio stations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law allows the minister of information technology to prohibit the broadcast of any material believed to be against the “national interest” or “objectionable.” The law also requires telecommunication companies to submit subscriber information to the government. Authorities did not enforce the law during the year, but journalists continued to practice self-censorship after more than 40 years of working in a very controlled press environment.

During the year President Faure opened live press conferences to all media outlets, contrary to previous years when some media were excluded from certain official events. The press conferences had been criticized as being a controlled exercise. During the elections of 2015 and 2016, the opposition accused the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) of biased reporting and coverage. In 2017 the SBC Act was amended to create a larger corporate board and provide for members of the public to apply for the position of chief executive officer (CEO) and deputy CEO. For the first time the CEO and deputy CEO positions were advertised. The SBC transformed itself from a state broadcaster to a public service broadcaster operating independently of state control.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides restrictions “for protecting the reputation, rights, and freedoms of private lives of persons” and “in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health.” As a result civil lawsuits may be filed against print and broadcast journalists for alleged libel and slander. Social media sites may also be subject to libel lawsuits under this law. On September 4, Today in Seychelles reported that the editor of Le Seychellois Hebdo was summoned to court for an article it published in 2016 regarding a Seychellois politician and businessman.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Unlike previous years there were no reports that the government or the ruling party monitored postings on social media and websites of political opponents. According to 2017 International Telecommunication Union, 59 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. There were several public demonstrations and marches during the year.

The Public Assembly Act published in 2015 requires organizers of gatherings of 10 or more persons to inform the police commissioner five working days prior to the date proposed for the planned gathering. For example, a public protest against the building of a military facility on Assomption Island to coincide with National Day celebrations on June 29 was called off due to lack of the required notification time. Several other protests against the proposed facility, however, were allowed to continue. The police commissioner may impose conditions or deny the right to assemble on security, morality, and public safety grounds. Authorities did not restrict the holding of lawful public opposition gatherings.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 President Michel was re-elected to a third term by 193 votes in the country’s first-ever presidential runoff election. Neither Michel nor runner-up Wavel Ramkalawan, leader of the opposition alliance Seychelles National Party, received the required 50 percent plus one vote to win in the first electoral round. International observers from the Southern African Development Community and the African Union criticized voter intimidation and vote buying by the ruling party, indicating they had determined that the elections were neither free nor fair.

The opposition petitioned the Constitutional Court to overturn the elections based on election irregularities, including vote buying. In 2016 the Constitutional Court ruled that, although there were irregularities, they were not significant enough to overturn the elections.

The country held National Assembly elections in 2016. An opposition alliance composed of the Seychelles National Party, the Lalyans Seselwa Party, the Seychelles Party for Social Justice and Democracy, and supporters of independent presidential candidate Phillipe Boulle, won 15 seats in the 33-seat assembly, while Parti Lepep won 10 seats. The remaining seats were allocated on a proportional basis, with the alliance and Parti Lepep each receiving four additional seats. International and domestic observers qualified the election as transparent, fair, and peaceful but refrained from calling it free due to the lack of credibility of the election management body, the Seychelles Electoral Commission. On August 10, a new five-member Electoral Commission was sworn in.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Parti Lepep assumed power in a 1977 coup and continued to dominate the country through a pervasive system of political patronage and control over government jobs, contracts, and resources. Opposition parties claimed they operated under restrictions and were subjected to outside interference. Some opposition party members claimed they lost their government jobs because of their political affiliation and were at a disadvantage when applying for government licenses and loans.

In 2016, on the first day of the National Assembly session, President Michel announced his resignation, passing the presidency to Vice President Danny Faure of Parti Lepep, effective the following month. President Faure opted for a consultative approach with the opposition, the legislature, and the executive, in order to collaborate on the most important national subjects. In 2017 the National Assembly amended the constitution and removed the clause that permitted the passing of the presidency to a vice president to serve the rest of the mandate of his predecessor. The amendment provides for elections three months after the resignation or death of a president.

On July 13, Seychelles Nation reported the creation of seven regional councils following a bipartisan arrangement between the ruling Parti Lepep and the majority Linyon Demokratik Seselwa. The regional councils had been criticized by civil society groups, the Electoral Commission, and the Interfaith Council as unlawful. No case was taken to court to challenge the legitimacy of the councils and they continued to operate.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws or practices prevent women from fully engaging in politics, and women do participate in the political process. Following the 2016 National Assembly elections, women held seven of 33 seats, compared with 14 seats in the previous assembly. Women held five of 14 ministerial positions in the cabinet.

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

Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to the views of international and local NGOs. The Office of the Vice President has the responsibility to engage with NGOs. The government consulted NGOs on most issues of national concern and appointments to boards of national organizations and agencies. An umbrella organization grouping various NGOs, Citizens Engagement Platform (CEPS), is the focal point for all NGO activities and receives funding from the government for projects and general operations, and the government regularly consulted it regarding the introduction of new legislation.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Commission was not active during the year. On August 10, the National Assembly passed a new Seychelles Human Rights Commission Act creating a five-member commission. Compared with previous years the new commission was expected to operate more independently of the Ombudsman’s office. The commission generally operated without government or party interference, but lacked adequate resources and was rarely sought out due to public perception that it was inefficient and aligned with the government.

On September 7, the National Assembly passed a Truth, Reconciliation, and Unity Act setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission is charged with looking into cases of killings, disappearances, forced exile, and forced acquisition of land and property after the 1977 coup.

Sierra Leone

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

There were seven reported killings related to the 2018 elections. Civil society organizations and the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Institute for Governance Reform (IGR) reported five election-related killings in Freetown, including of four opposition supporters and one journalist. In Kailahun District, IGR reported the shooting and killing of two persons on the orders of the outgoing Minister of Local Government, Maya Moiwo Kaikai.

In July the High Court in Kenema granted bail to former opposition supporters, including Joseph Charles and Mohamed Fornie, in relation to the killing of Mohamed Karim in 2016.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, although there were reports that police and other security personnel used excessive force to manage protests. According to Amnesty International, in March 2017, two students were wounded and a 15-year-old boy was killed when a police unit fired on a peaceful student protest in the southern province of Bo.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and potentially life-threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, lack of clean water, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.

Physical Conditions: The country’s 19 prisons, designed to hold 1,935 inmates, held 4,434 as of August. The most severe example of overcrowding was in the Freetown Male Correctional Center, designed to hold 324 inmates but held 2,215. Some prison cells measuring six feet by nine feet held nine or more inmates. The NGO Prison Watch (PW) reported that, with the exception of the Freetown Female Correctional Center at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (FCCSL) and the Mafanta Correctional Center, the country’s other 17 prisons and detention centers were seriously overcrowded.

In most cases pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners. The attorney general reported that as of August, of the 4,434 persons held in prisons and detention centers, only 1,941 had been convicted.

Human rights observers reported detention conditions remained below minimum international standards because of unhygienic conditions and insufficient medical attention. Conditions in police station holding cells were poor, especially in small stations outside Freetown. Lack of adequate physical facilities created life-threatening conditions for detainees. Holding cells were often dark, with little ventilation, and inmates slept on bare floors, using their own clothes or cartons as bedding. The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) and PW reported poor toilet facilities in all stations except Magburuka and East End in Freetown. Inmates were often forced to use buckets as toilets.

Cells often lacked proper lighting, bedding, ventilation, and protection from mosquitoes. Most prisons did not have piped water, and some inmates lacked sufficient access to potable drinking water. In August, PW reported unhygienic conditions in the Bo Correctional and Maximum Correctional Centers. PW reported that to control overcrowding in common areas, authorities confined inmates to their cells for long periods without opportunity for movement.

Prison authorities issued bedding, including blankets, to inmates at the Freetown Female and Male Correctional Centers. Some mattresses were on the floor at the Male Correctional Center. PW reported, however, that with the exception of the FCCSL and Mafanta, conditions in detention centers in the rest of the country, including lighting and ventilation, were generally better for female inmates than for male inmates.

As of August prison authorities reported 22 deaths in prisons and detention facilities due to malaria, respiratory infections, skin infections, hypertension, and typhoid fever, but claimed no death was due to actions of staff members or other inmates. Few inmates had access to adequate medical facilities, and clinics lacked supplies and medical personnel to provide basic services. In the country’s 19 prisons and detention centers, there were 72 nurses, seven laboratory technicians, one pharmacist, and one doctor. Prisons outside Freetown sent patients to local government hospitals and clinics. Officials referred female inmates to local hospitals for special care, but doctors and nurses in these hospitals often refused to treat them or provided inferior care because of the government’s failure to pay medical bills.

Prison authorities and the HRCSL reported there was no discrimination against inmates with disabilities. PW reported it had no information regarding abuse of inmates with disabilities.

PW reported a shortage of prison staff, which resulted in a lack of security that endangered inmates’ safety.

As of August PW reported that no prison or detention center facility held male and female inmates together.

PW reported 15 juveniles in Kenema Correctional Center and one at the Freetown Maximum Correctional Center, all aged from 14 to 17. During a foreign diplomatic mission’s inspection tour in June to seven correctional centers across the country, observers also discovered juveniles at the Kenema Correctional Center.

Authorities sent offenders younger than age 18 to “approved schools” or reformatory institutions. Although authorities made some effort to avoid detaining juveniles with adults, they frequently imprisoned minors with adult offenders. PW reported authorities often sent young adults older than age 18 to the approved schools, while some children younger than 18 were sent to prison. A lack of juvenile detention centers in many districts meant minors were frequently detained with adults in police cells while waiting to be transferred to juvenile facilities.

At times, police officers had difficulty determining a person’s age due to a lack of documentation, and they often depended on circumstantial evidence, such as possession of a voter registration card or affidavits from parents, who may lie about their child’s age. In some cases, police officers inflated the ages of juveniles to escape blame for detaining them. Several boys reported they were victims of physical and sexual abuse by older inmates. In juvenile facilities, detainees did not have adequate access to food and education and were sometimes unable to attend court hearings due to lack of transportation.

According to the Sierra Leone Correctional Center, several prisons held infants, most of whom were born in prison and initially kept there with their mothers. There were 14 infants in correctional centers across the country. Once such children were weaned, authorities released them to family members or to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs, which placed them in foster care.

Administration: There was no prison ombudsman, but senior prison officials were available to respond to complaints. PW reported that inmates raised concerns to PW about prison conditions on condition that their concerns, if raised to prisons authorities, would be anonymous.

Although authorities officially permitted regular family visits, according to PW, family members often had to pay bribes to gain visiting privileges.

Inmates refrained from filing complaints directly with prison authorities because they believed such actions would spur retaliation by judicial authorities.

Prison rights advocacy groups reported that authorities generally investigated credible allegations of mistreatment of inmates.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. International monitors had unrestricted access to the detention centers and police holding cells. The HRCSL and PW monitored prisons on a monthly basis.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but human rights groups such as HRCSL indicated that police occasionally arrested and detained persons arbitrarily. The government allows both the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) and chiefdom police to hold suspects in police detention cells without charge or explanation for up to three days for suspected misdemeanors and up to 10 days for suspected felonies. PW reported illegal detentions at Congo Cross, Magburuka, and Tongo Field police stations. Chiefs sometimes subjected both adults and children to arbitrary detention and imprisoned them unlawfully in their homes or “chiefdom jails” (see section 6, Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The SLP, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for law enforcement and maintaining security within the country, but it was poorly equipped and lacked sufficient investigative and forensic capabilities. Human Rights NGOs such as “Timap For Justice” reported that the SLP professionally responded to crowd control during and after elections. The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities to assist police in extraordinary circumstances upon request.

While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the SLP and the RSLAF, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, at times impunity was a problem.

In April police reportedly fatally shot an unarmed opposition SLPP supporter in the street, just yards away from the compound of the SLPP presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio. The Independent Police Complaints Board (IPCB) conducted no investigation.

As in previous years, human rights groups expressed concern that police corruption remained a serious problem. Some police and guards exacted bribes at checkpoints, falsely charged motorists with violations, impounded vehicles to extort money, and accepted bribes from suspects to drop charges or to arrest their rivals and charge them with crimes.

In exchange for kickbacks, police reportedly arrested persons for civil causes, such as alleged breach of contract or failure to satisfy a debt.

The Police Complaints, Discipline, and Internal Investigations Department (CDIID) heard complaints against police officers. The CDIID conducted all hearings and trials related to complaints against lower-ranking police officers. Officers often used an appeals process. In cases involving criminal charges, after the CDIID imposes disciplinary measures on an SLP officer, the officer is also subject to trial in civilian court. The Police Council, which includes the vice president, minister of internal affairs, inspector general, and others, accepted written complaints against senior police officers.

The SLP reported that police continued to receive professional, leadership, and human rights training. Before deployment, new recruits attended a six-month introductory course, which included a human rights component.

After criticisms of the CDIID by the general public and civil society, the government established the IPCB to investigate all complaints against police and advise police.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires warrants for searches and arrests of persons taken into custody on criminal grounds, but arrests without warrants were common. PW and Timap for Justice reported most arrests were made without warrants and that the SLP rarely followed proper arrest procedures.

The law requires authorities to inform detainees the reason for their arrest within 24 hours and charge them in court within 72 hours for suspected misdemeanors or within 10 days for suspected felonies. Detainees, however, were not always informed promptly of charges brought against them. According to NGOs and inmates, authorities routinely brought remanded inmates to court on a weekly basis to be remanded again to circumvent the legal restrictions.

There were provisions for bail and a functioning bail system, but authorities applied the system inconsistently and sometimes demanded excessive bond fees.

Detainees have the right to access family members and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Lawyers generally were allowed unrestricted access to detainees, but according to Legal Aid Board (LAB), only an estimated 10 to 15 percent of inmates received legal representation. Only defendants in the military justice system had automatic access to attorneys, whose fees the Ministry of Defense paid. Although there were 28 state counsels (attorneys), the majority worked in the capital and were often overburdened, poorly paid, and available only for more serious criminal cases. Although the law provides for attorneys at state expense, state attorneys were overburdened, and indigent detainees did not usually receive legal advice prior to trial.

Police cells generally lack holding areas for juveniles, and as a result authorities often handcuffed them to windows in police stations.

There were no reports of suspects held under house arrest or being detained incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of individuals held for questioning for longer than permissible under law.

In July police arrested Edmond Abu, a civil rights activist, for leading a protest against the increase in fuel price. Authorities took Abu to Criminal Investigation Department Headquarters, but released him after he was interrogated.

Pretrial Detention: As of August 16, only 48 percent of the 4,434 persons held in prisons and detention centers were convicted; 16 percent of persons were on remand and 36 percent were on trial. PW and BBC reported that this was due to a severe shortage of legal professionals. Pretrial and remand detainees spent an average of three to five years in pretrial detention before courts examined their cases or filed formal charges. In extreme cases, the wait could be as long as 16 years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but independent observers alleged the judiciary was not always independent and often acted under the influence of government and fraternal organizations, particularly in corruption-related cases.

In addition to the formal civil court system, local chieftaincy courts administer customary law with lay judges. Appeals from these lower courts are heard by the superior courts.

The limited number of judicial magistrates and lawyers and high court fees restricted access to justice for most citizens.

The military justice system has an appeals process. For summary hearings, the defendant can appeal for the redress of complaint, which goes to the next senior ranking officer, while the civilian Supreme Court hears appeals in a court-martial. According to civil society members and government interlocutors, the redress system is corrupt.

Traditional justice systems are used in rural areas. Paramount chiefs maintained their own police and courts to enforce customary local laws. Chieftaincy police and courts exercised authority to arrest, try, and incarcerate individuals. Traditional trials were generally fair, but there was credible evidence that corruption influenced many cases. Paramount chiefs acting as judges routinely accepted bribes and favored wealthier defendants. In response, the government sent increasing numbers of paralegals to rural areas to provide access to justice and training for chiefdom officials.

Authorities at all levels of government generally respected court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair trial for all defendants, but this right was not always enforced.

Defendants enjoy the right to a timely trial, but the lack of judicial officers and facilities regularly resulted in long trial delays. Some cases reportedly were adjourned 40 to 60 times. Trials are public, but NGOs reported that due to corruption, they were not always fair. Defendants generally enjoyed a presumption of innocence. While defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, many were not afforded access to counsel. Though the law provides for attorneys at public expense if defendants are not able to afford their own attorneys, these attorneys were overburdened with cases and often defendants who could not afford to pay for an attorney had no access to legal aid prior to trial.

Defendants were not always informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and did not always have access to free assistance from an interpreter as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants generally had adequate time to prepare their defenses, although they generally did not have adequate facilities to do so. Defendants could confront or question witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Police officers, many of whom had little or no formal legal training, prosecuted a majority of cases on the magistrate level. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Although the law provides defendants with the right to appeal, delays in the appeals process were excessive, sometimes lasting more than two years. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

Traditional justice systems continued to supplement the central government judiciary, especially in rural areas, in cases involving family law, inheritance, and land tenure. The customary law guiding these courts was not codified, however, and decisions in similar cases were inconsistent. Paramount chiefs sometimes referred cases to police to give arrests for civil complaints the appearance of legitimacy. Local chieftains at times exceeded their mandates and administered harsh punishments.

Laws on gender equality were inconsistently enforced, and many traditional courts continued to ignore the rights of women regarding family law and inheritance. Juveniles were afforded few rights in the traditional justice system.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Authorities and civil society organizations, including Amnesty International, reported no political prisoners or detainees during the period under review.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Both the central government judiciary and customary law courts handled civil complaints. Corruption influenced some cases and judgments, and awards were inconsistent. Administrative and judicial remedies were available for alleged wrongs, but enforcement of the rulings was difficult. Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through regular access to domestic courts. Individuals could also seek redress from regional bodies, such as the Economic Community of West African States’ Court of Justice.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights, but there were exceptions.

Freedom of Expression: Government officials used criminal libel provisions of the Public Order Act (POA) to impede witness testimony in court cases, including anticorruption matters, and to target persons making statements the government considered to be against the national interest. While there is no hate speech law, at times authorities used hate speech as a justification under the POA for restricting freedom of speech.

HRCSL and Amnesty International reported no arrests or detentions in relation to freedom of expression.

Press and Media Freedom: Most registered newspapers were independent, although several were associated with political parties. Newspapers openly and routinely criticized the government and its officials as well as opposition parties. While independent broadcast media generally operated without restriction, there were exceptions. International media could operate freely but were required to register with the Ministry of Information and Communications and the government-funded Independent Media Commission to obtain a license.

Violence and Harassment: The IGR Election Report reported verbal insults and hate messages, beatings, arson, and a few cases of murder. The most numerous reports of political harassment were in the Eastern Region followed by Koinadugu, Bombali, Kambia, and Port Loko. In June Amnesty International reported the sudden death of journalist Ibrahim Samura, editor of New Age newspaper in Freetown. Individuals acting in the interest of the then ruling APC party allegedly beat Samura during his coverage of the presidential run-off elections. The APC party took responsibility for the attack and tendered an apology to the victim before his death.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were reports that the government restricted or disrupted access to the internet, but there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Internet connections within the country were cut off the night before the March 31 run-off election and continued to function only intermittently in the following days. Local media reports speculated that authorities shut down internet connections to stop the National Electoral Commission from sharing results with party affiliates. International media and the government reported that the cause of the outage was an undersea cable break off the coast of Mauritania. The BBC correspondent in Sierra Leone reported on April 1 that authorities shut off internet connections on Saturday night shortly after polls closed.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2017, 13.2 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected the right of freedom of association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Upon assuming office on April 4, President Maada Bio introduced an Executive Order lifting the ban on public assembly, including Sunday trading, imposed by his predecessor.

As of August, nine persons who were arrested and detained in 2015 for demonstrating in front of a foreign embassy still awaited a trial date. They remained on bail and were directed to report monthly to the SLP Criminal and Investigations Division.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On March 7, the country held peaceful presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections, and on March 31, the government held presidential run-off elections. The opposition SLPP candidate, Julius Maada Bio, defeated the incumbent APC party candidate, Samura Kamara. Although some observers reported minor irregularities, domestic and international observers described the elections as free, fair, transparent, and credible, with 84 percent turnout among registered voters.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties are free to register and operate in the country. A total of 17 political parties registered with the Political Parties Registration Commission and 16 of them competed in the March 7 elections.

Opposition parties complained that the then-ruling APC engaged in intimidation of other parties. Between July 2017 and April, supporters of the APC reportedly attacked and intimidated opposition party members across the country. IGR reported that in Tonkolili District, attackers beat an SLPP supporter. In another case, APC members assaulted opposition National Grand Coalition supporters in Kambia and Kono. IGR recorded a series of other electoral related violence across the country, mostly perpetrated by the APC.

Ethnic affiliations strongly influenced political party membership for the two dominant ethnic groups, the Mende and Themne; each accounted for approximately 30 percent of the population. The Mende traditionally supported the SLPP and the Themne the APC. The Limba, the third most populous ethnic group, traditionally supported the APC. Other ethnic groups had no strong political party affiliations. The opposition APC party had repeatedly accused the SLPP of giving preference to populations in the Southeast, who are mostly Mendes, in filling government positions. As of August 30, ministers from the Southeast held 54 percent of cabinet positions, ministers from the South and East 25 percent, and those from the Western Peninsula the remaining 16 percent.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women have the right to vote, but husbands or other patriarchal figures were known to influence their decisions. Women were underrepresented in government. Of the 146 parliamentarians, 18 were women. As of August women led five of the 24 ministries. On the three highest courts, 10 out of 35 judges were women. Cultural and traditional practices in the northern areas of the country prevented women from holding office as paramount chiefs (a parallel system of tribal government operated in each of the 190 chiefdoms).

All citizens have the right to vote, but citizenship at birth is granted only to persons of “Negro-African” descent, thus disenfranchising the significant number of Lebanese and other “non-Negro-African” persons who were born and continued to reside in the country. Persons of non-Negro-African groups may apply to be naturalized. If naturalized, they are eligible to vote in all national and local elections, but no naturalized citizen may run for public office.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to the views of local and international NGOs and generally acknowledged the problems presented. The government, including security forces, generally responded to human rights concerns raised by the HRCSL but was at times slow to support the HRCSL or implement its recommendations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Parliamentary Human Rights Committee operated without government or party interference. It focused on keeping human rights issues on the parliamentary agenda, paving the way for the passage of amended laws and ratification of international conventions and doing public outreach.

Singapore

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

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

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

In May Singapore Civil Defense Force (SCDF) national serviceman Corporal Kok Yuen Chin died as a result of drowning in a pump well at a fire station during hazing celebrations. Five SCDF officers were charged in relation to his death.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

The law mandates imprisonment and mandatory caning for approximately 30 offenses, such as certain cases of rape, robbery, and drug trafficking. Caning is discretionary for convictions on other charges involving the use of force, such as kidnapping or voluntarily causing grievous hurt. Caning also may be used as a punishment for misbehavior while in prison, if first approved by the commissioner of prisons and reviewed by the Institutional Discipline Advisory Committee. Women and girls, men older than 50 years and boys younger than 16, men sentenced to death whose sentences were not commuted, and persons determined medically unfit were exempt from punishment by caning.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

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

Administration: Prisoners may file complaints alleging mistreatment or misconduct to judicial authorities without censorship and may request investigation of credible allegations of problematic conditions. When called upon, the Provost Unit, which is located in the prison headquarters, investigates complaints. Criminal charges may be brought against government officials.

The Board of Visiting Justices, consisting of justices of the peace appointed by the minister for home affairs, examines the prison system and has oversight of any investigations undertaken by the Provost Unit. The board conducts regular prison inspections to ensure prisoners’ basic welfare and adherence to prison regulations. It may also conduct random visits. All inmates have access to the visiting justices. Authorities documented the results of investigations in a publicly accessible manner.

The Institutional Discipline Advisory Committee renders an opinion to the commissioner of prisons on whether corporal punishment was excessive.

The status of the arrestee or convict determined the frequency and type of permitted visits. In general authorities allowed family members and close relatives to visit inmates. Prison authorities must approve visits of nonrelatives.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities also allowed members of the press to visit the prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. The law permits arrest without warrant and detention without trial in defined circumstances. Persons detained under these circumstances have a limited right to judicial review of their case. The government generally observed the laws.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Singapore Police Force (SPF), under the direction of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), maintains internal security. Since 2017, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), under the Ministry of Defense, have trained for deployment alongside MHA for certain homeland security operations, including joint deterrence patrols with SPF in instances of heightened terrorism alerts.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the SPF and SAF. The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau had effective means and adequate resources to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

In most instances, the law requires the issuance of an authorized warrant for arrests, but some laws, such as the Internal Security Act (ISA), provide for arrest without a warrant if the government determines the suspect acted in a manner prejudicial to the security of the country. The law specifies that some offenses, such as robbery or rape, do not require an arrest warrant.

Those arrested according to regular criminal procedure must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours. The accused may not be held for more than 48 hours without a magistrate’s approval. Authorities expeditiously charged and brought to trial the majority of those arrested. A functioning bail system existed.

Persons who faced criminal charges were allowed access to counsel at the end of police questioning when investigations were complete or nearly so. Any person accused of a capital crime is eligible to free counsel assigned by the state. The government also funded a Criminal Legal Aid Scheme run by the Law Society that covers additional, but not all, criminal offenses.

Arbitrary Arrest: Some laws, such as the ISA and the Criminal Law (temporary provisions) Act (CLA), have provisions for arrest and detention without a warrant or full judicial due process. ISA cases are subject to review by the courts to provide for strict compliance with its procedural requirements. Authorities invoked the ISA primarily against persons suspected of posing a security threat and employed the CLA mostly against persons suspected of organized crime activity or drug trafficking.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention was not excessively long. Some individuals, however, were in prolonged detention without trial and with minimal judicial due process under laws that allowed for such detention.

The ISA and the CLA permit preventive detention without trial for the protection of public security, safety, or the maintenance of public order. The ISA authorizes the minister for home affairs, with the consent of the cabinet and with formal endorsement from the president, to order detention without filing charges if the minister determines that a person poses a threat to national security. The initial detention may be for a maximum of two years, which the minister may renew for an unlimited number of additional periods of up to two years each. ISA detainees are permitted legal counsel. An independent advisory board consisting of a Supreme Court judge and two other presidential appointees reviews each detainee’s case within three months of initial detention and at intervals of not longer than 12 months thereafter. If the advisory board recommends that the detainee be released but the minister disagrees, the president has discretion over the detainee’s continued detention.

As of September, there were active ISA orders of detention (ODs) against 21 persons for involvement in terrorism-related activities.

In January a self-radicalized Malaysian man, Muhammad Nur Hanief Abdul Jalil, who worked in Singapore and had access to the country’s restricted Airfreight Center, was detained under the ISA and subsequently repatriated. Two self-radicalized citizens were detained under the ISA for intending to participate in armed violence overseas. Authorities detained parking warden Mohamed Faishal Mohamed Razali in April, and information technology engineer Ahmed Hussein Abdul Kadir Sheik Uduman in August under the ISA.

In addition to ODs, the ISA allows for issuance of restriction orders (ROs) that require an individual to seek official approval for a change of address or occupation, overseas travel, or participation in any public organization or activity. RO subjects could be required to report regularly to authorities. As of September, 21 persons were on ROs. This number included both released detainees and suspected terrorists who authorities never detained.

There is also a category of restriction called suspension direction (SD) that replaces an OD when suspended and may prohibit association with specified groups or individuals and overseas travel without prior written government approval. SDs also include reporting conditions. In July Munavar Baig Amina Begam was released from detention and issued an SD. Amina was detained in November 2017 for supporting the Islamic State and intending to join the group in Syria. As of September Amina was the only person subject to an SD.

The CLA, which must be renewed every five years, was amended and renewed in February. The amendments specified the criminal activities for which individuals can be detained without trial or placed under police supervision. According to the CLA, the minister for home affairs may order preventive detention, with the concurrence of the public prosecutor, for an initial period of one year; the president may extend detention for unlimited additional periods of up to one year at a time. The minister must provide a written statement of the grounds for detention to the Criminal Law Advisory Committee (CLAC) within 28 days of the order. The CLAC then reviews the case at a private hearing. Since March CLAC sessions have been chaired by sitting judges of the Supreme Court. CLAC rules require that authorities notify detainees of the grounds of their detention at least 10 days prior to this hearing, during which detainees may represent themselves or be represented by a lawyer. After the hearing, the committee makes a written recommendation to the president, who may cancel, confirm, or amend the detention order based on the advice of the cabinet. The government used the CLA almost exclusively against serious criminal activities involving narcotics, loan sharks, or criminal organizations and not for political purposes.

The CLA allows for supervision within the community through means such as curfews, residence limitations, requirements to report regularly to authorities, and limitations on travel.

The Misuse of Drugs Act permits detention without trial in an approved institution for the purpose of the treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts. If a suspected drug abuser tests positive for an illegal drug or displays signs of drug withdrawal, the director of the Central Narcotics Bureau may commit the person to a drug rehabilitation center for a six-month period, which a review committee of the institution may extend for a maximum of three years. By law, the bureau director may order treatment as long as six months of a person determined by blood test or medical examination to be an abuser of intoxicating substances.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution provides the right of habeas corpus in regular criminal law.

A February amendment to the CLA renders the minister for home affairs’ decision on a suspect’s criminal guilt final and not subject to appeal, as is the minister’s subsequent decision on whether detention is necessary for reasons of public safety, peace and good order. The courts can, however, review the minister’s decision based on the tests of illegality, irrationality, and procedural impropriety.

Persons detained under the CLA and remanded for trial may apply to the courts for a writ of habeas corpus. Persons detained without trial under the CLA may challenge the substantive basis for their detention only to the CLAC.

Under the ISA detainees may challenge their detention in the judicial system only by seeking judicial review of whether their detention complied with procedural requirements of the ISA. To do so, detainees make representations to an Advisory Board that is headed by a Supreme Court justice, but they have no right to challenge the substantive basis for their detention through the courts. The ISA specifically excludes recourse to the normal judicial system for review of a detention order made under its authority.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Some observers expressed concern about undue government influence in the judicial system. Laws limiting judicial review, moreover, permitted restrictions on individuals’ constitutional rights.

To help ensure judicial independence, some commentators recommended that the attorney general’s dual roles as public prosecutor and legal adviser should be separated. Commentators also called for the abolition of supernumerary judges and Judicial Commissioners. Judicial Commissioners are lawyers whom the president appoints, on the advice of the prime minister, to sit on the Supreme Court and to exercise the powers of judges for a limited period.

The ISA and amended CLA explicitly preclude normal judicial due process and empower the government to limit, on vaguely defined national security grounds, other fundamental liberties provided for in the constitution.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for a fair and public trial, except for persons detained under the ISA, CLA, and similar legislation. The judiciary generally enforced this right when applicable. Some commentators observed a small number of exceptions in cases involving direct challenges to the government or the ruling party. The judicial system generally provided those subject to it with an efficient judicial process.

In most circumstances, the criminal procedure code requires that when a defendant is first charged in court, the charges must be framed, read and explained to a defendant. After the charges are filed in court, the accused may seek advice of counsel before deciding whether to plead guilty or request a trial. At a pretrial hearing no earlier than eight weeks after criminal charges have been made, a judge determines whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial and sets a court date.

Criminal defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence in most cases. The Misuse of Drugs Act is an exception; it stipulates that a person who possessed narcotics shall be assumed to be aware of the substance and places the burden on the defendant to prove otherwise, on a balance of probability. The same law also stipulates that if the amount of the narcotic is above set limits, the defendant must prove he or she did not have the drug for trafficking purposes.

Trials are public and heard by a judge; there are no jury trials. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and to have representation by an attorney. The Law Society administered a legal aid plan for persons facing criminal charges who could not afford an attorney. The state did so for anyone facing a capital charge. Defense lawyers generally had sufficient time and facilities to prepare an adequate defense. Criminal defendants who do not speak or understand English, or who have limited proficiency, are provided with translation services at no cost. Defendants have the right to question prosecution witnesses and to provide witnesses and evidence on their own behalf.

Defendants enjoy the right of appeal, which must be filed within 14 days in most cases. The criminal procedure code provides for an automatic appeal process for all death sentence cases. The courts may offer nonviolent offenders the option of probation or paying a fine in lieu of incarceration. Those sentenced to death may ask for resentencing under certain circumstances, and judges may impose life imprisonment instead.

Persons detained under the ISA or CLA are not entitled to a public trial. Proceedings of the ISA and CLA advisory boards are not public.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Access to the courts is open, and citizens and residents have the right to sue for infringement of human rights.

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

The constitution does not address privacy rights; statutory or common law provide remedies for infringement of some aspects of privacy rights. The government generally respected the privacy of homes and families. Normally, police must have a warrant issued by a court to conduct a search but may search a person, home, or property without a warrant if they decide that such a search is necessary to preserve evidence or permissible according to discretionary powers of the ISA, CLA, Misuse of Drugs Act, or Undesirable Publications Act.

Law enforcement agencies, including the Internal Security Department and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, had extensive networks for gathering information and conducting surveillance and highly sophisticated capabilities to monitor telephone, email, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private. No court warrants are required for such operations.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression but allows parliament to impose such restrictions on freedom of speech as it “considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality and restrictions designed to protect the privileges of Parliament or to provide against contempt of court, defamation or incitement to any offence.”

Freedom of Expression: The government significantly restricted any public statements that it contended would undermine social or religious harmony, or that did not safeguard national or public interest. Although government pressure to conform resulted in self-censorship among some journalists, there was an increase in open debate regarding some government policies. Overall, however, more people were publicly sanctioned for criticism of the government or its policies than in the previous year.

The Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act, which took effect in May, gives the minister for home affairs discretion to authorize special police powers if a “serious incident” such as a terrorist attack is occurring or there is a threat that it could. These powers allow the commissioner of police to prohibit anyone from taking or transmitting photographs or videos in a defined area, or from making text or audio messages about police operations. A breach of the order may lead to imprisonment for up to two years, a fine of up to S$20,000 ($14,600), or both.

In May the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) initiated contempt of court proceedings against two individuals it deemed to have made allegations of bias against judges or to have prejudged pending proceedings. These were the first such proceedings under legislation that took effect in October 2017. Activist Jolovan Wham was convicted in October for a Facebook post alleging that that “Malaysia’s judges are more independent than Singapore’s for cases with political implications.” Opposition politician John Tan Liang Joo, of the Singapore Democratic Party, was convicted at the same time for commenting on his Facebook page in May that Wham’s prosecution “only confirms that what he said is true.” Both were awaiting sentencing as of November. Any person found guilty under the law may be fined up to S$100,000 ($73,000), jailed for up to three years, or both.

As of December procedural appeals continued in the AGC contempt of court proceedings opened in August 2017 against Li Shengwu, a nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Li had posted private Facebook comments in July 2017 criticizing the “litigious” nature of the government and the “pliant court system.” The case is the first the AGC has filed because of private Facebook comments and the AGC used novel grounds to serve papers on Li extra-judicially, one of the procedural issues under review. While media and netizens shared the facts of the case, many were circumspect in commenting further because publishing material that prejudges a pending issue in court proceedings may constitute contempt of court.

The government-approved Speakers’ Corner was the only outdoor venue where citizens could give public speeches without a Public Entertainment License. Speakers’ Corner may be used for exhibitions, performances, assemblies and processions, and citizens do not need a police permit to hold these events. All event organizers must, however, preregister online with the National Parks Board and must provide the topic of their event. Regulations state that the event should not be religious in nature or cause feelings of enmity, ill will, or hostility between different racial or religious groups. The commissioner of parks and recreation reserves the right to cancel or disallow any event or activity that he or she believes may endanger, cause discomfort to, or inconvenience other park users or the general public.

Citizens need a permit to speak at indoor public gatherings outside of the hearing or view of nonparticipants if the topic refers to race or religion. Indoor, private events are not subject to the same restrictions. Organizers of private events, however, must prevent inadvertent access by uninvited guests, or they could be cited for noncompliance with the rules regarding public gatherings.

Press and Media Freedom: According to the ISA, the government may restrict or place conditions on publications that incite violence, counsel disobedience to the law, have the potential to arouse tensions in the country’s diverse population, or threaten national interests, national security, or public order.

Government leaders urged news media to support its goals and help maintain social and religious harmony. In addition to enforcing strict defamation and press laws, the government’s vigorous response to what it considered personal attacks on officials led journalists and editors to moderate or limit what was published. In previous years, the government sued journalists or online bloggers for defamation or for stories that authorities believed undermined racial and religious harmony.

Government managerial and financial control strongly influenced all print and some electronic media. Two companies, Singapore Press Holdings Limited (SPH) and MediaCorp, owned all general circulation newspapers in the four official languages of English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. SPH is a publicly listed company with close ties to the government, which must approve (and may remove) the holders of management shares, who appoint or dismiss SPH management. The government investment company Temasek Holdings wholly owned MediaCorp. As a result, coverage of domestic events and reporting of sensitive foreign relations topics usually closely reflected official government policies and views.

Government-linked companies and organizations operated all domestic broadcast television channels and almost all radio stations. Only one radio station, the BBC’s World Service, was completely independent of the government. Residents could receive some Malaysian and Indonesian television and radio programming, but with few exceptions authorities prohibited satellite dishes. Cable subscribers had access to numerous foreign television shows and a wide array of international news channels and many entertainment channels. The government did not censor international news channels but did censor entertainment programs to remove or edit coarse language, representations of intimate gay and lesbian relationships, and explicit sexual content. Residents routinely accessed uncensored international radio and television content via the internet.

The government may limit broadcasts or the circulation of publications by “gazetting” them under the Broadcasting Act and may ban the circulation of domestic and foreign publications under provisions of the ISA or Undesirable Publications Act. The law empowers the minister for communications and information to gazette or place formal restrictions on any foreign broadcaster deemed to be engaging in domestic politics.

The government may require a gazetted broadcaster to obtain express permission from the minister to continue broadcasting in the country. The government may impose restrictions on the number of households receiving a broadcaster’s programming and may fine a broadcaster up to 100,000 Singapore Dollars (SGD) ($73,000) for failing to comply.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) is the statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information that regulates broadcast, print, and other media, including movies, video materials, computer games, and music. Banned publications consisted primarily of sexually oriented materials but also included some religious and political publications. The IMDA develops censorship standards including age-appropriate classification of media content with the help of various citizen advisory panels. The law allows the banning, seizure, censorship, or restriction of written, visual, or musical materials if authorities determine that such materials threaten the stability of the state, contravene moral norms, are pornographic, show excessive or gratuitous sex and violence, glamorize or promote drug use, or incite racial, religious, or linguistic animosities. The IMDA has the power to sanction broadcasters for transmitting what it believed to be inappropriate content. All content shown between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. must be suitable for viewers of all ages.

In March, despite 134 critical submissions from the arts community, the legislature passed an amendment to the Films Act that gives IMDA officers power to enter and search premises and seize evidence without a warrant for “serious offenses,” such as those involving films prohibited on public interest grounds or the unlicensed public exhibition of a film.

In September authorities imposed limitations on a documentary about the lives of Christian pastors in a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI)-affirming church in Taiwan, The Shepherds. IMDA restricted screenings to members of the Singapore Film Society and specified that panelists at a post-screening dialogue were not permitted to advocate for same-sex marriage.

Libel/Slander Laws: Critics charged that government leaders used defamation lawsuits or threats of such actions to discourage public criticism, coerce the press, and intimidate opposition politicians. Conviction on criminal defamation charges may result in a maximum prison sentence of two years, a fine, or both. In November police opened an investigation into alleged criminal defamation by Terry Xu on his sociopolitical website, The Online Citizen (TOC), after Xu published a reader’s letter in which the author accused the PAP leadership of “corruption at the highest echelons.”

INTERNET FREEDOM

The law permits government monitoring of internet use, and the government closely monitored internet activities, such as social media posts, blogs, and podcasts. The IMDA was empowered to direct service providers to block access to websites that, in the government’s view, undermined public security, national defense, racial and religious harmony, or public morals. Political and religious websites must register with the IMDA.

Individuals and groups could engage in the expression of views via the internet, including by email. The government, however, subjected all internet content to similar rules and standards as traditional media, as defined by the IMDA’s Internet Code of Practice. Internet service providers are required to ensure that content complies with the code. The IMDA also regulates internet material by licensing the internet service providers through which local users are required to route their internet connections. The IMDA investigates content that is potentially in breach of the code when it receives complaints from members of the public.

The Online News Licensing Scheme requires more heavily visited internet news sites to obtain a license. The license requires these sites to submit a bond of 50,000 SGD ($36,500) and to adhere to additional requirements to remove prohibited content within 24 hours of notification from the IMDA. Many citizens viewed this regulation as a way to censor online critics of the government. The IMDA stated there was a need to regulate commercial news sites and promote conformity with other forms of media such as print and television. As of November all major news sites were operating with IMDA licenses; the newest was the independent website TOC. Several other such sites have closed since 2016 (four reportedly closed in the reporting year), when 11 held licenses.

Smaller news sites that cover political issues are required to register under the Broadcasting Act Class License to ensure that registrants do not receive foreign funding.

The internet was widely available and used. According to the International Telecommunications Union, approximately 85 percent of the population had access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Public institutions of higher education and political research had limited autonomy. Although faculty members were not technically government employees, they were potentially subject to government influence. Academics spoke, published widely, and engaged in debate on social and political problems, although public comment outside the classroom or in academic publications that ventured into prohibited areas could result in sanctions. Publications by local academics and members of research institutions rarely deviated substantially from government views.

In April Donald Low, an associate dean of the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, resigned his position. In April 2017 Low criticized remarks by Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, who in turn criticized Low. Low also gained media notice after criticizing a budget speech by Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat and for praising a blogger convicted of derogatory internet remarks about Christians. Some critics commented publicly claimed that Low’s resignation may have resulted from political pressure, although he himself declined to comment on the grounds for his departure.

The law authorizes the minister of communications and information to ban any film, whether political or not, that in his opinion is “contrary to the public interest.” The law does not apply to any film sponsored by the government and allows the minister to exempt any film from the act.

Certain films barred from general release may be allowed limited showings, either censored or uncensored.

In January IMDA banned a documentary, Radiance of Resistance, which was to be shown as part of the Singapore Palestinian Film Festival. IMDA stated, “the skewed narrative of the film is inflammatory and has the potential to cause disharmony amongst the different races and religions in Singapore.”

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution provides citizens the right to peaceful assembly, parliament imposed restrictions in the interest of security, public order, or morality. Public assemblies, including political meetings and rallies, require police permission. By law a public assembly may include events staged by a single person. Citizens do not need permits for indoor speaking events, unless they touch on “sensitive topics” such as race or religion, or for qualifying events held at Speakers’ Corner. Per 2017 amendments to the Public Order Act, the Commissioner of Police may decline to authorize any public assembly or procession that could be directed towards a political end and be organized by, or involve the participation of, a foreign entity or citizen. The amendment followed a 2016 LGBTI “Freedom to Love” rally, after which the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a press statement stating “foreign entities should not interfere in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones.”

Police may also order a person to “move on” from a certain area and not return to the designated spot for 24 hours.

In April police denied a request by activist Terry Xu to stage a one-person, silent sit-in protest without signage for one hour. Police stated the late-night protest, which would have been held in the central business district during the weekend, carried “a risk of causing public disorder, as well as damage to property.”

In October artist Seelan Palay was convicted of breaching the Public Order Act for taking part in a public procession without a permit in October 2017. He was fined 2,500 SGD ($1,820) but served two weeks in jail in lieu of the fine. Seelan had obtained a permit to stage a performance art piece as a protest in Hong Lim Park, but he later continued his solo protest by walking from the park to parliament buildings, holding a mirror. Prosecutors alleged Seelan did not specify in his permit request that he intended to move from the park to outside parliament.

Some civil society groups and members of parliament expressed concern that the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act (see section 2.a.) conflates peaceful protests and terrorist violence. The law’s illustrations of “large-scale public disorder” include a peaceful sit-down demonstration that attracts a large group of sympathizers and which after a week starts to impede the flow of traffic and interfere with local business activities.

The government closely monitored political gatherings regardless of the number of persons present.

Spontaneous public gatherings or demonstrations were virtually unknown.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Most associations, societies, clubs, religious groups, and other organizations with more than 10 members are required to register with the government under the Societies Act. The government could deny registration to groups it believed were formed for unlawful purposes or for purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare, or public order. The majority of applications in recent years were approved. The government has absolute discretion in applying criteria to register or dissolve societies.

The government prohibits organized political activities except by groups registered as political parties or political associations. These may not receive foreign donations but may receive funds from citizens and locally controlled entities. The ruling PAP was able to use nonpolitical organizations, such as residential committees and neighborhood groups, for political purposes far more extensively than could opposition parties. Due to laws regulating the formation of publicly active organizations, there were few nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) apart from nonpolitical organizations, such as religious or environmental groups.

In April the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) declined to register OSEA Pte. Ltd., a local branch of a UK-based company that provides training and other support to journalists, as well as editorial services to a website called New Naratif. New Naratif’s director PJ Thum and editor-in-chief Kirsten Han organize “democracy workshops” and are considered critical of the government. New Naratif also has subscribers not based in the country. ACRA explained that registration of OSEA would be contrary to national interests, as OSEA’s purposes were “clearly political in nature” and its parent company had received a 75,000 SGD ($54,700) grant from a foreign charitable foundation. In September Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat rejected an appeal against ACRA’s decision.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, although it limited them in certain circumstances. Government cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations with respect to asylum seekers and other refugees was limited.

In-country Movement: The ISA permits authorities to restrict a person’s movement, and they did so in the case of some former ISA detainees. Several dozen suspected terrorists were subject to such restrictions.

Foreign Travel: The government may refuse to issue a passport; in practice this was done primarily on security grounds.

Men are required to undertake 24 months of uniformed national service upon reaching age 18. They also are required to participate in reserve training up to age 40 (for enlisted men) or 50 (for officers). Male citizens and permanent residents with national service reserve obligations are required to advise the Ministry of Defense of plans to travel abroad. Men and boys age 13 and older who have not completed national service obligations are required to obtain exit permits for international travel if they intend to be away for three months or more.

The law allows the government to deprive naturalized citizens of citizenship if they have resided outside of the country for more than five consecutive years. Naturalized citizens may also lose their citizenship if they have engaged in activities deemed harmful to public safety and order.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status. The government may, on a case-by-case basis, cooperate with organizations such as UNHCR to repatriate or send refugees to a third country.

STATELESS PERSONS

As of January 2016 there were 1,411 legally stateless persons living in the country. Many were reportedly born in the country before independence but did not or could not meet requirements for citizenship then in force. Others were permanent residents who lost their foreign citizenship, or were children born to foreign nationals who are not recognized in their home countries. Stateless persons may apply for citizenship.

Approximately 80 percent of stateless persons have obtained permanent residency, but those who have not may not buy or rent real estate, are not entitled to government health or education subsidies, and may have difficulty securing employment.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in open and free periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Voting is compulsory and 93.7 percent of eligible voters voted in the 2015 general election. In five decades of continuous rule, the PAP has employed a variety of policies that effectively limited the ability of the opposition to mount a serious challenge to its hold on power. In recent years, however, the opposition won additional seats, although it held a small fraction of parliamentary seats in the sitting parliament.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The law provides for the popular election of the president to a six-year term from among candidates approved by two constitutionally prescribed committees selected by the government. The constitution also requires multiracial representation in the presidency. The office of the president is reserved for a member of a specific racial community (Chinese, Malay, or Indian and other minority communities) if no person belonging to that community had held the office of the president for any of the last five terms of office. The 2017 presidential election was reserved for eligible Malay candidates. In September 2017 former speaker of parliament Halimah Yacob became president without a vote because she was the only eligible candidate; two other applicants were ruled ineligible according to criteria applicable to private sector candidates.

The 2015 parliamentary general election was free and open to a viable opposition. There were eight opposition parties, and all seats were contested for the first time since independence. The ruling party won 69.9 percent of the popular vote, capturing 83 of 89 seats in parliament. The opposition Workers’ Party won the six seats it had carried in 2011. The general elections operate according to a first-past-the-post system. A constitutional provision assures at least nine opposition members in parliament; there were three nonconstituency members from the Workers’ Party in the parliament, chosen from the highest-finishing runners-up in the general election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The opposition criticized what it described as PAP abuse of its incumbency to restrict opposition parties. The PAP maintained its political dominance in part by circumscribing political discourse and action. For example, government-appointed and predominantly publicly funded Community Development Councils, which provide welfare and other services, strengthened the PAP’s position. The PAP also had an extensive grassroots system and a carefully selected, highly disciplined membership.

The PAP controlled key positions in and out of government, influenced the press, and benefited from weak opposition parties. While the PAP’s methods were fully consistent with the law and the normal prerogatives of a parliamentary government, the overall effect was to perpetuate PAP power. The constitutional requirement that members of parliament resign if expelled from their party helped promote backbencher discipline.

Although political parties were legally free to organize, authorities imposed strict regulations on their constitutions, fundraising, and accountability, including a ban on receiving foreign donations. There were 31 registered political parties, 12 of which were active.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No law limits the participation of women and minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Presidential elections may be reserved for certain racial communities. There are no other restrictions in law or practice against voting or political participation by minorities; they were well represented throughout the government, except in some sensitive national security positions.

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

A variety of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction and these organizations investigated and published their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. NGOs were subject to registration according to the Societies Act or the Companies Act.

Some international human rights NGOs criticized the government’s policies in areas such as capital punishment, migrant workers’ rights, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and protection of the rights of LGBTI persons. They charged that the government generally ignored such criticisms or published rebuttals.

Slovakia

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such practices, and the government mostly respected these provisions.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the civil rights ombudsperson, and members of the Romani community cited a continuing trend of police officers mistreating Romani suspects during arrest and while in custody. Some police officers were convicted in connection with excessive use of force while conducting investigations. The prosecution service indicted a police officer for torture and degrading treatment based on a July 2017 physical attack on a 39-year-old Czech national during a police interrogation at the Senec police station. The man was incapacitated for nine days following the incident. The head of the Senec criminal investigation unit was charged with obstruction of justice after a leaked recording showed that he had advised his subordinates to coordinate their testimony to present a consistent narrative of the incident. The proceedings were ongoing.

A 2014 report by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) found there were a number of credible allegations of physical mistreatment consisting, mostly of slaps, punches, and kicks immediately following arrest or before and during police interrogations. The Control and Inspection Service of the Ministry of Interior dismissed or discontinued most investigations into cases involving injuries allegedly caused by police. The CPT, the Slovak ombudswoman, and civil society experts continued to question the independence of the Inspection Service, since it answers to the minister of interior, who also oversees the police force.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: In several facilities, juveniles shared cells with adult inmates. Authorities held men and women, and pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners separately. Conditions varied by gender. There were complaints of limited air circulation and poor hygiene conditions. There were reports of small facilities, which authorities often used for prolonged or overnight detention, for the temporary detention of arrested persons at police stations. Media and NGO reports mentioned isolated cases of physical mistreatment, verbal abuse, and racist remarks by prison guards.

In March the ombudsperson, in her annual report, repeated previous findings that police units had established unauthorized spaces where police detained individuals under conditions that were not always in line with the law. The report noted police detained individuals in these spaces for longer periods than authorized and without appropriate medical assistance and meals. The unauthorized spaces included cages, rooms separated with bars, and corridors. The ombudsperson concluded the unofficial detention spaces–which often lacked running water, toilets, or means to request assistance–were degrading.

In 2017 the Police Inspection Service dealt with 172 complaints of excessive use of police force against people in detention. According to police statistics, 82 percent of complaints were dismissed; further disciplinary or criminal proceedings were undertaken in 10 percent of cases, and the remaining cases were pending.

In 2016 two prison guards in Ilava prison allegedly beat a 21-year-old man who suffered serious injuries, including permanent brain damage. Both guards were dismissed, and in June authorities charged one of them with abuse of power. An investigation continued.

In 2017 the ombudsperson reported excessive force was used against a prisoner suffering from mental illnesses. The prisoner was treated in a hospital for concussion and several facial fractures.

Administration: While prisoners were able to file complaints without censorship and a prosecutor or ombudsperson was available to deal with them, several prisoners claimed they were reluctant to complain about mistreatment due to fear of reprisals or because they believed authorities would not act on their complaints.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers and the CPT.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police force has sole responsibility for internal and border security and reports to the Ministry of Interior. The head of the police force reports directly to the minister of interior, who has the authority to appoint and recall his subordinate. A special anticorruption police department, a special prosecution unit, and a specialized criminal court address corruption cases. The Bureau of Border and Alien Police (BBAP), which falls under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for external security, including border control and preventing illegal migration and people smuggling, and conducts investigations of related criminal activities. It also exercises limited powers in asylum proceedings.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the national police force and the BBAP. Government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse, however, were weak, and impunity was a problem. In 2017 the most recent year for which data was available, authorities charged 114 police officers (0.52 percent of the total number of officers) for various criminal activities.

NGOs and the ombudsperson criticized the Police Inspection Service, which oversees police misconduct cases, for lacking independence, since it is subordinate to the minister of interior, who oversees the police force. According to human rights NGOs, the Police Inspection Service was not interested in thoroughly investigating most complaints of police brutality. An NGO claimed that, based on its experience representing individuals in police brutality cases, the inspection service appeared to give more credibility to testimonies of police officers than to those of aggrieved parties and downplayed the importance of medical and psychological reports provided by aggrieved parties.

Human rights training was in the curriculum at police training facilities.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution and law stipulate that authorities may take a person into custody only for explicit reasons and must inform a detainee immediately of the reasons for detention. Persons are apprehended only with warrants issued by a judge or prosecutor based on evidence, and there were no reports of individuals detained without judicial authorization. Suspects in terrorism cases can be held for 96 hours. In other cases a court must grant a hearing to a person accused of a crime within 48 hours (or a maximum of 72 hours in “serious cases,” defined as violent crimes, treason, or other crimes carrying a sentence of at least eight years’ imprisonment) and either release or remand the individual into custody.

The bail system rarely was used. The law gives detainees the right to consult an attorney immediately after authorities submit charges, and authorities must inform them of this right. The law provides counsel to indigent detainees free of charge. The law allows attorneys to visit detainees as frequently as necessary and allows two-hour monthly family visits upon request. There were no reports of suspects detained incommunicado or held under house arrest.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality, but alleged corruption, inefficiency, and a lack of integrity and accountability undermined public trust in the judicial system.

A constitutional amendment requires that all sitting judges and candidates for judicial positions receive security clearances from the government that attest to their suitability for public office. Proceedings to review the constitutionality of this provision were pending, although the Constitutional Court suspended the application of the amendment to sitting judges. The amendment was criticized by judicial associations, NGOs, and legal experts, who asserted the security clearance process was nontransparent, could be abused for political purposes, and would thereby limit judicial independence and jeopardize the foundations of a fair trial.

With the exception of the Constitutional Court, courts employed a computerized system for random case assignment to increase fairness and transparency. There were reports, however, that this system was subject to manipulation.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. There were reports, however, that in individual cases judges failed to act impartially and did not respect basic principles for conducting fair trials.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. They are also presumed innocent during the appeals process, and a person found guilty by a court does not serve a sentence or pay a fine until a final decision on their appeal has been reached. Persons charged with criminal offenses have the right to be informed promptly of the charges against them with free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to be present at their trial, consult in a timely manner with an attorney (at government expense if indigent), and to obtain free interpretation as necessary from the moment of being charged through all appeals. They can confront prosecution and plaintiff witnesses, and can present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants have the right to refuse self-incrimination and may appeal adverse judgments. The law allows plea bargaining, which was often applied in practice.

Unpredictability of court decisions and inefficiency remained major problems in the country’s judiciary, leading to long trials, which in civil cases discouraged individuals from filing suit. The ombudsperson reported denial of the right to a speedy trial remained one of the most frequent concerns, recording 67 cases in 2017. In the first half of 2018, the Constitutional Court ruled that in 144 cases courts violated the right to proceedings without undue delay.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens had unrestricted access to courts to file lawsuits in civil matters, including human rights violations. Courts that hear civil cases, as with criminal courts, were subject to delays. Public trust in the judiciary continued to be low, with domestic surveys measuring it at 31 percent. The judiciary suffered from an apparent lack of accountability, and the public often perceived it as corrupt.

Administrative remedies were available in certain cases. The National Center for Human Rights has the authority to provide mediation for cases of discrimination and to represent claimants in court. Human rights organizations criticized the center for lack of activity and ineffectiveness. Individuals and organizations may appeal domestic court decisions to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Rent-control regulations for apartment owners whose property was restituted after the fall of the communist regime remained a problem. The state has regulated rents in these properties at below-market rates since 1992. In 2014 the ECHR concluded the regulations violated the property owners’ rights in 21 cases and in 2015 ordered the state to pay them 2.17 million euros ($2.5 million) in damages. In 2016 the ECHR awarded compensation of 476,800 euros ($548,300) in damages to other property owners. Although authorities took legislative steps to eliminate the discriminatory treatment of the owners, according to the ECHR, property owners should receive specific and clearly regulated compensatory remedies. The ombudsperson reported excessive delays in numerous land property restitution proceedings that have remained unresolved since the fall of the communist regime. In February the ombudsperson presented to parliament a special report that listed 9,198 still unresolved cases.

The country is a signatory to the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust restitution. The government has laws and mechanisms in place, and the Jewish community in the country reported the government made some progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including claims by foreign citizens. For individuals the law provides only for the restitution of immovable property, requires claims to be filed within a certain period, and requires claimants to be Slovak citizens and residents. In 2001 the Jewish community agreed to a blanket settlement with the government to accept 10 percent of the total estimated value as payment for unrestituted Jewish heirless property, which it uses to resolve claims and support the community.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and police must present a warrant before conducting a search or within 24 hours afterwards. There were reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions in some cases. In one example, a report by the ombudsperson on a police raid in the Romani community in Vrbnica in 2015 concluded that officers violated residents’ right to privacy and property. The raid, which included house-to-house searches conducted without warrants, resulted in physical injuries to 19 residents. An official investigation into the raid resulted in charges brought by the Police Inspection Service against the raid’s commanding officer; proceedings in the case were pending at the Michalovce District Court. No charges were brought, however, with respect to the alleged failure of police to obtain a search warrant or the alleged police brutality by individual police officers.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. While the government generally respected these rights, it impeded criticism and limited access to information to critical press outlets.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits the defamation of nationalities and race, punishable by up to three years in prison, and denial of the Holocaust and crimes committed by the fascist and communist regimes, which carry a prison sentence of six months to three years.

Press and Media Freedom: The prohibitions against defamation of nationalities and denial of the Holocaust and crimes committed by the fascist and communist regimes also applied to the print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals. According to media organizations, criminal libel provisions restrict freedom of expression, including freedom of media.

The majority of media were privately owned or funded from private sources. Radio and Television Slovakia (RTVS) and the TASR news agency received state funding for specific programming. Observers expressed concern, however, about the increasing consolidation of media ownership and its potential long-term threat to press freedom. NGOs reported most of the country’s private media outlets, including television stations and print publications, were controlled by relatively few financial conglomerates or wealthy individuals.

Members of the cabinet intermittently refused to communicate with two major daily newspapers, claiming their reporting was biased and that the newspapers had refused to apologize for publishing information government officials claimed was untrue.

In February investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, were killed in their home. Kuciak regularly reported on allegations of high-level corruption and documented tax fraud schemes. As of October authorities had arrested and charged four suspects in the case. Nationwide public protests following the killings prompted the resignation of then interior minister Robert Kalinak, then prime minister Robert Fico, and then police president Tibor Gaspar. After the resignations Fico accused media and NGOs of using the killings to foment a “coup.” In May police seized the mobile telephone of journalist Pavla Holcova, who had worked with Kuciak, and stated the seizure was part of their investigation into the Kuciak murder. Holcova objected, citing her obligation to protect her sources. Publishers, editors in chief, and NGOs protested the seizure, and in June police returned the telephone to Holcova in exchange for a copy of electronic communications between her and Kuciak. Holcova stated she suspected authorities might have attempted to access the contents of her telephone illegally.

After the installation in August 2017 of a new director of the public broadcaster RTVS and personnel changes that followed, some journalists claimed the service had become subject to political interference. In May, 12 television newsroom journalists left the institution.

Libel/Slander Laws: Media organizations criticized a criminal libel provision in the Criminal Code as restricting freedom of expression. Kosice-based journalist Lukas Milan faced libel charges for reporting on corruption suspicions involving former speaker of parliament Pavol Paska. A trial court sentenced him to a suspended 18 months prison term with three years of probation and a reporting ban of the same duration. In May the Prosecutor General’s Office withdrew the indictment.

Financial elites targeted the press in a number of civil defamation lawsuits, which often required the press to pay large sums of money in penalties or legal costs. The International Press Institute Slovakia and other observers expressed concern this financial risk and the administrative burden of constantly contesting lawsuits could lead to media self-censorship. In May an appellate court dismissed one of numerous libel lawsuits by the financial group Penta Investment against the daily newspaper DennikN. Penta disputed a statement in a DennikN article saying that the Penta-owned company might get a defense ministry maintenance contract for Black Hawk helicopters.

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. Police, however, monitored websites containing hate speech and attempted to arrest or fine the authors. According to Eurostat, approximately 80 percent of the country’s population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. There were no reports of government authorities exerting pressure on refugees to return to the country they had fled.

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing some protection to refugees. Some organizations criticized the Migration Office for granting asylum only in a very limited number of cases. As of August the government had received 104 asylum applications and granted asylum to one individual. The government granted asylum to 29 individuals in 2017.

NGOs reported asylum seekers had only limited access to qualified, independent legal advice. The contract for legal assistance to asylum seekers did not cover asylum seekers in detention, so these persons could access free legal assistance only in the second, appellate-level, hearing on their asylum application process. Migration Office staff allegedly endeavored to provide legal advice to some asylum applicants, even though they were also interviewing the asylum seekers and adjudicating their asylum applications.

There was no independent monitoring by local NGOs of access to asylum procedures on the country’s borders and only limited monitoring of access to asylum by UNHCR.

In July the country extradited a foreign national to Russia before officially closing his asylum process. The foreign national, who had applied for international protection in the country in 2011 citing fear of torture and inhumane treatment in his home country, was wanted in Russia on terrorism-related charges. The Justice Ministry asserted that the man had to be extradited as he posed a national security threat and would have to be released from custody within 60 days. Human rights NGOs and the UN Commission for Human Rights protested the extradition and called it a dangerous precedent for an asylum seeker to be extradited before a final decision on his asylum case had been made. In August the Constitutional Court turned down an appeal by the asylum seeker, asserting it lacked jurisdiction in the case.

In April the country’s media reported on the possible involvement of government officials in the 2017 abduction of a Vietnamese asylum seeker from Germany to Vietnam by the Vietnamese intelligence services. Based on information from German law enforcement officials, media reported that a Slovak government aircraft was used to transport the abducted Vietnamese national out of the Schengen area immediately following an official meeting between former Slovak interior minister, Robert Kalinak, and the Vietnamese minister of public security in July 2017 in Bratislava. In August the prosecution service launched official investigations into alleged government involvement in the abduction. The case remained pending.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to applicants from a safe country of origin or transit. The law requires authorities to ensure the well-being of individual asylum seekers is not threatened if deported to a non-EU “safe country.” Some observers criticized the BBAP for lacking the information necessary to determine whether a country would be safe for persons facing deportation there.

Freedom of Movement: NGOs reported the BBAP unnecessarily detained migrants, including asylum seekers whom police believed made false asylum claims, and that police failed to use adequately alternatives to detention, such as supervised release or financial bonds. In 2017 one in four asylum seekers in the country was placed in immigration detention rather than accommodation centers. NGOs reported it was routine practice to issue detention orders and place asylum seekers with children in the immigration detention center in Secovce, where they often faced degrading treatment.

Access to Basic Services: There were reports persons granted subsidiary protection had only limited access to health care. The Ministry of Interior issued health-coverage documentation directly to persons with subsidiary protection, which in some instances created confusion among health-care providers, who often did not know which medical procedures the policy would cover.

NGOs reported schools generally did not make use of available government support for language and integration assistance for foreign students.

Durable Solutions: The Migration Office accommodated refugees processed at the UNHCR emergency transit center in Humenne for resettlement to a permanent host country. The refugees were moved to Slovakia from other countries due to security and humanitarian concerns. The center was permitted to accommodate up to 250 refugees at a time for up to six months.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary “subsidiary protection” to individuals who might not qualify as refugees but could not return to their home countries and granted it to approximately seven persons as of August. Subsidiary protection is initially granted for one year, with possible extensions. NGOs said this created uncertainty regarding the refugee’s status in the country and significantly hindered their integration prospects.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the parliamentary elections held in 2016 and the regional elections in November 2017 to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. A 2017 survey by the European Institute for Gender Equality placed the female political participation gap at the national level at 57 percent.

While there were small but increasing numbers of Romani mayors and members of local councils, Roma were severely underrepresented in communal, provincial, and national elective bodies.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were sometimes cooperative, although NGOs reported that at times government officials appeared to view their activities with suspicion or mistrust.

In March, Robert Fico, an MP who chaired the coalition-member Smer-SD party, claimed countrywide public protests that led to the resignation of his cabinet when he was prime minister were financed and organized from abroad as part of a “coup” against his government. He asserted philanthropist George Soros and NGOs supported by the Open Society Foundation coordinated the effort. In August, Fico published an op-ed article calling the antigovernment protest organizers “children of Soros” and demanding tougher rules on financing of NGOs since “many of them are clearly funded from abroad.”

Some government officials, including Andrej Danko, the speaker of parliament and chair of the coalition-member Slovak National Party (SNS), and Anton Hrnko, an MP and the deputy chair of the SNS, criticized the ombudsperson’s attempts to raise awareness about the rights of LGBTI persons. In July Danko appeared in person to accept the “Homophobe of the Year” award from a local NGO and repeated his statements that homosexuality is a choice.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The justice minister headed the Government Council on Human Rights and National Minorities, an advisory body including government officials and civil society representatives.

Maria Patakyova headed the Office of the Public Defender of Rights (ombudsperson) and submitted an annual report on human rights problems to the parliament. Human rights activists credited Patakyova with raising the profile of fundamental rights problems in the country, despite criticism and obstruction from politicians.

Parliament has a 12-member Human Rights and National Minorities Committee that held regular sessions during the year. NGOs criticized it for failing to address serious human rights issues. Committee members included an MP from the far-right People’s Party-Our Slovakia (LSNS) party who participated in a 2015 attack against a Saudi family during antirefugee demonstrations, denied the legitimacy of the Holocaust, and praised Hitler on social media. He also made defamatory statements against the Romani minority and Muslim refugees for which he faced prosecution. The committee also included an MP who was fired as a television news presenter in 2015 for posting antirefugee content on social media.

The Slovak National Center for Human Rights acted as the country’s national human rights institution and as the dedicated equality body, but it was criticized for inactivity by NGOs and members of the Government Council on Human Rights and National Minorities.

Slovenia

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and there were few reports that government officials employed them.

The Office of the Ombudsman for the Protection of Human Rights made numerous unannounced visits to prisons and police stations with representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). In most instances, observers noted a marked reduction in complaints of excessive use of force compared with 2017.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical conditions were generally acceptable and have recently improved, according to the Office of the Ombudsman for the Protection of Human Rights. There were some reports of inmate mistreatment, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, and overcrowding in prisons. There were no reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised significant human rights concerns.

The National Preventive Mechanism on Prevention of Torture visited prisons, social-care homes, hospitals, and other facilities. Local NGOs reported overcrowding in social-care homes, especially in closed departments for mentally ill persons. Prison guard trade unions and others stated that prison staffing was inadequate.

Physical Conditions: Local NGOs reported prison overcrowding remained an issue. The government was building a prison for men in Ljubljana and expanding capacity of a prison for women. The National Preventive Mechanism monitoring group stated prisons lacked adequate numbers of guards and other personnel. Local NGOs reported a lack of rehabilitation activities for prisoners, including employment for those who want to work.

Administration: Authorities investigated accusations of inhuman conditions and documented the results in a publicly accessible manner.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted local and international human rights groups, media, and other independent international bodies, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, to monitor prison conditions. The Office of the Ombudsman for the Protection of Human Rights, together with numerous human rights groups and other NGOs, conducted visits to all prisons. The government allowed designated NGOs to monitor the treatment of prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police performed the country’s basic law-and-order functions, including migration and border control, under the direct supervision of the Ministry of the Interior. The National Investigation Bureau and the Border Police fall under the general police administration in the Interior Ministry. The armed forces are responsible for national defense and are under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense. The government, the Parliamentary Oversight Commission, the relevant district court, the ombudsman, the Court of Audits, and the Budget Supervision Office oversee the Intelligence and Security Agency.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the armed forces, police, and the Intelligence and Security Agency, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police generally made arrests with warrants issued by a prosecutor or judge based on evidence. Authorities may detain suspects for 48 hours before charging them. The law requires authorities to inform suspects of their rights immediately after arrest and to advise detainees in writing within six hours (or within three hours for minor offenses) of the reasons for their arrest. Suspects must have prompt access to a judge to assess whether they qualify for release on bail or should remain incarcerated pending trial. Authorities generally released defendants on bail except in the most serious criminal cases. The law provides for prompt access to immediate family members and recognizes detention under house arrest.

Upon arrest, detainees have the right to contact legal counsel of their choice and the right to counsel during interrogations, and the government protected these rights. While indigent defendants have the right to an attorney provided at public expense, the government did not establish a formal system for providing such legal counsel. The NGO Legal Information Center and the government’s Free Legal Aid Office made free counsel available to indigents. In a 2017 report, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture expressed concern that persons unable to pay for a lawyer could not, as a rule, benefit from the right of access to a lawyer from the very outset of their detention. The report noted, “ex officio lawyers would only be appointed if such an appointment was considered ‘in the interests of justice’ and, if appointed, they would meet detainees only after police questioning, very briefly before the court hearing.”

Pretrial Detention: Once authorities charge a suspect, the law provides for up to four months’ pretrial detention, depending on the severity of the alleged crime. An investigative judge must certify the charges. After trials begin, judicial authorities may extend the total detention period for up to two years. Authorities must release persons detained more than two years while awaiting trial or pending conclusion of their trial.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy rights to a presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and to legal counsel.

Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence, not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and to appeal. The law also provides safeguards against self-incrimination. These rights extend to all defendants.

According to NGOs and advocacy groups, the judicial system was overburdened and lacked administrative support, at times resulting in delays in the judicial process. The government made progress in improving the efficiency of the judiciary, reducing the court backlogs, and lowering the average processing time. A report published in March by the European Commission noted a reduction in the backlog of cases and improved efficiency in the judicial system.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Individuals may appeal court decisions involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) once they exhaust all avenues of appeal in domestic courts.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government has laws whereby all former persons who were citizens of the former Yugoslavia or Allied nations may recover property confiscated by fascist or Nazi occupying forces. Cases involving property confiscated after 1945-46 are subject to restitution procedures under the Criminal Procedure Act. Cases involving property that was nationalized are subject to restitution procedures under the Denationalization Act of 1991. The Denationalization Act requires claimants to have had Yugoslavia citizenship at the time the property was confiscated and excludes, with some exceptions, property confiscated before 1945.

Although some heirs of Holocaust victims may seek restitution of confiscated property through these laws and mechanisms, NGOs and advocacy groups reported the government did not make significant progress on the resolution of Holocaust-era claims. This includes both former citizens who were required to renounce Yugoslavian citizenship as a condition for emigrating and Holocaust survivors from Yugoslavia and their heirs, who did not return and thus never had Yugoslav citizenship. Some cases involving the restitution of property seized during the communist era (especially from 1946 to 1958) remained unresolved. The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) engaged the government regarding Holocaust survivors and their heirs who were not eligible to file claims based on Slovenian law.

Some Holocaust survivors and their relatives, along with Slovene deportees, reclaimed pre-1945 confiscated property through 1945-1946 restitution legislation. Most Holocaust-era claims are categorized as heirless property for which there is no provision in law for restitution or compensation. In March the WJRO and Ministry of Justice agreed to launch a joint research project to compile a historical record as complete as possible of heirless, formerly Jewish-owned properties in the country. In September research teams commenced the project and intend to complete it in 2019.

Some remaining non-Jewish confiscated properties appeared to be untouchable because the parties occupying the sites were politically influential and thwarted attempts to reach a negotiated settlement. For example, since 1993, close ties between the local government’s administrative unit and Radenska d.d., a major mineral water producer, stymied a foreign family’s claims to the Radenci Spa property located on the family’s ancestral lands. Although the Supreme Court rejected the family’s claim in 2015, the litigants appealed to the Constitutional Court, which returned the case to lower courts, where it remained pending consideration at year’s end.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech, which it defines as incitement to hatred, violence, and intolerance based on nationality, race, religion, gender, skin color, social status, political or other beliefs, sexual orientation, and disability in a way that could threaten or disrupt public order. The penalty for conviction of hate speech is up to two years’ imprisonment. The penal code also prohibits the expression of ideas of racial superiority and denial of the Holocaust. Due to extensive criteria necessary for the prosecution of hate speech, police or prosecutors investigated only several dozen cases during the year; of the cases prosecuted, there were no reports of convictions.

There were some highly publicized instances of alleged hate speech. For example, the Ministry of Culture reported the weekly publication Demokracija to the media inspectorate for its August cover showing a photo of seven black hands groping and touching a white woman with the title, “With Migrants Comes the Culture of Rape.” The inspectorate referred the case to police, and as of October it remained pending.

In November Prime Minister Marjan Sarec called on state-owned companies to consider removing advertisements from media sources that spread hateful content. Some NGOs, political parties, and journalist associations hailed Sarec’s call as an important step towards combatting hate speech, while others condemned it as inadmissible political pressure on media and corporate autonomy.

The hotline “Spletno oko” (“Web Eye”) received several hundred reports concerning potential cases of hate speech, but there were no reported prosecutions or convictions for online hate speech.

Several media outlets have required journalists to observe certain guidelines in their private social media interactions.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The print and broadcast media, like online newspapers and journals, as well as book publishers, are subject to the laws prohibiting hate speech, libel, and slander.

Violence and Harassment: Journalist associations expressed concern regarding a number of threats and insults against journalists and urged journalists to report threats to police.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Slovenian Association of Journalists and media analysts observed that standards of journalistic integrity suffered because of economic pressure; nonstandard forms of employment, such as freelance or student status; and reduced protections for journalists, leading some to practice self-censorship to maintain steady employment.

Journalists and media representatives stated existing media legislation does not address the problem of excessive concentration of ownership in the media, which limited the diversity of views expressed.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: Based on a proposal from journalist associations and Transparency International, in January parliament passed an amendment to the Public Information Access Act that protects journalists from liability for administrative costs incurred by third parties in rejected freedom of information access requests.

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. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 79 percent of individuals in the country used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

Citizenship: Based on a 2012 decision by the ECHR, in 2013 the government introduced a system for providing just satisfaction (i.e., restitution for damages) for the “erased” citizens of other former Yugoslav republics denied the right to reside legally in the country in the 1990s. To date, more than 10,300 “erased” individuals have regularized their legal status in Slovenia. An additional 3,000 were presumed deceased, and approximately 12,000 were believed to be living abroad with no intention of returning to the country.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

In 2017 the Government Office for the Care and Integration of Migrants began operations. By law this office is responsible for ensuring the country meets its international commitments to provide services and protection to refugees, migrants, and displaced persons by coordinating the efforts of national authorities, NGOs, and other organizations. The office provided material support and accommodation to assist refugees through its asylum center and branches, managed reception and support assistance programs, and engaged with NGOs and international organizations to provide services and resettlement options to migrants. It offered medical services and psychological counseling, oversaw integration services for refugees and immigrants, cooperated with legal representatives of unaccompanied minors, and assisted police in deportation proceedings for those whose asylum claims were denied.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

The local Amnesty International (AI) chapter stated that in early June Slovenian border authorities rejected without due process the asylum applications of at least 51 applicants and sent them back to Croatia. AI detailed its findings based on interviews with 70 individuals in late June near the Bosnia-Croatia border. Among those interviewed, 58 individuals said they reached Slovenia, where 51 individuals (mostly families from Syria, Iran, and Iraq and single men from Algeria, Morocco, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Egypt) said they intended to seek asylum. These individuals claimed Slovenian border police failed to provide interpreters and denied or ignored their requests for asylum, forcibly returning them to Croatian police, who then deported them to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On July 19, former ministry of interior state secretary Bostjan Sefic publicly rejected AI’s allegations and stated border officials behaved professionally and in accordance with all required national and European legislation with respect to human rights and the right to international protection. Slovenian police also rejected accusations of forcibly returning asylum applicants to Croatian police and explained that the returns involved individuals who abused procedures by announcing an intention to file asylum applications but failed to do so.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The Dublin III regulation obligates the country, as a member state of the EU, to consider all EU countries as safe countries of origin and transit. Under the regulation the government may return an asylum seeker entering from another EU country to the country in which the person first entered the EU; however, pursuant to a decision by the ECHR, the government did not return asylum seekers to Greece.

Freedom of Movement: Local NGOs reported unjustifiable limitations on the movement of asylum seekers residing in government-operated integration houses and asserted that no legal grounds existed for these limitations. The NGO Legal Information Center filed a proceeding against the Government Office for the Support and Integration of Migrants on this issue, which was pending at year’s end.

Local NGOs criticized as inappropriate the government’s housing of unaccompanied minor asylum seekers alongside adults in the police-managed Foreigners Home in Postojna. Determining the age of unaccompanied asylum seekers remained a challenge.

Employment: Asylum seekers outside of EU resettlement and relocation programs often waited six or more months for their cases to be adjudicated and were barred from working during the initial nine months of this period, although many reportedly worked illegally. Local NGOs criticized this restriction, asserting it made asylum seekers vulnerable to labor exploitation due to their illegal status, lack of knowledge of local labor laws, and language barriers.

Durable Solutions: In 2016 the government approved an EU plan to relocate 567 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece and to resettle 20 refugees from other non-EU countries. The government also agreed to resettle 40 Syrian refugees from Turkey. As of September, the country had resettled 27 individuals from Turkey. Individuals accepted for resettlement received the same integration services as refugees as well as a three-month orientation program to familiarize them with the country.

Of the 567 refugees that the country agreed to accept in 2016 under the EU relocation plan, 253 lived in the country. In this group 244 have acquired refugee status, and most lived in private homes. In August the government announced the country had fully honored its commitments under the EU relocation plan but was unable to resettle all 567 migrants because Greece and Italy did not submit the necessary documentation. The government provided housing and sufficient resources to meet refugees’ basic needs.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, but the Ministry of Interior did not maintain separate statistics for refugees and those who qualified for subsidiary protection. In the first eight months of the year, the Government Office for Support and Integration of Migrants accepted and housed 2,222 applicants for international protection status. As of late August, there were 523 persons with international protection status in the country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On June 3, the country held parliamentary elections in which the Slovenian Democratic Party won the plurality of votes. The List of Marjan Sarec won the second most votes and formed a five-party coalition that assumed office on September 13. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The government’s cabinet includes four women ministers. The constitution provides for the National Assembly to include one member each from the Hungarian and Italian minorities.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides for an independent human rights ombudsman to monitor violations of human rights. Individuals may file complaints with the independent ombudsman to seek administrative relief in the case of a human rights violation by the government. The independent ombudsman was effective, adequately resourced, reported to parliament annually on the human rights situation, and provided recommendations to the government. The equal opportunities ombudsman’s office, which began working in 2017 with the role of raising awareness and helping prevent all types of discrimination, reported that a lack of resources and personnel limited its effectiveness.

Solomon Islands

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

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

In 2017 the Office of the Public Prosecutor initiated a coroner’s inquiry into the 2016 death of a person held in pretrial detention. The report was completed and was submitted to the Office of the Chief Magistrate for review and possible action.

Administration: Authorities permit prisoners and detainees to submit complaints and request investigations of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The respective prison commanders screen complaints and requests made to the Professional Standards Unit of the Correctional Service, which investigates credible allegations of problematic conditions and documents the results in a publicly accessible manner. The Office of the Ombudsman and the Public Solicitor investigate credible allegations of misconduct made against Correctional Services officers.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent human rights observers, and such visits occurred during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Royal Solomon Islands Police (RSIP), and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish police corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. A commissioner (normally a foreign resident), who reports to the minister of police, heads the RSIP force of approximately 1,500 members, 20 percent of whom are women. The RSIP completed the process of rearming two units ahead of the withdrawal of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) forces in 2017. The two units are a dignitary protection unit and the Police Response Team, which responds to civil unrest. The RSIP continued community consultations and public campaigns to discuss the need for limited rearmament and the controls in place.

The governments of Australia and New Zealand continued to provide support to the RSIP. Under the Solomon Islands Police Development Program, 40 unarmed Australian Federal Police officers provide capacity building and mentorship to the RSIP but are not involved in direct policing. The Australian Federal Police and the RSIP signed a memorandum of understanding in April to strengthen information sharing and enhance capacity building and professional development opportunities. New Zealand provides eight New Zealand police officers, who support community policing programs throughout the country.

The RSIP has an inspection unit to monitor police discipline and performance. Officials who violate civil liberties are subject to fines and jail sentences.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Only a magistrate or judge may issue warrants, although police have power to arrest without a warrant if they have reasonable belief a person committed a crime. The law requires detainees be brought promptly before a judge, and authorities respected this right. Delays sometimes arose after the preliminary hearing, but authorities brought detainees to court as soon as possible following arrest, especially if they were held without bail.

Police generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. The Public Solicitor’s Office provided legal assistance to indigent defendants, and detainees had prompt access to family members and counsel. There was a functioning system of bail for less serious cases, and police and courts frequently granted bail.

Australian legal advisers in the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs helped develop the capacity of government lawyers and contributed to reducing the backlog of judicial cases.

Pretrial Detention: Delays in adjudication of the large number of cases before the courts resulted in lengthy pretrial detention for some detainees. Pretrial detainees comprised 50 percent of the prisoner population. The average length of time held in pretrial detention was approximately two years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Prisoners were not afforded timely trials due to a judicial backlog that resulted in long delays in bringing cases to trial.

Trial procedures normally operated in accordance with British common law, with a presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges. Detainees had access to attorneys of their choice; and the rights to be present at their own trial, access to free assistance of an interpreter, to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to confront witnesses, to present witnesses and evidence, to refrain from self-incrimination, and to appeal convictions. The law extends these rights to both citizens and noncitizens. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. The courts provided an attorney at public expense for indigent defendants facing serious criminal charges as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution provides that any person whose rights or freedoms were contravened may apply directly to the High Court for redress. The High Court has taken a leading role in applying human rights principles in rulings.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

 

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was available and widely used in urban areas, although 78 percent of the country’s population lived in rural areas. Despite some improvements in access in rural areas, most rural dwellers did not have internet access. Approximately 11 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Demonstrators must obtain permits, which the government generally granted.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons and other persons of concern.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The government continued to provide land for persons displaced in 2014 and 2015 due to natural disasters.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year, and there were no known refugees in the country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers regarded the 2014 national parliamentary election as generally free and fair, although there was evidence of vote buying. The elections were the first the government held following the withdrawal of the RAMSI military peacekeeping contingent. The Commonwealth Observer Group reported that members of parliament used rural constituency development funds to buy political support. The postelection formation of the government was also marked by allegations that foreign and domestic business interests made corrupt payments to elected members of parliament. Following the election parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare as prime minister.

In November 2017, after a vote of no confidence against Sogavare, parliament elected Ricky Houenipwela as prime minister, and he formed a new coalition government.

Following an investigation into an alleged politically motivated shooting during the formation of the coalition government in 2014, authorities charged five persons. All were free on bail, but the police investigation continued during the year, with police offering a reward for more information.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties operated without restriction, but they were institutionally weak, with frequent shifts in political coalitions and unstable parliamentary majorities. In August parliament amended the Electoral Act to require all candidates to present party certificates. It also makes provision for remote voting, increases candidate nomination fees, and calls for special accommodation for voters with disabilities.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No law limits participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate; however, traditional male dominance limited the role of women in government. There were two women in the 50-member parliament and three female permanent secretaries in government ministries. There were no female judges on the High Court, although in September 2017 the country’s first female chief magistrate was sworn in. Government measures to increase the number of women in politics did not deliver the desired result. Civil society groups such as the Young Women’s Parliamentary Group continued to advocate for more leadership positions for women.

There was one minority (non-Melanesian) member of parliament.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides for an ombudsperson with power to subpoena and investigate complaints of official abuse, mistreatment, or unfair treatment. Although the Office of the Ombudsman has potentially far-ranging powers and operated without governmental or political party interference, a lack of resources limited its effectiveness. The Office of the Ombudsman receives its own funding allocation, which is designed to address these shortcomings.

Somalia

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

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

Government security forces and allied militias, other persons wearing uniforms, regional security forces, al-Shabaab, and unknown assailants committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Government and regional authorities executed persons without due process. Armed clashes and attacks killed civilians and aid workers (see section 1.g.). Impunity remained the norm.

Military courts continued to try cases not legally within their jurisdiction and in proceedings that fell short of international standards. Federal and regional authorities sometimes executed those sentenced to death within days of the court’s verdict, particularly in cases where defendants directly confessed their membership in al-Shabaab before the courts or in televised videos. In other cases, the courts offered defendants up to 30 days to appeal death penalty judgements. National figures on executions were unreliable, but the UN Mission to Somalia (UNSOM) tracked 15 executions across the country between January and October. Human rights organizations questioned the military courts’ ability to enforce appropriate safeguards with regard to due process, the right to seek pardon, or commutation of sentence as well as to implement sentences in a manner that meets international standards.

Fighting among clans and subclans, particularly over water and land resources, occurred throughout the year, particularly in the regions of Hiiraan, Galmudug, Lower and Middle Shabelle, and Sool (see section 6). Revenge killings occurred.

Al-Shabaab continued to kill civilians (see sections 1.g. and 6). The killings included al-Shabaab’s execution of persons it accused of spying for and collaborating with the FGS, Somali national forces, affiliated militias, and western security forces. Al-Shabaab’s competitor Islamic State-Somalia targeted businesses leaders for extortion in urban in an attempt to leave the remote mountains in Puntland where it has operated the last three years. It then targets those businesses with violence when they do not pay up.

Unidentified attackers also killed persons with impunity, including members of parliament, judges, National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) agents, Somali National Army (SNA) soldiers, and other government officials, as well as journalists, traditional elders, and international organization workers.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of kidnappings or other disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Al-Shabaab continued to abduct persons, including humanitarian workers and AMISOM troops taken hostage during attacks (see section 1.g.). Pirates continued to hold persons kidnapped in previous years.

Of the eight remaining Iranian fishermen kidnapped in 2015 by al-Shabaab in Somali waters near El-Dheer, Galguduud region, four were rescued in June.

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

The provisional federal constitution prohibits torture and inhuman treatment. Nevertheless, torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment occurred. The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea (SEMG) reported an account of the torture and execution of al-Shabaab suspects by SNA troops in Barawe, Lower Shabelle region in May. A local police commander who investigated the incident was subsequently detained by the SNA in August, allegedly tortured and put on house arrest.

Government forces, allied militia, and other men wearing uniforms committed sexual violence, including rape (see section 1.g.).

Federal and regional authorities used excessive force against journalists, demonstrators, and detainees, which resulted in deaths and injuries.

NISA agents routinely conducted mass security sweeps against al-Shabaab and terrorist cells as well as criminal groups despite having no legal mandate to arrest or detain. NISA held detainees for prolonged periods without following due process and mistreated suspects during interrogations.

Al-Shabaab imposed harsh punishment on persons in areas under its control (see sections 1.a. and 1.g.).

Clan violence sometimes resulted in civilian deaths and injuries (see sections 1.g. and 6).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions in most areas of the country remained harsh due to poor sanitation and hygiene, inadequate food and water, and lack of medical care. Conditions were better in Central Mogadishu Prison, but overcrowding was a problem. Two facilities–Garowe Prison in Puntland and Hargeisa Prison in Somaliland–met international standards and reportedly were well-managed. Prisons in territory controlled by al-Shabaab and in remote areas where traditional authorities controlled holding areas were generally inaccessible to international observers. Prison conditions in such areas were believed to be harsh and at times life threatening.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in urban prisons–particularly following large security incidents involving arrests–sometimes occurred. Authorities sometimes held juveniles and adults together, due in part to the belief that juveniles were safer when housed with members of their own subclan. Prison authorities often did not separate pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, particularly in the southern and central regions.

Only inmates in Central Mogadishu, Garowe, and Hargeisa prisons had daily access to showers, sanitary facilities, adequate food and water, and outdoor exercise. Inmates in most prisons relied on their family and clan to supplement food and water provisions.

Authorities generally required the families of inmates to pay the cost of health services; inmates without family or clan support had limited access to such services. Disease outbreaks, such as tuberculosis and cholera, continued to occur, particularly in overcrowded prisons, such as Mogadishu. Such outbreaks could be life threatening during the rainy season.

In January, one prisoner arrested for piracy died in Hargeisa prison. Prison officials stated that he died of natural causes due to lung problems, although he was found to have been physically abused.

The UN’s Human Rights and Protection Group reported from an October prison monitoring mission that the prison in Beletweyne, Hirshabelle lacked medical personnel. In case of medical emergencies, prisoners were referred to the nearby SNA hospital.

Prison infrastructure often was dilapidated, and untrained guards were unable to provide security.

Information on deaths rates in prisons and pretrial detention centers was unavailable.

Al-Shabaab detained persons in areas under its control in the southern and central regions. Those detained were incarcerated under inhuman conditions for relatively minor “offenses,” such as smoking, having illicit content on cell phones, listening to music, watching or playing soccer, wearing a brassiere, or not wearing a hijab.

Administration: Most prisons did not have ombudsmen. Federal law does not specifically allow prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship. Somaliland law, however, allows prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, and prisoners reportedly submitted such complaints.

Prisoners in Central Mogadishu, Garowe, and Hargeisa prisons had adequate access to visitors and religious observance; infrastructure limitations in other prisons throughout the country impeded such activities.

Independent Monitoring: Somaliland authorities and government authorities in Puntland and Mogadishu permitted prison monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers during the year. Representatives from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime visited prisons in Bosasso, Garowe, Beletweyne, Borama, and Hargeisa several times. UNSOM representatives, other UN organizations, and humanitarian institutions visited a few prisons throughout the country. Geographic inaccessibility and insecurity impeded such monitoring in territory controlled by al-Shabaab or in remote areas where traditional authorities controlled detention areas.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the provisional federal constitution prohibits illegal detention, government security forces and allied militias, regional authorities, clan militias, and al-Shabaab arbitrarily arrested and detained persons (see section 1.g.). The law provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, but only politicians and businesspersons could exercise this right effectively.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The provisional federal constitution states that the armed forces are responsible for assuring the country’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity and that the national federal and state police are responsible for protecting lives, property, peace, and security. Police were generally ineffective and lacked sufficient equipment and training. In Mogadishu, for example, police lacked sufficient vehicles to transfer prisoners from cells to courts or to medical facilities. There were reports police engaged in corrupt practices.

AMISOM and the SNA worked to maintain order in areas of the southern and central regions. The FGS regularly relied on NISA forces to perform police work, often calling on them to arrest and detain civilians without warrants. Some towns and rural areas in the southern and central regions remained under the control of al-Shabaab and affiliated militias. The Ministry of Defense is responsible for controlling the armed forces. Police forces fall under a mix of local and regional administrations and the government. The national police force remained under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Security, while regional authorities maintained police forces under their areas’ interior or security ministries.

Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control of security forces. Security forces abused civilians and often failed to prevent or respond to societal violence. Although authorities sometimes used military courts to try individuals believed to be responsible for abuse, they generally did not investigate abuse by police, army, or militia members; a culture of impunity was widespread.

The United Nations reported an increase in arbitrary arrests and detentions in the country between January and August. A total of 218 individuals were arrested during security operations and routine security screening. Most of those arrested were reportedly suspected of being al-Shabaab members, persons who had not paid taxes, and family members of security forces deserters.

The Ministry of Defense’s control over the army remained tenuous but improved somewhat with the support of international partners. At year’s end the army consisted of more than 15,000 soldiers, according to estimates by international organizations. The bulk of forces were located in Middle Shabelle and Lower Shabelle Regions, as well as in South West State and Jubaland. The Ministry of Defense exerted some control over forces in the greater Mogadishu area, extending as far south as Lower Shabelle region, west to Baidoa, Bay region, and north to Jowhar, Middle Shabelle region. Army forces and progovernment militia sometimes operated alongside AMISOM in areas where AMISOM was deployed. The federal police force maintained its presence in all 17 districts of the capital. AMISOM-formed police units complemented local and FGS policing efforts in Mogadishu. These police officers provided mentoring and advisory support on basic police duties, respect for human rights, crime prevention strategies, community policing, and search procedures. More than 300 AMISOM police officers worked alongside the formed units to provide training to national police.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The provisional federal constitution provides for arrested persons to be brought before judicial authorities within 48 hours. The law requires warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by authorized officials for the apprehension of suspects. The law also provides that arrestees receive prompt notification of the charges against them and judicial determinations, prompt access to a lawyer and family members, and other legal protections. Adherence to these safeguards was rare. The FGS made arrests without warrants and detained individuals arbitrarily. The government sometimes kept high-profile prisoners associated with al-Shabaab in safe houses before officially charging them. The law provides for bail, although authorities did not always respect this provision. Authorities rarely provided indigent persons a lawyer. The government held suspects under house arrest, particularly high-ranking defectors from al-Shabaab with strong clan connections. Security force members and corrupt judicial officers, politicians, and clan elders used their influence to have detainees released.

Arbitrary Arrest: Government and regional authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained numerous persons, including persons accused of terrorism and supporting al-Shabaab. Authorities frequently used allegations of al-Shabaab affiliation to justify arbitrary arrests (see section 1.g.).

In August an aid worker was detained for six days in Gedo region after allegedly traveling to an al-Shabaab-controlled area.

On August 24, an assistant to the FGS deputy prime minister was detained in Somaliland while visiting family in Hargeisa.

Government and regional authorities arbitrarily arrested journalists.

Government forces conducted operations to arrest youths they perceived as suspicious without executing warrants.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was common, although estimates were unavailable on the average length of pretrial detention or the percentage of the prison population being held in pretrial detention. The large number of detainees, shortage of judges and court administrators, and judicial inefficiency resulted in trial delays.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The provisional federal constitution states: “The judiciary is independent of the legislative and executive branches of government.” The civilian judicial system, however, remained largely nonfunctional across the country. Some regions established local courts that depended on the dominant local clan and associated factions for their authority. The judiciary in most areas relied on a combination of traditional and customary law, sharia (Islamic law), and formal law. The judiciary was subject to influence and corruption and was strongly influenced by clan-based politics. Authorities did not respect court orders. Civilian judges often feared trying cases, leaving military courts to try the majority of civilian cases.

In Somaliland, functional courts existed, although there was a serious shortage of trained judges, limited legal documentation upon which to build judicial precedent, and increasing allegations of corruption. Somaliland’s hybrid judicial system incorporates sharia, customary law, and formal law, but they were not well-integrated. There was widespread interference in the judicial process, and government officials regularly intervened to influence cases, particularly those involving journalists. International NGOs reported local officials interfered in legal matters and invoked the public order law to detain and incarcerate persons without trial.

Puntland courts, while functional, lacked the capacity to provide equal protection under the law and faced similar challenges and limitations as courts in Somaliland.

Traditional clan elders mediated conflicts throughout the country. Clans frequently used and applied traditional justice practices swiftly. Traditional judgments sometimes held entire clans or subclans responsible for alleged violations by individuals.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The provisional federal constitution states: “Every person has the right to a fair public hearing by an independent and impartial court or tribunal, to be held within a reasonable time.” According to the provisional federal constitution, individuals have the right to a presumption of innocence. They also have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them in a language they understand, although the constitution is unclear on whether the right to translation applies through all appeals. Detainees have the right to be brought before a competent court within 48 hours of arrest, to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if indigent), and to not be compelled to incriminate themselves. Authorities did not respect most rights relating to trial procedures. Clan politics and corruption often impeded access to a fair trial. The provisional constitution does not address confronting witnesses, the right to appeal a court’s ruling, the provision of sufficient time and facilities to prepare a defense, or the right to present one’s own evidence and witnesses.

Military courts tried civilians. Defendants in military courts rarely had legal representation or the right to appeal. Authorities sometimes executed those sentenced to death within days of the court’s verdict (see section 1.a.). Some government officials continued to claim that a 2011 state of emergency decree gave military courts jurisdiction over crimes, including those committed by civilians, in areas from which al-Shabaab had retreated. No clear government policy indicates whether this decree remained in effect, although the initial decree was for a period of three months and never formally extended.

In Somaliland, defendants generally enjoyed a presumption of innocence and the right to a public trial, to be present at trial, and to consult an attorney at all stages of criminal proceedings. The government did not always inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them and did not always provide access to government-held evidence. The government did not provide defendants with dedicated facilities to prepare a defense but generally provided adequate time to prepare. The government provided defendants with free interpretation or paid for private interpretation if they declined government-offered interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants could question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence in their defense, and appeal court verdicts.

Somaliland provided free legal representation for defendants who faced serious criminal charges and could not afford a private attorney. Defendants had the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. A functioning legal aid clinic existed.

In Puntland, clan elders resolved the majority of cases using customary law. The administration’s more formalized judicial system addressed cases of those with no clan representation. Defendants generally enjoyed a presumption of innocence, the right to a public trial, the right to be present and consult an attorney at all stages of criminal proceedings, and the right to appeal. Authorities did not always inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Defendants had the right to present their own witnesses and evidence. Authorities did not provide defendants with dedicated facilities to prepare a defense but generally provided adequate time to prepare. Puntland authorities provided defendants with free interpretation services when needed. The government often delayed court proceedings for an unreasonable period.

There was no functioning formal judicial system in al-Shabaab-controlled areas. In sharia courts, defendants generally did not defend themselves, present witnesses, or have an attorney represent them.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The chief justice was not aware of any persons detained during the year for politically motivated reasons. Government and regional authorities arrested journalists as well as other persons critical of authorities, although arrests and harassment in Mogadishu substantially subsided following President Farmaajo’s election in February 2017.

Somaliland authorities continued to detain Somaliland residents employed by the federal government in Mogadishu, sometimes for extended periods. Somaliland authorities did not authorize officials in Mogadishu to represent Somaliland within or to the federal Somali government and viewed such actions as treason, punishable under the constitution of Somaliland.

On April 15, a poet who had composed a poem glorifying national unity was imprisoned for three years in Somaliland but was subsequently pardoned by Somaliland President Muse Bihi.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There were no known lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations in any region during the year, although the provisional federal constitution provides for “adequate procedures for redress of violations of human rights.”

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

In Mogadishu the government and nonofficial actors evicted persons, primarily IDP returnees, from their homes without due process (see section 2.d.).

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

According to the provisional federal constitution, “every person has the right to own, use, enjoy, sell, and transfer property” and the private home is inviolable. Nonetheless, authorities searched property without warrants.

During the year AMISOM and Somali forces retained control over several areas liberated from al-Shabaab in 2015. The return of IDPs to areas recently liberated continued to result in disputes over land ownership. There was no formal mechanism to address such disputes.

Government and regional authorities harassed relatives of al-Shabaab members.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The provisional federal constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but neither federal nor regional authorities respected this right. The Somali penal code criminalizes the spreading of “false news,” which it does not define, with penalties including imprisonment of up to six months. The government, government-aligned militias, authorities in Somaliland and Puntland, South West State, Galmudug, Jubaland, ASWJ, al-Shabaab, and unknown assailants killed, abused, and harassed journalists with impunity (see sections 1.a. and 1.g.).

The Somaliland constitution prohibits publication or circulation of exaggerated or tendentious news capable of disturbing public order, and officials used the provision to charge and arrest journalists.

The Puntland constitution limits freedom of opinion and expression through broadly worded limitations–including conformity with moral dignity, national stability, and personal rights of others–and allows for exceptions from the right to freedom of expression in times of war or other public emergency.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals in government-controlled areas risked reprisal for criticizing government officials, particularly for alleged official corruption or suggestions that officials were unable to manage security matters. Such interference remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland and Somaliland.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although self-censorship was common due to a history of arbitrary arrest of journalists and search and closure of media outlets that criticized the government. While there were no reports of such interference in Mogadishu since President Farmaajo’s election, it remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland and Somaliland.

Somaliland authorities continued to fine and arbitrarily arrest journalists for defamation and other alleged crimes, including meeting with colleagues. Prison terms ranged from a few days to several months, and fines could be as high as 573,000 shillings ($1,000). Journalists were intimidated and imprisoned for conducting investigations into corruption or topics deemed sensitive, such as investment agreements regarding the Berbera Port or the conflict between Somaliland and Puntland over the disputed Sool and Sanaag regions.

Violence and Harassment: Between January and August, the United Nations documented 20 cases of arbitrary arrests and or prolonged detentions of journalists and other media workers, of which 12 occurred in Somaliland. During that same period, five media outlets were closed. On July 26, a Somali soldier in Mogadishu killed a television cameraman; the death allegedly resulted from a personal property dispute. On September 18, another journalist was stabbed to death in Galkayo. Investigations in neither case found evidence that the killings were carried out because of the journalists’ work.

In January, two journalists were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in Somaliland on charges that included conducting propaganda against the state.

On January 13, NISA officers reportedly beat and harassed two journalists at an airport in Galkaayo during a visit by President Farmaajo. No investigation was reported despite requests by the Puntland Media Association.

On February 17, Somaliland police arrested the bureau chief of London-based Universal TV in response to a news report broadcast by the station earlier in February.

In April a journalist was arrested in Middle Shabelle after reporting on a clash between security forces. He was later released through negotiations between journalists and authorities.

In July a civil society activist was arrested in Garowe by Puntland police after making a Facebook post critical of the Puntland Government.

According to the Somaliland Journalists Association, local authorities continued to harass and arbitrarily detain journalists systematically.

Journalists based in the Lower Juba region continued to report that local security authorities harassed them.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists engaged in rigorous self-censorship to avoid reprisals.

In May Somaliland authorities banned two private television stations, accusing them of broadcasting propaganda and false news regarding the dispute between Somaliland and Puntland in Tukaraq, Sool region. Somaliland continued to punish persons who espoused national unification.

On June 13, in the midst of conflict between Somaliland and Puntland, the Puntland Ministry of Information instructed Puntland internet provider DSAT to remove the Somaliland television channel from the list of channels available in Puntland.

On June 19, the Hargeisa Regional Court ordered the suspension of Waaberi, the local newspaper, alleging the paper was not run by its registered owners.

Al-Shabaab banned journalists from reporting news that undermined Islamic law as interpreted by al-Shabaab and forbade persons in areas under its control from listening to international media outlets.

Libel/Slander Laws: Puntland and Somaliland authorities prosecuted journalists for libel.

On April 16, blogger Mohamed Kayse Mohamud was sentenced to 18 months in prison for comments he made in February calling Somaliland President Bihi a local, not national, president. Kayse’s lawyer said that police denied him access to Kayse during pretrial detention, which began February 7, and did not meet him until April 1, the first day of the trial.

National Security: Federal and regional authorities cited national security concerns to suppress criticism and prevent press coverage of opposition political figures.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Authorities restricted access to the internet, but there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Al-Shabaab prohibited companies from providing access to the internet and forced telecommunication companies to shut data services in al-Shabaab-controlled areas.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, less than 2 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Academics practiced self-censorship.

Puntland required individuals to obtain government permits to conduct academic research.

Except in al-Shabaab-controlled areas, there were no official restrictions on attending cultural events, playing music, or going to the cinema. The security situation, however, effectively restricted access to and organization of cultural events in the southern and central regions.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The federal provisional constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government limited this right. A general lack of security effectively limited this right as well. The federal Ministry of Internal Security continued to require its approval for all public gatherings, citing security concerns, such as the risk of attack by al-Shabaab suicide bombers.

In May Somaliland authorities in the Sool region arrested 57 demonstrators for staging a protest in support of Somali unity, including some in support of Puntland. All the demonstrators were later released.

Al-Shabaab did not allow any gatherings without its prior consent.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The provisional federal constitution provides for freedom of association, but government officials harassed NGO workers. There were also reports that regional authorities restricted freedom of association. Al-Shabaab did not allow most international NGOs to operate.

Persons in the southern and central regions outside of al-Shabaab-controlled areas could freely join civil society organizations focusing on a wide range of problems. Citizens generally respected civil society organizations for their ability to deliver social services in the absence of functioning government ministries.

Regional administrations took steps to control or gain benefit from humanitarian organizations, including by imposing duplicative registration requirements at different levels of government; attempting to control humanitarian organization contracting, procurement, and staffing; and using opaque and vague taxation.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The provisional constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but citizens could not exercise that ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 the FGS decided direct elections during the year would not be possible due to security concerns; it subsequently developed a plan for indirect elections by electoral colleges selected by elders. Indirect elections for the federal parliament’s two houses, concluded in January 2017, and parliament elected the president in February 2017. Indirect elections for the lower house of parliament–the House of the People–expanded the electorate from 135 elders to 14,025 electoral college delegates selected by the elders; 51 delegates selected by clan elders were responsible for voting on each lower house seat, and delegates were required to include 30 percent (16) women and 10 youths.

In 2012 the Transitional Federal Government completed the 2011 Roadmap for Ending the Transition, collaborating with representatives of Puntland, Galmudug, the ASWJ, and the international community. The process included drafting a provisional federal constitution, forming an 825-member National Constituent Assembly that ratified the provisional constitution, selecting a 275-member federal parliament, and holding speakership and presidential elections. The FGS was scheduled to review and amend the provisional constitution and submit it for approval in a national referendum, but the process remained incomplete.

Somaliland laws prevent citizens in its region from participating in FGS-related processes, although the federal parliament includes members “representing” Somaliland.

In 2012 Puntland’s constituent assembly overwhelmingly adopted a state constitution that enshrines a multiparty political system. In 2014 Abdiweli Mohamed Ali “Gaas” defeated incumbent President Abdirahman Mohamed “Farole” by one parliamentary vote in a run-off election broadcast live on local television and radio stations. President Farole accepted the results. Parliament also elected Abdihakim Abdulahi as the new vice president. Presidential elections were scheduled for January 2019 after a new parliament is scheduled to be formed in December.

The South West State parliament was formed in 2015 following the 2014 state formation conference, during which traditional elders and delegates elected Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adam as the region’s first president. Elections were scheduled for November and were delayed until December 19.

In 2015 the FGS officially inaugurated the 89-member Galmudug assembly; the members had been selected by 40 traditional elders representing 11 subclans. Later that year the assembly elected Abdikarim Hussein Guled as Galmudug’s first president. The ASWJ refused to accept the election results and unilaterally established its own self-declared administration for those parts of Galmudug it controlled. In February 2017 Guled resigned, reportedly due to health problems. Ahmed Duale Gelle “Haaf” was elected in May 2017 and initiated reconciliation talks with the ASWJ.

Parliamentary elections in Somaliland, last held in 2005, were overdue by 13 years. Somaliland has a bicameral parliament consisting of an appointed 86-member House of Elders, known as the Guurti, and an elected 82-member House of Representatives with proportional regional representation. The House of Elders voted in March 2017 to further postpone parliamentary elections to April 2019. There were allegations the House of Elders was subject to political corruption and undue influence. In November 2017 Somalilanders overwhelmingly elected ruling Kulmiye Party candidate Muse Bihi president. Bihi was peacefully sworn in in December 2017.

In 2013 the FGS and Jubaland delegates signed an agreement that resulted in the FGS’s formal recognition of the newly formed Jubaland administration. Ahmed Mohamed Islam “Madobe” was selected as president in a 2013 conference of elders and representatives.

In 2016 the FGS launched the state formation conference for Hiiraan and Middle Shabelle regions, the final federal member state to be constituted within the federal system. The process concluded with the formation of Hirshabelle State, the formation of the Hirshabelle assembly, and the election of Hirshabelle president Ali Abdullahi Osoble in 2016, although the state assembly voted to impeach Osoble in August and elected Mohamed Abdi Waare in September. The state formation process was marred by allegations that the FGS president interfered with the process to influence the Somali presidential elections by placing his supporters in key positions in the new state administration and providing for significant representation by his subclan. The traditional leader of the Hawadle subclan, a large constituency in Hiiraan, refused to participate.

Al-Shabaab prohibited citizens in the areas it controlled from changing their al-Shabaab administrators. Some al-Shabaab administrations, however, consulted local traditional elders on specific issues and allowed preexisting district committees to remain in place.

Political Parties and Political Participation: In 2016 the president signed the political parties law, which created the first framework for legal political parties since 1969, when former president Siad Barre banned political activities after taking power in a coup. The law required that all politicians join a political party by the end of 2018. As of November, 25 national parties had registered with the National Independent Election Commission. Prior to the law, several political associations had operated as parties. The provisional constitution provides that every citizen has the right to take part in public affairs and that this right includes forming political parties, participating in their activities, and seeking election for any position within a political party.

The Somaliland and Puntland constitutions and electoral legislation limit the number of political parties to three and establish conditions pertaining to their political programs, finances, and constitutions.

In December 2017 NISA raided the home of the leader of the Wadajir Party, leading to a firefight that left five of his bodyguards dead. The party leader, Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, a vocal critic of President Farmaajo, was arrested and detained for two days. In January he filed suit against Farmaajo’s then chief of staff Fahad Yasin.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s participation. While roadmap signatories agreed that women should hold at least 30 percent of the seats in the federal parliament prior to the country’s transition to a permanent government, women were elected to only 14 percent of 275 seats in parliament in 2012. The 30 percent quota met significant resistance in 2016-17 from clan elders, political leaders, and religious leaders, but women’s representation in parliament increased to 24 percent. The 26-member cabinet had four women.

Civil society, minority clans, and Puntland authorities called for the abolition of the “4.5 formula” by which political representation was divided among the four major clans, with the marginalized “minority” clans combined as the remaining “0.5” share. This system allocated to marginalized clans and other groups a fixed and low number of slots in the federal parliament. Under the provisional constitution, the electoral process was intended to be direct and, thus, diverge from the 4.5 formula, but federal and regional leaders decided in 2016 to revert to the 4.5 formula in determining lower house composition.

Somaliland had two women in its 86-member House of Representatives. The sole woman occupying a seat in the House of Elders gained appointment after her husband, who occupied the seat, resigned in 2012. Women traditionally were excluded from the House of Elders. There were two female ministers among the 24 cabinet ministers.

A woman chaired the Somaliland Human Rights Commission, while a minority youth served as deputy chair. The Somaliland president engaged a presidential advisor on minority problems.

Women had never served on the Council of Elders in Puntland. Traditional clan elders, all men, selected members of Puntland’s House of Representatives. Two women served in the 66-member House of Representatives. The minister of women and family affairs was the only woman serving in the cabinet. The nine-member electoral commission included one woman.

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

A number of local and international human rights groups operated in areas outside al-Shabaab-controlled territory, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. Security concerns constrained NGOs’ ability to operate in southern and central areas. International and local NGOs generally worked without major restrictions in Puntland and Somaliland, although clan politics, localized violence, and perceived interference with traditional or religious customs sometimes curtailed NGO activity in these areas.

Authorities sometimes harassed or did not cooperate with NGOs, for example, by dismissing findings of official corruption. Harassment remained a problem in Somaliland.

In August the minister of planning tweeted that the government would request all international NGOs to establish a physical presence, including senior leadership, in the country before January 1, 2019, or risk deregistration.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The provisional federal constitution calls for the formation of an independent national human rights commission and a truth and reconciliation commission within 45 days and 30 days, respectively, of the formation of the Council of Ministers in 2012. In 2016 the FGS president signed the human rights commission bill into law, but commissioners were not appointed by year’s end. No action on the proposed truth and reconciliation commission was taken by year’s end. There was no formal government mechanism for tracking abuses.

Limited resources, inexperienced commissioners, and government bias restricted the effectiveness of the Somaliland Human Rights Commission and Puntland’s Human Rights Defender Office.

South Africa

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

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Police use of lethal and excessive force, including torture, resulted in numerous deaths and injuries, according to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), Amnesty International, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

In August, three police officers in KwaZulu-Natal Province were arrested for torturing three men who had been detained for questioning regarding a homicide. One of the three detained men died from injuries inflicted by the officers. At year’s end a task force was investigating the case.

According to the 2017-18 IPID annual report, 436 persons died in police custody or due to police action during the 12 months from April 2017 to April 2018, an 11-percent increase from the prior 12 months. IPID recommended prosecution in 112 of the instances.

A death resulting from police action was defined as a death that occurred while a police officer attempted to make an arrest, prevent an escape, or engage in self-defense; it also covered collisions involving one or more South African Police Service (SAPS) or municipal police vehicles as well as mass actions where police officers were present. IPID did not track deaths resulting from torture, which it classified as homicide. Watchdog groups noted deaths in custody often resulted from physical abuse combined with a lack of medical treatment or neglect (see section 1.c.).

Officials at the highest levels of government recognized the prevalence of political killings needed to be addressed. In May the president categorized KwaZulu-Natal’s political killings as a “matter of national concern,” called for the violence to cease, and ordered a high-level inquiry into the problem. Although interparty killings took place, media and NGOs claimed the vast majority were a result of intra-ANC disputes at the local level. Killings often occurred in the context of a competition for resources or positions, or whistleblowers targeted for uncovering corruption.

In September the Moerane Commission, which KwaZulu-Natal Province Premier Willies Mchunu established in 2016 to investigate political killings, published its report, which identified ANC infighting, readily available hitmen, weak leadership, and ineffective and complicit law enforcement agencies as key contributing factors to the high rate of killings. Despite government attention to the problem, political killings in the country, and specifically in KwaZulu-Natal Province, continued.

There were numerous reported killings similar to the following example. In May a prominent ANC activist and an Inkatha Freedom Party municipal councilor were shot and killed on the same day.

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the law prohibits such practices, there were reports that police and correctional officers moved nonviolent suspects under interrogation into cells with violent criminals. Police allegedly ignored activities in the cells as the violent criminals intimidated, beat, or raped suspects, after which police continued the interrogation. Police torture and physical abuse allegedly occurred during house searches, arrests, interrogations, and detentions, and sometimes resulted in death (see section 1.a.).

The United Nations reported that it received 16 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from South African units deployed in the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the year. The majority of cases alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relationships, involving 11 peacekeepers and 11 victims; transactional sex, involving three peacekeepers and three victims). Sexual abuse (sexual assault, rape) was alleged in two cases, one of which involved a minor. Most UN investigations were pending. One allegation was substantiated according to a UN investigation. The peacekeeper in question was repatriated. Interim action was taken in three other cases. Seven allegations were reported in 2017, of which six remained under investigation (and one was closed because the subject died) at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to overcrowding, poor sanitation and medical care, disease, particularly tuberculosis, inmate-on-inmate rape, and physical abuse, including torture.

Physical Conditions: In 2016 the national commissioner for correctional services appealed to government security agencies to reduce overcrowding in the country’s correctional facilities. In 2017 the High Court ordered that the Pollsmoor detention facility’s inmate population be reduced to 150 percent of capacity within six months. Some prisoners believed they would be taken further away from their families where relatives would not be able to visit them due to unaffordable travel costs.

From April 1, 2017, through March 31, the Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services (JICS) received 231 complaints of assaults on prisoners by correctional officers. The Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services (JICS) and a JICS-appointed Independent Correctional Center Visitor (ICCV) monitored prison conditions in each correctional center. Authorities recorded and verified monthly ICCV visits in official registers kept at all correctional centers. The visitors submitted monthly reports to the inspecting judge, listing the number and duration of visits, the number of inmates interviewed, and the number and nature of inmate complaints. There were reports of shortages of prison doctors, inadequate investigation and documentation of prisoner deaths, inadequate monitoring of the prison population, high suicide rates among prisoners, and a lack of financial independence for JICS. Some detainees awaiting trial contracted HIV/AIDS through rape. Media and NGOs also reported instances in which prisoners were tortured.

Corruption among prison staff remained a problem. For example, in April, two wardens were arrested allegedly for accepting bribes to help 16 inmates escape from a Johannesburg prison.

According to the 2017-18 Department of Correctional Services (DCS) annual report, the country’s correctional facilities held 160,583 prisoners in facilities designed to hold 118,723; the correctional system was 35 percent above capacity, up 3 percent from the previous year. Many prisoners had less than 13 square feet in which to eat, sleep, and spend 23 hours a day. To reduce overcrowding, the government transferred prisoners to facilities that were below capacity.

NGOs such as the Aurum Institute, Society for Family Health, and South Africa Partners provided correctional centers with HIV testing and antiretroviral therapy. According to the DCS 2017-18 annual report, 26,442 inmates were placed on antiretroviral treatment.

General health care in prisons was inadequate; 7,574 inmates filed health-care complaints. Prisons provided inmates with potable water, but supplies and food were occasionally inadequate, and sanitation was inadequate, according to JICS.

The 2017-18 DCS annual report noted prisons held 3,432 youths (individuals under age 25). Prisons sometimes held youths alongside adults, particularly in pretrial detention. Prisons generally held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although in some large urban areas dedicated pretrial facilities were available.

According to JICS, there were 569 prison deaths from April 1, 2017, through March 31, a 55-percent decrease from the prior 12 months. Natural causes accounted for 487 deaths, a 5-percent decline from the prior 12 months. The JICS report drew a correlation between deaths from natural causes and overcrowding, noting that less crowded conditions would likely result in a decrease of natural deaths. Inmate violence sometimes resulted in deaths.

JICS was the primary monitoring group for prisons but was not autonomous since the DCS controlled its budget. According to JICS, from April 1, 2017, through March 31, ICCVs collectively handled 119,836 cases, a 74-percent decrease from the prior 12 months. NGOs claimed the failure of the DCS to follow up on ICCV recommendations hindered the program’s effectiveness. They also claimed many ICCVs lacked independence in their oversight or reporting of abuses.

Local NGO Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) criticized conditions at the Lindela Repatriation Center, the country’s largest immigrant detention facility. According to LHR, detainees were subject to physical and verbal abuse, corruption and demands for bribes, insufficient food, lack of reading and writing materials, lack of access to recreational facilities or telephones, lack of access to and poor quality of medical care, indefinite detention without judicial review, and lack of procedural safeguards such as legal guidelines governing long-term detention.

The DCS required doctors to complete and sign reports of inmate deaths to lessen the likelihood that a death caused by neglect would be reported as natural. Nevertheless, the DCS failed to investigate many deaths due to an insufficient number of doctors.

Prisons provided detainees in cells with felt mattresses and blankets. Most cells had toilets and basins but often lacked chairs, adequate light, and ventilation. Food, sanitation, and medical care in detention centers were similar to those in prisons.

Prisoners with mental illness sometimes failed to receive psychiatric care.

Administration: Authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. JICS recommended the DCS have an ombudsman to address juvenile confinement and improve procedures to make confinement unnecessary, but the DCS had not implemented the change by year’s end.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions, including visits by human rights organizations, which were required to apply for permission to gain access. Organizations’ requests for permission to visit prisons to conduct specific research were sometimes granted.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court. Unlike in prior years, the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

SAPS has primary responsibility for internal security. The police commissioner has operational authority over police. The president appoints the police commissioner, but the minister of police supervises the commissioner. The South African National Defense Force, under the civilian-led Department of Defense, is responsible for external security but also has domestic security responsibilities, such as patrolling the borders. Border Control Operational Coordinating Committees–composed of SAPS, Department of Home Affairs (DHA), defense force, South African Revenue Service, Department of Health, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Department of Transportation, Department of Trade and Industry, State Security Agency, and Department of Environmental Affairs representatives–are charged with overall migration and border enforcement. A committee representative is present at all land, air, and sea ports of entry to facilitate an interagency approach to border enforcement and migration management. The departments each have a representative at major border crossings; regional representatives covered lesser border crossings. The SAPS Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the “Hawks”) coordinates efforts against organized crime, priority crimes, and official corruption. Despite efforts to professionalize, SAPS remained understaffed, ill equipped, and poorly trained. Corruption continued to be a problem (see section 4).

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. The government investigated and prosecuted security force members who committed abuses, although there were numerous reports of police impunity, including of high-ranking members. IPID investigates complaints and makes recommendations to SAPS and to the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) on which cases to prosecute. IPID examines all SAPS killings and evaluates whether they occurred in the line of duty and if they were justifiable. IPID also investigates cases of police abuse, although it was unable to fulfill its mandate due to inadequate cooperation by police, lack of investigative capacity, and other factors. When it did complete investigations, the NPA often declined to prosecute cases involving criminal actions by police and rarely obtained convictions. In cases in which IPID recommended disciplinary action, SAPS often failed to follow IPID disciplinary recommendations.

The law provides IPID with additional enforcement powers and requires SAPS and metropolitan police departments to report any suspected legal violations by their own officers to IPID. The law criminalizes the failure to report wrongdoing; from April 2017 to April 2018 IPID recorded 69 cases in which SAPS or metropolitan police departments failed to report wrongdoing to IPID.

Security forces failed to prevent or adequately respond to societal violence, particularly in response to attacks on foreign nationals (see sections 2.d. and 6).

Some SAPS and metropolitan police department officers received training in ethics, human rights, corruption, sexual offenses, domestic violence, gender violence, and violence against LGBTI persons. SAPS also provided officers with access to social workers, psychologists, and chaplains. SAPS investigations of gender-based violence (GBV) crimes and crimes against LGBTI individuals were often insufficient.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires that a judge or magistrate issue arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence. Police must promptly inform detainees of the reasons for their detention, their right to remain silent, and the consequences of waiving that right. Police must charge detainees within 48 hours of arrest, hold them in conditions respecting human dignity, allow them to consult with legal counsel of their choice at every stage of their detention (or provide them with state-funded legal counsel), and permit them to communicate with relatives, medical practitioners, and religious counselors. The government often did not respect these rights. Police must release detainees (with or without bail) unless the interests of justice require otherwise, although bail for pretrial detainees often exceeded what suspects could pay.

Human rights groups, judges, and judicial scholars expressed concern regarding the Criminal Procedure Second Amendment Act, which allows pretrial detention of children and prohibits bail in certain cases. Some judges also expressed concern that police and the courts often construed the exercise of the right to remain silent as an admission of guilt.

Arbitrary Arrest: During the year there were numerous cases of arbitrary arrest, particularly of foreign workers, asylum seekers, and refugees. For example, in May, Department of Home Affairs officers detained 25 irregular migrants during raids at China City and Canal Walk in Cape Town. Human rights activists condemned the arrests and complained that some of the individuals were undocumented because the Department of Home Affairs failed to reopen a refugee center in Cape Town, despite a court order.

Legal aid organizations reported police frequently arrested persons for minor crimes for which the law stipulates the use of a legal summons. Arrests for offenses such as common assault, failure to provide proof of identity, or petty theft sometimes resulted in the unlawful imprisonment of ordinary citizens alongside hardened criminals, which created opportunities for physical abuse.

NGOs and media outlets reported security forces arbitrarily arrested migrants and asylum seekers–even those with documentation–often because police were unfamiliar with asylum documentation. In some cases police threatened documented migrants and asylum seekers with indefinite detention and bureaucratic hurdles unless they paid bribes to obtain quick adjudication of their cases. The law prohibits the detention of unaccompanied migrant children for immigration law violations, but NGOs reported that the DHA and SAPS nevertheless detained them.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was common. According to the DCS 2017-18 annual report, there were 46,142 pretrial detainees in the prison system–equal to 29 percent of the inmate population. According to the DCS, detainees waited an average of 176 days before trial. Observers attributed the high rate of pretrial detention to arrests based on insufficient evidence, overburdened courts, poor case preparation, irregular access to public defenders, and prohibitive bail amounts. Police often held detainees while prosecutors developed cases and waited for court dates. Legal scholars estimated less than 60 percent of those arrested were convicted. The law requires a review of pretrial detention once it exceeds two years.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. These rights, however, do not apply to undocumented residents in the country.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. The judiciary, however, was understaffed and underfunded. There were numerous reports that legal documents used in trials were lost, particularly when the accused was a government official. NGOs stated judicial corruption was a problem, although there were no proven cases of corruption during the year. According to the presidentially mandated Criminal Justice System Working Group (composed of ministers and deputy ministers), two-thirds of the estimated two million criminal cases reported annually never resulted in verdicts.

Government agencies sometimes ignored orders from provincial high courts and the Constitutional Court.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence; to be informed promptly of the charges; a fair, timely, and public trial; to be present at their trial; to communicate with an attorney of their choice; to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; free assistance of an interpreter; to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence; and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Police did not always inform detainees promptly and in detail of the charges against them, nor did they always accurately complete corresponding paperwork. Provision of free assistance of an interpreter depended on the availability and cost of interpreters. Interpretation standards were low and sometimes compromised the veracity of exchange between the defendant and the court. Judges sometimes transferred cases from rural to urban areas to access interpreters more easily. Limited access to qualified interpreters sometimes delayed trials. Judges and magistrates hear criminal cases and determine guilt or innocence.

Detainees and defendants have the right to legal counsel provided and funded by the state when “substantial injustice would otherwise result,” but this right was limited due to a general lack of information regarding rights to legal representation and the government’s inability to adequately budget for such services. There is no automatic right to appeal unless the accused is younger than age 16, but courts may give defendants permission to do so. Additionally, the law requires a judge to review automatically all prison sentences longer than three months.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The opposition Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) maintained the government had imprisoned 384 of its members since 1994 for political reasons, although international human rights organizations did not list these persons as political prisoners or detainees. In 2010 then president Zuma announced he approved 154 and rejected 230 IFP applications for pardon. Following his announcement, the government considered and rejected an additional six cases. The presidency considered the remaining pardon requests on a case-by-case basis.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts or through the South African Human Rights Commission, but the government did not always comply with court decisions. Individuals and organizations may not appeal domestic court decisions to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, because the government has not recognized the competence of the court.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were reports that the government failed to respect this prohibition. The “Right 2 Know” (R2K) campaign reported that government surveillance targeted whistleblowers, activists, and journalists who uncovered corruption, including “state capture,” a World Bank term often used to describe systemic political corruption, in which private interests influence the state’s decision-making process.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press, 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 the press. Nevertheless, several apartheid-era laws and the Law on Antiterrorism permit authorities to restrict reporting on the security forces, prisons, and mental institutions.

In a March court judgment, Vicki Momberg was convicted of “crimen injuria” (unlawfully, intentionally, and seriously injuring the dignity of another person) for repeatedly addressing black police officers with a racial slur. She was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment without parole. Many human rights groups applauded the ruling–the first of its kind–but the Afrikaner rights group AfriForum called it a case of “double standards… a white person who insults a black person goes to prison, while a senior officer in the defense force who says that white people’s eyes and tongues must be stabbed out is simply asked nicely not to repeat it.”

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

According to the South African Advertising Research Foundation, print media reached 49 percent of the adult population. Despite the number and diversity of publications, the concentration of media ownership in a few large media groups drew criticism from the government and some political parties, which complained print media did not always adequately cover their points of view.

The state-owned South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) was criticized for violating its stated editorial independence in favor of progovernment reporting (see section 4, elections, and political participation). In January former independent television station (eNCA) presenter and journalist Chris Maroleng was hired as the SABC’s chief operating officer, and stated he was committed to promoting fair, balanced, and impartial coverage, to limit political interference, and to regain public trust in the SABC.

Nonprofit community radio stations played an important role in informing the mostly rural public, although these stations often had difficulty producing adequate content and maintaining quality staff. Community activists complained some community radio stations self-censored their programming because they were dependent on government advertising for revenue. Government broadcast regulators withdrew community radio licenses on a regular basis for noncompliance with the terms of issuance.

Talk radio broadcast in the country’s 11 official languages played a significant role in public debate, providing a forum for discussion by government officials, politicians, commentators, and average citizens.

Many in the public credited media with exposing corruption in former president Zuma’s administration and with his eventual resignation. For example, the online Daily Maverick’s investigative unit “amaBhungane and Scorpio” ran a series of stories exposing details regarding state capture by the politically connected Gupta family and the family’s level of influence on government officials and institutions.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists covering the ANC’s national elective conference reported security officers manhandled them to prevent their access to delegates. SABC journalists covering protests in North West Province reported being attacked and robbed by protesters. SABC journalists reported that soccer fans in Durban destroyed some of their media equipment. These incidents did not appear to be orchestrated attacks on media.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government and political officials often criticized media for lack of professionalism and reacted sharply to media criticism, frequently accusing black journalists of disloyalty and white journalists of racism. Some journalists believed the government’s sensitivity to criticism resulted in increased media self-censorship.

Jacques Pauw, an investigative journalist and author of an expose of corruption in former president Zuma’s administration, was investigated by the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation for allegedly using secret government documents as material for his book. The South African Revenue Service also filed charges against Pauw for violating confidentiality laws. Human rights activists charged that Pauw was targeted for exposing the corruption.

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.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 56.2 percent of individuals used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. According to SAPS, from April 2017 through March there were 11,058 peaceful protests and an additional 3,583 demonstrations that turned violent. Protest action was most common in Gauteng, North West, Western Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right of association, and the government generally respected this right.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The ruling ANC’s elective conference in December 2017 elected then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa as president of the ANC. On February 14, Jacob Zuma stepped down as the country’s president, and on February 15, the National Assembly elected Ramaphosa to replace him. In 2016 the country held municipal elections to elect councils for all district, metropolitan, and local municipalities in each of the nine provinces. The ANC won 54 percent of the vote, the leading opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party 27 percent, and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) 8 percent. According to the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, voter turnout was 58 percent, the highest local election turnout since the end of apartheid. The institute stated the elections were transparent, fair, credible, and in line with the constitutional and legal framework for elections.

Nevertheless, violent protests occurred prior to the election in Pretoria after some ANC members rejected the party’s choice of mayoral candidate. Protests marked by intermittent violence and looting lasted for three days. Five persons died and approximately 200 were arrested and charged with public violence, possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition, possession of stolen property, and malicious damage to property.

In the 2014 parliamentary elections, which were the most recent national elections, the ruling ANC won 62 percent of the vote and 249 of 400 seats in the National Assembly, the dominant lower chamber of parliament. Election observers, including the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, characterized the election as generally free and fair. The government, however, for the first time restricted diplomatic election observers to chiefs of mission only, effectively prohibiting diplomatic missions from observing elections. Following the general election, parliament re-elected Jacob Zuma as the country’s president. The DA won 89 parliamentary seats, the EFF won 25, and the IFP won 10. The remaining 27 seats in parliament were allocated to nine other political parties based on a proportional vote-count formula. In the National Council of Provinces, the upper house of parliament, the ANC held 33 seats, the DA 13 seats, and the EFF six seats. The remaining two seats were allocated to two other parties.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Opposition parties accused the SABC, the state-owned public broadcaster, of favoring the ruling party in its news coverage and advertising policies. Prior to the municipal elections, smaller political parties criticized the SABC for not covering their events. SABC regulations, however, dictate coverage should be proportional to the percentage of votes won in the previous election, and independent observers did not find the SABC violated this regulation.

Opposition parties claimed the ANC and the DA used state resources for political purposes in the provinces under their control. Prior to the municipal and national elections, the ANC reportedly handed out government food parcels to potential voters at political rallies, tied social grants to voting for the ANC, began (but did not complete) infrastructure projects, and created temporary government jobs for ANC voters during the election period. Through a cadre deployment system, the ruling party controls and appoints party members to thousands of civil service positions in government ministries and in provincial and municipal governments. During the year the ANC requested political contributions from some civil servants. One NGO reported that ANC members told residents of a community in rural Eastern Cape that if they did not vote for the ANC, the local government would withhold the distribution of free solar panels it was directed to provide to them.

There were reports government officials publicly threatened to boycott private businesses that criticized government policy.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. There were an estimated 93 minority (nonblack) members in the 400-seat National Assembly. There were 14 minority members among the 54 permanent members of the National Council of Provinces and nine minority members in the 72-member cabinet.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Although created by the government, the South African Human Rights Commission operated independently and was responsible for promoting the observance of fundamental human rights at all levels of government and throughout the general population. The commission also has the authority to conduct investigations, issue subpoenas, and take sworn testimony. Due to a large backlog of cases, the failure of government agencies to adhere to its recommendations and fund it adequately, the commission was considered only moderately effective.

South Sudan

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

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

The United Nations, international ceasefire monitors, human rights organizations, and media reported the government or its agents committed numerous arbitrary or unlawful killings. Security forces, opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition, and ethnically based groups were also responsible for widespread extrajudicial killings in conflict zones (see section 1.g.).

There were numerous reported unlawful killings similar to the following example: According to the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM), on February 26, SPLA forces attacked the town of Modit in Northern Jonglei. According to eyewitness reports, the soldiers looted and burned numerous properties, including those belonging to an international NGO. Reportedly, the SPLA targeted a tukul (a South Sudanese hut), in which a number of schoolchildren had sought refuge. According to witnesses, SPLA soldiers set it alight with the children inside and stood at the door of the tukul to ensure the children were eventually burnt to death.

b. Disappearance

Security and opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government or the opposition, and ethnically based groups abducted an unknown number of persons, including women and children (see section 1.g.).

There were numerous reported disappearances similar to the following: In January opposition official Marko Lokidor Lochapio was abducted from Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. Human rights groups alleged Lokidor was illegally extradited to South Sudan and held in detention without charge at the National Security Service (NSS) headquarters in Juba. In February Information Minister Michael Makuei categorically denied  the government had custody of Lochapio; however, the government later admitted this was a lie and Lochapio was released from NSS Headquarters on October 25.

There were no updates in the cases of Samuel Dong Luak and Aggrey Idris Ezbon, who were forcibly abducted from Kenya and illegally extradited to South Sudan in 2017. While human rights groups alleged the NSS is holding them without charge, their whereabouts remained unknown.

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

The transitional constitution prohibits such practices, but security forces mutilated, tortured, beat, and harassed political opponents, journalists, and human rights workers (see sections 2.a. and 5). Government and opposition forces, armed militia groups affiliated with both, and warring ethnic groups committed torture and abuses in conflict zones (see section 1.g.).

One ex-detainee interviewed by Amnesty International described his detention by the NSS by saying, “if they thought you had misbehaved, they would beat you. If the soldiers come in drunk, they would beat you. The torturing there is beyond (words). Some people are tortured even with electricity. People are beaten to the point of collapsing.”

There were numerous reported abuses including sexual and gender-based violence, beating and torture of detainees, and harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and humanitarian workers. According to Amnesty International, throughout the year thousands of persons were victims of sexual violence by government forces, including “rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, sexual mutilation, torture, castration, or forced nudity”.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening. Overcrowding and inadequate medical care at times resulted in illness and death. While some prisons employed doctors, medical care was rudimentary, and prison physicians often had inadequate training and supplies. There were reports of abuse by prison guards.

Physical Conditions: Men and women were generally, but not always, held in separate areas, but male and female inmates often mixed freely during the day due to space constraints. Due to overcrowding, authorities did not always hold juveniles separately from adults and rarely separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners. Children, especially infants, often lived with their mothers in prison.

Nonviolent offenders are kept with violent offenders because of resource and spatial constraints. In 2016 the National Prison Service (NPS) reported holding 162 inmates with mental disabilities. Persons determined by a judge to be sufficiently dangerous (and “mentally ill”) following referral by family or the community, are incarcerated, medicated, and remain in detention until a medical evaluation determines they are no longer a threat and can be released.

Health care and sanitation were inadequate, and basic medical supplies and equipment were lacking. According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), prisoners received one meal per day of low nutritional value and relied on family or friends for additional food. Potable water was limited. In some locations prisoners slept in overcrowded open hallways and buildings lined with bunk beds. Ventilation and lighting were inadequate.

Malnutrition and lack of medical care contributed to inmate deaths, although no statistics were available.

Detention centers were under the control of local tribal or state authorities, and conditions were uniformly harsh and life threatening. Many facilities in rural areas consisted of uncovered spaces where authorities chained detainees to a wall, fence, or tree, often unsheltered from the sun. As with state-run prisons, sanitary and medical facilities were poor or nonexistent, and potable water was limited. Detainees sometimes spent days outdoors but slept inside in areas that lacked adequate ventilation and lighting.

Conditions in SPLA-run detention facilities were similar, and in some cases worse, with many detainees held outdoors with poor access to sanitary or medical facilities.

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) maintained facilities at Protection of Civilian (PoC) sites in Juba, Malakal, Bentiu, and Bor to hold internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were criminal suspects. Authorities did not intend the holding facilities to house IDPs for more than 72 hours, but they sometimes held IDP suspects longer due to delays in determining how to treat individual cases, or due to the inability to reintroduce offenders into PoC sites because of threats from their victims, or the threat the offender posed to the greater community. UNMISS observed prisoners daily and offered medical treatment for serious complications. Prisoners received food twice a day.

The NSS operated a detention facility in Juba that held civilian prisoners (see section 1.d.).

Administration: The NPS continued reporting of prisoner totals from all state prisons to its Juba headquarters, including statistics on juveniles and persons with mental disabilities (see section 1.d.). There were no prison ombudsmen.

The NPS allowed prisoner’s access to visitors and permitted them to take part in religious observances, but NSS and SPLA authorities were less likely to do so. The NPS allowed prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of allegations of inhuman conditions. Prison authorities sometimes investigated such allegations, although they seldom took action.

Independent Monitoring: The NPS permitted visits by independent human rights observers, including UNMISS human rights officers, nongovernmental observers, international organizations, and journalists. Authorities sometimes permitted monitors to visit detention facilities operated by the SPLA. International monitors were denied permission to visit facilities operated by the NSS, which held both military prisoners and civilians without legal authority.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The transitional constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention without charge. The government, however, arrested and detained individuals arbitrarily. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, but there were no known cases where an appellant successfully sought compensation for wrongful detention.

Since the beginning of the crisis in 2013, there were regular reports that security forces conducted arbitrary arrests, including of journalists, civil society actors, and supposed political opponents (see sections 1.a., 1.c., and 1.g.). While not legally vested with the authority, the SPLA often arrested or detained civilians. The NSS also routinely detained civilians. Security services rarely reported such arrests to police, other civilian authorities, or, in the case of foreigners arrested, diplomatic missions. Police also routinely arrested civilians based on little or no evidence prior to conducting investigations and often held them for weeks or months without charge or trial.

There were numerous reported arbitrary arrests or detentions similar to the following examples: On July 28, prominent South Sudanese academic and activist Dr. Peter Biar Ajak was arrested at Juba International Airport. As of December he was still being held with no access to legal counsel or other visitors.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over any of the security forces, and the government has no effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse.

The South Sudan National Police Service, under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. Consisting largely of former SPLA soldiers, it was poorly trained, corrupt, and widely distrusted. Authorities often based detentions on accusations rather than investigations. They rarely investigated complaints of police abuse. Police often went months without pay; they solicited bribes or sought compensation, often in the form of food or fuel, for services rendered to civilians.

A recent nationwide citizen security poll, however, conducted in November through the South Sudanese Network for Democracy and Elections, a national network of local civil society actors, stated that 78 percent of those polled said they go to the police when they are a victim or witness a crime.

The SPLA is responsible for providing security throughout the country and ostensibly operates under the Ministry of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs; current and former military personnel staffed the ministry. The SPLA does not have law enforcement authority, unless acting at the request of civil authorities. Nevertheless, the SPLA regularly exercised police functions, in part due to the limited presence and general ineffectiveness of law enforcement in many areas. It routinely detained persons, including in SPLA-run detention facilities to which monitors generally had little or no access. The SPLA’s approach to internal security and civilian disarmament was often unsystematic and disproportionate, contributing to conflict within and between communities while undermining the government’s legitimacy in conflict areas. The law requires cases of SPLA abuse of civilians to be heard in civilian courts, but there were no reports of cases being referred. Following the July 2016 attack on civilians at the Terrain Hotel compound in Juba, the government pursued a high-profile court-martial against 12 SPLA soldiers, obtaining the conviction in September of some low-level soldiers who participated in the attack. The 10 soldiers convicted were a fraction of the total number believed to have been involved in the attack, even according to the government’s report on the incident, and no high-ranking officers were investigated based on their command responsibilities.

The NSS, which has arrest and detention authority only in matters relating to national security, often detained civil society activists, businesspersons, NGO personnel, journalists, and others to intimidate them, particularly if the NSS believed they supported opposition figures. Authorities rarely investigated complaints of arbitrary detention, harassment, excessive force, and torture.

The South Sudan Wildlife Service has jurisdiction over national parks and wildlife trafficking crimes. They often assume general law enforcement jurisdiction in rural areas.

Impunity of the security services was a serious problem. Reportedly, although some internal investigations within the army and police were launched during the year, no cases of security sector abuse were referred to civilian courts, and undue command influence over the military justice system was a persistent problem.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

While the law requires police to bring arrested persons before a public prosecutor, magistrate, or court within 24 hours, there were no public prosecutors or magistrates available below the county level in most areas. Court dockets often were overwhelmed, and cases faced long delays before coming before a judge. Police may detain individuals for 24 hours without charge. A public prosecutor may authorize an extension of up to one week, and a magistrate may authorize extensions of up to two weeks. Authorities did not always inform detainees of charges against them and regularly held them past the statutory limit without explanation. Police sometimes ignored court orders to bring arrested persons before the court. Police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges were often unaware of the statutory requirement that detainees appear before a judge as quickly as possible. Police commonly conducted arrests without warrants, and warrants were often irregular, handwritten documents. Warrants were commonly drafted in the absence of investigation or evidence. There were multiple reports of arrests in civil cases, where a complainant exerted influence upon police to influence them to arrest someone as a negotiation tactic. The government routinely failed to notify embassies when detaining citizens of other countries, even when the detainee requested a consular visit.

The code of criminal procedure allows bail, but this provision was widely unknown or ignored by justice-sector authorities, and they rarely informed detainees of this possibility. Because pretrial appearances before judges often were delayed far past statutory limits, authorities rarely had the opportunity to adjudicate bail requests before trial. Those arrested had a right to an attorney, but the country had few lawyers, and detainees were rarely informed of this right. The transitional constitution mandates access to legal representation without charge for the indigent, but defendants rarely received legal assistance if they did not pay for it. Authorities sometimes held detainees incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces arbitrarily arrested opposition leaders, civil society activists, businesspersons, journalists, and other civilians due to ethnicity or possible affiliation with opposition forces. The SPLA and NSS often abused political opponents and others whom they detained without charge. Ignorance of the law and proper procedures also led to many arbitrary detentions. Many justice sector actors, including police and judges, operated under a victim-centric approach that prioritized restitution and satisfaction for victims of crime, rather than following legal procedure. This approach led to many arbitrary arrests of citizens who were simply in the vicinity when crimes occurred, were of a certain ethnicity, or were relatives of suspects. For example, there were numerous reports women were detained when their husbands, accused of having unpaid debts, could not be located. In May NSS officers arrested and detained local businessman Kerbino Wol Agok, and he remained detained on unknown or unfiled charges at year’s end. On October 7, Kerbino and other detainees led a strike within the NSS detention facility in protest of these arbitrary detentions without charges. After briefly seizing control of the facility, the prisoners laid down arms. Following their surrender, Kerbino and others have been denied visits by family members and lawyers.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, due largely to the lack of lawyers and judges; the difficulty of locating witnesses; misunderstanding of constitutional and legal requirements by police, prosecutors, and judges; and the absence of a strong mechanism to compel witness attendance in court. The length of pretrial detention commonly equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Estimates of the number of pretrial detainees ranged from one-third to two-thirds of the prison population. The chronic lack of access to law enforcement officers and judicial systems became even more severe as armed conflict displaced officials (see section 1.g.).

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have very little ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court or magistrate, despite having the right to do so under the law.

Amnesty: On August 8, President Salva Kiir declared a “general amnesty to the leader of SPLM-IO Dr. Riek Machar Teny and other estranged groups who waged war against the Government of the Republic of South Sudan from 2013 to date.” The government, however, continued to hold political prisoners who should have been released according to this order, and most of the opposition remained outside of the country. This general grant of amnesty also potentially posed serious impediments to achieving justice and accountability for the victims of atrocity crimes.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The transitional constitution provides for an independent judiciary and recognizes customary law. While the law requires the government to maintain courts at federal, state, and county levels, lack of infrastructure and trained personnel made this impossible, and few statutory courts existed below the state level.

In the majority of communities, customary courts remained the principal providers of justice services. Customary courts maintained primary authority to adjudicate most crimes other than murder. Customary courts can deal with certain aspects of murder cases if judges remit the cases to them to process under traditional procedures and determine compensation according to the customs of the persons concerned. If this happens, the judge can sentence the individual who commits a killing to no more than 10 years. Government courts also heard cases of violent crime and acted as appeals courts for verdicts issued by customary bodies. Legal systems employed by customary courts varied, with most emphasizing restorative dispute resolution and some borrowing elements of sharia (Islamic law). Government sources estimated customary courts handled 80 percent of all cases due to the capacity limitations of statutory courts.

Political pressure, corruption, discrimination toward women, and the lack of a competent investigative police service undermined both statutory and customary courts. Patronage priorities or political allegiances of traditional elders or chiefs commonly influenced verdicts in customary courts. Despite numerous pressures, some judges appeared to operate independently.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Under the transitional constitution defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges (with free interpretation as necessary), be tried fairly and publicly without undue delay, be present at any criminal trial against them, confront witnesses against them, present witnesses and evidence, not be compelled to incriminate themselves, and to legal counsel.

Despite these protections, law enforcement officers and statutory and customary court authorities commonly presumed suspects to be guilty, and suspects faced serious infringements of their rights. Free interpretation was rarely, if ever, offered. Most detainees were not promptly informed of the charges against them. Prolonged detentions often occurred, and defendants generally did not have adequate access to facilities to prepare a defense. While court dates were set without regard for providing adequate time to prepare a defense, long remands often meant detainees with access to a lawyer had sufficient time to prepare. Magistrates often compelled defendants to testify, and the absence of lawyers at many judicial proceedings often left defendants without recourse.

Public trials were the norm both in customary courts, which usually took place outdoors, and in statutory courts. Some high-level court officials opposed media access to courts and asserted media should not comment on pending cases. The right to be present at trial and to confront witnesses was sometimes respected, but in statutory courts, the difficulty of summoning witnesses often precluded exercise of these rights. No government legal aid structure existed.

Defendants did not necessarily have access to counsel or the right of appeal, and discrimination against women was common. Some customary courts, particularly those in urban areas, had fairly sophisticated procedures, and verdicts were consistent. Some customary court judges in Juba kept records that were equal to or better than those kept in government courts.

Defendants accused of crimes against the state were usually denied these rights.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Reportedly, in an effort to intimidate or stifle opposition, and despite a public pledge to release political prisoners as part of the peace agreement, there were reports of dozens of political prisoners and detainees held by authorities from a few hours to a few days or weeks prior to release, and usually without charge. Prominent political prisoners were often held for extended periods of time and were sometimes sentenced to death.

For example, in February, during separate trials for conspiracy to overthrow the government, opposition members James Gatdet Dak and William John Endley were sentenced to death, among other charges. President Kiir pardoned both of them during the peace celebration on October 31, and they were released.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Statutory and customary courts provided the only options for those seeking to bring claims to address human rights violations, and these claims were subject to the same limitations that affected the justice sector in general.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government rarely provided proportionate and timely restitution for the government’s confiscation of property. Human rights organizations documented instances, where the population was perceived to be antigovernment, of government forces systematically looting abandoned property in conflict areas.

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

The transitional constitution prohibits interference with private life, family, home, and correspondence. Authorities, however, reportedly violated these prohibitions.

To induce suspects to surrender, officials at times held family members in detention centers.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The transitional constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. The government and its agents frequently violated these rights in the name of national security, however, and the downward trend in respect for these freedoms since 2011 continued.

Freedom of Expression: Civil society organizations must register with the government under the 2013 NGO Act (and the subsequent 2016 Act). The government regularly attempted to impede criticism by monitoring, intimidating, harassing, arresting, or detaining members of civil society who publicly criticized the government.

Press and Media Freedom: The government maintained strict control of media, both print and electronic. The government suppressed dissenting voices, forcing some civil society organizations and media houses to shut down or flee the country. Government officials or individuals close to the government regularly interfered in the publication of articles and broadcasting of programs, and high-level government officials stated press freedom should not extend to criticism of the government or soliciting views of opposition leaders.

During the year the governmental Media Authority rejected the accreditation of 20 foreign journalists whose past reporting they deemed to be inaccurate, to tarnish the image of the country, or to incite violence. Most organizations practiced self-censorship to ensure their safety, and authorities regularly censored newspapers, directly reprimanded publishers, and removed articles deemed critical of the government. Many print media outlets reported NSS officers forcing the removal of articles at the printing company (where all newspapers are printed), often leaving a blank spot where the article was originally meant to appear. For example, on May 24, the NSS removed an article from The Dawn, even though that newspaper is known for progovernment sentiment.

Since the outbreak of conflict in 2013, the government tried to dictate media coverage of the conflict and threatened those who tried to publish or broadcast views of the opposition. NSS regularly harassed, intimidated, and summoned journalists for questioning. The environment for media workers remained precarious throughout the year.

On March 9, the media regulatory body, the Media Authority, announced its intention to shut down Miraya FM, run by UNMISS, for “persistent noncompliance.” The Media Authority stated it was not censoring the station, but rather monitoring for “hate speech and incitement.” Because Miraya FM’s transmitter is located within a UN compound, the government was unable to take it off the air, although for most of the year, the government broadcast its own signal over Miraya’s frequency in order to disrupt its broadcasts.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces commonly intimidated or detained journalists whose reporting they perceived as unfavorable to the military or government. Security forces confiscated or damaged journalists’ equipment and restricted their movements. During the year journalists were interrogated, harassed, detained, and imprisoned, and there were instances of severe violence. NSS representatives frequently harassed journalists by detaining them at NSS headquarters or local police stations without formal charges. Government harassment was so pronounced that several journalists chose to flee the country. Journalists and media agencies that reported on news of the opposition could expect questioning and possibly closure. Journalists in Juba experienced threats and intimidation and routinely practiced self-censorship. On several occasions, high-level officials publicly used intimidating language directed toward media outlets and representatives.

There were numerous reports of such abuses similar to the following example: On February 6, security operatives covering a progovernment protest physically assaulted two western journalists.

There continued to be no credible investigation into the killing of freelance journalist Christopher Allen in August 2017.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government’s South Sudan National Communication Authority (SSNCA) blocks access to certain websites, such as two popular news websites, Tamazuj and Sudan Tribune, and two blogs, Paanluel Wel and Nyamilepedia, disseminating “nonpeace” messages considered not to be “in the best interest of peace building in this country.” There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government also targeted and intimidated individuals who were critical of the government in open online forums and social media.

The internet was unavailable in most parts of the country due to lack of electricity and communication infrastructure. Only approximately 7 percent of the population used the internet, according to the International Telecommunication Union.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted cultural activities and academic workshops. In several parts of the country, NSS authorization is required for public events including academic workshops, which particularly affected NGOs and other civic organizations. To obtain permission, NSS sometimes requested a list of national and international staff members employed by the organizations and names of participants. Permission was often predicated upon the expectation the NSS would be able to monitor the events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government generally respected freedom of peaceful assembly but restricted freedom of association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The transitional constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right, but many citizens did not gather due to fear of targeted violence. Security officials lacked nonviolent crowd control capabilities and at times fired live ammunition into the air to disperse crowds.

In February security officials disrupted and dispersed a meeting of the South Sudan Civil Society Forum, which had met to discuss the peace process.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The transitional constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government did not respect this right for those suspected of associating with or having sympathies for opposition figures (see section 1.g.). Some civil society leaders interpreted the 2012 Political Parties Act as an attempt to suppress opposition to the SPLM (see section 3).

A law passed in 2016 strictly regulating the activity and operations of civil society was widely enforced throughout the year. The law focused particularly on NGOs working in the governance, anticorruption, and human rights fields, and it imposed a range of legal barriers including limitations on the types of activities in whichorganizations can engage, onerous registration requirements, and heavy fines for noncompliance. Human rights groups and civil society representatives reported NSS officials continued surveillance and threats against civil society organizations.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The transitional constitution provides that every citizen has the right to participate in elections in accordance with the constitution and the law. Since the 2011 referendum on South Sudanese self-determination, no elections have been held. Elected officials were arbitrarily removed and others appointed to take their place.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Elections have been postponed several times over several years due to intense violence and insecurity starting in 2013. Since then, the president fired and appointed local government officials and parliamentarians by decree. In March 2015 and again in July 2018, the legislature passed amendments to the transitional constitution extending the terms of the president, the national legislature, and the state assemblies for three years.

An unfavorable environment for media and citizen expression hampered participation in political processes.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The SPLM enjoyed a near monopoly of power in the government and continued to be the most broadly recognized political entity since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. SPLM membership conferred political and financial advantages, and there was great reluctance by opposition parties to shed the SPLM name. For example, the main opposition party was referred to as the SPLM-IO (in-opposition) and most other political parties either were offshoots of the SPLM or affiliated with it.

The peace agreement signed September 12 allows the government and opposition to appoint those to allocated seats in parliament, the leadership of/control of ministries, and the leadership of local governments.

Opposition parties complained that at times the government harassed party members. The Political Parties Act, passed in 2012, mandated specific requirements for those political parties that existed in a unified Sudan prior to South Sudan’s independence in 2011. Representatives of the Political Parties Council (an independent body created by law in early February to manage political party matters) estimated the requirements affected approximately 25 parties.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The terms of the September peace agreement forming a new unity government requires at least 35 percent female participation in the government at the national and state levels, and specifies one of the vice presidents should be a woman. The Local Government Act requires at least 25 percent of county commissioners and 25 percent of county councilors be women.

These conditions and laws were inconsistently implemented at both the state and national levels, and although women made gains in both the TNLA and the executive branch (see below), they remained marginalized in the judiciary, local governments, and among traditional leaders. Representation was particularly poor at the local level, where there was little to no implementation of the 2009 act’s provisions. The current system also devolved substantial candidate selection power to political party leaders, very few of whom were women.

Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors limited women’s participation in government. Women tended to be discouraged from assuming leadership positions because of the belief such activities conflicted with their domestic duties.

Several ethnic groups remained underrepresented or unrepresented in government, and the conflict exacerbated ethnic tensions and the imbalance in national and state level political institutions.

The absence of translations of the constitution in Arabic or local languages limited the ability of minority populations to engage meaningfully in political dialogue and contributed to low turnout for several consultations on a permanent constitution that took place around the country.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published information on human rights cases and the armed conflict, often while facing considerable government resistance. Government officials were rarely cooperative and responsive to their views, and were often actively hostile. Reports outlining atrocities furthered tensions between the government and international organizations and NGOs. Government and opposition forces often blamed each other or pointed toward militia groups or “criminal” actors.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government sometimes cooperated with representatives of the United Nations and other international organizations. A lack of security guarantees from the government and opposition on many occasions, as well as frequent government violations of the status of forces agreement, including the restriction of movement of UNMISS personnel, constrained UNMISS’s ability to carry out its mandate, which included human rights monitoring and investigations. Security forces generally regarded international organizations with suspicion.

UNMISS and its staff faced increased harassment and intimidation by the government, threats against UNMISS premises and PoC sites, unlawful arrest and detention, and abduction. The SPLA regularly prevented UNMISS from accessing areas of suspected human rights abuses, especially in Yei State and in the Eastern Equatoria region, in violation of the status of forces agreement that allows UNMISS access to the entire country. Team members of the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts reported generally good access to conduct their work, as did the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The president appoints members of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission (SSHRC), whose mandate includes education, research, monitoring, and investigation of human rights abuses, either on its own initiative or upon request by victims. International organizations and civil society organizations considered the SSHRC’s operations to be generally independent of government influence. The commission cooperated with international human rights advocates and submitted reports and recommendations to the government.

While observers generally regarded the SSHRC to have committed and competent leadership, severe resource constraints prevented it from effectively fulfilling its human rights protection mandate. Salaries and office management accounted for the bulk of its funding, leaving little for monitoring or investigation. In 2015 the commission released a three-year strategy and reported on 700 previously undocumented prisoners; however, it has produced little since, including during the year.

The National Committee for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide remained largely inactive throughout the year.

Spain

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and laws prohibit such practices. There were reports of police mistreatment; courts dismissed some of the reports. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Coordinator for the Prevention of Torture, in 2017, 1,014 persons were reportedly mistreated in custody and during police operations. In 2016, according to the NGO, 259 persons were reported mistreated. The increase was related to clashes between security forces and persons assembled to vote during the referendum on independence that took place in Catalonia in October 2017 and which the country’s Supreme Court determined was unconstitutional.

In November 2017 the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) of the Council of Europe (COE) reported receiving some credible allegations of excessive use of force upon detention and of physical mistreatment by police upon arrival at a detention center. In addition the CPT reported “a few allegations” of excessively tight handcuffing. The CPT criticized the practice of restraining inmates, including juveniles, in prisons for periods up to days without adequate supervision and recordkeeping. The CPT also found that in some prisons, inmates, including juveniles, were subjected to excessive solitary confinement.

On February 13, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered the government to compensate Igor Portu and Martin Sarasola, members of the Basque terrorist group Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), with 30,000 and 20,000 euros ($34,500 and $23,000) respectively for “inhumane and degrading treatment” suffered following their arrest in 2008. The Ministry of Justice ruled that this amount would be deducted from the amount the two individuals owed to victims of ETA terrorist attacks.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

The UN Committee for the Prevention of Torture, NGOs, the national police union, and an association of judges criticized Internment Centers for Foreigners (CIEs) for a variety of reasons, including alleged violation of human rights, overcrowding, prison-like treatment, and a lack of interpreters. The law sets the maximum time for detainees in CIEs at 60 days.

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions, although several organizations alleged that overcrowding was a problem in some CIEs. In November 2017 the CPT reported several inspected detention cells were overcrowded. Poor ventilation remained a problem in most establishments visited. In some cells there was dim lighting, and no natural light in any of the cells the delegation visited.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, including the Coordinator for the Prevention of Torture and the Subcommittee on Torture of the UN Human Rights Committee, in accordance with their standard operating procedures. On September 6-13, a delegation from the CPT visited detention centers and prisons in Catalonia to investigate conditions there. The report of the visit was not yet public at year’s end.

Improvements: According to the Spanish Red Cross and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), detention center conditions improved after the government created new migrant reception centers, termed CATE (Center for Temporary Assistance to Foreigners) and CAED (Assistance, Emergency and Referral Centers). The CATEs expanded initial reception facilities available for incoming migrants, and offered more secure facilities and increased access to resources, such as medical assistance. In July the government created CAEDs to receive migrants after the initial 72-hour registration period. The Red Cross and the Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR) manage the CAEDs. The Red Cross, UNHCR, and CEAR report that the new facilities allowed migrants greater opportunity to appeal for assistance as victims of trafficking or to apply for asylum.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police forces include the national police and the paramilitary Civil Guard, both of which handle migration and border enforcement under the authority of the national Ministry of the Interior, as well as regional police under the authority of the Catalan and the Basque Country regional governments.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over all police forces and the Civil Guard, and the government generally has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces.

The constitution provides for an ombudsman to investigate claims of police abuse. In 2017 the ombudsman did not receive any complaints for police mistreatment. These figures represented a decrease in the number of cases of police abuse reported in prior years. In 2017, however, the ombudsman’s office opened 157 official investigations in its role as the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture.

In May, Amnesty International alleged that the public prosecutor’s office and Ministry of the Interior were “not fulfilling [their] obligation to pursue investigations” related to the use of excessive force by security forces during the October 2017 referendum on independence in Catalonia that the Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law permits police to apprehend suspects for probable cause or with a warrant based on sufficient evidence as determined by a judge. With certain exceptions police may not hold a suspect for more than 72 hours without a hearing. In certain rare instances involving acts of terrorism, the law allows authorities, with the authorization of a judge, to detain persons for up to five days prior to arraignment. These rights were respected. Authorities generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. The country has a functioning bail system, and the courts released defendants on bail unless they believed the defendants might flee or be a threat to public safety. If a potential criminal sentence is less than three years, the judge may decide to impose bail or release the accused on his own recognizance. If the potential sentence is more than three years, the judge must set bail. The law provides detainees the right to consult a lawyer of their choice. If the detainee is indigent, the government appoints legal counsel.

In certain rare instances involving acts of terrorism, a judge may order incommunicado or solitary detention for the entire duration of police custody. The law stipulates that terrorism suspects held incommunicado have the right to an attorney and medical care, but it allows them neither to choose an attorney nor to see a physician of their choice. The court-appointed lawyer is present during police and judicial proceedings, but detainees do not have the right to confer in private with the lawyer. The government continued to conduct extensive video surveillance in detention facilities and interrogation rooms ostensibly to deter mistreatment or any violations of prisoner rights by police or guards.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and the independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and the right to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to an attorney of their choice. If the defendant is indigent, the government provides an attorney. Defendants and their attorneys have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The government provides free interpretation as necessary from the moment the defendant is charged through all appeals. During the trial defendants may confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right of appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Officials representing Catalan national political parties alleged that several party members under pretrial detention resulting from the October 2017 “referendum” on Catalan independence, declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, were “political prisoners.” Neither the government nor any international human rights NGOs supported this claim. Nine members of proindependence Catalan political parties and civil society organizations were in pretrial detention since late 2017 on criminal charges of rebellion, sedition, or embezzlement of public funds.

Although Amnesty International did not take a position on their claims to be considered “political prisoners,” the organization stated “The use of pretrial detention is justified only where there is no alternative measure…and should be subject to regular review by the courts.” In October the organization asked for the immediate release of NGO leaders Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, given their status as civil society leaders, stating, “their ongoing detention represents a disproportionate restriction of their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may bring civil lawsuits seeking damages for a human rights violation. The complainant may also pursue an administrative resolution. Persons may appeal court decisions involving alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the ECHR after they exhaust all avenues of appeal in national courts.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Having endorsed the 2009 Terezin Declaration, the government acknowledges the right to restitution and/or compensation for victims of Holocaust-related confiscations of property. The local NGO Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain reported that there are no existing or prior cases of compensation or restitution in Spain stemming from the Holocaust.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits, subject to judicial oversight, actions including public speeches and the publication of documents that the government interprets as celebrating or supporting terrorism. The law provides for imprisonment from one to four years for persons who provoke discrimination, hatred, or violence against groups or associations on the basis of ideology, religion or belief, family status, membership in an ethnic group or race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, illness, or disability.

The law penalizes downloading of illegal content and use of unauthorized websites, violent protests, insulting a security officer, recording and disseminating images of police, and participating in unauthorized protests outside government buildings. The NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) called the law a threat to press freedom, while the Professional Association of the Judiciary considered it contrary to freedom of speech and information. The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party challenged the law in the Constitutional Court, where a decision was pending.

On March 20, the RSF expressed its concern for the increase in the number of court rulings limiting the freedom of expression with disproportionate censorship and harsh sentences imposed in accordance with the law.

Violence and Harassment: The RSF and other press freedom organizations stated that the country’s restrictive press law and its enforcement impose censorship and self-censorship on journalists.

An April 24 statement by the RSF alleged that the October 2017 independence referendum in Catalonia, ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, “exacerbated tensions and created a suffocating environment for journalists.” The RSF alleged that Catalan authorities increased harassment against “pro-Spanish unity” journalists on social media platforms, while regional police intimidated other journalists.

The Barcelona Hate Crimes Prosecutor’s 2017 report documented an increase in the number of hate crimes beginning in October 2017, mostly attributable to political beliefs related to the independence movement. In Barcelona Province, 30.8 percent of 279 registered cases represented hate speech and discrimination against those holding differing political views.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: On March 13, the ECHR ruled in favor of Enric Stern and Jaume Roura, who in 2007 burned a photograph of the king and were sentenced to 15 months in prison for insulting the crown. The ECHR found the punishment issued by the national court violated their right to freedom of expression and ordered the government to compensate them with 7,200 euros each ($8,280).

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. Authorities monitored websites for material containing hate speech or promoting anti-Semitism or terrorism.

The International Telecommunication Union reported that 85 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The law provides for fines of up to 600 euros ($690) for failing to notify authorities about peaceful demonstrations in public areas, up to 30,000 euros ($34,500) for protests resulting in “serious disturbances of public safety” near parliament and regional government buildings, and up to 600,000 euros ($690,000) for unauthorized protests near key infrastructure. By law any protestors who refuse to disperse upon police request may be fined.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected it.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The latest report of the National Ombudsman indicated that the center for the temporary accommodation of migrants in the enclave of Melilla was “severely overcrowded.” The center housing migrants in the enclave of Ceuta was also overcrowded.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: According to a UNHCR report on April 3, there were cases where migrants who crossed the border from Morocco to the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla were returned to Morocco without receiving a complete eligibility review for asylum.

Access to Asylum: According to the Ministry of the Interior, by November 30, 59,048 persons arrived in the country illegally via the Mediterranean Sea or land border crossing points in Ceuta and Melilla bordering Morocco, a number higher than the total numbers for 2015, 2016, and 2017 combined.

The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country has bilateral return agreements with Morocco and Algeria. Authorities review asylum petitions individually, and there is an established appeals process available to rejected petitioners. The law permits any foreigner in the country who is a victim of gender-based violence or of trafficking in persons to file a complaint at a police station without fear of deportation, even if that individual is in the country illegally. Although potential asylum seekers were able to exercise effectively their right to petition authorities, some NGOs, such as CEAR, and Accem, as well as UNHCR alleged that several migration reception centers lacked sufficient legal assistance for asylum seekers. The NGOs reported that getting an appointment to request asylum could take months. CEAR reported the government granted refugee status to 595 individuals in 2017. This number does not include refugees accepted from Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Lebanon, as part of the EU relocation and resettlement plan.

On April 9, the government granted political asylum to three Turkish citizens requesting protection from persecution related to the 2016 attempted coup against the Turkish government. They were the first Turkish nationals granted asylum by the government in connection with the attempted Turkish coup.

On September 3, in a report from a March 18-24 observation mission in Ceuta and Melilla, the COE issued found the continued use of so-called “hot returns,” whereby migrants are returned without first registering and verifying eligibility for asylum. Lawyers and UNHCR reported that in August authorities returned 116 migrants to Morocco within 24 hours of their arrival after they crossed the border to Ceuta, without first verifying whether they were eligible for asylum. Spanish authorities, the International Organization for Migration, and the Spanish Red Cross asserted the migrants were identified and provided legal counsel under the terms of the country’s migration laws. The return of the migrants was carried out under terms of a 1992 agreement with Morocco that provides for the readmission of third-country nationals who illegally entered Spain from Morocco.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Under EU law the country considers all other countries in the Schengen area, the EU, and the United States to be safe countries of origin.

Access to Basic Services: In Ceuta and Melilla, according to UNHCR, asylum seekers could wait up to several months in some cases before being transferred to the care of NGOs in mainland Spain. Migrants from countries without a return agreement and those who demonstrated eligibility for international protection were provided housing and basic care as part of a state-sponsored reception program managed by various NGOs.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for relocation and resettlement and provided assistance through NGOs such as CEAR and Accem. As of April the country received 2,792 refugees (1,359 through relocation and 1,433 through resettlement) from Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Lebanon. UNHCR noted the country’s system for integrating refugees, especially vulnerable families, minors, and survivors of gender-based violence and trafficking in persons, needed improvement.

The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of failed asylum seekers and migrants to their homes or the country they came from.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals whose applications for asylum were pending review, or who did not qualify as refugees and asylees. In 2017 it extended subsidiary protection to approximately 4,080 such persons.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR, at the end of 2017, 1,596 stateless persons lived in the country. The law provides a path to citizenship for stateless persons. The law includes the obligation to grant nationality to those born in Spain of foreign parents, if both lack nationality or if legislation from neither parent’s country of nationality attributes a nationality to the child, as well as to those born in Spain whose parentage is not determined.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: All national observers considered national elections in 2016 to have been free and fair.

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

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The national ombudsman serves to protect and defend basic rights and public freedom on behalf of citizens. The ombudsman was generally effective, independent, and had the public’s trust.

On February 28, the COE’s Committee against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) criticized the Council for the Elimination of Racial and Ethnic Discrimination in the ombudsman’s office, for not replacing its president after he resigned in 2014 and for not submitting an annual report since 2012.

Sri Lanka

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

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

On January 20, police reportedly shot and killed a motorcyclist who disobeyed orders to stop his motorcycle at the Wedihiti Kanda checkpoint in Kataragama.

The Criminal Investigation Division (CID) continued to investigate an October 2017 case in which two plainclothes members of the Police Special Task Force shot and killed a man on a motorcycle in Ariyalai in the Jaffna District. In November 2017 the CID arrested the two officers, who remained incarcerated pending a hearing scheduled for February 2019.

Police continued to investigate an October 2016 case in which police shot and killed two Jaffna University students after they failed to obey orders to stop their motorbike at a checkpoint. The following day authorities arrested five police officers in connection with the shooting. In March, after 11 months of detention, all five officers were reinstated into police service, pending the outcome of their trial. In October the Jaffna Magistrate Court exonerated three of the accused officers and filed new indictments against two others.

The investigation into the 2009 killing of prominent journalist and politician Lasantha Wickrematunge, chief editor of the newspaper Sunday Leader, continued. In February police arrested five high-ranking former security officers from the Mt. Lavinia police station, including the deputy inspector general and the officer in charge, after charging them with obstruction related to the investigation. The officers were detained until July 17, when they were released on bail pending the outcome of the investigation.

The Attorney General’s Department appealed the acquittal of five suspects accused of killing former Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian Nadarjah Raviraj; the Court of Appeal was scheduled to hear the appeal in January 2019.

b. Disappearance

Disappearances during the war and its aftermath remained unresolved. The July 2017 report of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances noted the number of outstanding cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances at 5,859. On February 28, the government appointed seven commissioners to the Office on Missing Persons. The office met members of the public and family members of missing persons in Mannar, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Trincomalee, Matara, and Colombo. In August it issued an interim report that provided a series of interim relief proposals and justice-related recommendations for families and victims of disappearances. At year’s end the office was finalizing a list of approximately 20,000 names of missing persons dating from 1983.

In the case of Prageeth Eknaligoda, a journalist and cartoonist for Lanka eNews who disappeared in 2010, authorities had not charged any suspects as of year’s end.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but authorities reportedly employed them. The law makes torture a punishable offense and mandates a sentence of not less than seven years’ and not more than 10 years’ imprisonment. The government maintained a Committee on the Prevention of Torture to visit sites of allegations, examine evidence, and take preventive measures on allegations of torture. Police reportedly tortured and sexually abused citizens, often to extract confessions for alleged crimes. The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) allows courts to admit as evidence any statements made by the accused at any time and provides no exception for confessions extracted by torture. In February 2017 the government announced it suspended making arrests under the PTA due to widespread concerns about several of its provisions; however, the government made at least four arrests under the PTA during the year. An estimated 70 to 130 individuals remained in detention from prior PTA arrests.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) reported that torture committed by police forces was routine and continued throughout the country, and that it received 193 allegations of physical and mental torture by state actors as of June. It stated that many reports of torture referred to police officers allegedly “roughing up” suspects to extract a confession or otherwise elicit evidence to use against the accused.

Interviews by human rights organizations found that torture by police remained endemic throughout the country. As in previous years, suspects arrested under the PTA since the civil war ended in 2009 gave accounts of torture and mistreatment, forced confessions, and denial of basic rights such as access to lawyers or family members. Some released former combatants reported torture or mistreatment, including sexual abuse by state officials while in rehabilitation centers and after their release. Excessive use of force against civilians by police and security officials also remained a concern.

There were also reports of sexual abuse committed by government and security sector officials against wives who came forward seeking information about their missing husbands or against war widows who attempted to claim government benefits based on their deceased husbands’ military service.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were poor due to old infrastructure, overcrowding, and a shortage of sanitary facilities.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem. The commissioner of prisons estimated that the prison population exceeded the system’s capacity by nearly 64 percent. Authorities sometimes held juveniles and adults together. Authorities often held pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners together. In many prisons inmates reportedly slept on concrete floors, and prisons often lacked natural light or ventilation.

The commissioner of prisons reported 52 total deaths of prisoners in custody as of July. The majority of deaths were due to natural causes. There were also three suicides.

A few of the larger prisons had their own hospitals, but only a medical unit staffed the majority. Authorities transferred prisoners requiring medical care in smaller prisons to the closest local hospital for treatment.

On August 13, approximately 20 prisoners in the Women’s Wing of the Welikada Prison protested prison conditions by climbing onto the roof of the facility to demand faster trials and an end to restrictions on food brought by family members for prisoners. The protest was in response to prison officials’ decision to limit outside food deliveries in an effort to stop drug smuggling into the facility. The protest ended peacefully on August 14 after Ministry of Prison Reform officials promised to discuss the raised issues.

Administration: The HRCSL investigates complaints received and refers them to the relevant authorities when warranted. The HRCSL reported it received some credible allegations of mistreatment reported by prisoners, but the Ministry of Prison Reforms reported it did not receive any complaints.

Independent Monitoring: The Board of Prison Visitors is the primary domestic organization conducting visits to prisoners and accepts complaints; it also has the legal mandate to examine overall conditions of detention. The Board of Prison Visitors functions as an internal governmental watchdog and was established under the Prisons Ordinance. The members are representatives of civil society otherwise unaffiliated with the government or other state institutions. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the HRCSL also have a mandate to monitor prison conditions. During the year the HRCSL undertook a National Study on Prisons and visited 20 prisons across the country. The report was not available at year’s end.

Improvements: The Prison Department sought to address overcrowding by moving several prisons out of urban areas into more spacious, rural locations. During the year the government implemented the Community Correctional Program, which sends prisoners to rehabilitation camps in lieu of long-term confinement.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but there were reports that arbitrary arrest and detention occurred, although at a decreased rate compared with 2017, according to civil society and the HRCSL; under the PTA the ability to challenge detentions was particularly limited.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Police Service is responsible for maintaining internal security and in November was moved from the Ministry of Law and Order to the Ministry of Defense. The military falls under the Ministry of Defense and is responsible for external security. According to the criminal procedure code, the military may be called upon to handle specifically delineated domestic security responsibilities. President Sirisena served as the minister of defense, but the civilian secretary of defense had daily operational responsibility over the military and, as of November, the police. The nearly 11,000-member paramilitary Special Task Force is a police entity that reports to the Inspector General of Police, which falls under the Ministry of Law and Order. It coordinates internal security operations with the military.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces. Reports indicated that during anti-Muslim violence in March, the police initially were slow to respond or stop perpetrators from damaging Muslim buildings and assaulting Muslim individuals. The Ministry of Law and Order is responsible for determining whether security force killings were justifiable. According to civil society, intelligence operatives conducted domestic surveillance operations and harassed or intimidated members of civil society (see section 2.a., Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press).

Impunity for conflict-era abuses also persisted, including military, paramilitary, police, and other security-sector officials implicated in cases involving the alleged target